Google has released a new version of its book reader with some interesting new features including the ability to listen to books, making them a kind of audio book, with the new “read aloud” feature. Text to speech technology is something that Amazon has dabbled in and appears on some Kindle readers but it can be a bit annoying listening to a computer generated voice. The important question is how well does Google Play Book read aloud?
The answer is that it isn’t bad but neither is it brilliant. I downloaded the new app and opened up a book. A new option is now available on the menu called “Read aloud”. Tapping it will start the book reading on the current page. As the voice reads it highlights the text being read. The highlight jumps from one sentence to the next as the reading progresses. This is actually a useful feature as it means you can quickly see where the app is reading from.
In terms of voice quality the default, low quality voice is quite harsh but there is an option in the Settings to enable the “High-quality voice.” The downside of the high definition voice is that the app needs to use the network. This is OK when you are on Wi-Fi but it remains to be seen if this is an expensive feature in terms of mobile traffic. The higher quality voice is more natural and quite listenable, the actual downside now is not the voice but the intonations. The app does a good job of pausing at commas etc but over all the reading can be quite flat and without any flair. Still if your eyes are too tired to read this new feature could be quite useful.
One other small problem is that if you press the power button and put your device to sleep then the reading stops, a better idea would be for the reading to continue in the background similar to when music is playing or when using Tune In.
Other new features include better zoom controls. You can now pinch-zoom or double-tap-zoom in all books. Along with the various bug fixes and performance enhancements Google has now enabled all the text editing features for notes. In terms of commercialization, Google says that personalized recommendations are now shown at the end of your library and at the end of the books.