Amazon Kindle 3 – Text to Speech Improvements

The Amazon Kindle Generation 3 has a nice set of improvements over earlier editions. However, one feature that still isn’t quite there yet is the text-to-speech feature. Its functionality is very similar to Adobe Reader’s feature, present but not really useful. It appears it is thrown in meet an accessibility requirement rather than a feature that all users would actual use.

Why this feature could be awesome

While its e-ink screen is easier to read than a backlight screen, there is nothing better than putting on headphones and having a book read to you while you are working on your computer, lying down with your eyes closed or doing anything else. Plus, you can set a pace and keep your reading speed up instead of getting distracted or tired and slowing down.

Why this feature isn’t awesome

First, its not easy to get to this feature (The shortcuts are Alt+Sym to start/stop and space to pause – but unless you look that up you will never find that). It has three modes, on – off – pause. You can also select male/female and slower/normal/faster pace but beyond that, its lacking in options.

A big complaint of almost all text-to-speech is its basically on or off. Normally I would sit down and want to read a chapter. This is a problem because unless the book you are reading has Chapter X at the start of every chapter, you can easily miss when a new chapter starts. Or if you lie down and want it to read the book to you and you fall asleep. You will wake up and it will be done with the whole book. With a chapter stop, at least you know you only have to redo one chapter.

Some books put in citations in paratheses (). It needs an option to skip over parathese.

When reading technical books, it often uses images for math equations – kindle graceously skips the image as though it isn’t there and smashes the word after it into the word before. If it would add a pause or say, see image 23, it would make reading more bareable.

Tables are the worst. When kindle sees a table, it should skip it with a pause. It is annoying to listen it read out row by row, column by column a smashed together string of numbers, labels and text. It’s enough to make you stop the text-to-speech and hit next page and start it again.

Next/Back page buttons– When kindle gets going, it doesn’t respond to next or back page when text-to-speech is on. When it stumbles into a massive table of numbers, and you attempt to nudge it past it, the kindle just ignores your plead for mercy. The only way to stop it is to turn off text to speech.

A list of words/symbols that kindle should not attempt to say or should be replaced with a phonetic spelling. Don’t get me wrong, kindle has a very advanced and good voice synthesis engine that gets most words correct. But if you get a book that uses a word over and over and it cannot say it, then it will be a long read ahead.


Overall you will be impressed with your Kindle’s reading ability but you will still wish it could a little better. Maybe the next generation will come out with some of the above improvements. But don’t hold your breath, Adobe Reader still has the same feature set of its text to speech from Adobe Reader 7.

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I'm a 35 year old UIUC Computer Engineer building mobile apps, websites and hardware integrations with an interest in 3D printing, biotechnology and Arduinos.

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