Initial Impressions EasyReader for Windows v SpeakOn
By David Griffith
(Note: This is an updated version of an article first published to TAVIP Discussion List on July 25th 2021.)
I decided to buy EasyReader for Windows this week and try it out.
I was particularly interested in what it offered over SpeakOn which offers a similar capability to EasyReader. Of course, SpeakOn offers a far wider access to apps including Internet Radio Podcasts and Music etc. Here I just compare eBook reading and Newsagent access.
EasyReader is a paid for product at £39 and SpeakOn is free.
I am still finding my way around EasyReader so feel free to correct clarify anything below I may have got wrong.
I have used EasyReader for 2 tasks so far.
- Accessing the RNIB Newsagent Library
- Reading an ePub book.
I will make some brief comparisons based on these 2 tasks only.
First of all, EasyReader must win hands down as a solution for those with low vision. I cannot comment on how well EasyReader handles low vision as I have no useful sight, but I do know there is no low vision support at all in SpeakOn which relies entirely on audio feedback.
Logging into the Newsagent Service is similar in EasyReader and SpeakOn.
The access to Newspapers is pretty similar in SpeakOn and EasyReader.
However, in Magazines there is a difference. EasyReader is able to access a more up to date database and is definitely more functional than SpeakOn. It depends on what magazine you want to access but it is slightly hit and miss with SpeakOn. A lot of Magazines can be accessed with SpeakOn. Some have had their links broken. So, whilst you can for example get BBC History without problem in SpeakOn you cannot get access to the latest issue of the New Statesman. In EasyReader, in contrast, it appears the RNIB have provided a fully functional link to their Magazine service rather than the partly broken one SpeakOn is having to use.
So EasyReader, depending on your Magazine you are trying to access, may be your only realistic Desktop option.
In terms of reading for both Newsagent content and the eBooks reading I found the following in relation to functionality.
First of all, in relation to TTS playback and then direct text access.
For me, in terms of TTS Reading, SpeakOn wins hands down. There are a myriad of TTS navigation controls in SpeakOn and they work consistently and easily across both the Newsagent and eBook apps. SpeakOn uses a phone or Mac like rota control system where you set granularity, with left and right arrow, that is, section, article, 50 lines, line sentance, word and character, and you then navigate by these elements with the up or down arrow.
EasyReader uses a very different approach with a more traditional combination of key shortcuts and function keys to control TTS Reading. This is an entirely legitimate approach but the problem for me was that in my usage I found most of these key shortcuts did not work. In fact, pretty much the only consistently performing keystroke was the F5 key to play and pause.
Direct Access to Text.
Luckily for me my profound disappointment with EasyReader’s TTS functionality was offset by its capability to directly access the text.
In fact, after the first couple of hours I have never bothered using TTS playback in EasyReader anyway and have instead directly interacted with the text content in the eBooks and Newspaper using my screen reader. With NVDA I have set up a configuration profile so that when EasyReader loads it switches to my preferred TTS Scansoft Reading voice. This means I can effectively get the TTS experience anyway just by using the Say All command in NVDA.
This also has the advantage in that I can easily navigate to and access any word, sentence etc as easily as if I was reading on the web.
Again, not all the keyboard shortcuts worked for me but enough did. Crucially H and shift H enabled me to navigate articles/chapters easily. Shift tabbing out of the reading area lets you access a tree which operates like a table of contents which is useful for navigation.
Given that SpeakOn gives you no direct access to text, EasyReader wins hands down here. The work-around in SpeakOn if you want direct access to text with your screen reader is simply to press control A to select a chapter/article and then copy and paste this into Notepad or your word processor of choice.
Importing an eBook Library.
In SpeakOn if you want to import eBooks you either put the books into a designated Text Publications folder or within SpeakOn settings you can point to any folder which contains eBooks and SpeakOn will include them in its library.
This works extremely easily in SpeakOn and is very convenient. As I add any eBooks to my eBook library folder it is then available to be read when I open SpeakOn
However, I have amassed over the last 25 years, hundreds of eBooks. I have several hundred Kindle books converted with Codex alone. Possibly up to a thousand books of all kind, I am not sure.
There is a function in EasyReader, almost identical to SpeakOn, where you can point to a folder of books for EasyReader to access. I therefore pointed it to the main eBooks folder I also use for SpeakOn.
However, whilst adding this folder in SpeakOn takes only seconds I have not managed to successfully import this folder into EasyReader.
Basically, any attempt to access this folder results in a scanning please wait message in EasyReader which goes on for about, I think, 30 minutes, or more. I cannot be sure as I alt tab away to get on with something else.
Finally, tonight I managed to get EasyReader to start recognising books in my eBooks folder. – after waiting at least 30 minutes.
I then tried to open one of the books whereupon EasyReader instantly crashed.
I re-opened EasyReader and went back to my eBooks folder. I then got the scanning please wait message. and the whole process of waiting started again.
This is completely different to SpeakOn where, after the library is initially set up, you get instant access to books in it, and can navigate through books folders without delay, just as in File Explorer.
So, I think SpeakOn will continue to be my ePub eBook reader of choice, though the direct access to text EasyReader provides would also be nice.
I have not imported individual eBooks into EasyReader.
The other main advantage of EasyReader is that it is possible to connect to Bookshare to directly access that library and download books from that and other eBook sites.
SpeakOn has no such functionality.
EasyReader is probably going to be my first port of call for the RNIB Newsagent service if for no other reason that the magazine database is more reliable and I can be confident that I can access all the magazines I want. EasyReader has crashed a couple of times whilst updating RNIB Newsagent content which is annoying but not a showstopper as unlike with the eBooks import you are not held about waiting upon your re-entry into the app.
The direct access to text with your screen reader is also an advantage. However, if the RNIB ever responded to Isaac and provided him with the updated links to their Magazine service as he has requested it would be a very close run thing between EasyReader and SpeakOn, especially because SpeakOn is free.
The inability of EasyReader to import my admittedly huge eBook library means that SpeakOn will continue to rule here for me personally. It seems EasyReader through its scanning is trying to do too much. Speak On seems more content only to interrogate and scan an individual book when it is selected for loading, rather than trying to scan hundreds of books at once.
Broadly speaking EasyReader and Speak On deliver RNIB Newsagent content in similar ways but comparative reading of the same article reveals hidden, often unrealised abilities of SpeakOn.
Essentially the developer of SpeakOn included a “Reader” like function which massages the text and strips away “advert” sections in the article, typically referring you to content elsewhere in the Newspaper or Magazine. So, you may be reading an article in the Guardian about a political summit in EasyReader and then hear in the middle of an article to read another article in the G2 Magazine. EasyReader will faithfully reproduce this announcement whereas SpeakOn will normally strip this away for a smoother reading experience.
This is similar to Reader functions in Safari on Mac and iPhone or the various Reader apps available for Windows Browsers.
For more information on the SpeakOn Media Suite visit http://www.speakon.org.uk/SpeakOn.html
EasyReader for Windows is available from Dolphin Computer Access at https://yourdolphin.com/en-gb/products/individuals/easyreader-for-windows