Mac OS X Lion brings a number of new voices that are almost lifelike. Alex was good. Samantha is better. The only problem with all these new, multi-language voices, is that they read. They don’t talk. I want a Mac that talks back.
Alex, Meet Samantha
If you’ve upgraded your Mac to Lion, here’s how to get the extra voices. Open System Preferences, click on the Speech icon (near the bottom). There are two options.
The first is Speech Recognition. That’s to make your Mac hear what you tell it to do, and respond accordingly. It’s interesting technology, but not useful, even cumbersome to use as you speaking to your Mac may annoy others.
The second button is Text to Speech. That’s where the voices are. The default System Voice is Alex, which is very good at reading English text. In previous versions of OS X, the collection of voices were nerdy, geeky, synthetic messes. Alex is good.
More Voices, Other Languages
If you want more voices in your Mac, and even in other languages, click the System Voice drop down tab, scroll to the bottom and select Customize.
The resulting pop down list has a few dozen voice choices, and in languages ranging from UK, Australian, Scottish, and India English, to French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and many others. Click to download the ones you want. The files are large and the download will take awhile.
These voices are a dramatic improvement over previous Mac voices, but all they do is read. They don’t talk to you.
I’ve been testing Mariner’s Narrator app for Macs. It’s not as easy to use as Alex or Samantha reading text in TextEdit, but it has a certain charm. Paste text into Narrator and it reads the text in a variety of voices, which can be assigned to different parts of your text.
Think of it as a way to create your own play with multiple voices for different characters. Recorded voices can be exported to iTunes for use on iPhone, iPod, or iPad. Unlike the voices in Lion, Narrator also gives you dictionary preferences so the voices can learn to pronounce difficult words appropriately.
What I really want is for my Mac to listen to my voice, and respond to my actions. Then, come back and tell me what it did, when it’s done, and what’s next on my daily agenda.