How to Use Text to Speech in Reading Apps on Android

Text to speech is a useful feature, but it's actually pretty rare in Android reading apps. Most of the big name ebook apps don't have TTS built-in, and Android doesn't have a text to speech tool built-in either,  but we do have a few options.

Google Play Books supports TTS, and so do several indie reading apps. Third party reading apps might not have the same market share as Kobo or Kindle, but what they lack in brand recognition they make up for in ability.

And that's important because stock Android doesn't have TTS. The current versions of Android (4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, etc) have Talkback. That is an accessibility feature, which means that it does a heck of a lot more than simply TTS. For example, Talkback will speak all of the menus at you. That's great if you need an accessibility tool but not so great if you just want an ebook read to you.

Also, Talkback doesn't work with many apps. For example, I couldn't get the Adobe Reader, Feedly, OverDrive, Kobo, Kindle, or Nook apps to work with Talkback.

That forced me to look further afield.

Here's a round-up of the Android reading apps which support TTS in April 2015. For the sake of completeness, I also checked and can confirm that Instapaper and Pocket both offer this feature. (I thought both worked well.)

If there's an app I missed, please let me know in the comments.

Google Play Books

google play books tts

Google Play Books is the only major ebook app to support TTS. The sound quality is decent, and if you install a TTS engine you can change the voice from the default to another.

  • The speed, voice, and other controls are in the accessibility menu in settings.
  • Supported Formats: PDF, Epub (DRMed)
  • Download: Google Play

FBReader

fbreader TTS

FBReader supports TTS via a third-party plugin. The stock voice in the plugin is pretty bad, but you can switch it to another TTS engine (I'm using Ivona). This feature was a little clunky to configure, and each of the 3 times I used it I had to reconfigure the plugin.

CoolReader

coolreader tts

The TTS in this app is crap. Don't even bother trying it.

ezPDF Reader

ezpdf tts

When you need a real PDF app which supports TTS, check out ezPDF. This is my favorite PDF app on Android, and the TTS feature works well. This app is paid, not free, but I think it's worth the cost.

Moon+ Reader

moon plus reader tts

The paid version of this app supports TTS as well as a bunch of other features. It worked reasonably well and had better controls than most of the other apps.

  • Supported Formats: Epub (DRMed), Mobi, chm, cbr, cbz, umd, fb2, txt, html
  • Download: Google Play

Mantano

mantano tts

The paid version of Mantano offers text to speech, but it doesn't work consistently so I wouldn't bother buying the app to test it.

  • Supported Formats: Epub (DRMed), PDF
  • Download: Google Play

Pocketbook

Screenshot_2015-04-05-08-54-47

I had trouble finding the TTS feature on this app (the second pop up menu didn't appear until after a long-long press and hold). Like the other apps, this app was able to work with Ivona.

  • Supported Formats: Epub (DRMed), PDF, djvu, FB2, cbr, cbz, html, chm, rtf
  • Download: Google Play

Voice Read Aloud

voice aloud reader tts

Here's a late addition to the list. VRA is primarily a TTS app, not a reading app, and it was developed by the same company which created the FBReader plugin.

I went back and added this app at the suggestion of a reader and because it supports office formats not supported by the other apps mentioned above.

Voice Aloud also works with your web browser and with news reader apps like Feedly. It can import articles via the share menu in those other apps. I don't think this works too well but it is an option.

  • Supported Formats: PDF, html, rtf, DOCX, DOC, ODT (Open Office), Epub (experimental)
  • Download: Google Play (free, ad-supported)

Instapaper

instapaper tts

Text to speech wouldn't be my first choice for consuming long form articles saved in Instapaper, but the option does exist and it worked well enough.  The app had few options but the basics were covered.

  • Supported Formats: articles saved to your Instapaper account
  • Download: Google Play

Pocket

pocket tts

Pocket's support for TTS worked okay, but now that I have tried both it and Instapaper I think the latter worked better. Pocket's control menu covered up too much of the text.

  • Supported Formats: articles saved to your Pocket account
  • Download: Google Play

Editor's Choice

Now that I have tried all 7 apps,I'd have to say that my first choice is Google Play Books. It's free and comes with an ebookstore, and it will sync your ebook files across Android.

If I were in the mood to pay for the apps (again), I'd probably get Moon+ Reader and ezPDF.

I would also get the free version of Ivona or another TTS app. Ivona sounds a lot better than the default voice which comes with the Android firmware or with FBReader (which has its own voice engine), and it's the one I've been using while testing the various reading apps.

image by Beverly & Pack

About Nate Hoffelder (11593 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

26 Comments on How to Use Text to Speech in Reading Apps on Android

  1. Talkback is the most difficult feature to use. Just try to go back to the normal settings, and you’ll know how difficult it is.

    Voice Aloud Reader is another good (free) option for PDF reading on Android. This one even works with multi-column PDF documents – I have checked.

    My biggest gripe is, Amazon Kindle app, in which I have purchased and stored a no. of books, doesn’t support TTS. Besides, many books are DRM protected, hence I can’t convert them to ePub to read on FBReader!! I don’t want to buy Kindle tablet just for this feature. I’d rather shop from Google Play Store books.

