By Todd Bernhard on Thu, 08/05/2010
I've always felt that it was shortsighted for eBook readers to merely try to emulate the traditional book experience. Sure, it's fun to see the page curl as you swipe the screen, etc., but for eReaders to really take off, they need to leverage their technology and offer advantages that a traditional book cannot. vBookz, $4.99 from Mindex International, is an attempt to do just that, with an eBook reader that reads out loud, using Text-to-Speech.
vBookz boasts access to an impressive 30,000 books, but don't expect the latest New York Times bestsellers. These are public domain texts, typically from Project Gutenberg, including such classics as the Wizard of Oz, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Through the Looking Glass, Frankenstein and Gulliver's Travels. Amazon's Kindle tried to offer text-to-speech capability for their modern eBooks. As you might imagine, publishers objected since they also sell audiobooks and were afraid of missing out on royalties. However, text-to-speech apps, as good as they are, cannot rival a dramatic reading with actual voice talent. (Full disclosure, I am an app developer, also specializing in text-to-speech apps, such as AutoRingtone andAutoVerbal).
As an app, vBookz is well-done. It is beautiful and leverages the full size of the iPad. Background music and cover art are high quality, rivaling Apple's own iBook app. A moveable frame highlights words as they are spoken. Font size and family can be adjusted as well and you can search for specific text. You can adjust the speed and select Male or Female voices using the Settings menu, which itself was hard to find. It's designed to look like a book, the first one on the shelf. It's subtle and elegant, but confusing.
vBookz is currently only available for the iPad only, which seems a bit odd. Since the intent is to let the device do the reading for you, screen size is less of an issue. At $4.99, it might seem to be a bit pricey but you get instant access to over twenty books out of the box and 30,000 books are available for download for free, and different languages can be purchased at $4.99 using In-App purchases.
In conclusion, vBookz is an excellent implementation of a text-to-speech book reader and bookstore. Just don't expect the latest books from Oprah's Book Club nor Shakespearean interpretations.