I’ve been playing around with Dragon Dictate version 4 for a few weeks now so it’s probably time I did a review. This review is for people who had never used Dragon Dictate before.
Click here for a Review of the newer ‘Dragon for Mac’ (released September 2015.)
If you are thinking about whether it is worth upgrading from version 3 check out this article. If you want to see how it compares with the built-in speech recognition in OS X Mavericks , check out this article. Finally, for an interesting history of my use of Speech Recognition since the late 1990’s leading up to the Macintosh version of Dragon, click here!
Dragon Dictate is the Macintosh version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, the famous PC voice recognition software. It allows you to speak into your computer, and it will convert that speech into text. It’s quite hard to get your head around exactly what this feels like unless you give it a go. I’ve been using speech recognition for over 10 years now and I could not do without it. It is probably the number one timesaving piece of software I have on my computer. I write lots of talks so Dragon also helps me to do that well.
The thinking process for speaking is different to the thinking process for writing. I find it a lot easier to ‘speak’ something that will be given as an oral talk rather than write it down. That said, I use Dragon Dictate for writing tasks as well. For example I am dictating this article. I also dictate email replies. I generally launch Dragon Dictate for any piece of typing that will take me more than about 30 seconds.
As a piece of software, Dragon dictate is fantastic. The user interface looks the best it ever has. It’s relatively easy to use given the complexity of what it’s trying to achieve. And best of all, look at how well it performs – perfectly! Here is a video of me using Dragon Dictate 4. This is the first time I have used this version and I have done no training beyond the compulsory six minutes of training.
For the last 10 years speech recognition has been all about accuracy. Accuracy crept up from 80% to 90% to 95% to 97% and so on. What this means is that even though you would talk perfectly, the computer would still make mistakes. Generally the more training you did and the better the software got and the fewer mistakes the computer would make. Sometimes training could take half an hour or an hour.
Dragon Dictate has now reached the point where I find an accuracy rating is meaningless. In my opinion the software is basically 100% accurate. What I mean by that is that if I am speaking clearly, and I am not using obscure words, I am confident that it will make no mistakes. If it does make a ‘ mistake’ when I go and replay what I have said it is usually me who made the mistake, not the computer. There are of course some very obscure names or words that it would be nearly impossible for speech recognition software to work out without reading your mind. This is how communication works. Recognition is not even 100% accurate when a human is listening to another human being because the English language can be ambiguous.
I think the next needed step forward in Dictation technology is not improvements in accuracy but the ability to add punctuation automatically. When I have tried Dragon Dictate on people who have never used it before, the hardest thing to get used to is saying ‘Full-Stop’ at the end of each sentence, and ‘Comma’ when you need a comma, and all the other commands. (See below under ‘Learning Curve’).
Up until now Dragon Dictate has been a bit hit and miss when I’ve tried it out on other people. Some have loved it, for others it produced gobbledygook. I tried Dragon Dictate version 4 on my wife and my son for this review, and they were both very impressed. So between version 1, which was the last time I tried it on a friend, and version 4, it has improved dramatically.
Here is a video of my wife using Dragon Dictate for the very first time. Note there are some pauses where I am telling her to say things like “new line”.
Here is a video of my 15 year old son using Dragon Dictate for the very first time. We have left the mistakes in so you can see how it goes. Again there are some pauses when I am coaching him!
Dragon Dictate does have a learning curve. There is a pretty good tutorial that comes with it, but you do need to re-train yourself on how you speak. The main thing to learn is to say “full-stop” at the end of each sentence and “comma” where you want a comma.
The other commands that I find very handy are “Begin quote” and “End quote” to put quotation marks into a sentence.
“Correct that” is what you say when you want to correct something, “new line” is the equivalent of hitting the return key.
“Scratch that” will delete the last thing that you said. “Go to end” will go the the end of the document most of the time, although sometimes it gets a little confused.
Those few commands will get you up and dictating reasonably quickly. Dragon have a’ quick reference sheet’ of commands, but it has so many commands that you won’t get your head around them all very quickly.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that Dragon Dictate will learn from you. It can be tempting to just leave all the mistakes and then go back and correct them later with your mouse. The problem with this is that Dragon Dictate will not learn from that. If however you say ‘correct that’ and go back and correct your mistakes using Dragon, it will learn from its mistakes and be more likely to recognise that word correctly in the future.
