Friday, December 21, 2012

REVIEW: Voice Dream Reader- Text to Speech by Winston Chen

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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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

REVIEW: State Bingo and Road Trip US by Niyaa

State Bingo and Road Trip US by Niyaa ($1.99 at time of review, iPad only)


ITunes Description:

Buckle up and ride with Pep the car to discover amazing US destinations. Play a game of classic State Bingo and look for clues on a beautifully illustrated US map. Play the brand new Road Trip US game. Travel to random destinations or choose to drive along the historic Lewis and Clark trail. Win the game to send states to statehood. Enjoy fun animations as Pep the car cheers you along.

State Bingo game:
Play bingo, solve state riddles and put your map reading skills to test. Win and send a state to statehood. Fun animations during game play.

Easy :- Riddles are easier. Reference map is fully illustrated.
Medium :- Riddles are harder. Reference map is fully illustrated.
Hard :- Riddles are harder. Reference map only has state names. You answer questions by state shapes instead of names.

Road Trip US game:
Travel east, travel west and move Pep the car on the map. Reach the destination state before all your tires go flat. Pick one of three random state neighbors to drive to. Answer at least one question to move Pep to the next state. Beware of dead-ends on the road trip. Drive along historic trails like Lewis and Clark.

Easy :- Game allows for endless exploration without flat tires.
Medium :- Riddles are harder. Game ends after 4 flat tires.
Hard :- Riddles are harder. Game ends after 2 flat tires.

Key Features:
- Comprehensive data set covering elementary state geography.
- Fully illustrated map of the US to help practice map reading skills.
- 600+ questions in the game.
- Fun animations during game play.
- App created in collaboration with teachers and keeping common core standards in mind.
- 3 levels of game play.
- Bonus learn key historic trails, state events and dates.
- Fun geography learning blended creatively into game play.

What you will learn:
-State capitals
-State shapes
-US regions
-Map navigation
-State neighbors
-State facts
-State landmarks
-Landforms – rivers, mountains, lakes and oceans
-Natural resources
- National parks
-State flowers
-Neighboring countries
-Historic Trails

Recommended Ages: 7+ years
Categories: Geography, Game - Family, Kids, Trivia

Although the recommended age is 7+, my five year old is enjoying this as well- I do need to help him read the instructions and quiz questions, and hope voice overs will be added in the future for users of all ages at different reading levels.  State Bingo and Road Trip US is visually rich, with its colorful map of the US and gorgeous illustrations.  

The Road Trip game is really clever.  You choose a historical route and then select states along the way as you answer trivia about the states.    When a quiz question is answered correctly a tone will sound to signal this and the car will move forward to the next state the user has chosen-this also requires careful planning- are you watching the map and picking the shortest route? If you are not careful you might end up at a dead-end, unable to travel to a neighboring state. At the end of each "trip" if you have succeeded with a passing score, you collect a "statehood", which is placed in chronological order along a viewable timeline.


The Bingo game is equally fun, and again you are awarded a statehood with a score of 60% or better. You can access the US map by tapping the magnifying glass symbol during play. (We have been playing the easy mode but you can make game play even more challenging by choosing medium or hard.  Hard for example, removes the written labels under each state on the bingo grid.)

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