What is this about
This is a post in part of an extended series on speech-assisted reading on mobile devices (I call it STAR for speech-and-tablet-assisted reading).
In this post, we will review several apps that will let you read the news with the assistance of speech. The apps are:
How to read news with speech
Unfortunately, most news apps or news websites do not offer a speech version of their pages. This is a big omission and makes news more difficult to access for people with dyslexia.
Luckily there are apps with online services that can help. There are two ways in which this can be done:
- App to subscribe to a news feed from a news web site or blog
- App to send a page to using a browser extension to read later with speech
Reading news on iPads
On an iPad, reading with speech is easy thanks to the Speak Screen feature we covered in detail recently.
If you have Speak Screen enabled, all you have to do is swipe with two fingers from the top edge of your iPad or iPhone screen. This works on any webpage or inside a news app.
On an Android tablet or phone, you can use the @VoiceAloud app but it does not work with all other news apps.
You will be much better off with a special app designed just for news. Many news publications have their own apps but if you follow more than one, it is best to use a general newsreader. This will also let you discover more news stories.
What it does
Palabre is my daily news reading app. It downloads the latest items from news sites and blogs I subscribe to. It has the best text formatting options I found and a readability mode. You can subscribe to news directly or using Feedly (which is what I do).
Palabre just recently added text-to-speech that works really well. Palabre is Android only.
The basic Palabre app is free but you can buy the premium version for additional features.
How to use it
To pick a source of news, tap on the three-line menu in the top left corner and under Providers, choose Palabre (RSS), there will be suggestions there for you. Or you can add an individual web site by searching for it under Manage sources.
To read news, simply tap on the title of the article from the list you want to read. At the bottom of the page, you can choose Readability mode which will make it much more dyslexia-friendly.
You can also swipe left or right to jump from article to article.
I recommend that you explore the settings for display options to choose the one that poses the fewest distractions.
To start speech, simply choose Text-to-Speech from the three 3-dot menu in the top right corner.
Then use the play/pause button to control speech. The skip buttons skip between articles, not in the text.
You can also enable the Auto play next option under settings. This means that all articles in your feed will be read out one after the other.
If you want to change the speed of play back, you have to do it in the system-wide text-to-speech settings.
The app will speak in the background or when your phone screen is turned off but has no remote controls.
I could not find a good alternative app that would have speech built in. Instapaper is the best alternative but you have to manually send articles to it.
What it does
Instapaper is one of the first read it later services that appeared about 10 years ago. I use it regularly to store longer webpages and news items that I want to read later. I installed an extension in Chrome that I click every time I come across a webpage I want to read later on my phone or tablet. It also integrates directly with Palabre on my phone, so if I come across a very long news item or a blog post, I can save it directly to Instapaper for reading later.
Another advantage of Instapaper is that it simplifies the webpage you are reading and only shows you the text and main images. It strips away all the confusing sidebars and headers and footers.
Instapaper has free apps for iOS and Android. You can also read stories in Instapaper using its website.
The basic service is free but Instapaper charges a monthly subscription for some advanced features such as note taking and searching through your archive.
How to use it
Instapaper is really easy to use:
If you only use it on your phone or tablet, all you have to do is install the app. Then when you come across a long news story or webpage, you simply share it to Instapaper.
If you also want to use it on your computer, you will need to install a free extension for your browser. Then simply click the extension icon when you are on a webpage that you want to read later.
To start listening to a new story in Instapaper, simply tap on the three-dot menu in the top right corner and choose Speak. The app will start reading and highlighting text as it is read out.
You can skip back and forth by sentence using the skip buttons. I recommend to change the speed of playback.
You can even cue up multiple stories to play one after another, if you use folders.
Although, there are no subscriptions in Instapaper, advanced users can use IFTTT to have them automatically sent to the app.
Some people may even like to use the built in speed reader that shows you the article word by word.
The main competitor to Instapaper is Pocket. It also has a free text-to-speech facility but I think the Instapaper implementation is much more user-friendly.
What it does
Nuzzle is a slightly different way of getting news. It does not contain text-to-speech functionality directly in the app but its great advantage is that it offers dyslexia-friendly formatting of news stories.
Nuzzle does not get news stories from websites that you tell it to. Instead, it looks in your Twitter or Facebook feeds to see what new stories are popular with your friends or the people you follow. If more than one person mentions a link, Nuzzle will pull it into its app.
How to use it
You do need a Twitter account but you don’t have to ever share anything on it. Simply find some people who you think will have something interesting to share (Twitter gives you some suggestions when you first sign up) and follow them. Then use your Twitter account to sign up for Nuzzle and you never have to visit Twitter again. Nuzzle will simply pull all the news stories you need.
Both Twitter and Nuzzle are completely free.
Then if you want to read one of the news stories with the assistance of speech, simply use the share icon to send it to Instapaper or @Voice Aloud. Or use Speak Screen on an iPad or the iPhone.
Free apps and services similar to Nuzzle do exist but I found them to be less friendly for struggling readers. Two to consider are:
Another way to access news without straining your eyes is to listen to news podcasts. There are many podcasts you can subscribe to for free and will give you a regular update on what is going on. You can read more about podcasts in a previous Tech Thursday post.
Next: Learning foreign languages with apps
Next time, we will look at some apps that can be used to help learn a foreign language.
Tech Thursday is written by Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist