Short Take: Digital Future Software’s TextSpeech Pro v1.5.1

Advertisement



  • Available in 5 languages (US English, UK English,
    American Spanish, Canadian French and German)


  • 2 Different voices currently available for US
    English (Paul and Kate)


  • 2 Versions available for higher-powered and lower-powered devices (16MB and 32MB versions)
  • Provides
    exceptional voice quality for mobile devices



  • Can vocalize web pages using the built-in browser
    and documents such as Word Mobile docs


  • Provides control over voice properties such as pitch, speed,
    volume, etc.



"NO 9000 COMPUTER HAS EVER MADE A MISTAKE OR DISTORTED
INFORMATION"


Let’s take a look at the application itself.


Figure
1:

Here is the
screen you are presented with upon starting the application.

The
starting screen is also a quick reference screen which mimics a lot of
the information found at the product page on Digital Future Software’s

website
. Having a quick reference guide is always a nice thing, but
in this case I would have preferred that the application started with a
wizard of some kind asking you what you wanted to do. You will also
notice right away that this application does not support Windows Mobile
5 soft keys.


Figure
2: Click the "Home" link as seen at the top of
Figure 1
and you go to the detailed help contents.


Figure
3: Here are some of the help screen’s contents.


Clicking a "Home" icon and being taken to the help
contents is not exactly intuitive nor was it what I
was expecting. Here again would have been a great
place for a wizard to assist in choosing what
you want spoken. The good news is that
if you are intending on going to a web page, you can
enter the URL directly into the address bar at the
top of the program.


Figure
4: Unfortunately, all of the web browser control
functions are hidden away in a menu which is accessed by
tapping the (very) small down arrow to the right of the address
bar.


The placement of the web browser controls really
inhibits using this as your primary web browser.


Figure
5: The file menu offers a variety of choices.


The file menu allows you to open up another browser
window or a new document. I am not sure why you would
want to open another browser window since there is no
way to get back to a previous one… Pocket Internet
Explorer (PIE) which this web browser is based upon does
not support tabbed browsing like NetFront does.


Figure
6: The voice menu is where you can access the
application settings and speech commands.


Figure
7: From the settings screen you can adjust many
properties of the voice functionality.


I like and appreciate the amount of control the
application provides over the voice. Having the
application highlight which word is being spoken is cool
in a karaoke sort of way. You can also manually place
XML tags into the document you would like spoken to
control functions such as pitch, speed, volume, voice
and pause. This is handy if you want to change these
options at various places in your document. Alternately,
you can adjust these from the settings screen for the
entire application.


At the bottom of the settings screen, there is a tab
that reads "Voice Settings." If you look at Figure 7 you
will see that this is the only tab on the settings
screen. In addition, the top of the screen clearly
states that you are in "TextSpeech Pro Voice Settings."
This leads me to ask why is the tab there taking up valuable real estate?
Unfortunately, the application is full of items
like this that lead to an overall feeling that the
application was not well thought through.


"I’M SORRY DAVE, I’M AFRAID I CAN’T DO THAT"

Let’s get
TextSpeech Pro to do some yapping. In the web browser, you highlight
text and then click the "play" button or select "Voice" > "Speak / Pause
/ Resume." The key here is that you have to highlight text for anything
to be read from the web browser. I would have preferred to have an
option where you just click "play" and the application starts to read
the entire web page.


Figure
8:

You cannot
just click "play" or "Speak" from a webpage without highlighting the
text you want spoken.


Also, the "Speak / Pause / Resume" menu function should
adjust itself based on the application’s current state.
In other words, if nothing is being spoken, the menu
option should only say "Speak." While speech is in
progress, the menu option should read, "Pause." You get
the idea. Just another little user interface detail that
was missed.


Unfortunately, just getting a document to be read seemed
to be an issue on my Treo 700w. Every time I tried to
open a .doc file (that TextSpeech Pro itself created on
the device, no less!) I was faced with one of two
situations:


Figure
9: In this case, the file opened in Word Mobile.


Even though the file opened in Figure 8 above, I was in
Word Mobile and there are no commands for TextSpeech Pro
anywhere to be found! The only way that I was able to
get the document spoken in this scenario was to copy all
the text to the clipboard, go into TextSpeech Pro,
select the file menu, select New Document and then paste
all the text there. This is NOT user-friendly. Another
problem… TextSpeech Pro takes at least 4-5MB of
available program memory. On my Treo, every time I
opened a document, Windows Mobile closed TextSpeech Pro.
Granted, this is the fault of the Treo for having so
little memory. That being said, if TextSpeech Pro would
simply open the selected document from within itself
instead of launching Word Mobile, this would not have
happened.


