Comparison of Screen Readers

macOS & Mac Apps

Good afternoon, everyone!

I was hoping to seek some thoughts on the comparison between screen readers - particularly the two free ones, NVDA for Windows and VO for Mac. I recognize that when you compare these two, it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison because they're for completely different operating systems. Still, I'm interested in the thoughts of anyone who has used both screen readers heavily. Does one seem more efficient than the other? Which one do you find more seamlessly gets you where you need to go within various programs? Do you find that one hinders your productivity or gets in your way more? For example, when listening to podcasts of people using VO, I sometimes feel that it reports a lot of information that I'd find extraneous, which would be less efficient in the long run - but I had the same thought about NVDA, until I realized I could turn off things like reporting table position, etc. In my brief experience playing with Voiceover, I felt like navigating between elements of a page (such as jumping from a sidebar or toolbar to a main content area) might be a little more clunky than I'm used to - but that could just be a lack of familiarity with the way things are laid out in OSX. So, any comparisons like that - things that annoy you about one or the other, places where one seems more efficient than the other, etc., would be great. Thanks in advance!



Submitted by Siobhan on Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ok before people flip, here's what I'm saying. NVDA is based off of jaws for windows, so if you can't aford the "better" screen reader, you can at least understand that even playing with a demo, you will have a very generic idea of how to useit. The mac, however thoughintuitive, isn't really because unless you've had an iPhone, even if you had, you're stuck holding down two keys. I know about quick nav, but even though they came up with h heading v visited link, e for edit fields, windows it's just there, whereas you'd need to turn on quick nav feature. I am not sure but I thought quck nav might be a little weird behaving sometimes. In windows you have forms mode or whatever NVDA calls it, the mac you just type in fields so that is a little different in a good way. The amc has better sounding speech unless you want to pay for it from companies or you can get eloquence installed. I use nvda when I need to, but i'm happy the mac has Alex andother free voices. There is no better reader it's all down to personal preference.

Submitted by mehgcap on Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Let's set aside the upgrade cycles of the two for a moment - that's a whole post unto itself. I used NVDA for several years, off and on, and constantly (as in daily, for hours a day) for about a year, before I switched to the Mac.

NVDA does a good job, but two things about it and Windows really annoyed me:

  • If an application got stuck, NVDA would be stuck as well. On the Mac, if an app gets stuck, that one app will report that it is "busy", but nothing else happens - you can use the rest of the system just fine.
  • Whenever a dialog would appear, NVDA would speak a ton of information that may or may not have been the entire dialog. To hear the whole thing, you need to use object navigation, which is not commonly used and is therefore not well known. The Mac, though, normally speaks what it needs to speak, and moving around a dialog is the same as a webpage or table, so exploring a dialog is very familiar to even a new user. In short, I find it easier to quickly find more information in a window.

Extra things like table rows and columns can, indeed, be disabled. You can also modify how controls are spoken. For instance, the default for a checkbox is name, status, type, meaning you might hear "mute audio, unchecked checkbox". I've changed this to be "unchecked, mute audio, checkbox". Moving around a window is also easier - tab if you like, or vo-left/right, or explore with the trackpad just like on an iOS device, or use control-f5 to quickly jump from toolbar to content and back. I miss the control-tab command to move through tabs in a window, but that's the only con I can think of in terms of navigation.

Overall, I find the Mac to be smoother, more logical, and easier, to say nothing of the advantages you get if you also use an iOS device. Still, there are things I miss from Windows, like E-Speak (yeah, I know, but I really do love that synthesizer) or the instant response - the Mac has a very slight delay when you use speech, something you don't notice after a few days but that is jarring if you come from Windows. Still, given the choice, the Mac wins every time, for me. Others will say Windows wins, and I hope they do, so you can get a fair representation from both sides.

The afore mentioned upgrade point does need to be talked about, if briefly. NVDA gets two to three updates per year, and those are, of course, independent of Windows updates. VoiceOver only gets upgraded when OS X is, which is more often than NVDA, but not every OS X update includes VoiceOver improvements. The support is better - email lists, Apple Care, and even a dedicated phone number for accessibility questions - but the upgrades are not as frequent. With NVDA, the developers are only working on the screen reader, and they can be open about what they're doing and what they want to do. Apple's famous veil of secrecy means that VoiceOver users just have to wait and see what an OS X update might bring. Still, unless you find third-party support, the NVDA manual and a couple email lists are all you have for support. Oh, and the Nuance voices that NVDA cannot offer and that cost $100 or more are all free on the Mac, as is the rather nice Alex voice, which is the Mac's default. So there's that.

I know that was a bit scattered, but hopefully it is somewhat helpful. Let me know if I can offer any additional information. Thanks.

Submitted by Ekaj on Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Agreed. I used NVDA off and on for a brief period and love it. I hope to eventually install a copy of Windows on my MBA so that I can start using it again. I'm not really sure that VO is less intuitive, but having only switched to it at the end of last year I'd say it's different. But in my mind that's a good thing because I like diversity. I guess I don't really have much to go on here though, because I have only stuck to the very basics so far with VO and it has met my expectations very well. It does seem like NVDA currently has a few more available options in terms of voices, but I like the ones in VO too. But yeah, personal preference is what it's all about.

