Sunday, 26 August 2012

What can I say?

I’ve reviewed software that allows you to talk to your computer before. In fact I talked about Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 9 in this blog back in January 2007. By then I’d gone from completely unimpressed to saying it’s worth a look. But I’ve just got my hands on Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 12 from Nuance and I am very impressed!

I had to do a little bit of training in order for the software to recognize my voice and create my own personal profile – and that went fairly smoothly. But what was most impressive was the fact that it actually wrote what I said! In the past, I’ve played a game with my children where I’d say a few sentences, then they’d read what the software thought I’d said, and we’d repeat the process until gales of laughter overtook us reading the strange interpretations of our speech appearing on screen. But now my children are grown up, and so is this software. I found the accuracy of the product very good. I didn’t need to separate each word as I spoke – in fact, it recommended that I spoke in phrases. And it pretty much wrote on screen what I was saying.

The hard part for me was the controlling commands because I was unfamiliar with them, and to begin with I found myself wanting to just get my hands on the keyboard and make the correction quickly myself. To be fair, the people at Nuance understand this user frustration and they have put the Dragon Sidebar onscreen the whole time the software is in use. That makes it very easy to see the commands I need to use – for example saying: “delete ‘whatever’”, or “go to end of line”. I found that I was quite quickly remembering the commands that I used regularly and not needing to look them up. In addition, the software comes up with suggestions for what you might have said if you’re correcting and you can easily choose one of those alternatives. You simply say “correct ‘whatever’”, and then say “choose one” (or two or three – whichever is the better alternative).

As well as using the software with Word, it’s very easy to use it with Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, and Twitter. You simply say: “post to Facebook” or “post to Twitter”. You can launch Word by saying: “Open Microsoft Word”. You can italicize, embolden, capitalize, insert lists, etc etc.

My version of the software came with a headset and microphone that I plugged into my laptop and which I used for most of this review. You can also download the Dragon Remote Microphone app for your phone. I used the Android version and there is a iPhone version. From the Profile menu, I selected “Add dictation source to current User Profile”. I selected “Dragon Remote Mic”. The laptop software then created a QR code that the software on my phone could scan. After that, I was connected. The only thing I needed to do was a little bit more voice recognition training. Once the training’s done, I can wander round my office talking to my phone and letting the words appear on my computer screen. As long as we’re on the same wifi network, it all works.

It’s very easy to tell the microphone to start listening and to stop – so that it doesn’t try to write down the whole of a telephone conversation that interrupts a session!

My conclusion this time is that the software is very easy to use and very accurate. It would make life very easy for someone who had problems using a keyboard and would not lead to the frustration experienced with much older voice recognition products. For able-bodied people, I think it makes a useful alternative input source, and the ability to walk around and talk – and then correct any errors later – makes it really useful for people, like me, who blog and write articles and often need to get a whole lot of ideas out of our heads onto paper (the screen) quickly.

Version 12 of Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking is definitely worth a 9 out of 10 score. And definitely worth seeing whether there’s a place for it in your organization or your home.

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