Too lazy to read? Why not get your iPhone to read for you instead? With native iOS text-to-speech and a few great apps, you can use your smartphone to take your productivity to the next level.
Once you get used to the robotic cadence, you’ll love being able to speed through your reading list in no time.
We’ve already showed you how the Chrome browser to read content out loud to you, so here’s how you can get a similar experience on your iPhone.
How to Use the iPhone’s Native Text-to-Speech Feature
You can use the iPhone’s native text-to-speech feature in pretty much any app that has text. To activate the feature head to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech. There, you can choose from two different ways to access the feature – reading text that you’ve selected on the page, or swiping down with two fingers from the top of the screen to hear the content.
Under Voices there are a variety of accents to choose from in English including US, UK, Australian, Irish, and South African. Each of these accents also has an enhanced quality version. For the default US version the difference between the default and enhanced quality is pretty subtle.
There’s a variety of languages available through the native feature as well including Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, French, Greek, Hebrew, and much more. You can also adjust the speed at which the text is spoken, and choose to highlight content as it is spoken.
If you choose to use the ‘select the text’ method, you’ll first need to select text, then hit the Speak button that appears. The only control you have over playback is pausing and playing — the speed at which the text is read will depend on the native settings mentioned above.
If you want to use the swipe down method, you’ll have a little control menu that appears on the screen. You can control the playback, speed, and minimize the menu. You can also move the little menu around the screen, and it will automatically minimize after a short period of not interacting with it.
These features can be used on almost any screen on your phone that has text.
How to Listen to Anything on the Web
If you’re interested in listening to any article on the web, Audiofy offers free and premium options. With the free version, you get a system voice that sounds like most other text-to-speech iPhone apps. The premium service, which costs $1.99 a month, on the other hand gives you 16 remarkably natural sounding voices to choose from: five British and US English accents, and four foreign accents (German, Polish, Spanish, and Italian). To save space on your phone, you can download only the voices or accents you plan to use.
There are three ways to listen to web content with Audiofy. You can use the Share button from Chrome, Safari, or any other app supported by the iOS feature (don’t forget to add Audiofy to the options by hitting the More button.)
An even better way to use Audiofy is to connect it to your Pocket account. Once you’ve done so, all your Pocket articles will show up in Audiofy. If you want, you can also add articles by simply pasting the link into the Audiofy browser.
You can save articles in your playlist for offline listening, which is particularly handy if you’re going to use Audiofy during your commute.
You can also adjust the speed at which text is read – normal, 1.5 times faster, and twice as fast. And most importantly, when you first sign up for Audiofy, you get a free week of service to make sure it’s right for you.
How to Listen to Saved Articles
While Audiofy is a great way to listen to articles you’ve saved in Pocket, if you don’t want to be tied into a paid monthly service, there are several free alternatives.
Pocket itself recently introduced this feature to its app. To listen to your articles in Pocket with text-to-speech technology, simply open up the article you want to listen to and hit the “three dot” ellipsis button on the far right of the menu and select Listen (TTS).
With Pocket, the only real option for customization is adjusting the speed at which the text is read to you. One way in which Pocket sets itself apart is by offering this setting on a sliding scale rather than with set increments, giving you complete control over how fast, or slow, the text is read.
If you’re an Instapaper user, that app has the same feature, and it sounds identical to Pocket. To get your phone to read your Instapaper articles, hit the share button in the right hand corner of the menu, and select ‘Speak.’ With Instapaper, you can also adjust the speed at which the text is read – selection from half the speed, normal, and 1.5 and 2 times faster.
How to Listen to Audiobooks
If you’re interested in listening to audiobooks, one of the most comprehensive libraries out there is Audible. The service costs $14.95 a month, but you get a free month of service when you first sign up. You can also find promocodes for Audible when listening to your favorite podcasts, and if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can get three months free, with one free book per month.
Audible also recently integrated its service into the Amazon Kindle app so if you’re already a Kindle reader, you can use just one app to read and listen. And don’t forget that Audible is also available on the iPad. While this is admittedly more like listening to a podcast than the other text-to-speech offerings in this list, it is nonetheless, one more way to listen to the ‘written word’ on your iPhone.
If you’d prefer free alternatives, there are plenty of apps that have harnessed the power of LibriVox, a huge database of public domain books read by volunteers.Classic Audiobooks, with over 7,000 titles in its library, is one such example. The books available through LibriVox range from Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes to the 9/11 Commission Report and Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography.
How to Listen to the News
If you’re looking to keep up with your daily newsfix by having it read to you, check out Newsbeat. You can select the topics of interest to you. Examples include world, US, politics, sports, entertainment, and health.
Once you’ve chosen your topics, Newsbeat will present a playlist of articles for you to listen to on a daily basis. While the app has the option to chose articles narrated only by humans, in my experience, that simply wiped out your list.
The voice used in Newsbeat is the standard system voice found in all text-to-speech apps.
How to Listen to PDFs
If your content is in PDF format, the free app vBookz PDF Voice Reader reads the text to you in an either male or female voice. You will have to download the male voice, while the app comes with the female voice preinstalled. These choices can be accessed in the basic settings of the app.
When you have a PDF open, you can also adjust the speed at which it’s read, using a slider tool. The app also supports foreign languages, but requires an upgrade for each individual language, and will cost you $4.99 per language.
Like most text-to-speech iPhone apps, the voice is a system voice, but if you adjust the speed to around 185 words per minute, it ends up sounding as natural as can be expected from this kind of service.
How to Listen to Email
While there are free apps that offer this feature, like Talkler, they do require you to grant the app certain permissions in order to access to your email account. In its license agreement, Talkler says it “will not view, transfer, or store your emails for the purpose identifying you or your device.” The app however can view anonymous metadata from your email accounts. Examples of this listed in the agreement are types of email accounts and email header info.
If you don’t mind handing over that kind of information, you’ll find that the app supports pretty much all email services: Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, iCloud, and any IMAP, or POP. Exchange is also supported but requires a $2.99 upgrade. A two-week trial allows you to test the feature out before deciding to upgrade.
With Talkler, not only can the app read to you, you can also talk to it. Make your way through your inbox by dictating a series of commands, perfect for (relatively) handsfree operation. Commands include “Hey Talker,” “Play the next email,” “Record a reply,” “Mark unread,” “Delete,” and “Check for new email.”
If you’re uncomfortable with using an app like this, which does sacrifice a certain degree of privacy in exchange for convenience, you can always use the iPhone’s native text-to-speech feature described above instead.
Out of all the services, Audiofy really sets itself apart. While most other services are free, the option to have a far more natural sounding voice narrating your articles to you is well worth the $1.99 a month. That together with Pocket support makes it the natural choice for those of you looking for a new way to keep up with your online reading list.
Do you get your iPhone to talk to you?
Image Credit: Yutaka Tsutano
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