New iPad App Brings Thousands Of Free Books To Schools, Reads To You

iPads are taking over many classrooms around the world. There is an obvious educational benefit to utilizing the new “magical” device. But what about cash-strapped schools? There is good news for schools with barely enough money to get by.

Provided a school can come up with enough money to purchase just a few iPads, there is a new app out that allows students to fill up the iPad with FREE books. It’s called ‘VBookz’ and it looks just like Apple’s beautiful iBooks app. The only difference is VBookz stocks the digital shelves with thousands of free books, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

It Reads To You

There’s another big benefit to using VBookz: text-to-speech. Students in need of having their texts read to them for any reason can now do so. Apple’s iBooks does not support text-to-speech and we could see this being a huge feature for many students.

Mark Twain, Frankenstein, Jane Austen, Oh My!

So what kind of free books are there for VBookz? The public domain isn’t just esoteric old stuff—it’s good old stuff. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—all of these are in the public domain and included in the vBookz download, and an in-app store lets you seek out and download the other 20,000 ebooks in the public domain. And then it reads them to you. Pretty fantastic.

VBookz’ text-to-speech isn’t magical. It still sounds like Pride and Prejudice read by a robot, as opposed to your “I’d rather be reading Jane Austen” English teacher. But it’s a robot with a good grip on the English language, and as far as these things go, vBookz’ text-to-speech is pretty listenable. You can make it read faster or slower, and choose between a man or woman’s voice. Impressively, a magnifying bar rolls over the words as they’re read, allowing you to follow along with your robo-narrator.

For visually impaired readers, vBookz could be a near-limitless resource. Furthermore, the $5 app also allows readers to purchase access other languages’ public domain collections in-app for $5 each—potentially a powerful tool for someone learning a second language.

But if you’re not already text-to-speech inclined, vBookz probably won’t leave you a convert. I still found that it took more effort to listen to the books than to read them myself, and where I might, in some instance, listen to an audiobook, I don’t think I’d ever be able to make it through a novel’s full text-to-speech recital. And even as an app just for reading public domain texts, it has its limitations: behind the glossy veneer, I encountered issues with laggy page turning and unrecognized button taps. But as I said, for some readers, text-to-speech is profoundly useful, and vBookz has done a fine job of giving it content and polish for the iPad. [iTunes download link] [Portions via Gizmodo]