    BTW, Ivona (Amy-UK) is the best speech engine/voice available for free.

    • Yep. This is very true. I messed around with Talkback last weekend and came away very frustrated.

      And thanks for pointing me at Voice Aloud Reader. I’ll go add it to the post.

  2. @Nate,

    re: TTS in Pocketbook

    Long-press on the word or section from where you want to start reading. A pop-up context menu will appear. One of the context options is Text-to-Speech. Once selected you get a special TTS pop-up where you can select voice, speed, pitch and the usual play/pause/stop buttons. Pretty good, but somewhat well-hidden.

  3. My nook has a tts feature. It is nothing like a book on tape but it is there.

  4. The Kindle app for Android has very good support for TalkBack, in my experience, and that support is better than that of most of the apps that support TTS. One does need to learn how to use TB efficiently.

    • TTS is much rarer on iOS than Android. But with iOS8, apps that implement accessibility features properly can use Speak Screen, which is dead simple to use and works perfectly with Kindle app.

      EzPDF has TTS, BTW. Of course it only works if the PDF has text in it (not just scanned images), and the reading order is properly defined, and all of that.

      It is a little surprising that Acrobat DC for Android doesn’t support accessibility well, after all this time (I thought it used to, but now it is broken). The iOS app does better with this, but doesn’t support Screen Speak yet.

  5. FB reader with ivona or Ceres Proc Wiiliam TTS are fine. Get your books in epub format and you’re all set. PDF is terrible format for extracting text.

  6. Book management in FBreader is flexible with choice of local folders, Calibre Library, netwirk catalogs. You can even download books and stick them on Google Drive to continue listening on other devices.m

  7. Good morning,
    Do you have any TTS tool suggestions/instructions regarding online NYTimes.com articles or general web sites with lengthy articles using an android device (Samsung Note 4)?
    The NYTimes recently discontinued their ‘Times Reader’ function that had been working great for years.
    Thanks, Rick

    • I’ll go look for a browser solution in a moment, but here’s an option off the top of my head: you could import the articles into Pocket or Instapaper.

      I think there are other apps mentioned in this post which could also help you. Voice Read Aloud is said to work with web browsers but I want to double check that first.

  8. Hi,
    my just released Warp app read news and other websites.
    It can find news, read from RSS and also direct from the websites(embedded browser).
    Try it out.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.warp

    Cheers

  9. Useful list, Nate! Here’s how Amazon Fire owners can also join the text to speech party from within the Fire’s usual reader. Yes, works fine on the $35 Black Friday Fires (normally $50). My fave voice is the UK-accented Amy.

  10. Not sure if I’m missing something, but I could not load any of my existing books that reside on my SD Card into Google Play Books. So I guess it’s best to assume that unless it’s a purchase made through Google, you’re going to need to use one of the other readers and perhaps the Ivona plugin?

  11. Thanks for the quick response! I was about to go for a walk and listen to a book, so I’ll give that a try first. Much appreciated for the head’s up.

  12. It worked. I can’t seem to find the settings to change the voice although I have the Ivona app installed. Also at the moment it is crashing after a few minutes with “Unfortunately Google Play Books has stopped”. Perhaps a reboot will help with that. Thanks again.

  13. Hi,I’m using dresser,with ivona.great addition to my Android,I’d like to know if there is a setting to turn off after say 30 mins,as I listen in bed and invariably fall asleep,and when I wake up I am about 200 pages further on.it round help if there is a setting to enable it to turn off

  14. Nate,
    I am trying to help a friend who is nearly blind from Macula Degeneration read his model railroad magazines using text to speech. He has a Mac and an I-pad. A Radio Shack salesman downloaded your article “How to Use Text to Speech in Reading Apps on Android” Do you have a similar article for I-pad owners?
    A tech lady at the NYC Public Library downloaded a Model Railroader digital edition (App) to her I-pad and tried to use (I believe it is called) Talk Over to read an article and it did not work. Do you have any helpful advise?

    • Hi Steve,

      I don’t have a post like this for the iPad, no. The iPad is supposed to have such wonderful accessibility features that I didn’t think it would be necessary. (I also don’t have an iPad any more so I can’t write the post.)

      I don’t know which magazine your friend has (there are bunches: RMC/Trains/N-Scale Railroading/Model Railroader/N-Scale Magazine).

      But I would recommend investigating this on an app by app basis. Look for the app developer’s website, browse their help section, and see what it says about accessibility.

      I could help you find that info if you like. I just need to know the specific titles.

  15. Thanks, Nate for you quick response. The magazine is Model Railroader, published by Kalmbach.It is available at ModelRailroader.com/digitaleditions. According to MR’s ad. It is available also from: the Apple APP Store, Google play, Kindle fire and nook. the ad further states: “Powered by Zinio. Digital editions are available on PC, Macintosh, Android, iPad. iPhone and Windows 8. The tech lady downloaded MR digital edition to her iPad.
    I appreciate your help. I really want to help my friend. although, I know my way around PCs, this is new territory for me.
    Steve

  16. thank so much for the heads up. was about to buy a kindle.

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