Google has rolled out an update to its eBook app for Android, adding support for pinch-to-zoom, double-tap to zoom, improved text editing when taking notes, and bug fixes.
Oh yeah, there’s also a new “Read aloud” option in Google Play Books that lets you listen to books instead of reading them.
Google Android has text-to-speech capabilities built in. The new Read aloud feature taps into the text-to-speech engine to read books out loud. It works on most books that support flowing text, including books purchase from the Play Store or public domain works.
Unfortunately, the default Android speech engine sounds kind of awful. Imagine being read a bedtime story by your GPS navigation app.
The good news is you can install third party speech engines and voices. I’m particularly fond of the Ivona speech engine and Ivona Amy UK English voice. The result may not sound quite as good as a professionally narrated audiobook, but it’s not bad — especially if you want to be able to listen to a book and then pick up reading where you left off on another device.
Technically you could always use Android’s text-to-speech features to listen to books. You can enable TalkBack from the Android Accessibility settings to have your phone or tablet read just about everything aloud to you — but that includes menus, icon text, and just about everything else on your device. It’s not an ideal experience unless you’re visually impaired and need your device to read everything out loud.
There are a few other eBook apps that already support text-to-speech, including FBReader (with a TTS plugin) and Cool Reader. But right now this is a feature you won’t get from the NOOK, Kindle, or Kobo apps for most Android devices.