Digital Crave

How to have your emails, texts read to you in the car

Digital Crave

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The only thing worse than a driver distracted by a phone call is when their eyes aren't on the road and both hands aren't on the wheel.

We see it almost every day now — someone beside you is texting, emailing or instant messaging, all the while driving a 4,000-pound vehicle.

While safety experts agree the best thing to do is to simply wait until you're not behind the wheel, many are turning to technology to remain productive while commuting to and from the office.

In fact, there are many inexpensive apps that use text-to-speech transcription to read your messages in a human-like voice — and in many cases these tools allow you to reply using your voice.

iSpeech's DriveSafe.ly, for example, can read your incoming emails and text messages on all four major smartphone platforms: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices. The sender also gets an automated reply to confirm the message has been received, though this feature can be disabled, if you like. The free version reads the first 25 words of each new incoming message, but upgrading to the Pro version ($3.99 a month or $13.95 per year) gives you the first 500 words of a message, the option to send text responses via your voice, multiple male and female voices, and other benefits. Language support includes English, Spanish and German.

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Similarly, the free Text'nDrive app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry also allows you to listen to your incoming email messages, but the Pro version ($4.99 to $9.99, depending on platform) also gives you the option to reply to messages by speaking into the smartphone (or paired Bluetooth device) and your words are transcribed into text. Despite its name, however, HandsFree Software's Text'nDrive works with texting opposed to email — but there is another app called Text'nDrive Drive Safely w SMS for Android. The app has been tested to work with Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, iCloud/MobileMe, AOL and others.

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Siri, Apple's personal assistant built into the iPhone 4S (and soon, iPad), can also read your text messages to you — but not email at the time of writing this. You can reply using your voice to texts or send a new text message or email to someone via your voice. As you likely know, the female voice can also help you find restaurants and other businesses, play music of your choice, add calendar appointments and reminders, find friends, and more. It works very well, but to be fair it's not a true hand-free solution for drivers as you need to press and hold the Home button (or the small button on a headphone remote) in order to activate Siri — that is, until a fall update which lets drivers press a button on their steering wheel to activate Siri (Apple calls this "Eyes Free"). Due out around October, the Siri update will also include iPad support, turn-by-turn GPS directions, the ability to launch apps, sports scores and stats, Facebook and Twitter posts, and movie times and reviews.

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Finally, Vlingo Virtual Assistant also lets you use your voice to perform a number of tasks using your voice — on a wide range of smartphone platforms. Now merged with Nuance (of Dragon NaturallySpeaking fame), this includes sending messages, calling someone, business search, opening apps or updating social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook. Simply tap the "Speak It" button to start the app's listening process or have Vlingo read incoming text messages and emails while you drive.

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