If you bought the new Fire tablet when it was on sale for Black Friday, you might be wondering if you can have it read books aloud to you. As it happens, the Fire’s e-reading application does incorporate text-to-speech, a feature missing from the most recent models of e-ink Kindle. Although it’s not enabled by default, it’s actually remarkably easy to turn on.

To activate text-to-speech, just open an e-book, then tap in the middle of the screen to open the toolbar interface, then tap on the three-dot icon at the upper right. Choose “Additional Settings” and a settings screen will open, with a number of toggle switches at the right. About a third of the way down, the option “Text-to-Speech (When available for the title)” will be switched off. Just tap the switch to turn it on. Then tap the back arrow at the top of the screen to return to the book you were reading.

Now tapping the screen to open the toolbar will also open a bar at the bottom of the screen that has a “play” button—the same interface that comes up if you’ve bought an Audible audiobook that syncs to the Kindle e-book. Just press the “play” button and the text-to-speech software will start reading it to you (unless you’ve downloaded the Audible audiobook for this book, which supersedes the text-to-speech mode). There’s also a speed control that will let you speed up the reading. This will work both in the “Books” reader that the Fire uses for bought-from-Amazon Kindle books, and the “Documents” reader used for e-books from somewhere else.

The text-to-speech reader isn’t all that great, with weird computerized inflections. If you pause it, it starts over again at the top of the page. Still, it’s better than nothing if you want to listen to a book while doing something else, such as driving.

Publisher’s Note: Big thanks to Chris for the terrific little post above; now here’s a different perspective. Yes, the native reader built into the Fire’s e-book software is primitive, in terms of navigation, and I really dislike the default voice, but at no cost, you can go to Settings and download and choose the far-more-pleasant “Amy” voice.

Amy is British, so you might have to change your language setting to the one for the UK, but for me at least, she is worth the effort. In fact, she sounds better than in her usual Android incarnation (available via Google Play and the Ivona speech engine), which is a bit scratchy.

I’d love for TeleRead community members with Fires to try out Amy and share their own impressions. Remember, the cost is $0.

By the way, I don’t just use Amy within the Fire’s own e-reader. She is also available when you’ve loaded Moon+ Reader on the Fire, though—once again—you may need the UK setting. She also works with FBReader on the Fire.

Questions? Post ‘em and I’ll try and be helpful (although I’ll be out much of today).

Meanwhile in the next day or so, I’ll see if and how the Fire’s text to speech works with the Voice Dream Android app, which you can sideload, like Moon+ ,  after picking it up on another machine via Google Play and sharing the file via Dropbox. – David Rothman


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