When I was 7, I tried to teach myself to read two books at once, one for each eye. After about an hour of experimentation, I decided it was too hard for little kids and that I’d have to try again when I was an adult. It took a university course in neurolinguistics before I fully let go of that dream. Speed reading apps are a reasonable facsimile.
Note: This review was inspired by my indignation toward the ReadQuick app, toward which I feel the gamut of emotions of a jilted lover. I had a crush on you from afar, I fell in love with you the moment we met, we spent all that time together… and now you want to limit my access behind a pay wall? I paid $10 for you! (Okay, the emotions of a jilted lover plus those of a thwarted skinflint).
Let’s start with ReadQuick as the baseline for speed reading apps. Basically, the app allows you to load news articles and read them more quickly by showing only one word at a time. The technical term for how many words appear on-screen at a time is ‘fixations.’ (Seems legit… ) ReadQuick can bookmark articles, and it can also draw from other bookmarking services such as Pocket and Instapaper. I use it with Pocket. I’ve found that certain articles in my Pocket Queue will not appear in my ReadQuick queue, generally if they start with a large illustration. Some articles would begin at a random place in the middle, or stop at the first page, due to either illustrations or formatting. At least 90% of my reading material was unaffected by these problems. I liked that each article in the queue showed a reading time based on my current reading speed. It’s currently set at 610 words per minute, triple the average unassisted reading pace. I was able to train upward by 10-wpm increments. It would sometimes crash after I had finished a long article, but the new revision seems to have fixed that. The new revision appears to allow increased fixations, but I’m still having a fit of pique about having to pay another $10 for a $10 app, so I can’t confirm it.
When I first got the app, I was frustrated that it would not accommodate books due to DRM issues. Now that I’ve read a few thousand news articles on it, I no longer think it would suit my style to read fiction on it. There are a lot of typographic conventions, such conversational formatting and mid-chapter section breaks, that would seem to affect comprehension. I like speed-reading best for keeping up on the news. I prefer to have the gist of many stories so that I have time to delve into a greater proportion of long-form reportage.
Accelerator (formerly known as Velocity) is the next app I tried. At $2.99, it’s a lot cheaper than ReadQuick. The reading experience is virtually indistinguishable if the two are set on the same speed and background. They each have features that the other doesn’t, so I’ll compare them.
· Same: Black/white, white/black, and sepia themes, just like iBooks and Kindle. Set speed up to 1000 words per minute. Read from Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability. Archive articles after reading. Both apps are stumped by slide shows. Neither app allows sorting the queue with oldest first.
· Different: ReadQuick reads from Feedly and Evernote; Accelerator reads from the web. ReadQuick queue shows reading time and whether article is finished; Accelerator only shows this from reading view. ReadQuick allows deletion as well as archiving. ReadQuick allows web view; Accelerator allows plain text view.
Accelerator is my new default news reader. I do miss a few features from ReadQuick. My favorite feature was the icon that shows how long each article will take to read. Accelerator also neglects to show the source of the original article. The best of both worlds would be an app that combined everything from both apps. It would allow a web view as well as a plain text view; it would show the source of each article and how long it would take to read. Maybe it would also cost $12.98. Eh, no app is perfect. The reading experience itself is the key feature, and that is fully optimized in my opinion.
Acceleread is a different sort of enterprise altogether. It’s designed to train people to read faster and with better comprehension. I took a reading speed test of traditionally formatted text, and it gave me 400 words per minute with 100% comprehension. It comes with some pre-copyright novels, of which I had already read 17 out of 20. As far as I can tell, Acceleread is designed to read DRM-free books, not news articles, so it is a different use case. I tested it out, though. It wants to orient sideways. It allows multiple lines as well as multiple fixations per line. This does seem to be the best way to train for comprehension as well as speed, and it also seems to be a better transition to traditional text on paper. I’m talking myself into giving it a try for fiction, but I’ll have to find something DRM-free that I really want to read.
Sprint is a free iOS app based on Spritz. There are several iterations, including one for PDFs and one for ePub books, called ReadMe!. I about fainted when I saw that. It’s great, but as far as I can tell it does not support my library’s ePub catalog. The Spritz-based style is distinctive, with a logo, user name, reading speed, and playback buttons prominently displayed at all times. Speed tops out at 1000 wpm and can be adjusted in 25-wpm increments. Back to the Sprint app. It can read websites, which is a different use case from Accelerator or ReadQuick. Sprint does not work on everything. I logged into my Pocket account and was not able to Sprint anything. I couldn’t speed-read my own website, though that is probably a good thing, as you really need to pontificate on my magisterial writing skills to get the most out of my scintillating wit and iconoclastic observations. Sprint would be a good supplement for Accelerator, as their draw may be mutually exclusive for a lot of web content.
What I really want is a configurable auto-scroll setting on e-book readers that support DRM content. Kindle and iBooks, I am looking at you. When I buy a book, I should be able to read it in any format I like. I want auto-scroll and I want a ceiling projection display. My old Palm PDA from the year 2000 had an app with auto-scroll, and I could buy e-books from Barnes & Noble with it. Why can’t I have this on my phone? WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY!
Should we speed-read, though? A million new books were published in English last year. The average dedicated reader can enjoy 3000 books in a lifetime. It would be magnificent if we could somehow double this, or triple it, and still get the same comprehension and leisure value, in the same way that we can double the number of cats in a lap. I speed-read, and I also read e-books and print at normal speed. I listen to audio books, sometimes at 1.5 or 2x speed. I listen to podcasts as well. Like most people, when introduced to a new medium of information processing, I add it to my repertoire and continue using all the same formats I used before. Speed-reading is fantastic for skimming through a large volume of ephemera, like the news, though perhaps less so for assessing whether something is suitable for a research project. It would be pointless for poetry or plays or children’s literature or graphic novels. Woe betide anyone who tries to speed-read while learning a foreign language. In short, I adore it, because it suits my temperament, but I don’t think it’s for everyone and I definitely don’t think it’s for everything.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.