Review: Verbally Premium

It was less than a month ago when I reviewed Verbally (1.1.1), a TTS (Text-to-Speech) app for the iPad. Then, I already explained that its developer, Intuary, was working on a paid version with some extra features. Well, that version has arrived, making Verbally an application that has nothing to envy to the best of the competition.

The current version, 2.1.2, is apparently very similar to the previous one, but includes an option to upgrade to Verbally Premium that costs $99.99. That is, the application is the same, but with the purchase some functions otherwise hidden are activated. In case of having more than one iPad with the same user account, you have to do the update operation but you are only charged the first time.

Three more voices
I will not repeat here all the explanations about the features of Verbally. To know them, I recommend reading first the review published less than a month ago. So I’ll focus on what Verbally Premium adds.

First of all, there are more 3 voices to choose from: male, female and child. These voices are natural, meaning they are generated from audio clips stored internally by the application, and not generated based on basic rules of pronunciation. This is, in fact, one of the main differences between “economic class” TTS applications and apps that costs about $100.

Natural voices have much higher quality. Intuary has added not only a male and a female voices, but also a child one, something that I think it’s great. As I mentioned last month, the size in MB of the application (a number that appears in iTunes) is a clear indication of the kind of voices included. Verbally used to occupy 27 MB, and now it takes 203 MB.

For these three new voices, you can also adjust the pitch, the rate (slower or faster) and the volume. When you play a phrase, Verbally takes into account the commas, questions, etc., so that the overall sensation is of a high quality speech.

More gadgets
Apart from the three new voices, Verbally Premium offers some extra gadgets. The “Phrases” tab, which included 16 common phrases, has been replaced by two news tabs: Favorites and History.

The History tab is really simple: it shows the history –a long history- of written phrases, grouped by date, so that you can select and play them again. A button next to each one allows you to delete concrete phrases.

Regarding the favorite phrases, Verbally Premium allows you to grouped them into categories, create new categories and reorder them, delete specific phrases, etc. through a truly comprehensive set of options supported by help messages that appear superimposed on the screen.

On the main screen two new buttons have appeared: a “+” button which allows you to add the current sentence to favorites, and a resend symbol that lets you send an email that contains the actual phrase within the body of the message.

Finally, the word prediction system has been improved and now “learns” new words that you use –as names- quickly.

Assessment
I really liked Verbally 1.1 because it was well done and, of course, because it was free. Verbally Premium is not free, but provides 3 good voices and some additional features that has been developed to be very comprehensive. The overall feeling is that Verbally Premium has everything you could desire.

The beauty of this system is that users can test the application and, if it really fits their needs, consider buying the premium version, which is recommended if you will use on an ongoing basis because of its additional features and the much higher quality voices.

-Francesc Sistach

Verbally Premium 2.1.2
Links: iTunes
Company: Intuary
Languages: English
Functions: Text to speech (TTS) with 3 natural voices, word prediction, favorite phrases, etc.
Versions: iPad
Price: $99

 


Review: Verbally

Note: This post reviews Verbally 1.1.1, but there is a newer post reviewing Verbally Premium 2.1.2, which is the paid and most complete version of Verbally (still available for free).


Last February, Bloomberg Businessweek team asked the readers to help them find the best initiatives of social enterprises in the United States. Then, the team selected the top 25 and now, until next July 12, readers can vote for any of them in order to determine the top five. (See the link).

All this is relevant because Intuary is one of 25 social enterprises thanks to the development of Verbally for iPad, the app that I’m reviewing here.

TTS category

Among the applications for AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), there is a large group whose main function is to translate text to speech (TTS). They are useful for people with autism who know the written language but are not verbal. Also, of course, they are useful for many other people with all types of disorders or who have suffered any health problems that prevent them from talking. In the list of applications, in section 3, Text to Speech / AAC, I include precisely these applications (except the simplest ones).

Among TTS apps, we can distinguish also between those that only include a keyboard on which to write words that are then converted to voice and those more advanced that include the most common words or phrases, word prediction and other advanced features. Verbally belongs to this second type.

Another key aspect of these applications is the speech generation “engine”. This engine can be relatively simple and based largely on a series of phonetic rules or can include a vast internal dictionary of words and their correct pronunciation. And all this for one voice or for more than one (for example, male and female). Verbally includes both genders, but rather corresponds to the first group in regard to their quality.

Intuary, the company that has developed Verbally, plans to launch a paid version soon, including what is often called “natural voice” (man, woman and child), of much higher quality and some other improvements. Meanwhile, Verbally has the great advantage of being a fairly complete functional application and, at the same time, completely free.

One screen

Verbally includes a single screen, which brings simplicity and speed, although at the cost of a quite complex screen.

The top displays 60 essential words. In the middle, on the left, we found the area where the text we are writing appears. To its right there are buttons to delete the entire area or only the last word and, to its right, up to four word suggestions based on what you are writing. The image above shows “juice” and other words because I’ve written “I want jui”.

At the bottom, you’ll find a full keyboard with its own design (not the standard iPad keyboard) that includes four special keys: “Speak,” so that Verbally converts text to speech; “Repeat”, to repeat the last sentence; a bell, to make a chime sound that draws attention; and “Speak each word,” which activates a mode in which Verbally “reads” each word as you enter rather than waiting for the user to press the “Speak” button.