The second situation involved not even being able to get
the .doc file to open.


Figure
10: In this situation, the file would not even open.


Speaking of opening files, for some reason Digital
Future Software decided to create their own open file
screen instead of conforming to the Windows
Mobile standard. Another little detail that negatively impacts the
user experience.


Figure
11: Not the best open file screen I have ever seen.


Figure
12: Another detail… the open file screen does not filter
out file types that it cannot open.


Figure
13: I tried to open a .pmi file (PhatPad) and I received this error
message.


Figure
14: Apparently, the first error message was not enough admonishment so
the application displays a second error screen to really
let you know it is unhappy.


Now, obviously I did not expect TextSpeech Pro to open a
PhatPad file. Most users however, will not know what .pmi, .opml,
.rss, etc. files are. Since TextSpeech Pro knows what
kind of files it can read, it should filter the others
out in the open file screen. Another detail…



"JUST WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, DAVE?"


Once you actually get TextSpeech Pro to talk, the voice
quality is truly incredible. I was expecting something
that sounded like Microsoft Voice Command (which isn’t
bad), but TextSpeech Pro sounds about 10 times more natural. This
was with the 16MB version of the software… the 32MB
version would not run on my memory-constrained Treo. The
32k version should sound even more amazing. On the same
note, the 16MB version will need 20MB of storage space
(why don’t they just call it the 20MB version?) and the 32MB version will
require a lot more. Yes, you can
install it to a storage card.


Speaking of installing, the desktop installer would not
complete the installation process. I think this is
because of the size of the application. Fortunately, you
can also download a .CAB file, copy it over to the
storage card and install from there.


Of course, since TextSpeech Pro is a rather large
program, it ran very slowly on my Treo. Even web
browsing from within the application seemed to be 4-5
times slower than just using PIE natively. I am sure
that the program would perform better on a
higher-powered Windows Mobile device, but I did not have
one available to test on. Even so, there is no reason
why this program should not be able to perform decently
on the Treo. Every time I ran the program, I made sure
that it was after a soft reset with at least 10-11MB
free. I think 11MB of free program memory should be
enough. Also, while the Treo does not have the fastest
processor on the block, there are other devices with
slower processors. This is especially important because
Digital Future Software says on their

website
that TextSpeech Pro will run on Pocket PC
2002, Windows Mobile 2003/2003 SE and Windows Mobile 5
ARM-based devices. There should be a more detailed list
of system requirements on their website to provide a
better idea of what kind of device this will run
smoothly on.



Besides the performance issues and user interface
issues, I just do not see why this application would be
useful to anyone. I was hoping you could combine
Microsoft Voice Command and TextSpeech Pro into a
complete voice solution where you could tell the device
to open a webpage and then use TextSpeech Pro to read it
to you. Or do the same with a Word Mobile file. Alas,
there was no joy to be had there. TextSpeech Pro relies
much too heavily on the stylus and completely ignores
any semblance of one-handed use which eliminates more
usage scenarios. Since you have to use the stylus for so
much, the application wouldn’t be useful for someone who
was visually impaired, which was another usage scenario
I thought about. I thought about this for several weeks
and I simply cannot come up with a single realistic
usage scenario for this application. If you can come up
with one, I’d love to read about it in the comments
thread for this review.


TextSpeech Pro seems like a proof of concept
and a solution in search of a problem.

PURCHASING



TextSpeech Pro is available directly from Digital
Future Software’s

website
. Currently, the program is discounted to
$49.99, although that price is supposed to expire
soon and the regular price is $99.99.

PROS



  • Truly amazing voice quality


  • Can read web page text


  • Can read pasted text from other documents


  • Lots of control over the voice settings

CONS



  • MANY user interface gaffs


  • Problems opening Word Mobile docs


  • Must highlight text in a web page for it to be
    spoken


  • No attempt at one-handed usage or WM5 soft key
    implementation


  • Very expensive for a handheld application


  • Memory-hungry

OVERALL
IMPRESSION



If you are looking for an application to show off
how cool your Pocket PC is, I guess you might give
TextSpeech Pro a try. When you finally
get it to talk the voice quality is fantastic. Other than that, I just don’t see any use for
this application, especially at the high price. I
would like to see Digital Future Software work on
integrating this functionality directly into the Windows
Mobile OS so that it could actually become useful.
The lack of a usage scenario and the user interface
problems prevent me from recommending TextSpeech
Pro. Therefore, I give
this product the following score:



Advertisement
What's your reaction?
Love It
0%
Like It
0%
Want It
0%
Had It
0%
Hated It
0%
About The Author
Legacy