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Text To Speech


A common question that comes up when people are shopping for GPS devices is “What is text-to-speech?”. The follow-up to that question then becomes “Do you think text-to-speech is a necessary feature?”. The answer will likely depend on the types of areas you drive in as well as your driving habits and your familiarity with the area. But let’s get back to the original question.

Tone Prompts

Tone prompts are commonly found on handheld GPS devices designed for outdoor use. These devices do not have auto navigation as their primary function, and thus they often lack many of the advanced features of true auto GPS navigations systems.

Tone prompts are a set of tones that the device sounds out as you need to make turns at intersections. For example a device might give one tone just before you need to turn left, beep twice just before you need to turn right, and make one long beep just at the turn. This isn’t an ideal situation if you are using that device frequently for auto navigation.

Voice Prompts

Voice prompts are the most common form of cues on auto GPS devices. A voice prompt will typically give information such as the distance you need to cover and the direction you need to go in. For example a voice prompt might say “In 500 feet, turn right” and then at the turn say “Turn right”. Since there are not a lot of unique phrases that are spoken, these voice prompts are recorded ahead of time and are not customizable. When the time comes to give a direction, the device simply plays the pre-recorded audio.


Text-to-speech takes voice prompts to the next level. Instead of saying something generic like “In 500 feet, turn right” it can be more specific and will say “In 500 feet, turn right on High Street”. In this case, since there are thousands of street names, it can’t possibly store all of the combinations of directions within the device.

Therefore the device is programmed to provide “speech synthesis” and the internal computer looks at the text (words, street names) that needs to be said and figures out how to pronounce those names. As a result, you will sometimes find that the way the device pronounces a street name isn’t exactly how you would pronounce it. Likewise, the sound quality of the voice sometimes isn’t quite as good as those without text-to-speech since the speech needs to be generated in real-time and there is no option for pre-recording. Want to hear a sample of the sound? The audio file below is a sample of text-to-speech from the TomTom 910.

Credit: Louquendo

Is text-to-speech for me?

That depends. In many driving environments, having the device say “turn left in 1,000 feet” followed by “turn left” just before the intersection is enough of a cue. If there is any confusion about exactly which street to turn on you could take a quick glance over at the display, or ask a passenger to look at the display and give you assistance. For many people, text to speech isn’t necessary.

However if you live in an area where there are lots of streets close together, intersections where more than two streets converge, or don’t normally have someone else in the car to help look at the display, text-to-speech can be a nice option to have.

One other word of caution. A street can often be known by more than one name. Numbered roads often have a “local” name they also go by. And sometimes roads can have more than one common name. Thus even with text-to-speech your GPS might say “turn right on US route 1” while the street sign says “High Street”…. And both can be correct. The GPS will typically just pick one name to use. This might still require you to view the map display and use the distance cues provided.

Another instance where Text to Speech can be less than helpful is in cases where you can’t find a street sign, the sign is missing, or when it is dark out. If the GPS says “turn right in 500 feet” then you will know it is the street about 500 feet in front of you. However if the GPS says “turn right on Elm Street” and you can’t find the street signs– that instruction won’t be as useful as one that tells you the distance. However in some cases text to speech voices will speak both the distance and the street name which should eliminate ambiguity.

Text-to-speech typically ads a small amount to the price of the GPS over devices with simple verbal cues, however in some situations it can be well worth the extra cost.

54 Responses

  1. thanks, very helpful post.

    Juel - November 15th, 2007
  2. Thanks for a GREAT post. This information was VERY helpful. It cleared up confusion. It also mentioned the fact that a street may have many names. Many people who travel will not know this and return the gps unit thinking that it is defective.

    James Kendricks - November 22nd, 2007
  3. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for the perfect definition. It was the first link on my web search too!!

    Catrina - November 22nd, 2007
  4. Thanks. I was looking for this info for a while ….

    Mano - December 3rd, 2007
  5. Thanks, this cleared up my question. Thanks for the post.

    Jose Marco - December 7th, 2007
  6. Even though the TT13rd does not have the text to speech function, If you are getting to a turn, can you tell from the screen the name of the street / highway exit# -i.e. could you look at the screen and see the name of the street / highway exit#?

