ReadAloud is a Windows Phone text-to-speech app that’s great to have on hand when you don’t feel like reading yet you still want to take in the information from a text. Or maybe you simply want to take a break from staring into a screen and give your eyes a rest.
Intro & layout
The human, yet inflexible voice that’s reading the text is not exactly suitable to read your children their favorite bed time story, but it’s more than decent for us grownups. At first use, ReadAloud greets you with a screen that offers guides and documentation for the app. To be honest, I took a quick look at the Quick Start guide but I entered the app soon, since I usually want to see how fast I get accustomed to an app at first use, with no extra help.
The main screen is straightforward, although I’m not particularly fond of the layout because it looks too much like the Windows Phone Start Screen. There are also panes for Recent items and Pinned items (another term for Favorites to make things clearer).
Reading texts, web pages and .pdf documents
The first option in ReadAloud is to read you a piece of text that you write inside the app or paste it from an external source. The app also lets you enter a URL through the related option, after which it will load the text present on the corresponding web page and give you the option to listen to it.
Nevertheless, there’s another way to load a web page into the app. Open it up in your web browser, use the ‘share page’ option and select ReadAloud from the list. The app will load the text and send you a toast notification when it’s done. Tap the notification and you’ll open the text inside ReadAloud where you can play it.
The app can also read .pdf documents to you – I know, it should ideally support a few more formats, starting with the common plain text and Word files but for now this is the only option the app is offering.
Language support, functionality
If you’re wondering what languages ReadAloud supports, the answer is: the ones available in your phone’s Speech menu (under Settings). I find this to be quite limiting, since there not that many languages available in there. I don’t think there will be language support for this app that’s not depending on the OS, so it remains to be seen what Microsoft will do about this in the future.
The playback controls let you jump from one phrase to another and for .pdf documents you can also navigate to specific pages. If you use the play button, the app will read the text, but it won’t run in the background. If you leave the app while it’s playing, it will stop reading, but it resumes from the last position when you open that file again.
In the app bar, you get a few more options under the three-dots icon. From there you can pin the current text – not on the Start Screen as you might think – , in the app’s Pinned list. There are also shortcuts to speech controls that let you change the rate and pitch, as well as the app’s settings. Last, but not least there is the very important ‘Read in background’ option.
Overall, this option works fine, but I did experience a few weird issues with it. The first time I activated it, the app was already reading the text to me, in the non-background mode. After I exited the app with the ‘Read in background’ option enabled, the reading stopped. I restarted the app, opened a text and used the same option alone and this time it worked. At one point I wanted to stop the reading and I tapped the Stop button but it had no effect whatsoever. Apparently, it only stops the reading for the non-background mode. I find this strange, and most definitely something that should be fixed, whether it’s a bug or simply bad design.
The Settings menu has a Language pane where you can see the current language – even though to change it you need to go to your phone’s Settings – Speech options but you can change the voice gender from within the app. In the Text pane you can change the font size, color scheme and highlight color. There’s also a preview box so you can see how the text looks without exiting the Settings menu.
In the General tab you can increase the number of items shown in the Recent list, enable sticky notifications and change what happens when you share a text to the app – by default it will generate the toast notification I mentioned above, but you can also enable the app to speak right away in the background or opt to make your choice on the spot.
The app is free, with some limitations but this is definitely not clear when you start using it. The only way to find out is to actually encounter one of these limitations while using the app or by tapping on the Store icon (in ReadAloud’s Start menu) where you can see the full list of limitations imposed on the free version along with the option to buy it.
If you decide to purchase the full version of ReadAloud for $1.99, you’ll remove the adds, the app will read files larger than 200 pages, you’ll be able to have a Recent list with more than 10 items and a Pinned list with more than 5. ReadAloud is a universal app, so if you buy it you can use it on all your Windows and Windows Phone 8.1 devices.
ReadAloud is definitely a useful app, it does a good job at reading text in an of your phone’s Speech languages and it’s definitely easy to use (even without its handy documentation and guides). There are a few details that need to be polished and the layout is definitely not one of the most inspired, but none of these minor problems undermine ReadAloud’s current functionality.
If you think you could use a text-to-speech app on your Windows Phone, download ReadAloud, give it a try and let us know how you like the app! Or, you can head over to the Pocketmeta forums and join in on some more mobile technology discussion.