Submitted by J.P. on Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I feel its important to be fluent in as many S.R. as possible. They all have strengths and weaknessess.
For everyday, I use VoiceOver. With Mac you dont have the crashing of Windows. With that being said, a definite learning curve with V.O. Worth it when mastered. Wont lie, can be frustrating. You have to forget Windows keyboard layout. However, there is so much to love about Mac. It only gets better with each update. Accessibility bugs are manageable.
The one issue Mac had was Productivity Suite. However Apple has put a lot of time fixing those. So really a non-issue now.

Submitted by riyu12345 (not verified) on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm an NVDA user and have been for about 5 years now.

I've tried the mac but I don't know, i just prefer windows and it's layout. Maybe it's cause I'm used to it.

I tried voiceover but find it to be annoying when navigating webpages.

I'm sticking to windows and will be selling my macbook to get a tosheba laptop. I've had my Macbook for a year and honestly don't really like it. Yes it's lite, yes it's thin, but the keys to me seem squashed together, where as on some windows laptops they're far apart like on a keyboard. Some even have a numb pad and I really like that as an extra feature.

Sorry for kind of going off topic but yeah. i've tried voiceover but it just isn't my kind of thing, and that's good cause everyone is different. :)

Submitted by mehgcap on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

That's a point I meant to bring up. Windows users will point out that you can't arrow around webpages on the Mac like Windows screen readers let you do. I wanted to remind everyone that Yosemite, the newest update to the Mac, brings with it just this ability. Moving around and selecting work just like they do on Windows now, albeit with some wrinkles still. Of course, this feature is brand new, so it won't be perfect just yet, but it is already a huge improvement and makes Safari with VoiceOver far more efficient. I'm not trying to talk anyone into or out of anything, I just want to be sure everyone has the facts as this feature is less than a week old at the time of this writing.

Submitted by Fleurppel on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I've used both of these screen readers. I currently have a Mac, but will provide info about NVDA to anyone who asks for it. The thing I like most about NVDA is the wide variety of add-ons you can get for it, including synths.

Also, navigating with VO is a little less intuitive, since you're navigating the Apple environment which is extremely visually based. NVDA and other Windows readers present things linearly, making navigation more seamless.

Submitted by Joseph Westhouse on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

These are some great comments - thanks for all the input. I still hope to be able to get a hold of a Mac to do some extended test-driving, but this is definitely helpful.

One thing I've been wondering - I know that you can jump through headings with VO, but is there a way to jump through headings by number? I.e., with JAWS or NVDA, when you hit 2 or Shift + 2 in a webpage, you'll jump between headings of level two. Is there any way to specify heading level when quickly navigating in VO? This seems like a small thing, but I find that being able to navigate by heading level number, rather than just heading by heading, actually makes webpage navigation much more efficient.

Submitted by mehgcap on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Yes, if you turn on Quick Nav, you can navigate by headings at levels 1 through 6. The commands are the same as what you are used to.

Submitted by jesse on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hello all,

I have used nvda for about 2 years, and I now use Voice over for more than 2 years on a day to day basis. I really like voice over more than NVDA, because voice over crashes less often, and I think that navigating web pages with quick nav is much easier than doing that on windows.

Voice over has a learning curve, but as soon as you get what interacting with elements actually does and how to use it, it is very good.

Also I think that on the mac platform, more applications are accessible already, and doing everything without sighted assistance is really awesome, for example, I did the osx 10.10 update without any help, with windows this wouldn't have been possible.

Submitted by splyt on Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I think that the two screen readers might be better or worse deppending upon the tasks you are doing.

VO is great. What it does lack, either in implemented resources or in availability of knowledge is the power to write scripts.
This is also a problem of NVDA, because one has to learn the internals of the reader to make scripts, while in JAWS and window-eyes there is a nice abstraction layer making possible for folks who don't have the time to learn the internals of a screen reader to write fast and eficient scripts.
For voiceover, I really would like to see a way of making the screen reader anounce changes in given components, to make it possible to make it anounce new incoming messages for example in IM clients and also the possibility of programatically navigating and focusing components, to make life easier in XCode and other software.
With JAWS, I myself can make my life easier and more productive and make others also if I choose to do so by scripting. In some cases scripting will not solve the problem. With VO, the comunity iis stuck waiting for ever to Apple, which has limited resources, to make and fix everything.
Other than this, web nnavigation is pretty diferent. I have really never get used to the way VO handles it, and I have used VO for almost one year now in a almost daily basis to try it. Specially because HTML + safari + VO are a little buggy together, and you have to realize how to get around these bugs, by uninteracting and interacting again with the HTML content and so on and also because a flat view is sometimes faster. Now I will check how good it is using the flat view of pages being implemented.
By the way, interacting and uninteracting makes life easier in a huge number of situations and having the trackpad to navigate visually is just incredibly good.
So I use mac on a daily basis but also windows when I need to do heavy web navigation.

Submitted by Ahmed on Wednesday, March 4, 2020

I like NVDA but what’s so annoying is this if Jaws speech and all other Windows screenreade speech is affected the computer freezes which in the case of the Mac it rearely happens even if it does Voiceover restarts
it’s self and will alert the user of an unresponsive application which surprisingly none of the Windows screenreaders can do till this day