    Marcia - December 7th, 2007
  7. Marcia – Yes.

    Tim - December 7th, 2007
  8. Well written. Very good information. Most sellers don’t give such a good definition of “Text to Voice”

    Carl Freeburg - December 7th, 2007
  9. Thank You!!
    Enough said.

    Percy M. - December 11th, 2007
  10. A great guidance, which you cannot get from any GPS maker.

    Indra - January 14th, 2008
  11. Thanks! Do all text-to-speech capable GPS models allow you to turn off the text-to-speech function and revert to voice prompts when it is more appropriate?

    Craig Witherell - February 25th, 2008
  12. Craig, I can’t think of any TTS models that don’t allow you to turn it off if desired.

    Tim - February 25th, 2008
  13. I’m a little confused. Would a GPS that does NOT have text to speech give good directions in a city example?

    Jim McAleer - February 26th, 2008
  14. Yes, it would just say something like “turn right in 250 feet” instead of “turn right in 250 feet on Birch Trail”.

    Tim - February 26th, 2008
  15. thanks a lot for the post. You just saved my 100 dollars 😉

    Penelopi - March 6th, 2008
  16. Being in the market for my first navigation system, I’m searching thru an endless array of makes and models. One of the common features is text-to-speech – which I had no clue as to what it was. Your description was EXCELLENT!!! Thanks!!!

    Mike - April 30th, 2008
  17. Thanks a lot,
    You just saved me $100
    Very clear explanation.

    Gord - May 20th, 2008
  18. Please give some examples of GPS products that feature “text to speech”. I can’t tell if the Magellan Maestro 3220 I just bought has that feature (without opening it and then not being able to take it back). Nothing too expensive as is a starter level for my daughter.

    Karen - May 21st, 2008
  19. The 3220 doesn’t have text to speech. If you go to the top left corner of or homepage, look for the ‘find auto GPS’ box, click the ‘text to speech’ box, and click ‘view matching…’.

    Tim - May 21st, 2008
  20. Great explanation. Thank you so much.

    Helen - June 11th, 2008
  21. Can you turn T-to-S off if you want to or do you either have it or don’t have it?

    Wendell - June 28th, 2008
  22. Wendell, yes, you can. Or at least I can’t think of any devices that offer TTS that don’t also offer the ability to turn it off and still have voice prompts without it.

    Tim - June 28th, 2008
  23. Does Magellan roadmate 1412 has text to speech feature

    JV - July 7th, 2008
  24. Yes.

    Tim - July 7th, 2008
  25. Would Magellan roadmate 1412 tell me to come to right side of the street if Iam on the left most lane before I reach near the actual street

    JV - July 7th, 2008
  26. GPS isn’t accurate enough to determine which lane you are in. The margin of error is approximately 10 meters.

    Tim - July 7th, 2008
  27. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your responses Iam almost finalised on Magellan roadmate 1412 due to text to speech feature at $200 price. Are there any other brands in $200 range which are better then Magellan roadmate 1412 and have same features as Magellan roadmate 1412

    JV - July 8th, 2008
  28. JV, “better” is subjective. I don’t know what features you like on the 1412 to compare with something else so I’m taking a stab in the dark. but I’d check out

  29. Thanks, I have been scratching my head over this “text to speech” option for a week. None of the electronics stores explain that on thier descriptions of units. Very Helpful. Thanks

    Tom - July 20th, 2008
  30. Thank you for a simple and generic definition to this term.


    Harvey - August 4th, 2008
  31. Excellent summary. Helped me decide on trying the Nuvi 270 without text-to-speech. I now want to work out a strategy of responding to cues: start edging left when the prompt is to “proceed to next intersection and turn left”, etc.
    Is there a forum entry that might deal with this topic?

    Nus - August 8th, 2008
  32. I am thinking about getting a Garmin 205 without text to speech. Does the map on the unit still list the street names. And although it doesn’t say street names will it still tell you which exit number to take or will it just say “take next exit in 500 feet?”

    Stacy - August 19th, 2008
  33. It will still list street names and exit numbers on the display when known. I don’t think it will verbally say exit numbers.