Alternatively to show the 60 most common words, the tab “Phrases” displays 16 common phrases. Thus, combining the prediction of words and common words and phrases Verbally intends to reduce as far as possible the number of keystrokes necessary for the desired phrase, gaining speed. You cannot modify the list of words or phrases, although again this will be available in the future paid version of Verbally, along with the option of creating multiple categories of favorite phrases and seeing the history of previously written phrases.

Verbally is always learning, so if you use words that are not in its dictionary (eg names), in the end it will add them in the integrated word prediction system. To speed up this functionality, Verbally also allows you to import into its dictionary all the names, cities and companies included in the address book of the iPad.

Two voices and four keyboards

As I said, the voice generated is not “natural” and has a metallic touch, although it is certainly understandable. When reading, Verbally takes into account the commas (pauses) but does not change the pitch when there is question, something very common in these applications. You can choose between a male or female voice.

Regarding keyboards, Verbally allows you to choose between three keyboard layouts, depending on whether you want the keyboard down, left or right.

Where is the fourth keyboard? Verbally also supports Bluetooth keyboards, using the return key as the “Speak” button.

Little more remains to be told. The application itself allows you to send an email to Intuary and the help button shows what each button is for in a very visual way.

Rating

When I look for TTS applications in iTunes, I look for how much they take in space. Assistive Chat, reviewed in this blog, occupies 171 MB and has natural voices. Verbally offers a similar design, with some more gadgets, and some less, but occupies 27 MB, which means voices are not natural. Instead, Verbally is free. And at that price, I doubt there is something better than Verbally in the market.

I will vote for Intuary.

-Francesc Sistach

Verbally 1.1.1
Links: iTunes
Company: Intuary, Inc.
Languages: English
Functions: Text to speech (TTS) with word prediction.
Versions: iPad
Price: Free

 


Review: Assistive Chat

Assistive Chat is an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) app, and more precisely a TTS (Text to Speech) one. It is useful for people that have speech problems but knows written language, which includes a lot of people with ASD (to finish a paragraph full of acronyms).

Well, this explanation translated into an SPD (an acronym that I just invented for a “simple and flat description”) means that Assistive Chat is an app that provides an alternative way of communication that enhances the surely limited capabilities of the user by generating speech from text that that user must enter or select previously.

Assistive Chat does that, and nothing more, but thanks to some shortcuts it help users to quickly create sentences.

Chat

Assistive Chat has four options. The first, Chat, shows what could be considered the main screen. At the bottom we have a keyboard to write words that will appear in the top box. Every time you finish a word, you hear its pronunciation, and at any time you can hear the whole sentence by touching the green button with the speaker image. The red button deletes all content, and the star button adds the current sentence to a list of favorites.

TTS systems are often as effective as slow. To enter the words one to one is usually a slow process. Assistive Chat reduces this problem through a word prediction functionality. Thus, as soon as you start to write a word, four suggestions appear on top of the keyboard, and they change to better adapt when you enter more letters.

This prediction is based not only on an internal dictionary, but also on the words entered by the user, even if they are new. So, after writing a sentence that included my name (Francesc), every time I put an “f” as the first letter the word “Francesc” appears as one of the four suggestions.

Recents

The Recent tab shows the last 20 sentences you have written, regardless of whether you have selected them as favorites or not.

You can move through the list and edit it by selecting sentences to delete or even by erasing all them at once.

Here, I cannot avoid thinking on some improvements. Every time, at the Chat tab, that you touch the green button the current sentence is added to this “recent” list. That is fine, but the app could not do that if the sentence has not changed. To see the same sentence repeated in the list adds nothing. And it would be useful to have a button to add one of these sentences to the favorites list.

Favorites

With a very similar layout, the Favorites tab lets you see the favorite sentences that you have been recording by touching the gold star button at the Chat tab. Again, you can edit that list and delete the sentences one at a time or all at once.

And again, I think it would be good to be able to rearrange the list at will or even to search sentences by keywords.

Settings

In this tab you can define some program settings. First, you can configure whether, in chat mode, each word will sound once written or not.

And regarding the voice, you can select which will be used among those available (man, woman or boy), the speed of the voice and the volume of the speaker of the device. Two buttons let you restore the default values and test the voice using the chosen configuration.

Rating

Assistive Chat is an “universal” app, a term that in the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch world indicates that the same app runs on all these devices, but using in each one of them a slightly different interface to better match the proportions and size of the screen.

That, in my opinion, is the path that all developers should follow, as having two different apps requires you to pay twice if you want to use the app on an iPod away from home and on an iPad at home, to give an example. The app also adapts the interface depending on the orientation of the device.

Assistive Chat has a simple but functional interface with large and easily accessible buttons. This, plus the word prediction functionality and the three voices give together the impression of a very successful and functional implementation of a TTS app.

-Francesc Sistach

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Assistive Chat 1.15

Web: http://www.assistiveapps.com

Developer: Assistive Apps

Languages: American English.

Functions: TTS (text to speech) with word prediction.

iPhone/iPod touch: Yes.

iPad: Yes.

Price: $24.99 / €19.99

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