Saturday, February 22, 2014


@Voice Aloud Reader

 This is a short review of the Android app @Voice Aloud Reader (VAR). VAR is a great tool for reading webpages and news articles aloud. When looking at a webpage or a news article on Zite, you can transfer the text to VAR to be read aloud. But let's look at how to set up VAR.
After installing VAR you will be presented a series of controls at the bottom of a page of text. There is an arrow button to start and stop reading. A left and right arrow to advance or backup the text being read. Then there is a little up arrow. This up arrow brings some significant controls. There are three sliders to adjust the the rate of the read aloud, the pitch and the volume of the voice. The best part of these sliders is that you can set the reading speed exactly to your preferences.

When you are at a webpage or in an app and you wish to read something, you look for the share page icon. On most Android devices and on the Kindle Fire this icon looks like three dots forming an arrowhead. Tap the arrowhead and you will be presented with the choice of sharing the page with VAR. Once selected the main article will be extracted into VAR. Once there the article will be read aloud. Sentences are highlighted as they are read. For easy reading VAR has both a day and night mode. I prefer to read with night time mode (see the picture). This is so slick and quick that choosing to read things aloud is very natural and a breeze.

If the print is too small for you simply make a small swipe down with your finger. This will bring up a line with a plus or minus magnifying lens. Tap on the plus or minus sign to adjust font size. You can also start reading at any particular point by double tapping with one finger. Additionally if you open VAR settings, you can choose to follow what has been copied to the clipboard. In this manner you can read any text that can be highlighted and copied. This is helpful for reading email aloud. To sun up VAR is simple and easy to use. It makes reading items aloud a quick and seamless process. Best of all @Voice Aloud Reader is free in either the Google Play Store or the Amazon App Store. @Voice Aloud Reader works with both Android tablets and the Kindle Fire.

Friday, February 21, 2014



Darwin Reader

Darwin Reader is an Android app for reading Bookshare e-books. So first let me briefly explain what Bookshare and print disabilities are. Bookshare is a digital library for individuals the print disabilities. A print disability means you cannot use regular printed materials for reading. Examples of print disabilities are blindness or dyslexia. Often people with print disabilities benefit from having the text read aloud to then. Bookshare provides e-books which can be read aloud on a computer or a digital device like a tablet or smart phone. Computers and digital devices have text-to-speech programs that can examine the text in an e-book and read this text aloud.

To read Bookshare e-books aloud the user needs a computer program or an app which uses text-to-speech to read the e-books aloud. Darwin Reader is an Android app the can download and read e-books from Bookshare. First in the upper right corner are three dots. Tap on the three dots will bring up a menu. One of the options is download a book. Tap on download. This will bring you to the Bookshare library. The search icon, a magnifying glass, allows you to search the library by author, title or subject. A list of books will appear. You can tap on any title to bring up a description of the book. If it is a book you would like to read tap on download. The e-book will be downloaded to your device.
Once downloaded the book appears in your library within the Darwin Reader. By tapping on a book title the book well be opened. You will see a arrow at the bottom of the page tapping this arrow starts reading. The best thing about Darwin Reader are the options you can choose for reading. Once again tap the three dots in the upper right corner. You will see settings. Tap settings. Inside settings you can adjust font size, font color, page background color, sentence highlight color and speed of the text-to-speech voice.

I particularly like the ability to customize the page and text colors. An example of my preferred colors is given below.  As you can see my main background color is dark green with light green text. These colors are very easy on my eyes. Additionally dyslexic individuals read better with different colored background than white and black text. My section color is blue and the reading highlight color is yellow. I especially like this highlight color since it makes the sentence standout. Unlike other readers that place a color overlay on the highlight text Darwin Reader actually changes the color of the text being read. This makes the sentence standout which means sentences are easy to track and you will not loose your place while reading. Dyslexic individuals often loose their place while reading. 
Font sizes can also be adjusted. Sizes run all the way from small to humongous. I like the very large size print. Voice speed can also be adjusted from 1 to 11. I prefer 5. On many Android tablets you can download a variety of voices for reading aloud. On the Kindle Fire the voice is from Ivona. Ivona voice is very clear and easy to listen to. Darwin Reader can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Price is $15. It is worth the price. I got the Darwin Reader on my Amazon Kindle Fire by purchasing Darwin Reader using my Android phone. Then I used APK Extractor to email the app to my Kindle Fire. In this way I legitimately paid for the app and could get it for my Kindle Fire. All-in-all I really love using Darwin Reader and can recommend it highly.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Love my Kindle Fire HDX

