An Android screen reader is a piece of Assistive Technology that uses spoken word, vibration and other audible feedback to let you know what’s on your screen, what you’re touching, and what you can do with it. Basically, it speaks to you what it’s on the screen as the finger explores.
Today, most Android devices come with built-in screen readers that are installed on your device when you bought it as part of Google’s Android Application Suite and routinely updated with improvements and new features through Google Play.
Main Android Screen Readers
There are three major screen readers available on Android operating system – TalkBack, Voice Assistant, and Select to Speak. Here is a quick comparison between them.
TalkBack & Voice Assistant:
TalkBack is always on and reading constantly whatever you’re pointing at the screen.
You need to use a set of specific gestures to operate on the phone.
Suitable for the blind and people with severe vision impairment.
Select to Speak:
Easy, intuitive to learn.
No need to use specific gestures.
A good choice for the elderly, low-vision users, and language learners.
Who Can Use It?
Android screen readers are typically used by people with visual impairments or learning disabilities. It’s also helpful for folks learning English (or another language) and for older adults. Below, let’s take a deeper dive into the three major Android readers.
TalkBack is the Google screen reader primarily used for people with blindness and the visually impaired. How it works is that you use “specific gestures” to explore” what is on the screen, and TalkBack reads constantly any element that can be acted on or any block of text that can be read back to you.
Having said that, you will need to become familiar with the basics of TalkBack settings and then make sure you know some of the gestures that work with it. The entire setup routine and setting of the various options is covered very well in the tutorial under “Accessibility”. You will find it the first time you initiate the service and then walked through all the ways TalkBack can help, as well as how to use gestures and look into the settings of the service itself.
In February 2021, Google announced a revamped version of TalkBack featuring many of users’ top wish list items: new, more intuitive multi-finger gestures, a unified menu, new reading controls and customizable menus and gestures. Below video click is Google’s official tutorial about the latest version of TalkBack.
2. Voice Assistant
Samsung devices come with another screen reading feature called Voice Assistant, as part of their Android Accessibility Suite. The name of the feature on Samsung devices will vary between software versions, but the functionality is the same. According to Samsung’s official website, on devices with One UI 3.1, it’s called TalkBack; however, on devices with earlier software versions, it’s called Voice Assistant.
One thing to keep in mind — Samsung has recently shifted to using Talkback with their devices, and Voice Assistant no longer exists as of the latest version of Android.
3. Select to Speak
Just like its name, Select to Speak is an on-demand screen reader that reads selected text and other elements on the screen. Unlike TalkBack or Voice Assistant, it does not need to use specific gestures to operate on the device. Using this screen reader is straightforward, so you can simply tap the play button to select single or multiple items to read. All you need to do is set it up!
Select to Speak can be found within the Accessibility settings > Installed Services > Select to Speak, under the Vision section, with other features like Talkback and Magnification Gestures. To activate it, a toggle turns the feature on or off.
After it’s turned on, Select to Speak shows a circular, Accessibility icon in the lower right corner of the screen. To use it, first tap the icon, then double-tap a selection containing text or drag across with a single finger.
4. Amazon VoiceView
Amazon Fire Tablets run their own screen reader called Voice View. The Fire Tablet is not a typical Android device, not supporting the Google Play Store, nor any Google-owned Accessibility Suite, but you can use the Amazon Voice View screen reader to navigate your Fire tablet (FireOS 5 and higher) and interact with content with speech output
TalkBack, Voice Assistant vs. Select to Speak: Which is Better?
The three features are all excellent Android screen readers, but each one has its own strengths and shortcomings as well as different gestures and commands to use. If you are a person that needs every content of the screen read to you constantly, then TalkBack or Voice Assistant will certainly do a good job. On the other hand, in the case when you just want to benefit from using a screen reader but don’t always need it, Select to Speak could be a great option as it can be accessed with just a play button whenever needed.