Android users have something to feel smug about this week as Pocket for Android updated with an exclusive feature: text-to-speech. iOS users can’t even hope for this feature as iOS SDK doesn’t support any text-to-speech API. While iOS devices are fully capable of handling text-to-speech as seen with Siri, there’s no way for app developers to tap into her text-to-speech framework.
The text-to-speech feature within Pocket is called ‘Listen‘ and can be enabled in any article you save in Pocket. Listen is great for people who save long, text heavy articles with Pocket but cannot read them at the moment.
It’s nice to see Pocket stepping up with new features to further differentiate itself from competitors like Instapaper and Apple’s ‘Reading List’ feature in Safari. So how does Listen work? Let me show you.
If you’ve just updated Pocket for Android, you’ll be greeted with a message that will take you to a changelog for version 4.2. There’s a healthy amount of fixes and interface updates but the highlighted feature is Listen.
From the main page, choose an article you’d like to be read to you. From there, hit the menu button (the button with three dots) and you’ll see a new option for ‘Listen (TTS),’ which will bring up an audio player.
The audio player doesn’t take up the whole screen but does gray out the article so you won’t be able to read along with the audio, which is a bummer. There are buttons for previous, play/pause, and fast forward. The previous and fast forward buttons allow users to skip paragraphs. There’s currently no way to start from a middle of a paragraph.
There are also options to change the speed of the narration as well as changing the voice and language. Listen is smart and will detect the language the article is written in and will offer a choice of voices for that language. For English, I was given a choice between British and American English.
Text-to-speech worked fairly well but it’s not perfect. The voices still sound pretty robotic and will trip up on pronunciation of some basic words. There are also plenty of awkward pauses or lack there of, making it hard to comprehend some sentences without mentally repeating them.
I hope the Pocket team will build a text-to-speech player that can be minimized and that can highlight the current word that’s synced with the narration. Still, Listen is a very usable feature and definitely beneficial for those who are hard of sight or wish to have text heavy articles read to them rather than reading it themselves.