Voice Dream Reader - Text to Speech by Winston Chen (iPad / iPhone; $9.99 at time of review w/ small in-app purchases)
Cross posted at The Appy Ladies and Small But Kinda Mighty
Voice Dream Reader by Winston Chen is classified as an educational app but could definitely fall under several categories. It can be used as an assistive tool, for educational purposes, or simply for pleasure. It is exactly what the title sounds like- it reads aloud for you, highlighting each word and line. There is a small in-app purchase (currently 99 cents) to open up access to Bookshare (account required), which means you could load one of many classics from Bookshare, set down the iPad and listen to a book while taking a drive, or relaxing in the bath. To make it clear- you can exit the app and it will still read to you, which is a wonderful feature! You can also insert any text of your own into the app as well, and have it read to you in a variety of colors, text sizes and fonts.
What I love:
Universal App- no need to buy separate apps for those with other iOS devices
Built-in Tools such as Dictionary, Bookmarks and Search Feature
Useful Settings- sentence rewind/fast forward, a sleep timer and more
Ability to type directly in Voice Dream Reader! - this is super for school work tasks!
Integrates with a variety of media: ebooks (from Gutenberg), PDFs, web pages, Powerpoint, Microsoft Word, ePub, Plain Text, Apple Page, MS Powerpoint
Integrates with Pocket and Instapaper Reading Lists
Integrates with Bookshare for small in-app purchase (currently 99 cents)
Built-in Internet Browser- grab text from the Internet right from within the app, add web addresses to the app and access content from those websites at any time!
Optional Voices- comes with one quality Acapela tts voice, "Heather"; allows you to add additional voices (55 voices in 20 languages) for small in-app purchase (currently $1.99 each)
Translation Capabilities (in-app purchase of "credits")
Vision/Reading Disabilty-Friendly- variable font size, and customizable color choices for highlighting of read word, selected word, and line; adjustable reading speed
Special Font for Dyslexia- OpenDyslexia font
There are several handy features I wanted to highlight:
Easily save text to Voice Dream Reader-
You can copy or paste text from a variety of places into the app, including word documents, PDFs etc. You can even open a web page through the embedded web browser in Voice Dreamer Reader. Copy and paste a section of text by pressing/holding the screen for a moment until it highlights blue, pressing copy and then pasting into a new document OR simply save the web address by pressing the blue save button to the right of the browser window- A pop up will say "Smart Save" or "Save All". Smart Save should be used for a simple text entry. Save All will save every bit of a text on a page- including page tabs, headings above videos etc. the text from that web page will automatically show up in the Voice Dream Reader.
Editing- Editing saved entries is easy. Just tap the pencil symbol to bring up the current text. You can edit with the iPad or iPhone keyboard and press save to keep the changes. You can type whatever you would like in the app with the native iPad keyboard as well, which is very useful for school tasks, such as writing a book report, answering questions about a text etc. It is easy to delete an entry also, just swipe to the right and press delete. While I like this feature, I would like to see a setting to turn off editing so that items cannot be deleted without going into settings- this would make it more friendly with motor difficulties, or for curious fingers.
Jumping to Next Entry- After reading a saved entry, the Reader jumps to the next entry. If I don't want to read the next entry, I can easily tap the screen and then tap the Home symbol to return to the main menu.
Bookmark - Voice Dream Reader will automatically "bookmark" your reading by reading exactly where you left off when reentering a text, but you can also add multiple bookmarks to spots you want to return to later. To add a bookmark, just tap and hold the screen to bring up the Bookmark toolbar. The section you bookmarked will highlight briefly, then a bookmark symbol will remain in the margin of the text until you delete it (press and hold on the symbol to remove it).
Dictionary- press and hold a word to bring up a definition of it. I haven't found a word it didn't recognize yet. It even knew "vestigial" and "exaptation"
Vision and Reading Difficulties- A mulitude of customizable settings for users with vision or reading problems. There is customization of text size, style and color. The background can be set to light, dark, or any custom color you want through the use of a color picker. The text color, as well as the line color, spoken word color and selected text color can all be set separately. The text size can be set from 13 to 37 point. ( I would prefer it to go up to much a higher point for more severe vision difficulties.)
Using Voice Dream Reader as an Assistive/Academic Tool
If you are the parent of a special needs child as I am, you probably won't be using this while taking a relaxing bath any time soon, but you may be interested in using this as an assistive tool!
My almost 9 year old son is on the spectrum and has both fine motor and visual motor delays which impact his ability to read and write at grade level. Voice Dream Reader has several features that may assist users with a reading or visual disability. Having access to educational literature that I can load in to Dream Reader is very helpful for my son as a grade schooler, but I imagine even more so as a middle schooler, high schooler or college student, when the educational demands increase.
One of my son's issues is copying from the board. Instructions or materials can be copied and pasted into the Voice Dream Reader from a web page or other sources so he can have the material directly in front of him, and if need be, plug in headphones or turn down the volume and use only the highlighting and font features to assist him.
Dream Voice Reader integrates with Bookshare for individual accounts, and recently organizations as well! Many districts offer access to Bookshare, and when we get back from Winter Break I will definitely be looking into accessing an account through my district- currently there is a very reasonable fee of 99 cents to access Bookshare- this is available as an in-app purchase.
Another neat feature is the search window to find a word or phrase within a text. This is super for going back to reread a portion of a text to answer comprehension questions, or if lecture notes have been entered, to find that exact spot where a specific topic was discussed- The only caution would be that the user know how to spell exactly what he/she is looking for or results will not come up. If the text was entered through the editing feature incorrectly, say the user made a spelling error when they created the text- the user will have to use that same improper spelling to pull up that entry as well. A poor speller may need someone to help with this feature.
Another setting I have found useful is the Focused Reading Mode- to access this my son simply pinches the screen to black out the top and bottom of the screen. By the way, you can make it even more focused by changing the background to black, text color to black, then choosing whatever contrasting color to highlight the line that is being read. This way only one line of text will appear on the screen at a time!
Wish List (I always have one):
Technology Limitations- Technology still hasn't quite caught up yet in a few areas: (Intonation and Pronunciation)- As with any non-human, Heather just isn't smart enough to know when to make her voice go up or down, or know how a word is pronounced at all times, especially when it comes to names. She also has a hard time differentiating between words that shift stress according to their part of speech label- for example "content", as in "material" was read as "content" as in "She feels content". This problem is not unique to Heather (this is a top of the line, well-respected text to speech voice)- it is a limitation of text to speech engines in general. But perhaps there could be a work around in place for exceptions that the user can set up manually within the app, such as an "exceptions dictionary".
Access to other ebooks, like iBooks, Kindle books- then I could use this to read my special needs books while on the go. Dream Voice Reader is unable to integrate with copyrighted materials. This is not a fault of this app, so it looks like this will remain on the wish list. Unfortunately, I believe this is a restriction placed by Apple.
Support for images - It would be wonderful if images could be copied along with accompanying text- it can feel a bit disjointed when reading about a picture that cannot be seen.
More support for users with disabilities - A person with poor spelling will need help accessing the dictionary feature as no result will be found. This app would be incredible with word prediction support while in text editing mode, and would be a wonderful option for in-app purchase! Also, I would like to see a setting to turn off editing so that items cannot be deleted accidentally. This would make it more friendly for users with motor difficulties, or for curious fingers. Additionally, if the text size could be increased to about 80 point, this could help users with more severe vision difficulties too. (Update: the developer is looking in to a larger font size- larger fonts take up memory, so ways to address that will be looked at.)
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