For a long time I wondered if there was an app that would read my ebooks to me without having to buy the audiobook that accompanies them. Turns out Speechify can do that.
I hadn’t heard of it until Sanderson talked about it in one of his recent videos. Apparently the founder of the platform said he invented it to help with his dyslexia; you upload documents to the app, and it reads them back to you while highlighting the words that it’s playing. There are, naturally, other applications for this, but that was its inception.
The technology is still kind of new and rough, but I paid for a whole year up front because I want it to refine and succeed. Funding and feedback are the ways to make that happen.
So, here’s a list of things I’ve noticed as I’ve used the service so far.
- It can read ebooks to you, but you have to upload them into your library on your account. It will accept PDFs and DOCX documents, but not the direct AZW format, which is what the Kindle uses. In order to convert those you’ll need some kind of third-party software like Calibre.
- That’s been fine, except that some of my ebooks have DRM enabled and Calibre doesn’t automatically break that. I’ve had trouble figuring out how to make that happen.
- The voices are computer-generated, and somewhat generic based on their sex or nationality, which you can select from a list of options. They also have two celebrity voices right now, and those are Snoop Dogg and Gwyneth Paltrow. Kind of cool.
- One of the downsides is that it’s hard to just listen for long periods of time, because the app doesn’t integrate natural inflection into its playback. You can tell you’re listening to a computer reading something to you. I assume this feature will improve over time, and with modification.
- Sometimes the playback doesn’t read numbers correctly. In the same document I’ve noticed it reads fractions as “five and a half” and “five one slash two.” I’m not sure what triggers the difference.
- You can take a picture of a page of text from a book and it will read it to you. If the text includes footnote references, it’ll also say the letter of the footnote, exactly where it appears in the text. Uploading a tidy document is critical.
- Since the app performs real-time dictation, it needs a steady Internet connection to read whatever you’re giving it. If you’ve got spotty cell service you can expect a lot of interruptions during playback. I haven’t listened for any extended periods of time while at work, which is kind what I was looking forward to. I’ll keep trying this in different parts of town to see how it works.
For the most part though, I like it and I hope it keeps ironing out the kinks.