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By now, many of you have seen the promo for Spritz making the rounds on various tech blogs. Spritz makes a bold claim: it suggests that it can have anyone reading at 600 words per minute in less than an hour (the average reading speed is 220). The reason Spritz has been receiving widespread coverage is that it immediately goes on to prove this claim, via a polished demo widget. Within minutes of starting, I was comfortably reading at the maximum rate, which felt a little bit like witchcraft. Spritz is unreleased as yet, but the demo certainly looks promising.
Lots of people know about Spritz. What they may not be aware of is that the technology used by Spritz (called ‘RSVP’ for ‘Rapid Serial Visual Presentation’) is more than 40 years old, and already available on your mobile device, for free. We’ve discussed the technology before, but the move to mobile devices unlocks some exciting possibilities. I tried every Android app I could find and picked the best three for your consideration.
How it Works
Speed reading is the process of reading text very quickly, and is usually a skill that’s challenging to learn. RSVP is a powerful technology that allows anyone to speed read. It works by flashing words at you in sequence very quickly. This speeds up reading in two key ways. First, it eliminates the time taken to move your eyes across the page. Second, it teaches your brain to process text more quickly, if possibly with lower comprehension. RSVPing more than 30% faster than your typical reading speed does result in reduced retention, but RSVP makes it possible to read up to a thousand words per minute.
There are many applications for which the increase in speed is well worth the reduction in comprehension: email, RSS, online articles, and possibly some ebooks could all benefit. You’ll have to experiment to find which applications prove useful for you. Personally, I was surprised to discover that a dyslexic colleague of mine was able to RSVP just as quickly as I could, despite having substantial trouble with conventional forms of reading.
Speed Reader, which supports txt and pdf, opens with an options screen that allows you to pick a document and select your reading speed, the font size and color, and the number of words displayed at once. I tested it with a copy of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” acquired from Project Gutenberg (a favorite of ours).
The app’s basic functionality is nice, but having to double-tap the back button to get back to the settings page is clumsy, and the app lacks the ability to easily rewind, if you lose the thread of a sentence mid-stream (which happens, trying to unravel the grammar of antebellum Mississippi river slang). It does, however, automatically pause when you touch anywhere on the screen – which is important if you’re suddenly distracted.
On a related note, reading novels using RSVP proved to be somewhat uncomfortable. The monotonous nature of the flashing words disrupted the rhythm of the language, and was somewhat off-putting. This is not, however, a limitation of this app in particular, just a note about the technology. It may also be something that you get used to with exposure.
Fastreader is a significantly more polished app, which starts you on a screen that lets you paste text from your clipboard, or open txt and epub files. According to the start screen, PDF support is anticipated shortly. Web pages can also be loaded into it by ‘sharing’ them from the browser.
To try the epub support, I tested Fastreader with the epub version of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Raising Steam.’ Unlike the other apps I tested, Fastreader did introduce a delay of about thirty seconds when loading the text. However, once I actually got into the reading portion, the controls pleasantly surprised me. The app has on-screen controls for altering the size of text and the speed – and, like Speed Reader, automatically pauses when you tap the screen. Even better, the app introduces a clever solution to the problem of losing the thread of a sentence: when you pause, the app displays the full text of the page you’re currently on in the background. This allows you to easily pause and figure out what’s going on if you get lost.
Fastreader was a pleasant surprise, and easily the best designed of the apps I tried. Unfortunately, it seemed somewhat unstable, crashing when I attempted to sleep the phone’s display while using it. The delay is also inconvenient, and made more annoying by the fact that none of its competitors seem to require it.
Sprint Reader has less compatibility than the other apps on this list, as it only supports plain text documents (back to Mark Twain). It’s also artificially capped at 500 words a minute, unless you pay for the premium version or share it on social media. That said, it does have several clever UI components that redeem it.
When you get to Sprint Reader’s reading page, you’ll notice that the middle few letters of words are highlighted in orange. This differentiates them visually, and seems to make reading significantly easier. Furthermore, the app includes a handy slider at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to vary the reading speed in real time if you start to have trouble. Taking your finger off the screen stops the flow of words. The app also lets you see words surrounding the current one, though they’re larger than those in Fastreader.
Of the three apps, Sprint Reader probably has the best actual RSVP functionality, though its compatibility is limited. Between the three apps, there’s something for nearly everyone. We’re still looking forward to Spritz for its expanded compatibility and clean UI, but there’s plenty to here to get started with, whether you’re catching up with your reading backlog, or just saving an extra ten minutes reading your email every morning. Give RSVP a try! The apps are free, and you have nothing to lose but your attention span. Let us know about your experiences in the comments.