Give Your Android Phone A British Accent
I know a few people who have Windows® phones. One of the stand-out features that always made me jealous is that the GPS navigation software includes a set of different voices to choose from — and at least one of them has a British accent. For some time, I thought there was no way to achieve the same effect on an Android phone, but fortunately I discovered that the OS-level language and text-to-speech settings can be used to accomplish it instead. Furthermore, with the addition of an inexpensive extension for Chrome, it becomes possible to cause the (very impressive) TTS engine to speak arbitrary text.
British-accented navigation instructions
These instructions were written using a Sony Xperia Z1s running Android 4.3 (and, later, 4.4) on the T-Mobile network. They may vary slightly with other Android releases, or other makes/models of phone.
There are two subsets of work in this section — using UK English as the system-level language, and installing the necessary high-quality language packs to go with it.
A graphical guide to the various steps follows immediately after the written instructions.
I was actually quite surprised at how convincing Google's text-to-speech engine is in nearly every case — even when using Chrome Reader to speak arbitrary text (see below). Perhaps sooner or later they will go even further and provide more regional accent variations.
Accented arbitrary text-to-speech
Out-of-the-box, there does not seem to be a way to feed arbitrary text to the TTS engine. However, the Chrome Reader extension adds this capability, and even though it is commercial (about US$1.99 when I purchased it) and slightly buggy, it is well worth the cost, as you'll no doubt soon agree.
Chrome Reader is triggered by selecting text in the Android Chrome browser, then copying it to the clipboard. If all goes well, it should immediately be routed to the text-to-speech engine, and you can save the results to a WAV file by clicking the green square icon in the popup menu.
One way to route truly arbitrary text to the TTS engine using Chrome Reader is to email it to yourself, access the email via a webmail client (in Chrome), and copy the desired text to the clipboard. You could also use e.g. Pastebin, or a web forum.
I have a reputation at work for discovering new things for the Incident Response team to work on, so one of the first products I created using this ability was a pair of mp3s they could use for their "new mail" notification sounds in Outlook:
On my phone, at least, Chrome Reader is a bit tempermental, but this set of steps will generally get it working correctly again:
Before proceeding, it is critical for me to remind you that "with great power comes great responsibility" by means of a very special and important public service announcement.
British accents make everything sound more credible
The Android TTS engine is generally so lifelike that it can be used to illustrate the interesting effect where virtually any spoken English sounds more believable when spoken with a British accent.
Take the following examples (enhanced even further with statistics and references to other elements of UK culture):
A few more comparisons to hammer home how effective this can be:
Any debate between friends can now have the stakes increased by a considerable margin by simply copying-and-pasting some political news text from the BBC website and then tweaking it to suit the specific disagreement in question.
A virtual (speech) tour of London
Using the same technique, I've been able to recreate some of the highlights of my visit to one of the most fantastic cities in the world in 2013.
|British Android — Complete Audio Set||16 MiB||Ben Lincoln|
|All of the audio files referenced above (as well as additional, alternate versions), in a single zip file|
|1.||The only reason all of the American TTS examples use a female voice is that there is no male US English speech pack for Android at present.|