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There are any number of really good reasons why you would want to turn speech into text. Gotta dash off a quick message to someone but you're already late. You're in the car and need to reply to something but there's no good place to pull over. Etc. and on and on.
But what about the reverse? Are there just as many really good reasons why you'd want to turn text into speech? We mean other than having the voice of Darth Vader say rude things about your friend's mom? The answer turns out to be, yes, even if you don't have a disability and a real need for text-to-speech services (TTS).
The vast majority of TTS apps are just that and nothing more. Paste in some text and a computer voice with greater or lesser distortion will read it back to you. Ever hear Radiohead's "Fitter, Happier" or a TV show with Stephen Hawking or Roger Ebert since his cancer? There you go. But we wanted to go a little deeper and find apps that hit on a mix of practical and awesome.
Future Apps! has here in Speak it! not only a weakness for exclamation marks, but also an app that is simple to use and seems to lack limitations. We've pasted in the first four chapters of Huckleberry Finn and away it went. The app read through the book without any kind of fuss. Many of the TTS apps we sampled balked at somewhere over 1000 characters.
Make Me a Public Domain Audiobook
Use is dead simple. Copy and paste text from anywhere or type it in manually, choose one of the four languages pre-installed (two male, two female, one of each with British or American accents), then tap the Speak it! button. That's all there is to it. Another nice feature is that the app will highlight the word as read, so even if you're not speech-disabled, you could use Speak it! to learn to read.
Pick Up Where You Left Off Reading
If you're in the speech-disabled community, you can save certain key phrases that you commonly use to create your own custom soundboard. Tap the arrowed box icon to save your short phrase (or turn it into a sound file that you can email to people), then later tap the file drawer icon to pull from your list of stock phrases. Speak it! does limit the size of the file you can save as audio, as a thirty thousand word audio file would crush your iPhone's processor and battery. However, you can save your big file to your soundboard to build a library of computer-read audiobooks.
Some of These Are Really Helpful
If you don't like any of the pre-installed voices, choose from 30 additional $0.99 voice packs in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, and more. All of these will speak foreign language text and can also read your English text in their accented voices. The in-app store even allows you to preview what these voices sound like, so you can decide if you like them before dropping any coin. Most voices are decent, nothing spectacular, obviously computerized, but the quality increases in just the last few years is nothing short of amazing.
Chiara Is Quite A Find
We're curious as to whether any actual text limit comes in since we haven't found a breaking point yet. We upped the ante from our original four chapter test to the first thirteen chapters of Huck Finn for a total of 30,000 words and as soon as we tapped play we were off to the races. Speak it! not only retains your text after you close it and reopen it later, it also lets you tap and scroll to where you want the reading to continue. Now if you could just bookmark your place in the text, you'd be on to something.
Developer Dong Baik has put together something really different here with Voice Brief, an app that takes TTS to a social level. Imagine a personal assistant who, while you're shaving or brushing your teeth or driving or anything else, reads you your Facebook feed, your Twitter updates, a brief summary of your Gmail inbox, the news headlines, the weather, and the date and time. You can even link it to your Calendar and give you a run down of upcoming events from today all the way out to 8 weeks from now.
It Will Read Your Updates for You
When the app starts for the first time, it immediately begins talking to you, which is a little startling. Beyond that, though, it goes straight to awesome. Tap the gear icon which takes you to the Settings page. Here tap the Edit Contents to link to your social accounts, your Gmail inbox, a custom sentence like a pithy quote to get your blood flowing of a morning. Follow stocks? You can add those too.
And you can choose how many updates you want read from each section, from one to twenty, so if there's only a little bit of news headlines you want, then you can keep it, well, brief. If you want more content, you can crank it up.
Add A Whole Bunch of Stuff To Stay on Top of Things
Voice Brief comes with some of four pre-loaded voices we saw in Speak it!, but without any options we could find to purchase more. At least the app did let us set up two different voices, so one can read just the headlines while a second voice reads the details. This might just be as close as you get to a Jeeves-like valet to keep you on top of things. You can alter the voices' speeds, plus there's a built in browser that will let you read the source material in full.
Choose Your Voice, Choose Her Speed
We also posted in the same first 30,000 words from Huck Finn under our option of "Custom Sentence" and Voice Brief just began reading without any worries as though this were just another bit of content like how many people liked or commented on my puppy pictures.
There were a few glitches with going back to add even more content. The moment we returned to our updated timeline, the app would start acting like a badly scratched record, audio glitching. We restarted the app without problems, but this happened a bit too regularly to be anything other than an error in coding somewhere. The same kind of glitching also took place when we tried to use the audio controls across the app's bottom, forcing us to restart.
Ungraceful Exit Is a Nice Way To Say Crash
But when it worked perfectly, we found Voice Brief to be an awesome addition to our app line up. Fire it up in the morning, and let your iPhone catch you up on what you missed while you slept, all while you're busy doing something else. If the developer can mash a few bugs in an update (and maybe bake in a few more email services, allow for multiple accounts, and let us add in more voices) then this app would get regular, repeated daily use.
Look, your reasons for buying a TTS app are going to vary. Maybe you just need a soundboard for telephone pranking, maybe you truly have speech issues that make these kinds of apps a blessing, or maybe you are a high powered executive without time to keep up with your accounts and stocks. From that perspective it's difficult to give you a clear winner here.
Both apps use mostly the same voices, so you get the same quality of reader, but both apps ultimately do different things. You can make Voice Brief do what Speak it! does, but until the kinks are ironed out if it's just straight text-to-speech, stick with Speak it! It's dead simple to use, can save multiple large text files so can double as an audio book library, and comes packed with voice options.
If you want to kick things up a notch socially and can deal with some crashing and some glitches, then Voice Brief is just a magical, killer app. It makes keeping up with your personal data streams a breeze.