Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reading aloud — Is Alexa a better reader than the Kindle?

I love my new Kindle Voyage! It's very like the Paperwhite, except screen resolution is a tad better, and it has two spots in the bezel that you can depress to page forward and page backward, if you prefer that to swiping or tapping the screen (actually four spots, two each on the left and right sides, so it works whether you're left or right-handed).  But like the Paperwhite and unlike earlier Kindles, one limitation of the Voyage is that it cannot read aloud to you. I blogged about this when I was thinking about getting a Paperwhite, because I liked to use the read aloud feature for proofing manuscripts.

I assumed that Amazon killed this feature in the newer Kindles because their data showed that not many people were using it. Certainly, other e-ink readers never bothered with it.  Now, however, Amazon had enhanced their voice-activated personal assistant Echo, so that it can read your Kindle books to you.

If Alexa (the voice of the Echo) has the same limitations as the Kindle robot voice, this feature may not be that big a deal. The Kindle voice was not great at pausing in certain situations, like between paragraphs of dialog if the first one ended with a question mark. Also there was the problem of homographs. The robot voice could not tell from the context whether the word "bow" was pronounced with a long o, as in "bow and arrow," or a short o as in "take a bow."

Possibly, newer, more sophisticated programming has improved both pacing and assessing meaning from context. Or possibly not, depending on how much research and effort Amazon put into this. The reviews I have seen don't mention either problem, so it's possible it's much better. I don't know anyone who has an Echo, but if you do, please post a comment with any insight you might have. 

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