    Tim - August 20th, 2008
  34. Is a refurbished GPS less dependable than a new one?

    DMH - October 5th, 2008
  35. The non TTS version says, for example, “turn right in 500 ft” then again, it says “turn right” at the turn. Does the TTS version do the same, or does it just tell you the one time “turn right in 500 ft at 1st Street”? Dumb question, but I think it’s the deciding factor as to whether I will get TTS or not.

    Jackie - October 17th, 2008
  36. Yes, they will still given an initial instruction and then a follow up just before the turn when practical.

    Tim - October 17th, 2008
  37. ok, I have been searching several sites to get the most information I can on the Tom Tom XL TTS and this site hit the mark, thanks for putting it out there in a simplistic manner as well. Now I feel much more confident in what I am purchasing.

    lavina - November 27th, 2008
  38. I have a Garmin Nuvi 205. Can I change languages spoken? Are there Euro maps in the standard unit? If so where and how detailed are they?

    steven - December 8th, 2008
  39. THanks, you helped me clear up some of my questions regarding voice prompting VERSUS TTS, thatnks 🙂

    Gigahertz Inc. - December 11th, 2008
  40. Thanks for the great explanation. In the market for our first GPS system and I now understand the difference.

    sue - December 15th, 2008
  41. Excellent Explanation!!!

    Jose - February 14th, 2009
  42. What is the least expensive or most entry level Garmin model that has text to speech??

    Sandra - February 19th, 2009
    • Garmin StreetPilot c340. It is about three years old and has been discontinued, but can still be found at a few stores and is under $100 in some places.

      Tim - February 19th, 2009
      • Out of the models that are not discontinued? What about out of the Nuvi collection? Which one or one’s would be the least expensive, but have text 2 talk?

        Sandra - February 19th, 2009
        • these.

          Tim - February 19th, 2009
          • What does “These” mean??? I am sorry, but I did not get that..I just want to know which models out of the Garmin Nuvi collection are the least ecpensive or are the entry level in that class & have text 2 talk?

            Sandra - February 19th, 2009
          • The word “these” was a link. Click on it.

            Tim - February 19th, 2009
          • Thank you for the information…sorry I missed that, “these” was a link. As you can tell, I am not that computer saavy…One more question, please. Do any of these models say the street names or just turn left 500 yds etc.??? I would like one that states the street names.

            Sandra - February 20th, 2009
          • I just typed in a reply, but something else went thru…Than you for your reply. I am sorry I did not catch that “These” was a link to click on. One more question. Can you tell me if any of these models state the street name, or do they just state turn righ 500 yds, etc???

            sandra - February 20th, 2009
  43. This information was very helpful. Text-to-speech is touted so much that it seems like it is something that you just must have. I DON’T NEED OR WANT THE TEXT-TO-SPEECH FEATURE.

    Dave - February 20th, 2009
  44. I’m mostly interested in using GPS when I drive in Europe. A) You never know if/where the street sign will be; B) Streets can have different names on the left/right; C) Street names will be in a different language; D) There can be six streets coming into a roundabout. It may actually be helpful to have the street name “translated” into familiar pronunciation, but I would guess that “third exit” and “turn left” would be much better when whirling through a roundabout. Has anyone tried this?

    Eric - August 12th, 2009
  45. In city driving I find it helpful to hear or know the two or three cross streets before the turn. Then I can usually see one or more as I pass them. This helps me feel confident about the street to turn on. I suppose no auto navigation systems have this feature yet.

    David Spector - October 21st, 2010
  46. “If the GPS says “turn right in 500 feet” then you will know it is the street about 500 feet in front of you. However if the GPS says “turn right on Elm Street” and you can’t find the street signs– that instruction won’t be as useful as one that tells you the distance. However in some cases text to speech voices will speak both the distance and the street name which should eliminate ambiguity.”

    So how do I know which GPS’s will tell me the distance in both distance and by street name or is it just a random thing within each unit? As I live in Thailand I can imagine just hearing the street name is going to be pretty useless to me on many occasions, although to hear both name and distance would be far better than distance alone.

    Graham - February 15th, 2011

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