Let your Android read those PDFs to you. Seriously.

pdf image, arrow, speaker imageI’ve been skeptical about text-to-voice apps over the last few years, but SoundGecko really turned my head this summer. Its only shortcoming is its inability to read PDFs, so I’ve been fishing for a solid PDF-to-speech reader for Android over the past couple of weeks. After many totally awful experiences, I finally found one I like: ezPDF Reader Pro.

The app met all my usual, basic criteria: The developer must present clear contact information and have more than one app available. The app can’t be brand new, it has to have a good star rating, and should be pretty cheap. (In this case, only $2.99 in the Play Store).

ezPDF Reader also links up with Dropbox natively – no fiddling with settings required. Simply run searches at your research database of choice and download PDFs to your Dropbox. (I presume it hooks up with SugarSync, Box and other such services as well, but I may be wrong. Let me know if I am!)

shows where the more menu is, bottom right corner

The More menu is at the bottom, over here.

To get started, download and install the app, open it, and go to Web Docs. Click Dropbox, sign in, and voila! There are your files.

I like that the color scheme is quiet. I like that the controls are intuitive.  I had to look for the Voice-Reading mode in a More menu, but it only took me two taps to locate it.

Don’t just take my word for it – watch it in action:



Granted, it’s not like listening to Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare to you but for skimming piles of abstracts while on the elliptical, or while buzzing from class to class, you could certainly do worse for $3. Trust me. I tried a lot of apps, and this is pretty good.

As the app reads, small bits of text are highlighted, clearly indicating its place in the document. The sound controls persist at the bottom of the screen, allowing easy access to skip ahead, go back, pause and stop.  A shortcut directly to the phone’s relevant settings menu is a particularly nice touch.

Note that the voice in the demo video is NOT a stock Android voice, it’s an upgrade. I also upgraded my phone’s default voice by following these instructions, and I’d recommend anyone serious about trying text-to-speech (TTS) apps to consider doing the same.

Use it at the gym, use it on the trolley. Let your Android read to you.

And let me know if you find something better out there.

** Note: This app is also called ezPDF Reader Annotate Form.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this! I badly needed something like this :D

  2. How does it read formulas?
    Thanks!

    • Kate Atkins says:

      Hey there Stefano. Could you provide a link to a PDF with formulas in it? I am thinking of revisiting this app, so curveballs like this might be interesting to try out. I can’t imagine that listening to a robot – even a half-decent robot – read formulas would be fruitful, but it’s worth a shot.

      In a former life I was in STEM publishing. It was tough getting equations coded in a structured document format (like XML) let alone a PDF, so I’m not sure how practical the notion is in general. How would it know what order to read things in if it’s not coded correctly?

      Back in the day, we used to make equations into image files so they’d at least render in a legible format. If that’s still the case, these text-to-speech robots wouldn’t be able to read such equations (as images, not text).

  3. Augusto Maeda says:

    The best pdf reader on Android. TTS is very useful.

  4. Kelly Baglow says:

    Tried the trial version and it kept saying there is no text on this page. Will not be paying for an app that doesnt work

    • Kate Atkins says:

      That’s a shame. Can you provide a link to the PDF you tried? I’ve been considering revisiting the app, so that file might be interesting to try out.

  5. Daniela says:

    anyone had problems to conect to dropbox from the EZ pdf reader?? I can not log in and see my files.

  6. Anyone had problems with TTS play button? Instead of selecting the text and starting TTS, it flips the book to the next page. I can highlight the text and select speech for TTS, but the tracking feature doesn’t work this way.

  7. It seems easier to buy Moon Reader Pro that read books AND PDFs.

    • Kate Atkins says:

      Hi Brian. I tried Moon Reader Pro when I originally wrote this article, and just didn’t like it as much as this one. I can’t seem to find my notes on precisely why, but I’m curious: what do you like about Moon specifically?

  8. Extremely good advise and software

  9. From 1 to 10, how good do you think the sound quality is?

    • Kate Atkins says:

      That depends quite a bit on your device, which text-to-speech engine you are using, and which specific voice you’re using within that engine.

  10. will this read like an attachment from an email? like if I emailed myself stuff I needed to study would it read it to me??

    • Kate Atkins says:

      If that attachment is in PDF format (or if you can save the attachment as a PDF) then sure, this app can read it.

  11. Excellent app. Now I can relax and let the phone read me a novel.

  12. an alternative reader, Tap2Speak Reader, it can use google online TTS, save you lot of trouble to find/buy a TTS engine.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.zbase.t2sreader

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