Amazon kills text-to-speech with new Kindle Paperwhite

For the last few years Amazon has been been offering a text-to-speech option in some Kindle eReaders. This lets you listen to books by plugging in a set of headphones or by using the speakers in a Kindle Keyboard or Kindle Touch.

What’s cool is that this works with almost any eBook because the Kindle software converts text to speech. You don’t need to pay extra for an audiobook.

But Amazon’s newest Kindle eReaders don’t support text-to-speech.

Amazon Kindle text-to-speech

In fact, the new Amazon Kindle Papwerhite doesn’t even have a speaker or headphone jack. So you won’t be able to listen to MP3s either. That’s a feature some older Kindle models supported.

To be fair, both text-to-speech and MP3 playback were always described as “experimental” features, which suggested two things: They might still be buggy, and Amazon could kill the features at any time.

Text-to-speech also isn’t all that great on older Kindles. Instead of listening to a voice actor performing a dramatic reading of a book with, you get a digital voice that mispronounces words, struggles to pause correctly at punctuation marks, and mangles proper nouns.

But since I picked up a Kindle Touch 10 months ago, I’ve found myself using the feature more often than I would have expected. It lets you “read” a book when you’re in a situation where it might otherwise be difficult. For instance, when you’re bobbing up and down on an exercise machine, or when you’re riding a bus (if, like me, you get motion sick when trying to read a book on a bus).

Text-to-speech also allows people with visual impairments listen to books that don’t have an official audiobook version, including many out of print titles or independent releases.

While many Kindle readers won’t miss this feature, it was one of the things that helped set Amazon’s eReaders apart from the competition.

I guess Amazon is counting on the new paperwhite screen, higher resolution display, and glow light to do that now.

Meanwhile if you need text-to-speech, Amazon still offers the Kindle Keyboard3G for $139. You can also find plenty of new and used Kindle Touch models on eBay.

via The Digital Reader

  • guest

    What about the more recent Vox KOBO models…do any of these support this feature?

    • Sean

      I use TTS for their morning and evening commute 10 Hours a week. My wife got me the Kindle for Christmas a few years back and its on the fritz TTS is not working and the pic screens (not text screen) is all messed up. dose the Kindle Fire have Test to speech? How about the Nook, i-Pad?

  • http://twitter.com/adamrshields Adam Shields

    I am disappointed in the loss. My mom uses it all the time and it is the only reason she still uses her Kindle with Keyboard. She prefers her fire, but she uses the text to speech.

    I wonder how much the problems with the disabled community have influenced this. Amazon was sued and had some pretty strong reports against them because the text to speech was not good enough for many disability rights organizations. So I suspect that they may have just gotten rid of it instead of improving it to meet their standards. (That and because it was a way to shrink the device and eliminate some cost.)

  • toronado455

    I can understand Amazon narrowing the focus here to a pure-play paper book replacement device. After all, real books don’t have speakers or read to you either, and that is the product they are apparently aiming to make obsolete here.

  • Renee Auclair

    Removal of this feature may force people who count on it to Windows tablets, where one can install third party text to speech (TTS) voices and software.

    The advantage here is that the voices, such as Ivona’s, are much better than the awful Nuance voices (the 800 lb gorilla in the TTS voice arena). The TTS software can also be very good, as in NextUp’s TextAloud, which can also convert the computer generated spoken text in mp3 files.

    Unfortunately, some ebook management/reader software do not work with TTS.

    There is a role for government here, to mandate that ebook reader software work with TTS software, if industry doesn’t police itself, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act.

    As America ages and its collective eyesight degrades, the market for TTS can only grow.

    • Renee Auclair

      Ebooks with dialog in them can be tagged such that, if you have multiple voices installed on your computer, different voices can be used, one for each character, similar to the way different instruments play on MIDI.

      One of the problems with single voice TTS is that you sometimes don’t know which character is speaking.

  • guest

    If it weren’t for my Kindle’s text-to-speech feature I wouldn’t get to read at all. I use it during my work commute, while doing household chores, yard work, etc. While it’s not exactly like listening to an audiobook, it certainly fills the void — and the Kindle books are MUCH cheaper than audiobooks. I was interested in the new Paperwhite until I found out it has no TTS … think I’ll stick with my keyboard model.

  • LoveTextToSpeech

    I will not buy another amazon device that does not have text to speech. I really love my kindle and just sold my kindle fire last week to buy the new tablet. If they don’t support TTS I will get Nexus if it offers TTS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.bishop.330 Adam Bishop

    What a disappointment. I’ve been following the news about the new Kindle ever since it was first announced, and it has looked perfect up until now.

