Without Text-to-Speech, Kindle Paperwhite is about as useful to me as a paperWEIGHT!

I was quite excited to learn about the new line of Kindles that would offer a front lit e-ink display. While I am still partial to my Kindle Keyboard and prefer it to the touch screen, I would have been willing to do away with it for a chance to have a self-illuminating e-reader.   I was on my way to click “pre-order” until I decided to check out the specs, only to learn that the new e-reader will not offer audio—meaning it will not offer text-to-speech (TTS).

TTS has been an invaluable feature for me, allowing me to progress through a book more quickly for moments when I can’t read or don’t feel like reading and fatiguing my eyes. And it progresses faster than audiobooks. So, needless to say, I was utterly disappointed with this decision by Amazon. It is the ultimate deal breaker.

Amazon’s supposed reasoning (don’t quote me on this) was that it wasn’t a popular feature among most of its customers. I don’t know if I buy that because this feature will be available on its Fire devices. Not to mention, it’s missing audio capabilities altogether which will affect audiobook and MP3 users. I suspect that Amazon is trying to limit audio on future e-ink devices in order to migrate this cluster of consumers over to their LCD models.

My philosophy: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? I own a Kindle Keyboard, Android Tablet (that I purchased from Amazon), and an Android Smart phone. I have 3 options for e-book reading (aside from my computer), yet I far and away prefer the Kindle Keyboard. The e-ink display and TTS are an unbeatable combo in my mind. My kindle was stolen a few months ago and I tried to make do with using my tablet as an e-reader. It was so horrible that I went ahead and bought a new Kindle. I am just that dedicated.

But after learning that the Paperwhite would lack text-to-speech, this prompted me to look for alternatives. To fellow tablet/smartphone owners, there are affordable e-reader apps out there that offer TTS. I even downloaded the INOVA text-to-speech app for free; it integrates with a number e-reader apps. “Kendra”, the voice, provides fantastic quality and there are more adjustable speeds, pitches, and accents. It’s better than the Kindle’s “Samantha”, but as I said earlier the e-ink/TTS combo is unbeatable and I am satisfied enough with Samantha’s quality. But just in case Amazon does away with the e-ink/TTS combo for good, it’s nice to know there are alternatives. Alternatives that are only going to get better with time. All is not lost for those of us who understand how important this utility is to our reading habits, even if Amazon doesn’t seem to care anymore.

Additional options include Moon+ Reader Pro. It’s very affordable at $5, but there is also a free reader I tried called FBS Reader. It offers a text to speech plug-in (you have to download it separately) and it works pretty well. One criticism is that it breaks up the sentences which stalls progress a little bit, but as I said, with time I’m sure these alternatives will only improve and become more readily available.

Bottom line, if Amazon brings TTS back to future e-ink models they will retain me as a customer, but if they limit TTS to the Kindle Fire then they’ll have nothing to offer me since I already own a tablet. Yes, the Keyboard is still available for now, but it’s positioned to be phased out since they don’t even want to update the firmware for it.

For me, TTS is more important than e-ink. So if my kindle goes out and they still only offer e-ink without TTS I will adjust with my tablet and phone, even though I’d rather not have to do so. TTS/e-ink is the best, but TTS/LCD certainly trumps frontlit e-ink/nothin’.

7 responses

  1. Mac

    I couldn’t agree more. I was about to buy the paperwhite but backed out for the exact same reason. It really sucks being a consumer with apparently rare preferences like these. This is why I am a fan of open source.

    September 16, 2012 at 12:27 AM

  2. Yeah. Well they are providing a firmware upgrade for the kindle keyboards, so they may not be abandoning things completely. Hopefully in a year we’ll see if they can make a kindle keyboard with paperwhite and TTS capabilities. In the meantime I’ll keep this kindle in the best shape I can.

    September 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM

  3. I’ve never used a TTS feature, but I am an avid Audible user which is Amazon’s audiobook subscription offshoot. I love the Audible the titles are usually the same price if not cheaper than the actual book. I bring this up because the audible app I have recently introduced a sync feature that continues the play back of your book across platforms and formats. So if I’m reading from my kindle app the audiobook will pick up where I stopped, or will continue from my end point if I switch devices. This feature doesn’t matter to me so much since I very rarely buy two different formats of the same book. But I can see Amazon eventually phasing out TTS in all their products eventually since two sales are better than one. Honestly though I can’t imagine a kindle generated voice matching the blissful performance of Marguerite Gavin narrating The Hollows, or Lorelei King reading First Grave on the Right. A big part of the appeal is the performance. I highly recommend checking out your local library to see if they have a copy if you haven’t heard them because it’s a completely different experience and they’re two of my favorites.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:48 AM

    • Well there is also the fact that certain books are not narrated, like text books. And often times I read eARCs as well. Audible isn’t really helpful there. I don’t mind audiobooks but I like having the words in front of me and I find audiobooks take a lot longer to read. At least 3 times as long and I don’t have that kind of time if I want to keep up my book quota. I know they are trying to do this merge thing when you can get the audio add on at a discount. But I know I can get narration for free, so I’m not interested in their plans to make more money and make me spend more.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:01 AM

  4. I think I read slow and can actually finish more books having a mix of audio and written books. I like that I can do other things while I’m listening especially since I work in front of a computer it’s nice to multitask, I can see how TTS does the same for you. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a TTS feature until you brought it up. After I read your article it made me think of this new feature that might have a something to do it.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    • Yeah, it’s amazing how much progress I make just listening sometimes. When I try to read, TTS’s fastest pace it’s about as fast as I can skim. So I end up retaining the information better with TTS/skimming as opposed to just skimming. I retain info just fine if I only use TTS as well. It has essentially made me into a faster reader. The TTS does attempt intonation as well. With the exception of a couple of foibles that I’m now used to, it really could be worse. It just takes adjusting, but those of us who love it will never look back.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:46 PM

      • I like your point about galleys. I think a TTS feature would help me not get so behind sometimes, especially since I like to listen to books while I work. I use a Bluefire app since I don’t have a kindle, so I have to do my reading manually. Sometimes those galleys seem to take forever to read. But I’m still a diehard Hollows audiobook fan, I just can’t imagine experiencing the books any other way. Well except for the one not narrated by Gavin.

        September 19, 2012 at 11:05 PM

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