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How to use TalkBack on Android

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Wondering how to use TalkBack on Android? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the Google screen reader.

In recent years, accessibility has become a top priority for many companies. Consequently, they've begun implementing screen reading and text to speech (TTS) features into various gadgets, including computers and mobile devices.

Screen readers and TTS solutions make using devices more accessible for people with learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia and those with visual impairments. Individuals with limited vision benefit from screen readers because the technology allows them to access information using speech, braille, or both.

On the other hand, while TTS programs are great for users with disabilities, they're also an excellent option to practice speed reading and improve productivity.

Thanks to technological advances, users don't have to download third-party accessibility tools for their devices. If you have an Android smartphone, you can use TalkBack, a practical app in the Android Accessibility Suite.

What is TalkBack?

TalkBack is the native screen reader on most Android tablets. It's one of the four tools in the Android Accessibility Suite. The other three are Select to Speak, Accessibility Menu, and Switch Access.

This screen reader helps Android users with visual impairments enhance their experience on their devices. In addition to screen reading, the app relies on other feedback to aid users in understanding the information on their devices. This feedback may include vibrations and noise notifications.

Since the TalkBack program is pre-loaded on Android smartphones, it receives automatic updates from the Google Play Store.

Using TalkBack - The beginner's guide

Users who have never used this Google screen reader before may wonder how to navigate it. The tutorials below will help you get familiar with some of the program's most helpful features.

Activate TalkBack

There are three ways you can enable TalkBack. The first involves using the volume key shortcut, while the second is through Google Assistant. Finally, you can also activate the app by accessing your device settings.

Here's what you need to do to activate the program with the shortcut:

  1. The first time you set up your smartphone, ensure you've enabled accessibility shortcuts. 
  2. Touch the side of your tablet and find the two volume keys. 
  3. Tap and hold both keys for approximately three seconds. 
  4. Hold the keys for an additional three seconds to confirm your decision. 

Follow these instructions to enable the app using Google Assistant:

  1. Use the command "Hey Google" to activate the Assistant. 
  2. Say, "Turn on TalkBack."

The above method is also the easiest way you can disable the app. All you need to say is "Hey Google," and follow it up with "Turn off TalkBack."

Users with low vision can turn on the app using device settings:

  1. Head to the Settings app from the home screen.
  2. Select Accessibility and choose the "TalkBack" option.
  3. Tap "Use TalkBack" and press "OK."

Basic gestures and shortcuts 

Let's look at some helpful TalkBack gestures that will allow you to perform frequent actions on your smartphone: 

  • Moving to the next on-screen item: Swipe right
  • Moving to the previous on-screen item: Swipe left
  • Activating screen search: Swipe left, then swipe down
  • Scrolling down: Swipe down with two fingers
  • Scrolling up: Swipe up with two fingers
  • Starting selection mode: Double press and hold with two fingers
  • Ending selection mode: Double press and hold with two fingers
  • Copying selected text: Double tap with two fingers
  • Pasting selected text: Triple tap with three fingers

The most important thing users should remember about the app is that one-finger gestures usually turn into two-finger or three-finger gestures in TalkBack 9.1 and newer.

For instance, you'll scroll using one finger when the app is off. But after activating TalkBack, you'll have to rely on a two-finger scroll.

Multi-finger gestures are available on some Android tablets like the Google Pixel 3. Some devices from other brands, like Samsung Galaxy phones, also support multi-finger gestures.

Navigating text

With TalkBack, you can navigate the text within your emails, text messages, apps, and web pages. Most users typically choose to move line by line, letter by letter, or word by word. Moreover, you can navigate by headings, controls, or links.

Here's how to choose your preferred navigation method:

  1. Swipe down or up using one finger. 
  2. The TalkBack app will inform you of the available navigation elements. 
  3. When the app presents how you want to navigate text, swipe right or left.

For example, when the program announces "Headings," you can swipe left or right to go through the headings list. 

It's best to use the letter-by-letter method to capture word spellings, phone numbers, and email addresses. 

Activate the TalkBack braille keyboard

Newer Android phones have a pre-installed TackBack app featuring an inbuilt braille keyboard. 

The keyboard features a six-key layout and should feel intuitive to braille users. 

To switch from the default keyboard to braille, follow these steps:

  1. Launch TalkBalk and head to TalkBack settings. 
  2. Select "Braille" keyboard and tap "Set up braille keyboard."

Other useful commands

Let's explore several other TalkBack shortcuts and commands that will help you master the app:

  • Accessing the TalkBack menu (global context menu): Swipe down, then swipe right
  • Accessing the local context menu: Swipe up, then swipe right
  • Accessing reading controls: Swipe up, then swipe down
  • Exploring by touch: Move your finger over the screen and the app will announce items when you reach them

Try Speechify - The TalkBack alternative

While TalkBack is a powerful app, it's only available for Android devices, and some of its functionalities aren’t the most user-friendly. In comparison, text to speech (TTS) tools like Speechify have a simple interface and many easy-to-use features.

Speechify boasts a large language selection and numerous natural-sounding voices. The program can convert virtually any text into speech, from Google docs and news articles to emails and text messages. 

Best of all, the software is compatible with nearly all major devices and operating systems. You can use it on your computer after downloading the Speechify Chrome extension. Alternatively, you can find the mobile app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and transform your iOS or Android device into an impressive screen reader. 

Not only does the app have screen reading functions, but you can also use it to make voiceovers for YouTube videos. It's helped countless users hone their reading skills, overcome their learning disabilities, and become more productive. Try it for free today to see why it's become one of the top TTS apps. 


How do I unlock my phone from TalkBack mode?

You can unlock your screen by swiping up with two fingers. 

How do I change the TalkBack voice?

You can change the TTS output voice from the Settings app. Navigate to "Accessibility" and select "Text to speech output" to preview the available options. 

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.