Toolkit #2 – TTS Apps

The three ATL tools I have chosen to evaluate are all text-to-speech (TTS) apps available on iPads, iPods and iPhones. There are a lot of great software and applications for TTS that cost a lot of money but I have specifically chosen apps that are either free to download or have a low cost to download. These apps could be useful for not only students who struggle with reading and comprehension but can benefit students in a classroom that utilizes the principles of Universal Design for Learning theory.

I am keenly aware that these three apps have similar limitations. They all have some degree of robotic voices and mispronunciation of words. As well, because these are less expensive TTS options, there are fewer features and voice choices than in more expensive ones. Using TTS applications is something that students need to work with and practice using before they can gain familiarly with how to use the apps. By offering students and teachers inexpensive options, students may be able to purchase these apps on their own devices and use TTS to help them when reading information on the internet, grasping the meaning of a book or understanding an article.

Please see my Toolkit #1 – Text-To-Speech posting below for more information on text-to-speech and how to use it in the classroom.

Blio Capture 3

(iTunes Preview, n.d.a.)

How You can Access This Resources

Blio is available for download from the iTunes stores. It is a free app but there are costs for purchasing books. Books range in prices.

See iTunes page: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/blio/id409370678?mt=8

See Blio homepage: https://www.blio.com/blio/screens/homepage.jsp

Summary of the Resource

Blio is a website and app for devices that allows users to purchase and download ebooks. The Blio websites boasts that “Blio is a feature-rich eReading application that allows you to go beyond the written word. Experience books through the eyes of the author, with crystal clear sound and images that come alive in brilliant color” (KNFB, 2011, para 1). There are a number of different books that support the use of text-to-speech. Users can purchase different voices (as an in-app purchase) and have the books read to them.

(jans0071, 2010)

(Blio Support, 2013)                           Watch at 48 sec.

Reasons for Selecting this Resource

While this app provides different applications when reading, I choose this app because it allows for certain books to be read aloud, using the text-to-feature. There is also a voiceover feature for certain books as well. The app is fairly easy to use and before downloading a book, the app will let you know if you can read it using the voiceover option (which is free) or the TTS option (which you have to purchase). The app, I have found, allows the reader to have a different experience and supports those readers who may have a difficult time decoding words or comprehending what they have read, by reading the text to them. I have focused on the iPad app but you can also access Blio from a computer and listen to book being read, using TTS, on a computer.

Critique of the Resource

One of the major critiques of this app is that although the app is free to download there are other costs associated with this app. Not all books have the ability to use the voice over feature so you have to purchase the text-to-speech voice before you are able to use that option. Each voice costs $9.99 so if you want to try out different voices, the cost can really add up. Having listened to a preview of the voice choices there are a few voices that are very inhuman sounding so this limits the amount of choices that students will listen to. As well although there are some free books to download, they are not current popular books. It will cost money to purchase newer books and the books range in price.

Decisions and Supports That Would Need to be in Place

Usual decisions about technology purchases and usage will need to be considered. How will students access Blio? Will it be on school technology or their own devices? Another consideration is the amount of money that will be given to purchase books that students would be interested in reading. Will the school pay for books or is it up to individual students? Schools should be mindful of the intended use of the books, is a classroom assigned book or for personal usage. Schools will also need to think about the number of voices they will purchase and how students might react to those voices. They may need to test out the voices on and which ones are easier to listen to and understand.

Speak it!

Capture

(iTunes Preview, n.d.b.)

How You can Access This Resources

Speak it! is a text-to-speech app available for purchase from the iTunes stores. It cost $1.99 to buy.

See iTunes page: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/speak-it!-text-to-speech/id308629295?mt=8

Summary of the Resource

Speak it! converts text to speech and gives users a wide range of voice to choose from.

According to iTunes the Speak it! app allows users to “Copy emails, documents, web pages, PDF files, and more; paste them into Speak it!, and have the text spoken back to you with the highest quality text to speech engine available anywhere. You can even create the same quality audio files of the text to speech” (iTunes Preview, n.d.a., para. 2). The Speak it! app will read any style of text pasted into the app.

(Loh, 2011)

Reasons for Selecting this Resource

This app provides good quality for the price. There are a number of different documents it can read, emails, websites, ebooks (pdf and word doc) and the quality of the voices is one of the better ones on the market. I also liked the fact that you can change the size of the font and the app highlights the words as they are being read. Another feature of this app is that you can close the app without stopping the reading so you can work with other apps, while continuing to listen to something being read in the background.  Also while not a feature of TTS, you can save the output in an audio file and then you are able to email that file.

