Virtual assistant tools like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now have made it cool and mainstream to interact with technology using your voice. Microsoft will also be bringing the power of Cortana to Windows 10, and possibly spreading it to iOS and Android as well. One of the first speech recognition and speech-to-text applications, however, is still the best and still paving the way for all of the rest: Dragon NaturallySpeaking by Nuance.
Nuance has led the way for years when it comes to innovative voice technology. In fact, Nuance technology provides the backend for Siri, Samsung’s S Voice and other voice recognition tools. A company like Apple could probably develop its own similar technology, but it would be difficult to build an effective voice recognition application without infringing on one or more Nuance patents in the process.
Voice recognition is tricky even for humans. Everyone has a unique pattern and tone that defines how they speak. When you start combining speed of speech with slang and the accents that come with various regional dialects it’s a wonder we can communicate at all. Programming a computer to understand and interpret the spoken word is a daunting task to say the least.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium is a dictation and speech recognition tool that can increase your productivity and reduce the physical stress associated with typing on a keyboard…once you master it. As noted above, nobody does this better than Nuance and Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the best of the best. You can dictate documents or emails, navigate around the Windows operating system, and interact with your PC using your voice.
This latest version includes improved speed and accuracy converting your spoken words to text. Nuance also added support for using Dragon NaturallySpeaking with the major webmail platforms—Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo Mail.
As effective as it is right out of the box, one of the best things about using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium is that it improves over time. It learns your unique speech patterns and the vocabulary you commonly use. It also learns how you like things formatted—for example I spell out the word “percent” rather than using the “%” symbol. You can accelerate the learning curve by granting Dragon access to your documents and emails. Dragon will scan your written content to learn more about how you speak and the vocabulary you use.
Installing and Set-up
There are a number of versions of Dragon dictation software including Professional and Legal intended for heavy duty office dictation. This review focuses on Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium, which retails for $199 from Nuance.
Nuance also offers dictation software for Mac OS X, but Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a Windows-only application. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 is the first to add support for both the 32 and 64-bit versions of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. It didn’t work with the Windows 10 Technical Preview at first, but the latest release from Microsoft—Build 10041—now works with the software.
Processing speech and converting it to text takes some processing muscle. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 requires at least a 2.2Ghz Intel or equivalent AMD processor. The 32-bit version requires 2GB of RAM and the 64-bit version needs a minimum of 4GB. Dragon NaturallySpeaking uses about 4GB of storage, and requires a sound card and compatible microphone.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium works natively with a wide variety of popular products, including Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, etc.), major webmail platforms (Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail), and current versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox.
This wasn’t my first time using Dragon dictation software, but it has been a few years. The basics remain the same but Nuance has come a long way in terms of making the process more streamlined and intuitive. That said, it takes a little effort and dedication to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking smoothly.
First of all, you have to learn the commands and conventions in order to use the software effectively. You can just dive in and start dictating. However the software is only about 90 percent accurate to begin with and if you want to make text bold or italic, or add punctuation like quotation marks or parentheses you’re going to have to learn how to do that in Dragon NaturallySpeaking. It isn’t difficult. There’s just a bit of a learning curve.
Dragon learns from you as you use it, so the more you use it the more effective it will be at understanding you. It’s like getting to know somebody new. At first you might not know what music they prefer, or how they like their coffee, or how they feel about the Oxford comma, but eventually you learn and you get on the same page. You need to go through that same sort of process with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
The more it learns about you, how you speak, and how you prefer to format your text the more streamlined and efficient you can be when working with it. In the beginning, though, there will be some growing pains and there’s a good chance you’ll actually be less productive for a brief period while you work through the learning curve.
Thankfully Nuance understands the process and includes tools to help you along. There are training tutorials included in Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 that teach you the commands you can use to navigate and format text. If you’re stuck you can just say “What can I say?” and Dragon NaturallySpeaking will present a list of options based on the context you’re working in. Over time these things will become second-nature.
Some commands are more intuitive because they’re just what you would say if you were dictating to a human being. Things like capitalizing a word, deleting the last thing you said, or correcting a mis-interpreted word are fairly simple.
You will adopt your own unique flow with the software. Some people might be comfortable using the verbal commands with Dragon NaturallySpeaking to correct text as they go. Personally, I generally revert to the traditional mouse and keyboard and just make manual corrections. I actually prefer to just dictate the whole document as a stream-of-consciousness, and then read and correct it after the fact.
The only real issue I have with Dragon NaturallySpeaking is the same issue I have with Siri, or the voice-interaction capabilities of Amazon Fire TV, or any other voice-enabled technology: you need relative silence. I have a wife, seven kids, six cats, two dogs, and four rabbits. I like to listen to music while I’m working. Those aren’t deal-breakers—it’s still possible to adapt and use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate—but it certainly makes it more challenging. Using a headset microphone is one way to minimize the external noise so Dragon can understand you better.
The initial learning curve is challenging, but it’s awesome that Dragon can learn about you from previous documents and emails, and that it continues to adapt and evolve the more you use it.
$200 is a significant investment for a single application. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium is not the sort of thing I would recommend everyone run out and buy. If you have physical limitations that prevent you from using a keyboard to type, though, or you write for a living like I do, there is no better tool available at any price.
As a side note, Nuance also offers Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Home for only $100. It offers most of the same features and capabilities for half the cost.
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