The download version does not come with a microphone. This might not sound so bad, but if you were someone like my wife, (not very computer savvy) and you didn’t have a spare microphone lying around, the software would arrive and you would not be able to use it. Of course the simple way around this is to buy the boxed version. There doesn’t seem to be much of an indication of this on the website when you order. There is an iPhone app called “Dragon Remote Microphone” that allows you to use your iPhone as a microphone. I gave it a try and it works reasonably well.
Do not be tempted to use it with a bad microphone, e.g. your laptop built-in microphone. Here is a video of me simulating a bad microphone by holding my microphone about 1 foot from my mouth. You will need to turn the volume of your computer up quite loud to be able to hear what I am saying.
I am amazed that Dragon Dictate can recognise anything at this poor quality. It does a good job given the circumstances. Nonetheless, if this was your experience of speech recognition it would be frustrating. I can’t stress this enough, get a good microphone.
Don’t be tempted to try and use the built-in microphone on your computer. At best you will get poor results, at worst you will get so frustrated that you will be turned off speech recognition for ever. The most important thing with speech recognition is to speak clearly and to get the speech into the computer clearly. So you want to have a good microphone. Nuance have a list of approved microphones for Dragon Dictate on their website here. I’d recommend heading on over to knowbrainer.com They have a better list of microphones. If you do want to get a good microphone, make sure you get one with a USB or bluetooth connection so you can plug it into your Macintosh.
As well as dictating text into an application, you can use Dragon Dictate to control your computer. I’m not one to read a user manual, but after trying a few commands and none of them working I decided I’d better read the help file. I tried a few of the suggested shortcuts. “Search Mac for …” was meant to open up spotlight and do a computer search but it opened Quicksilver. Then when I tried to search for something else it closed Quicksilver and got confused. “Search Google for ….” worked really well. But if I say “Google search for…” it will not search.
In other words it is looking for very specific commands. Maybe that’s because if the vocabulary was too big it would think you were trying to give a command when you were dictating. The problem is that I’m not very good at remembering the specific commands. If you want to use Dragon Dictate to control your computer it looks like it could be very powerful but it would take discipline and an investment of your time. You would have to sit down and learn the commands.
Dragon Dictate 4 boasts a transcribe function. I tested it and found it to be both fantastic and a complete dud. Firstly I grabbed a Tim Keller talk. Tim Keller is from New York. The recording was made with him speaking into a microphone so it was very clear. It looked promising. It trained itself on the first part of the recording, prompting me to go and edit any mistakes, then it transcribed the entire talk. What it produced was complete gobbledygook. There is not even enough content there to work out what it is trying to say.
Secondly, I used the iPhone Dragon Dictate transcribe app. I spoke into my iPhone directly as if I was speaking into Dragon Dictate. I did this in a relatively noisy environment. When I got home and transcribed the my speaking it did it almost perfectly.
Since then, I have used the Dragon iPhone app to record my thoughts when I’m out and about, and it does a great job of recognising them when I get home. It’s actually pretty handy and a nice addition to Dragon Dictate.
Some pieces of software give you a trial version. Sadly, there is no trial version of Dragon Dictate. This is a shame because I think some people whose speech is not be clear may be ‘incompatible’ with speech recognition software.
Thankfully though, the Nuance online store offers a 30 day money back guarantee. So if it doesn’t work you are not stuck with it. The closest thing to ‘ trying before you buy’ would be to try the OS X Mavericks built in speech recognition as I describe in a separate article, but make sure you try it with a proper microphone.
Dictates into any application.
You can mix up dictating and typing.
It learns from its mistakes and improves with time.
30 day money back guarantee.
No trial version.
The upgrades are $149.
If you are a first-time user I would encourage you to purchase Dragon Dictate directly from Nuance so that you can get their 30 day money back guarantee. First time users are better off buying the boxed set so you get the microphone with it.
If you are after the full version with the Microphone for $199 click here to go to the official Nuance Site.
If you click here you can get the Download only version with 10% off. If you are a new user I would not recommend this. You are better off getting the boxed version with the microphone.
If you want to upgrade your microphone from the standard one, go to knowbrainer.com. They also have a 30 day money back guarantee on all their products but don’t buy Dragon from them as they exclude Dragon Dictate from their 30 day guarantee.
If you are a student in Australia www.voicerecognition.com.au offer a student-teacher edition for $99.
If you don’t need the 30 day money back guarantee I’ve seen versions of Dragon Dictate cheaper in Australia, for example here for as low as AU$169.
STOP PRESS: I found a very cheap download only version here. Not sure how long this will be available.
Other posts on Speech recognition: