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’.