Critique of the Resource

Although this app is inexpensive, the purchase price of $1.99 is only a starting point. The initial purchase gives you four voices – two male and female voices of American and British accents. If you want different English accents or languages they are available to purchase from the app. Each new voice cost $0.99.

I found that this app requires the user to do a lot of copying and pasting from different sources into the app. This can be time consuming and frustrating for some people. If you have a lot of text to read from multiple sources it can slow down the process if you have to continuously copy and paste into the app.

Decisions and Supports That Would Need to be in Place

Since this an iPad app, decisions about purchasing and implementation of iPads is something schools will need to consider. With this app, students will need to be taught how to copy and paste information into the app and how to use the settings to slow down or speed up the speech. Schools will also have to decide about the purchasing of new voices and whether the school will purchase the app or have students downloaded onto their individual devices.

Web Reader HD – Text to Speech

Capture 2                                                                                        (iTunes Preview, n.d.c.)

How You can Access This Resources

Web Reader is available in an iPhone app and iPad app.

See iTunes page: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/web-reader-text-to-speech/id320808874?mt=8

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/web-reader-hd-text-to-speech/id376528713?mt=8

iPhone app – $1.99

iPad app – $4.99

Summary of the Resource

Web Reader is an app for both the iPad and iPhone that reads web pages to the user. Users can copy web address or open the app from Safari to change the webpage from text to speech. The iTunes Preview site for Web Reader HD states the app has the following features:

  • Fast – Web Reader starts reading quickly and can read long and large web page content without breaks.
  • Reads PDF.
  • Special Google Reader Support – When expanding articles in Google Reader, just hit the play button to read the expanded article.
  • Read Locally Synced Filed – When using apps that sync files locally to your device, like DropBox, you can now open those files in Web Reader and have them read to you. File formats supported are: HTML, Text, RTF, Microsoft Word.
  • Remote Control Support – Using the devices headset or BlueTooth device, Web Reader can now be paused from those device remote controls.
  • Continues Reading When Backgrounded. Web Reader will continue to read while you use other apps.
  • Highlight While Reading – Highlight the paragraphs and auto scroll the web page to show you what’s being read.
  • Launch from Safari. (iTunes Preview, n.d.b.)

(ChauvinApps, 2009)

Reasons for Selecting this Resource

The reason I choose the Web Reader as a resources was because of its ability to read web pages. You are able to paste a web address in the app and you are then able to navigate the web page while in the app. As well, you can start and stop reading where you want on the page. I liked the fact that you can access your files from Dropbox and have those files read to you. Another benefit of this app is that is runs in the background so you can listen to something being read while you are able to work on something else. This app is good quality for the price you pay for it.

Critique of the Resource

There some issues that I have come across when using this app. I have noticed that the app on my iPhone will periodically shut down and I then have to restart the app. I have to say that voice choice is limited and I do find the voices to be a bit robotic. Although I appreciated the fact that the app will highlight paragraphs, I wished it highlighted specific words as it read. Finally, I didn’t like that I had to purchase two different apps for my iPad and iPhone, as this increased the price.

Decisions and Supports That Would Need to be in Place

As with any type of technology, students will need to be provided with instruction and practice on how to use the app. This may not be an app that students will use continuously because they may find the voices to be too grating but decisions may be made to encourage learners who may need a little extra support with comprehension to use this app. Students should be given time to get use to the voice and to practice using this app.

References

Blio Support. (2013, September 17).  Audio and reading view types. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W1922mw48DM

ChauvinApps. (2009, November 14). Web Reader Demo – An iPhone App to Read Web Pages with Text. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk0d1npGoq4

iTunes Preview (n.d.a.). Blio. https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/blio/id409370678?mt=8

iTunes Preview (n.d.b.). Speak it! Text to Speech. https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/speak-it!-text-to-speech/id308629295?mt=8

iTunes Preview (n.d.c.). Web Reader HD – Text to Speech Page Reader .https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/web-reader-hd-text-to-speech/id376528713?mt=8

jans0071. (2010, July 1). Blio eReader by Toshiba. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qq2WtkoqPao

KNFB Reading Technology, Inc. (2011). Books come to life. In Blio. https://www.blio.com/blio/screens/homepage.jsp#

Loh, W. (2011, June 11). Speak it! iPhone App Review: Transform Text to Speech and Leverage Your Time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqODEciGHqw

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