    I’m one of the ones who DOES use the voice feature, frequently. It’s great to be able to read a bit, and pick up where you left off on the drive to/from work.

    I still may get one, but this feature is a big one that I just loved.

  • Kristen

    The tts feature was the deciding point in purchasing my original kindle and the reason I’ve kept purchasing kindle products over other readers. I am very disappointed.

  • Dottie

    I love the the text-to-speech and that feature is why I have not updated to a newer Kindle. I also like to continue my housework or to listen while driving.

  • Mary

    Without text to speech the new Kindle will be worthless. I won’t be buying one.

    • eunometic

      The Kindle Fire Series (with a colour backlit display) still feature excellent text to speech, just make sure you purchase one optimised for the UK, US or Australian market as appropirate to you and its also on the older A4 sized Kindle DX.
      I assume that on the paperwhite versions Amazon decided to save a few tens of dollars or pounds by eliminating all audio (both the speekers and audio jack socket have been engineered out) to get the cheepest possible e-reader out to the masses. A late model 7 inch kindle fire has an excellent screen and is not too expensive though its not as good in sunlight as e-ink by far and one has the hassle of recharing the battery every day.
      Some say Amazon did this to avoid conflicting with its Audible buisiness of professionally read books. This can’t be true as the paperwhite e-ink readers have no audio at all and amazon can disable TTS on specific e-books as required by the copyright owner. It simply needs to get its basic e-reader out to the public as cheap as possible.
      The iPad can do Kindle text to speech by turning on the “voice over” option in the accessibillity section. It’s an excellent voice (Siri) though as it’s designed for blind people so its a little awkward since you must now tap to select each menu item and then double tap to confirm but I got used to it.
      The the solution is simple buy a kindle fire or use the IPad/iPhone voice over or just buy the audible version.
      Since I love to use my kindle on the beech both purchasing, reading and then swiching to TTS I’m hanging on to my old Kindle Keyboard 3G whose older non paperwhite display is at no disadvantage in that setting. There is no problem running 6 Kindle devices.

  • http://twitter.com/jawss Jocelyn V. Englund

    i have the 2nd gen kindle i think and i love the TTS function. The only reason i was looking at the new one is because the earphone jack is acting up. I wonder if amazon will change their minds about it..now i don’t know if i should buy 1 generation back just for the TTS…

  • Yogee007

    I so wanted to buy paperwhite, but hell no, I rather keep my awesome kindle touch because it reads to me when i can’t

  • http://twitter.com/takisoma Taki Soma

    I used text-to-speech often to help me concentrate better on the book while I read… especially, as you mentioned, while on treadmill – I liked that it turned the pages for you so you don’t have to as you ran, too – man, am I gonna miss that feature.

  • Cheryl Ross

    I was about to purchase a paperwhite today and when i realized there was no text to speech, that feature alone, completed caused me to cancel my order. Bring it back Amazon!!!

  • Benny Galvan

    I suspect why Amazon would kill the Text-To-Speech feature: let’s say I buy ANY book from Amazon in kindle format for let’s say, $12 (which is a lot of money already for a text file, but don’t get me started). There is a 95% chance of having included Text-To-Speech. “So what” if it sounds like your Roomba robot is reading to you? It’s cheaper than an Audiobook. With the added advantage that I can read what’s on the screen if I don’t understand.
    The problem is….. Amazon cannot compete with itself. It has Audible Audiobooks to sell. They’re more expensive, they’re bulky audio files, but sound better because someone got paid to read it. Probably it comes down to a hard business decision. Hopefully someone discovers that a machine reading text to you is the future of interactivity.

    • mimi

      I hope so because I can not stand the overdramatic reading on an audiobook

  • rogerpenna

    Did old Kindle´s text to speed supported other languages (in particular, brazilian portuguese)?? My grandmother (95 yo) has visual impairment, which is a shame since she always loved to read. I want to find her a way to listen to books. If old Kindle´s support text to speech, I would go with them, otherwise an Android tablet would be an option, since they have several TTS apps.

  • rakdragon

    I am disappointed that text to speech is missing on the paperwhite,if I had knowen I would not have purchased it .To be fair Kindle should have mentioned it when selling the Paperwhite

  • anon

    I use both text to speech and Audible for listening to books, which is my primary method of consumption since I can do it during the workday. I think this was a poor decision on Amazon’s part.

  • irritated

    Sadly I bought the Paperwhite without realizing it didn’t have text to speech. I did have the keyboard Kindle and I stored all my audible books on it and listened when I couldn’t read. Now I can’t listen to my audible books on my kindle. Had I know…