Voice Brief is like having Siri read your Flipboard

Having your mobile device read to you is and incredibly powerful feature, and one that Siri currently lacks.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

I'm a huge fan of speech-to-text and voice recognition apps like Siri and Dragon but I'm increasingly liking the inverse: text-to-speech. Having your device read to you is incredibly powerful, and something that Siri currently lacks.

Instead of having to focus your attention on your smallish iPhone screen, imagine having it sit on your dresser, dashboard or desk reading your favorite news headlines, Gmail, Twitter timeline and Facebook wall to you in a pleasing voice.

Voice Brief (App Store, $2.99) for iOS does just that.

Voice Brief is kind of like Siri's sister. But instead of listening to you, she reads customized content to you. You can create your own mini news forecast (complete with dramatic section bridge music!) from sources that include the iPhone calendar, weather, stocks, RSS feeds, Gmail, Google Reader, Facebook and Twitter.

The app includes four pre-installed voices, but the default settings of Heather as the announcer and Ryan as the reporter are quite usable and I didn't change them. She reads the headline, then he reads the story, like a regular newscast. It's quite hilarious (at first) and a blast to use.

Voice Brief is great to listen to when you're getting ready in the morning and on your commute to and from work. It also makes a cool alarm clock waking you up to a customized newscast of information from your personal sources.

Voice Brief is far from perfect though. The included sources don't include regular email accounts, so if you don't have Gmail, you're out of luck.

Update: If you can't get Twitter to authorize, log in via the Web interface and disable https only in settings. Don't worry, you can enable it as soon a Voice Brief is authorized.

Unfortunately, the interface is complete rubbish. It's dizzying to bounce between the main viewing screen and the source editing mode and editing sources requires a few too many touches. It's manageable but it needs a little UI/UX love to take it to the next level.

It's not Google Voice Actions. It's more like Siri reading your Flipboard to you -- minus the UI. It's a little rough around the edges, but if you can work with what's there Voice Brief is a pretty compelling app and is worth spending the $3 to encourage the developer.

Below is a slightly overproduced demo video. Instead I highly recommend these individual videos of the various Voice Brief widgets, where as you can actually hear the speaking voices in action.

Update 2012-0312 - VoiceBrief 1.8.1 is now available and addresses several of my complaints above, including the ability to read full websites (not just RSS) and non-Gmail email accounts. Plus it's free for a couple of days!

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