I'm loving my new Kindle Fire HDX. As a die-hard Apple fanboy, I thought that I would never find something to live up to my iPad. But the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has really surprised me. Let me start off by saying what I use a tablet computer for. The major things I do on a tablet are to read books and news articles and to write. 

The Kindle Fire HDX is great for reading. Amazon has over 2 million book to buy. I find the vast majority of books can be read aloud using the Kindle Fire HDX. I love the excellent quality of the text-to-speech voice. It is easy to read books aloud. You just go to your book and open the text features for the book. Text features allow you to change the text size or the background color of the page. You click on the 'more settings' and toggle text-to-speech on. You will only have to do this step once. When you go back to your book tap on the middle of the page. You will see an arrow. Tap the arrow and the voice will read the book. I find the best speeds for read aloud are voice speeds 1.0 or 1.5. I've contacted Amazon and recommended a 1.25 speed. Again I like the large selection of books and the ability to easily have them read aloud. 

The Kindle Fire HDX can also read webpages and news articles aloud. There are some great free apps to do this. @Voice Aloud Reader can read webpages and news articles. Open the Silk browser to a webpage. At the bottom of the browser is a tab symbol with three lines on it. When you tap the tab symbol a menu will pop up. On the menu is the choice to 'Share This Page'. After selecting to share a list will appear with @Voice Aloud Reader. When you tap this choice the text from the webpage will be loaded and read to you. A great feature is as the text is rad aloud, the text is highlighted. @Voice Aloud Reader can also read news articles from the popular news aggregator Zite. The app Google News & Weather lists news articles and has a build in text-to-speech reader.

Writing on the Kindle Fire HDX is a dream. The Kindle Fire HDX comes with a Swype keyboard and Nuance's speech recognition build in. I especially like the ease of running your finger over the letters to make words. The Swype style keyboard is very accurate at guessing which words you are entering. In fact your swipes do not have to be that accurate or your spelling may be wrong and the program is very robust at figuring out what you mean. After you get use to it, I think it is about as fast as using a standard keyboard. It definitely beats pecking away at each letter. The keyboard also comes with great word prediction build in. When you swipe a list of possible words will appear. If the correct word is not presented first time around, then it is most likely in the list of alternatives. If you do type individual letters at a time, a list will predict what you are going to type. This list feature is most helpful to students with word production difficulties. Build into the keyboard is a microphone key. By pressing this key one can dictate instead of type. After dictating a sentence it is transcribed into text. This dictation uses Nuance's Dragon Dictation. So dictation is very actuate. I use OfficeSuite Pro app to do all of my writing. The nice thing about this app is the word processing is very much like using MS Word on a PC. Files can be saved in Word format for easy exporting to other individuals or devices. All in all composing and writing on the Kindle Fire HDX is a breeze and satisfying. 

Some people are concerned that the Kindle Fire HDX does not have access to all the Apps in the Google Play Store. I've found a way around this. I purchase my apps on my Android phone. Then using an app called APK Extractor I can email the app to my Kindle Fire HDX to be installed. In this manner I've legitimately paid for the apps and can have them on my Kindle Fire HDX. To install these apps on the Kindle Fire you go to settings > applications > toggle allow unknown apps to on. In this way I was able to get Darwin Reader on my Kindle Fire to read Bookshare books. I don't use Darwin Reader on my phone; therefore, I transferred the app to my Kindle and then deleted it from my phone.

So to sum it up, I am enjoying my Kindle Fire HDX and highly recommend it to everyone.

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