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Favorite Hidden Kindle Features: Automatic Audiobook

eBooks and Publishing

It’s come to my attention that some folks who own Kindles don’t know about one of my favorite Kindle features, text-to-speech (which I sometimes think of as “automatic audiobook,” even though actual audiobooks are usually superior). The voice, which has variable speeds and comes in male or female flavors (I recommend the default, male voice) is one of the best computer-simulated voices I’ve heard, despite a few pronunciation oddities. I use this feature all the time to listen to books I’m reading on my Kindle–stories for critique, articles I’ve pulled down from the Web, etc.–in my car by plugging into my car’s stereo system.

Text-to-speech was introduced with the Kindle 2, and these instructions are written using a Kindle 3. There might be differences in implementation on other models.

To start text-to-speech:

1. Open the document you want to read.
2. Hold down shift (up arrow) and press the sym key. After a second or two, the reader will start reading at the top of the current page. Sometimes it will miss the first syllable or two.
3. To pause/unpause, press the space bar.
4. To stop reading, hold down shift and press sym again.
5. Alternatively, you can stop reading by pressing Home.

Note that your Kindle will stay paused rather than stopped if you turn off the Kindle while it’s reading or paused. In this mode, you won’t be able to turn pages or search. You can always get out of it after you turn your Kindle back on by pressing Home or holding down shift and sym.

Reading aloud is disabled on some Kindle books: it’s up to the publisher (the author if self-published) to determine whether or not it’s enabled. There was a whole brouhaha about whether or not Amazon had the right to globally enable text-to-speech; see this article, for instance.

To change speech rate or voice selection, or to turn off text-to-speech by menu, press the font key (Aa) while reading or paused.

You can hook up headphones or external amplification using the 1/8″ audio port (standard headphone jack) on the bottom of the Kindle. There’s a volume control just to the left of it. I find I have to turn the volume up much more if I’m not plugged into external headphones or amplification.

Photo by albertizeme

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