App Spotlight: Voice Brief Reads Aloud Your News, E-Mail, and More

I'm a strong believer in apps that help you keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. Because, quite frankly, every second you spend looking at your smartphone's screen raises the chances you'll plow into a tree, a median, or, worst of all, me in an oncoming car.

Of course, road warriors often need a rundown of their upcoming appointments, newly received tweets and e-mail, perhaps even the latest stock prices. Too bad your iPhone can't read that stuff out loud.

It can, with Voice Brief for iOS. This handy app lets you configure a wide range of custom content sources, then reads everything aloud. It's like listening to the radio--except all the stories are especially for you.

Indeed, Voice Brief is not unlike Pandora in that it lets you create your own "station." Your content list can include your iPhone's calendar, Internet-sourced weather and stock prices, news feeds from just about anywhere, Google Reader, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and IMAP e-mail accounts. (This last option requires a $2.99 upgrade.)

For each item, you can choose how many updates you want to hear. And once you've chosen your content, you can arrange it in whatever order you want--say, e-mail first, then appointments, and so on.

When you launch Voice Brief, it immediately fetches your content and starts reading it--complete with newsradio-style musical cues at the beginning of each section. I particularly like the app's oversize pop-up controls, which are easy to see at arm's length (like in the car). You've got buttons for play/pause, prev/next item, prev/next section, and sharing (meaning instant sharing of news items via Facebook, Twitter, and/or e-mail--which is pretty cool).

I can't say I'm blown away by Voice Brief's voice synthesis (which gives you a choice of male and female and British and U.S. voices). It sounds a little more computer-y than other synthesized voices I've heard lately, and it mispronounces a lot of proper names and abbreviations. It gets the job done, but don't expect perfection.

Voice Brief was previously priced at $2.99, but it's currently available free of charge (not including the aforementioned e-mail upgrade). If you're looking for a cool and practical way to aggregate--and hear--all your important daily info, it's definitely worth a try.

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