When I was little, I used to like being read to. Eventually, I could read faster than any well meaning adult could read out loud, and so I quit myself of their efforts and began a marvelous journey which included Agatha Christie novels in the second grade. Little girls came from all over the neighborhood when I played Barbies to see who dun it.
However, as an adult, I often wish someone could read to me out loud when I’m commuting. NPR is fine for short news stories, but they’re kind of a one stop shop. If you don’t want to hear about cutting open albatrosses and studying their insides (a topic of “art” a few weeks ago that haunts my dreams), you kinda turn off the radio or listen to music. If you’ve planned way in advance, you have podcasts to listen to (may I recommend NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me or The Thrilling Adventure Hour if you’re looking for podcasts while you’re caught in traffic?). If you have planned only slightly in advance, there’s Umano.
While it sounds like a Mexican wrestler, Umano started out asd a very popular app for iOS, and now is available to Android. Umano is a large news magazine sort of thingy that allows you to pick and seek out news stories that you’re interested in. There’s a wide range of categories to choose from and each of them is regularly updated with the latest content. Each category in question has their own various news sources, with Umano favoring more feature-based pieces instead of short news stories.
To start with Umano, download and install the program. On opening, you are confronted with the option to sign in or to skip that step. I skipped that step as I was in the car in stopped traffic and already in “now now now” mood. Note, there was no “and go” part of the stopped traffic. The available options to select from are Inspirational, World & Politics, , Scientific, Entrepreneurial, Technology, Lifestyle, Facts & History, Entertainment, and Business. Since traffic wasn’t move at all, I selected technology, science and entertainment, and then, blessings, the cars in front of me started going! It took a second for Umano to get spooled up and create a personalized feed. There was also a start to the article and then a brief stop as it spooled data, and then it ran well while my car was actually moving using only my cell plan, no wifi, to get the data to the phone.
As promised, a woman who did not sound like GLADOS read me my story. Her voice sounded somewhat digitized, and listening to the next two stories by men, I realized all of them sounded like they’d been through some kind of filter that made them sound slightly robotic. What they said, however, hit all the important parts of speech in the way that a speech reader would not; it was real humans. The first article was about the things “men should stop saying” so, naturally, it was read by a woman, and the voice was snarky as appropriate, and hit all the highlights of a sentence that has actual swear words in it.
I fast forwarded through one of the stories, because when they pick technology as a category, they mean it, and I just didn’t need to hear about the specific applications of TCP/IP protocol in a new tech product when I was escaping my tech job. The skip option worked nicely. There’s a slight chime before each news story. I switched from Umano as my primary program and turned on Google Navigation to try and find an easier way home, and Umano continued to read me stories without a hitch. Switching back to Umano, I was able to rewind a story that had gotten a little lost when Google navigation was making suggestions outloud regarding my route.
Now that I’m no longer in traffic, I gave Umano another spin. I could not figure out how to create an account for Umano through my computer, nor through the app (though there might be one) without uninstalling the app and re-installing it. When I did that, I selected to create a login and it asked for my full name , email, and a password. Tsk, tsk – Umano did not verify password, so be very sure of what you enter here.
Select the topics you are interested in, and you’re off (again). Select any of the items in the suggested feed (as noted in the image above), and then the individual article will appear with the ability to play, skip, fast forward, etc. (as with the image below):
Pressing the menu button on Android does nothing other than making a quick noise to let you know that yeah, you hit that button but, no, it doesn’t do anything. To see options, click on the lines that sort of look like a list in the upper left corner, and you’ll be able to change your preference selection, invite friends, send feedback, log out, or change the settings.
Settings let you connect with Facebook, change your password or name, and thinks like set values if you want to autoplay the next article in your feed (or only play articles when you click on them to play). By default, auto play is enabled. You can download your playlist, set up daily reminders, and/or detect the activity of your friends (though I haven’t tried this last one and I suspect its tied to Facebook).
On the whole, for the price of free, I’m in. Traffic has been sucking BIG time lately, but I found myself sitting in my garage finishing a story before I came in the first day I tried it. It beats screen readers and its more versatile/offers more immediate options than talk radio. Take a load off, and listen to some slightly digitized real humans read to you. Its almost like when we were kids, but better.