Make your iPhone read to you

I’m on my phone a lot. Lately, I’ve started growing increasingly annoyed at trying to read stuff on-the-go, which is something I do quite often. Trying to catch up on emails or the early news of the day during the morning commute is all fine and good when I’m on a bus, for example, but not so much when I’m making my way through rush-hour crowds. And if I’m heading to an assignment, it would be great if I could listen to past stories on the subject as I make my way there.

I tweeted about wanting an app that would read my stuff to me, and friend Devon Goodsell replied suggesting iSpeech. I downloaded it — it’s free — and checked it out.

Pros: The voice is pretty great. The default is a fluid-sounding female voice, almost human-like. The intonations are fairly accurate too, for a robot. I tested it with a profanity-laced email and it was pretty great to hear it read out it in this sweet voice. You can also select a voice with a British accent for free. For money, you can apparently make it read you stuff in Barack Obama’s voice. (Bush is also an option.)

Cons: You have to copy and paste the text into the app, which means you still have to fidget with your phone, but it’s a step. It also limits the amount of text it will read at once. (Not sure what the exact limit is.)

I then Googled, and found out iOS5 actually has an option that will do exactly what I wanted — right at the screen of whatever you’re reading, without having to open another app. To toggle it, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak Selection and turn it on. You’ll likely want to slow down the rate of speech a bit, as the default is pretty quick.

Pros: It only takes a couple taps to get it reading and you don’t have to open another app.

Cons: It’s in Siri’s robotic voice. (Total first world problem, I’m aware.) This option also doesn’t really work with Instapaper, which is really the exact type of thing it should work for. (For those who don’t know: Instapaper allows you to save webpages for later reading. On a smartphone, it essentially downloads a webpage, strips it of unnecessary formatting and saves a cleaned up (think print screen) version of it within the app for you to read later — even if you’re offline.) On other pages, you select Speak Selection by holding your finger on a block of text for a second, as if you were going to copy it. In Instapaper, it suddenly removes the “select all” option, and the drag-highlighting mechanism doesn’t work.

I’m going to play with these for a couple of days and see how practical they are. Can’t see anything being more simple than the Speak Selection option despite its flaws, though. In the mean time, does anyone have any other suggestions? Help, please. Don’t let me be this guy:

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