It looks like the settlements for those lawsuits may have stung B&N more than I realized; the new Nook HD and HD+ have support for text to speech, and that’s not a feature mentioned in the manual (most reviews missed it as well).
Earlier today I was chatting with an acquaintance who works for AARP. We met at an event where he was speaking on OLPC and the XO, but at one point in his talk he pulled out his new Nook HD+ in order to explain some point about tablets. After his talk was over I asked what he thought about how the new gadget handled TTS. Given his employer I thought he would have a well-defined opinion of the various accessibility options offered by mobile devices. He was surprised to learn that the Nook HD had this feature; he’d read reviews and the manual and it was not mentioned anywhere.
And so I thought this might be a useful feature to point out to my readers.
The TTS feature is still in beta, and right now it only works to read the text of a book to you. It also doesn’t sound very good, but then again B&N probably didn’t pay much for it.
According to the settings menus, the Nook HD uses Pico to provide text-to-speech. Pico is a freely licensed app which Svox, one of the leaders in this niche, released for free some time back.If you like you can find a free Android version of this app pretty much anywhere online.
While I’m sure B&N is using a relatively new version of Pico, it still doesn’t sound very good. The voice intonation isn’t as good as on the Kindle 3. That was licensed from Nuance, so it actually cost Amazon money.
But on the upside the Nook HD does have TTS. Finding a previously unknown feature is never a bad thing, and there’s always a chance that we’ll get the option of upgrading the voice to one of the paid replacement voices.
How to Turn It On
You’ll first need to enable this feature in the setting menu. Go to the full settings menu, select applications, and then select Reader. TTS will be a check box about half way down the page. After you’ve done that, just open an ebook. It should start reading to you automatically, though you might need to touch the screen to prompt it to start.