Woo-hoo! Text-to-speech on the Kindle Fire (for some books)

Woo-hoo! Text-to-speech on the Kindle Fire (for some books)

Tom Semple, you are my hero this morning!

Tom is one of my regular readers and commenters, and very technically adept.

As ILMKerss know, I use text-to-speech for hours a week, typically, on my Kindle Keyboard, Wi-Fi. That’s the software that reads text out loud (unless that access is blocked by the publisher). I’ve done that since the Kindle 2.

I took my Kindle Fire to work with me yesterday, partially to test it out as a work device for me. I was able to take notes somewhat effectively, which is important. I was away from wi-fi most of the time, so I got a sense of those limitations. With a little forethought, it’s not bad, although I would have had to go somewhere at lunch to use the internet on it…it wouldn’t have been far, though…I could have done it, had lunch, and been back in an hour easily.

I left my reflective screen Kindle at home…which did create some separation anxiety. 🙂 That’s how I suffer for you.. 😉 Just kidding, but the part that drove me nuts was a forty-five minute drive without enjoying a book.

I’d like to be able to use the Kindle Fire when at work, and the reflective screen Kindle at home (for longer form reading).

Without text-to-speech, though, the Kindle Fire would fail me getting to and from work (and I work different places different days).

Now, thanks to Tom Semple, I have a potential solution!

I had downloaded Quickoffice Pro when it was the FAOTD (Free App Of The Day). It’s $14.99 right now.

Tom told me that it did text-to-speech (I had found the Pico TTS app on the Kindle Fire, but I did think it was being used).

So, I tried it. I didn’t test it on a Kindle store book, and it didn’t give me that option. What it do was let me pull in a document from Google Docs…and it did read it out loud for me!

It’s much slower than the setting I use on my Kindle, but it definitely worked.

I didn’t have a book in there…it was reading a relative’s wish list for the holidays. 🙂 I downloaded A Tale of Two Cities from Project Gutenberg in plain text format.

I uploaded it to Google Docs (having it keep the txt format) using my Significant Other’s netbook. I didn’t try downloading it directly to the Fire yet..that might be possible.

I was able to open it through Quickoffice, then tap the bottom of the screen and tap the megaphone icon.

Boom! Text-to-speech!

I haven’t found a way to adjust any voice options. This one was somewhat like the female voice on the Kindle on the middle speed, I’d say, but it might work for me. I’ll test it out in the car today.

I use text-to-speech with personal documents now, and it will work for that. Again, I don’t expect it to work for Kindle store books (even the minority that do not have Digital Rights Management…DRM), but I read a lot of things that aren’t. I can work this for magazine articles and work documents, and public domain books. That may be very helpful for me.

Does it make the device more accessible for those with print disabilities? I’m not at all sure how they would start something…I haven’t found audible menus or feedback yet.

However, this greatly enhances the value of the Fire for me. I prefer TTS to audiobooks, if I haven’t read the book yet. It would take some adjustment to get used to this voice for me, but still…woo-hoo!

This also clearly suggests to me that we could get text-to-speech on Kindle books on the Fire with an upgrade.

Thanks again, Tom Semple! I’m always grateful that readers take the time and make the effort to comment on the blog. We are much wiser as a group than I am as an individual, and those comments let me share this wisdom with you.

Update: the voice worked for me in the car, although it is slow for me and not as clear as my K3. However, there was a problem in using it for a book…it doesn’t know where I stopped. It would work for short stories, articles, and work documents, though.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

11 Responses to “Woo-hoo! Text-to-speech on the Kindle Fire (for some books)”

  1. TJ Picard Says:

    I started to research the subject a few days ago when I learned that the KF didn’t have TTS (deal breaker for me). I tested the following on my android phone. Hopefully it’ll work on the KF (can someone confirm?):

    “ezPDF Reader”, available through the Appstore (was also a Free App of the day some time ago), has TTS functionality for PDF files. It also has “text reflow”.

    TTS settings (like speech rate) can be configured via the app Settings -> Voice input & output (the same Setting app used for Wireless configuration, app management, etc).

    You can also download different TTS engines to replace PICO and have a smoother voice. I’m currently testing SVOX Classic TTS (free trial).


    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, TJ!

      Let me know what you think…I may experiment with some other TTS apps myself. I’m not going to sideload any apps, most likely, but there are some possibilities in the Amazon Appstore.

  2. Al Says:

    If the Fire will read a personal TXT document, try converting an AZW file to a TXT file using calibre. There is a plug in that magically makes it possible to convert locked files. It won’t do books that are already in the calibre library, but will strip any that you put in after the plugin is installed. Makes it possible to use documents any way you like, but does not give you permission to violate the copyright, just the “terms” which are mostly impossible to follow anyway.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Al!

      Hmm..I’d thought Calibre wasn’t stripping DRM (Digital Rights Management), because that can be illegal in and of itself (except for certain exceptions delineated by the Copyright Office). Is the plug-in from Calibre, or somewhere else? It does sound like someone doing it would be violating Amazon’s Terms of Service.

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  6. Diane Says:

    Is there a way to see if a book has the TTS capability before you buy it?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Diane!

      Yes, but let me explain that a bit first, particularly since you commented on a post about the Kindle Fire.

      The Kindle 2, Kindle Keyboard, Kindle Touch, and Kindle DX can “read aloud” any text downloaded to them…unless that access is blocked by the publisher.

      If it is blocked, it will be indicated on the book’s Amazon product page by saying

      Text-to-speech: not enabled

      I’ve always felt that language was a bit…confusing. Nothing needs to be done by a publisher to enable text-to-speech. If they do nothing, it works. They have to take an active step to block it, not to enable it.

      That may seem like a subtle difference, but it’s important. It’s why I can listen to work documents on my Kindles…nothing has to be done to make them TTS available. It’s why we can listen to text files, like the free books we get from Project Gutenberg.

      The Kindle Fire is (currently) different, though.

      The Pico TTS that is on the Kindle Fire does not work with Kindle store books…so whether a title says it has been “enabled” or not is irrelevant for that device.

  7. Diane Says:

    I am still at a lose regarding how to turn on the text to speach option. I’ve looked throughout my KF setup under More and book extras on the actual I’m reading and I can’t seem to figure out where the options is??

    I was also wondering if there is a blue tooth ear piece (for the 1st generation KF) that you could wear to listen to audio books without having to carry around the kindle fire while you do housework, etc.

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