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Is Play Book’s Read Aloud Update Worth It?

Google Android has released the new version of its Play Book app, which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. This book reader now contains a handy read aloud feature. Android’s feature is not the first of its kind, as Amazon have attempted this too, but only testing it will determine if it is the best yet. The promise of a cyber voice reading a book to you is not the best, but it is a nifty new feature to include. Google’s update includes a number of other minor changes and fixes, but the read aloud feature is the big newbie to the app’s toolbox.

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How It Works
Read aloud uses a computer generated voice to vocalize the words written in the text. It does this by using the text to speech or TTS engine. Naturally, each word has been preprogrammed without context being taken into account. The app will then read the book aloud starting with the page you are on. As the voice reads the words, the app highlights the sentence being spoken. This is useful actually, as it helps you catch up with the text if you zone out or get distracted.

To enable TTS on your Android device, you will need to enable TalkBack. If you do not have TalkBack on your device, you will need to download this from the Google Play Store. To enable it, go to the accessibility settings page on your device. Next, you will need to open the book of your choice and go to whichever page you want read aloud. This feature can be accessed by opening a book then tapping the ‘read aloud’ option. For those who have not used play book before, the option can be found on the top right of the screen of your tablet computer. For those with Apple devices, Google offer the VoiceOver support feature.

Voice Quality
For many people, the use of a computer-generated voice is an annoyance. Audiobooks have achieved a respectable status on first cassettes and then CDs because of the quality of voice actors available for the books. Listeners to Lord of the Rings, for example, would have enjoyed the irony of Sir Ian Holm playing Bilbo Baggins in the movie having been Frodo in the audiobook. As far as Read Aloud goes, the initial voice can be grating. This is set to the default setting of ‘low quality’ voice.

If you go to the read aloud options, you can find the ‘high quality’ voice option. This gives you the option of downloading third party text to speech tools that of better quality including Iona. Be warned, however, in order for your app to use the high quality voice setting it will need to link to the network. Using this feature may depend on how much money you are willing to spend on connecting to the internet with your mobile internet package. Naturally, the best time to use it would be in a Wi-Fi zone.

Another bug to be noticed with the Read Aloud feature is that it does not work in the same manner as Google Tune In. With Tune In, if you put your Android device to sleep using the power button, the music will keep playing in the background. This will not work with read aloud, so putting the phone to sleep will cause the reading to stop. If you do not like this read aloud option, other text to speech carrying readers include FB Reader and Cool Reader.

Other Updates
Additional updates and new features include an improvement on the zoom controls. Pinch zooms and double tap zooms are now available for all books on the e-reader. Users will find that a number of previous bugs have been fixed and performance is better overall. Furthermore, you will find that all text-editing features for their notation tool have been enabled.

Personal recommendations are valued highly at the moment and is seen as the electronic equivalent of word of mouth. Taking this into account, Google have stated that personal recommendations will be available in two places on the Play Book now. These will be first, at the end of your personal library and secondly, at the end of each book you are reading.

The inclusion of read aloud, better zoom features and recommendations are a good step forward for Google Android. They offer a better reading environment wherever you are. Google have been coy about what bugs and technological annoyances they have fixed and the voice is fairly awful, but not much worse than many other free TTS voices. Hopefully in future, Google can find a way to sync their books with audiobook versions to provide the ultimate visual and audio reading experience.

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