iSpeak ItLoad articles onto your iPod and listen to them on the go with iSpeak It, a $14.95 shareware application that turns any text into an audio file by using the Mac OS's built in text-to-speech engine. The resulting speech is a little robotic, but the application lets you listen to articles that you don't have time to read.
The iSpeak It interface isn't complicated, but it could use some refining. A row of icons along the top brings to you different parts of the application, such as news, Web feeds, and driving directions, but they aren't labeled with text, so you might not know what they are at first. Also, when you click an icon, a sheet rolls down with that tool's settings. It can be confusing, and we wish the program simply displayed a new static window.
When you select a newsfeed or other content, such as a Word document, its text displays in the program's main window exactly as it will be read. Since the text-to-speech system doesn't filter out unnecessary items, you'll want to delete links, copyright info, and other extraneous material by hand.
The icons along the top let you get news from the default newsfeed, obtain a local weather forecast, and download driving directions. You can also load an RSS feed or a locally stored text document; iSpeak It can read Word, PDF, text, RTF, HTML, and AppleWorks files. Getting a forecast worked only half the time for us, and we encountered errors the other half, but on the whole, the program worked as it should. We wish the RSS section had a prebuilt list of links, though. You'll have to add any feeds by hand.
Once you've loaded text, use the Test Speech commands to see how well the speech program reads it. If your file has tricky words that the system keeps getting wrong, you can create a list of replacement rules, such as substituting the word degree for the degree symbol. When you're done, click the transfer button to create and send an audio file to your iPod. You'll have to do this for each file individually since the program can't make a list of different files to transfer. Speech file creation works in real time, so it can be quite lengthy for longer articles. Don't use iSpeak It when you're in a hurry.
When you click to transfer a file, you have the option of creating an AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP3, or WAV file. AAC files can be made bookmarkable, so you can continue listening where you left off, and all files can be split into smaller files automatically, if you prefer. If you save the file as an MP3 or other compatible format, you can even listen to it on a player other than the iPod. You can also download and try different voices from third-party vendors associated with the ZappTek Web site.
The program has a link to send feedback if you have problems, but the Web site's forum link was down during our testing.