Why are you reading this article? Wait, don’t click away—what I mean is, why are you reading this article? Chances are, you visited this article from your smartphone, like so many of us do. Whether you have an iPhone or an Android, you can make your phone read text out loud to you, so you never need to read it yourself again.
The feature is called text to speech, or TTS. TTS highlights text or portions of your screen and reads those portions out loud. It’s a great accessibility feature in its own right, but it’s also useful to anyone who wants their phone to read to them. TTS is a fun option and isn’t difficult to activate, but it is a bit hidden.
Text to speech on Android
I’m using a Pixel for this demo, so your settings may slightly differ depending on your device and version of Android. You can find TTS on Android from Settings > Accessibility > Select to Speak. Here, enable the toggle next to “Select to Speak shortcut.” Choose “Allow” on the pop-up, then tap “Got it” to close the window. Now, you’ll see a tiny shortcut appear on your phone’s display. When you tap it, a menu appears: At first, you’ll see a play button and a large red stop button, along with an arrow. Tap the arrow, and you’ll see an expanded list of controls, including a minus button (slow down), skip buttons to skip between sections of the screen to read, and a plus button (speed up).
To actually use Select to Speak, make sure to tap the shortcut, then drag your finger over the text you want read. You’ll see a green box hovering over that text: When you let go, Select to Speak will begin reading. You can use the expanded control strip to control this speech, or tap the red stop button to stop your phone from reading. You can also leave the app or page that you’ve selected to stop Android from reading.
If you go back to the Select to Speak settings page, you can tap “Settings” to find two extra controls: “Read in background,” which will continue reading even if you leave the page, and “Read text on images,” which attempts to read the text on images or your camera’s viewfinder. Both of these features are labeled as experimental, so temper your expectations.
Text to speech on iOS
On your iPhone, you’ll find TTS options in Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content. Here, you have two main options: You can either choose “Speak Selection,” which lets you highlight specific text you’d like read aloud, or “Speak Screen,” which reads the entire contents of the screen when you swipe down from the top with two fingers. Speak Screen most resembles the TTS you find on Android.
When you swipe down with two fingers to activate the feature, your iPhone will begin reading everything on-screen. You’ll also see a similar controller appear: Tap the hand icon, and you can tap different places on-screen to dictate what should be read aloud. The skip buttons allow you to skip between different sections on screen, and the play/pause buttons do what you’d expect them to do. You can also control how quickly your iPhone reads aloud from this menu.
You can make this controller stay on-screen permanently from Speech Controller > Show Controller.
That said, I prefer to keep Speak Selection enabled. In that case, whenever you highlight text on iOS, whether it be an iMessage from a friend, or a passage in an article, you’ll see a new “Speak” option. Tap it, and your iPhone will begin reading the highlighted text out loud. In most cases, the menu doesn’t disappear, so you can tap the new “Pause” option that appears to stop your iPhone from speaking. If you’re reading out text messages, this option doesn’t appear, so you’ll need to leave the Messages app to stop your iPhone from speaking instead.
No matter which option you use, the Spoken Content settings menu offers plenty of customization: You can choose to highlight words as they’re read to follow long easier; from “Typing Feedback,” you can choose to have your iPhone read what you’re typing out loud automatically, including individual characters; you can dive into “Voices” to choose from a series of different voices to hear when your iPhone reads; you can choose the speed at which your iPhone reads; and you can correct your iPhone’s pronunciation of words and phrases from “Pronunciations.”
Rely on your digital assistant to read new messages
If all you’re looking for is for your phone to read new messages, you can rely on Siri or Google Assistant for that. In most cases, you can simply ask Siri or Google Assistant to read your latest messages: On iPhone, you just need to make sure your phone is unlocked. On Android, you’ll need to make sure the Google app has permission to use your notifications from Settings > Apps > See all apps > Google > Notifications.