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I might not think Siri is all that and a bag of chips, but I've got to hand it to Apple for one thing: it sounds good. Listening to the articulate, smooth-talking Siri, I couldn't help but think how archaic Android's own text-to-speech sounded. Compare Android's voice to Siri and you're left with the inevitable comparison to the Speak and Spell.
During one of my stints in the Android Central podcast chat, a reader suggested I give the SVOX Classic TTS Engine a shot, and boy, am I glad I did. Now the text-to-speech on Android is more than tolerable, and that's saying something.
When you install SVOX, you can't really do much in terms of text-to-speech. What you can do, however, is browse more than 25 languages, and once you've chosen a language, see the available voice packs for that language. Languages are sorted by a country's flag at the top of the screen, and you can move from flag-to-flag by swiping left and right.
Once you've decided on your language, you'll see the available language packs for that language. They're all given a human name, which is helpful to give you an idea of gender, at the very least. US English has five voices to choose from, although three seem to be more "for fun" and less "for actual use."
If you tap on any voice, you can listen to a sample of the voice, go straight to the Market to buy the voice pack, or get a free trial of the voice. The free trial lasts two weeks, so there's plenty of time to get acquainted with a voice before you pull the trigger and buy it.
Once you've purchased a voice, it'll show up in your app drawer as a separate app. Opening this app gives you controls over that particular voice, so you can set things like the device volume, text-to-speech volume, speed, and pitch.
More importantly, though, is the text field where you can listen to the voice say particular phrases. You can save phrases (maybe to show to friends later) and you can also share the voice through a variety of methods as well as force different pronounciations on things.
The last tidbit is probably one of the coolest features in SVOX, and if you spell something out phonetically in one voice, it shows up in all of the other voices, too. So if you've got a difficult-to-pronounce name (like my last name, apparently), you can try and find the best way to phonetically spell out the name or word you're thinking of, and SVOX will default to that pronounciation over it's standard way. Nifty.
Lastly, once you've got SVOX (and a voice pack) installed, you'll want to set it as the default TTS engine. This can be accomplished by venturing into your settings menu, poking around in Voice input and output, hitting Text-to-speech settings, and selecting SVOX Classic TTS from the Default Engine menu. Do that and voila, you've just brought your phone's text-to-speech up to 11.
The only downside of SVOX's voice packs is that they're $2.99 a piece, but once you get used to hearing a voice that more closely resembles that of a human, you won't want to go back to anything else. SVOX itself is free, and hey, at least you can demo any of the voices for a full two weeks!
We've got more screenshots of the app and download links to SVOX, Grace, and Michael after the break.
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