Maybe Jeff Bezos and friends will do so in the future and also include MP3, Audible and other goodies by way of the dongle. For now, blind first! I can understand a delay. So far, however, Amazon hasn’t even promised TTS for the rest of us. Are we not deserving enough? Once Jeff Bezos thought so. No more.
Luckily, though, joggers and commuters and visually impaired people on the way to blindness can still enjoy the TTS dongle to some extent—even if this will be much harder for them than it could be. Same for Kindle users with severe dyslexia.
Ahead is a step-by-step how-to. I’m proudly subversive about it, given my general love of Amazon hardware but my loathing of Jeff’s control-freakish approach. It’s just like the font issue. Amazon took away the ability to install your own fonts, and it refuses to include a font-weight slider to allow all-text bolding, unlike rival Kobo.
Now—here’s how to commit TTS-related subversion. Once you master the steps below, spread the word around.
Subversion 101 for sighted TTS fans
Just so you’ll know, the dongle is supposed to work only with the latest Kindle Paperwhites, with which it comes in a $140 bundle (with a $20 Amazon account credit).
The dongles are nothing more than USB sound cards connected by a cable with a micro USB-to-USB host cable like the one in the above video from ALLESebook.de. The Kindle’s TTS limits are inside the firmware, not the dongles.
Best of all, the dongles will work not just with the newest Paperwhites, but also with the Kindle Oasis—as I discovered first hand with my own Oasis—after you’ve made sure you’re running the latest software.
In fact, they will even work with Kindle Voyage if you install Firmware 5.7.4 on it. Here’s a page with links to the firmware and the installation instructions.
Now, based on my experiences with the Oasis, here’s how to get text to speech going:
For simplicity’s sake, start with your Kindle switched off, so you see the screen saver.
Plugging the dongle into the e-reader and headphones into the dongle. Put the headphones on.
Switch on your Kindle or, if you’re using an Oasis, you can just open up your cover-charger. Please note that the Oasis needs the cover-charger to work with the text to speech. You should hear a message like, “VoiceView enabled, library, home button, double-tap to select.”
Or if you’re in the middle of a book, VoiceView will start reading automatically. You can stop it by tapping the screen once.
To get to the home screen from inside a book, double-tap the top of the screen and you’ll see a home icon, which you can choose with a double tap
Try opening a book from the home screen. Here’s what works for me at least when I have the home screen in the list mode, although the same would probably apply to the book-cover code. (a) Hold your finger down on the title you want. Then (b) double-tap, and the book will open. The Kindle will tell you to (c) quickly slide down with two fingers spread apart to get start the reading. I found that tricky. Best results for me may have come when I swiped from the top all the way down to the bottom and, as told, did so lickety-split. But even then my Oasis didn’t always start reading to me. So I used a workaround. I just switched off the Oasis, unplugged the dongle and plugged it in again and turned the e-reader back on, and presto, the Kindle started reading.
To find out other tricks, just (a) go back to the home screen as described in Step #4, and (b) hold down on the gear, the icon for Quick Action. Then (c) double-tap Quick Actions and (d) tap the VoiceView Settings icons on the right at the top, then doubletap it. You’ll see the screenshot below, which I’ve picked up from tomsem’s screen shot on MobileRead.
You can adjust the reading speed and volume. But first you might want to go through the tutorial.
Does all this sound like a bit too much—especially the hassles needed to adjust the speed and volume?
Again, Amazon was right to come out first with something blind optimized. But I am very disappointed that Amazon didn’t add: “And of course we’ll have a sighted mode soon, not just for people without disabilities but also for those with dyslexia. We realize not all of the latter will benefit from the Open Dyslexic font for them.” Amazon’s policy against normally commenting on future products and features won’t get it off the hook, given the importance of text to speech and its presence in some older Kindles. The sound card approach is a nice, inexpensive way of making TTS available for now. Longer term, a better way would be to include TTS-capable Bluetooth so the Kindle could communicate with headphones or a loud speaker without any need for a jack or speaker in the unit itself. Or just go back to speakers inside the units, or at least some models.
Tips for commuters and joggers
Now back to tips. If you’re a commuter, you can just crank up the TTS and keep on going.
How about exercisers—walkers or joggers? I own an Oasis, as noted. It actually fits nicely inside my side jeans pocket. But the TTS at time stops when I’m moving, since the fabric rubbing against the Oasis comes across as a tap. So for now I’m carrying the Oasis with me. Perhaps a solution exists. I have not experimented with, say, putting the Oasis in a plastic bag to see if that reduces sensitivity to pseudo-taps. Suggestions welcome!
Needless to say, a sighted mode would end the complication described above.
Why we should care about TTS on E Ink devices like the Kindle: The Fire just isn’t the same
Finally just a reminder. Fire tablets are no substitutes for E Ink devices for many people, who cherish front lighting as a glare reducer, or the lighter weight—so helpful to some older people with arthritic hands. What’s more, book-oriented devices could be just the ticket for some users with attention deficit problems who want to avoid Facebook and other distractions of a multiple-function tablet.
Of course, in the case of the new Kindle TTS, people will have to adjust to the Salli voice. As far as I know, there is no way of switching the Kindle to a more pleasant one (for me).
Note: This is a “first edition.” I encourage you to use e-mail or our comments section to alert me about any glitches.