(Pocket-lint) - Think about how much you read on your phone every day - whether it's the news, a blog post, or an article. But those of you who are on the move a lot, or perhaps have visual or reading difficulties, may need a little help getting through all that material every day.
Luckily, Google has a Google Assistant feature just for you. It's called Read It. But it's exclusive to Android users at the moment.
Alright, we know what you're thinking: Why would you want Google Assistant to read aloud an entire webpage in a robotic voice? That's not what we're talking about here. Instead, Google Assistant can turn almost any text on the internet into an incredibly natural-sounding audiobook in up to 42 languages.
Here's how Google Assistant's Read It feature works.
With Google Assistant, your browser can now read practically any article out loud. To get started, you just need an up-to-date Android phone running Chrome browser. Then, in Chrome, go to a webpage you want to read - such as pocket-lint.com or theguardian.com.
How it works
When a webpage is displayed in your Chrome browser on your Android phone, you can say, “Hey Google, read it” or “Hey Google, read this page”, and then Google Assistant will immediately read aloud the content of the web page. To help you follow along, the feature will automatically scroll the page and highlight words as they're read aloud. You can also alter the reading speed and choose from multiple voices and languages.
When you say the "Read it" command, you'll enter a custom view for the Read It feature. You'll see the article in the top two-thirds and the playback controls on the bottom. You can jump back and forth with the rewind/forward buttons, or pause or play. But we think Read It is especially useful once you turn off your display or open another app; it'll continue reading like any audio player. In other words, you can listen while on the go.
The key thing to note is that the web pages are read aloud in what Google describes as "expressive and natural voices, aiming to use the same intonation and rhythm that you'd use if you were reading it aloud yourself". Websites don't need to do anything special to enable Read It, but app developers do need to add the ability, which means not all your favourite apps will support Read It. You'll have to test it out to find out which do.
Tips and tricks
How to rewind or forward or skip
When using Read It on a webpage, you'll notice playback controls at the bottom. You can use the 10-second rewind and 30-second forward buttons next to the play button. You'll also notice the text being read aloud will be highlighted as it plays. To change what you hear, tap into a different paragraph. It's that easy.
How to change the speed
When using Read It on a webpage, you'll notice playback controls at the bottom. Below the play button, there is a speed option. Here, you can also adjust the reading speed down to a tempo of 0.5x or up to 3.0x. We think the default speed of 1.0x is ideal, but it's all up to you and your preferences of course.
How to change the voice
When using Read It on a webpage, you'll notice a three-dot overflow menu in the top right corner. Tap it to access a few more options, such as Read aloud voice, which lets you change the feature's voices. You have a selection of four voices to choose from for reading - two female ones and two male ones.
How to change the language
When using Read It on a webpage, you'll notice a three-dot overflow menu in the top right corner. Tap it to access a few more options, such as Translation, which lets you translate the text into another language. As of December 2020, there are 42 different languages to choose from, including German and French.
Turn off text sync
It's also possible to turn off text sync if you don't want the article to scroll along as it's being read. This is another option in the three-dot overflow menu.
Are there any limitations?
As we noted earlier, Read it works on all webpages but not in all apps, because developers need to support the feature. We tried it in The New York Times app and CNN app, and it didn't work. We had to use their websites in Chrome instead. That said, paywalls were also a problem. Even when you're logged into The New York Times in Chrome, Google Assistant can't read paywalled text. You also have to endure ads and pop-ups while an article is read to you.
Finally, Read It only works consistently in Chrome. We noticed Chromium-based browsers like Vivaldi and Brave didn't work with the feature.