The Google Assistant text-reader on a smartphone.
Justin Duino

It’s not always convenient to read text messages on your Android phone, especially if you’re driving. Rather than risk trouble with the law, you can use Android’s built-in features that read texts aloud.

These features can also benefit people with poor eyesight, or those who want to reduce their screen time. There are also third-party apps that read your texts to you.

Let’s look at all the options, and how you can get set up.

How to Install Google Assistant on Your Phone

Google Assistant is built-in on most modern Android smartphones, and you can set it up to read your text messages aloud.

If you don’t have Google Assistant on your phone, you can install it. The app is linked to your Google account. After you install it, you can use it for everything from finding the latest weather forecast and controlling smart devices, to reading and responding to messages.

RELATED: The Best Things Google Assistant Can Do on Your Android Phone

After you install Google Assistant, there are several ways you can activate it. You can just say, “OK, Google,” or “Hey, Google,” to get started. Alternatively, tap the Google app (if it’s preinstalled on your device) or Google Assistant, and then tap the microphone icon.

The microphone icon in the Google app.

On some devices, you can also hold down the home button for a few seconds to access the Assistant.

You might need to train or retrain the voice model if the Google Assistant fails to “hear” your commands.

Set Up Google Assistant to Read Text Notifications

Once Google Assistant is ready for instructions, say, “Read my text messages.”

The first time you do this, the app might ask you to grant permissions to your notifications; tap “OK” to agree.

Tap "OK."

In the “Notification Access” menu that appears, tap the toggle next to “Google.”

Tap the toggle next to "Google" to allow notifications.

Tap “Allow” in the window that appears to grant Google access.

Tap "Allow."

Head back to Google Assistant or say, “OK/Hey, Google,” again, and then repeat the, “Read my text messages,” instruction.

Google Assistant will start at the beginning, and read your text message notifications aloud, as well as notifications about messages from other sources, like WhatsApp.

It tells you the sender, reads the message, and then asks if you want to reply.

The Google Assistant app on a smartphone asking if you want to reply to a text message.

If you do, say, “Yes,” and then dictate your response. Google Assistant automatically sends your response after it transcribes it.

Get Google Assistant to Read Previous Text Messages

Unfortunately, Google Assistant can’t read previously-received text messages to you. It did do this in the past, but it seems this feature has either been removed or just doesn’t work anymore.

On the Google consumer forums, a significant number of people have reported this feature either no longer works for them or causes the Google Assistant app to crash. Our tests confirmed the issue on a Samsung Galaxy S9 that runs Android 9 Pie, as well as an older Android 7 Nougat device.

Feel free to give it a try on your device, though. To attempt to activate this feature, say, “OK/Hey, Google,” followed by, “Read my most recent messages.”

The Google Assistant on a smartphone responding to the "Read my text messages command," with, "There aren't any new messages."

If the assistant says, “There aren’t any new messages,” or if Google Assistant crashes, this feature doesn’t work on your device. If this is the case, you’ll have to use another app.

When this feature is working, Google Assistant will read through your older text messages, one by one.

How to Enable Text-to-Speech

Google Assistant is useful, but Android has other built-in features you can use to read your texts aloud. One such feature is text-to-speech. However, this feature requires that you use your hands, which makes it a poor option for situations like driving.

But people with poor eyesight might find text-to-speech useful. For it to work effectively, you have to use an extra module in Google’s Android Accessibility Suite called “Select to Speak.”

After you download and install the Android Accessibility Suite from the Google Play store, go to the “Settings” area on your device. You’ll find it in the apps drawer, or you can scroll down your notifications shade and tap the gear icon.

Tap the gear icon in your notifications shade.

From here, the process might vary depending on the device you’re using and the version of Android it’s running. We completed the following steps on a Samsung device running Android 9 Pie.

In the “Settings” area, tap “Accessibility.”

Tap "Accessibility" in the Android Settings area.

Tap “Installed Services.” The “Select to Speak” menu might be in the list of options here in some Settings menus. If so, tap it and skip the next step.

Tap "Installed Services" under the Accessibility menu.

Here, you see a list of available Android accessibility options. Tap “Select to Speak.”

Tap "Select to Speak."

Toggle-on “Select to Speak” to enable it, and then tap “OK” to confirm.

Tap the toggle next to "Select to Speech," and then tap "OK."

After it’s enabled, you’ll see a person-shaped icon in the bottom menu bar.

Tap this, and it brings up the “Select to Speak” playback options. Tap any text on your screen that you want the text-to-speech transcriber to read to you. The text you select turns blue and is read aloud to you.

Text in the Select to Speak app in a blue box to indicate it's being read aloud.

It won’t sound as refined as the Google Assistant, but this is a good alternative if you want your texts read aloud to you—especially if you have poor eyesight.

It also works in other apps, like your email client, web browser, or messaging apps, like WhatsApp.

Third-Party Apps

There are third-party apps in the Google Play Store that offer similar features. ReadItToMe, for example, reads out incoming message notifications, including those from your default SMS app and other messaging apps.

Another option is Out Loud. In this app, you can set up separate profiles that will enable or disable the feature automatically in certain situations, such as when you connect to a Bluetooth speaker or insert headphones.

However, at present, no third-party app reads back previous messages without relying on the Google Assistant method (which is buggy). If that’s a problem, you can use the “Select to Speak” option we covered above.

Ben Stockton Ben Stockton
Ben Stockton is a freelance tech writer from the United Kingdom. In a past life, he was a UK college lecturer, training teens and adults. Since leaving the classroom, he's been a tech writer, writing how-to articles and tutorials for MakeUseOf, MakeTechEasier, and Cloudwards.net. He has a degree in History and a postgraduate qualification in Computing.
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