Monday, December 19, 2011

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking Review

Okay so today we're testing the Dragon NaturallySpeaking kit (version 11.5 Premium) and this entire review has been made with the software. This will be the first time I've ever dictated a review rather than writing it down by hand. So any errors will be tweaked through the software any grammatical things I say will also be left so this will read a little differently as if I've said it rather than written it so bear with me.

If you haven't guessed already the Dragon NaturallySpeaking kit records what you say directly onto your computer through a headset (included) or an existing iPhone or wireless micorphone. It can also do things like search the web, search your computer, send an e-mail, switch between programs and various other computer tasks directly through the headset. It's a bit like Siri the new Apple assistant, which amazingly this system has spelt correctly which is fantastic, in that it's completes both the actions that you say and also records the words that you say. So it can differentiate between what is an action for the computer to perform and what information you would like written down in a Word document or an e-mail.

Apparently this means you can write three times faster than you would do typically writing. Now of course you’re limited by how fast you can think what you’d like to say but I'm certainly finding writing this review faster than I would with a keyboard or at the very least a bit more of a natural process as everything I say is recorded instantly rather than me having to think the words and then type the words and then read them back.

Also as you type the system will write the words a little bit behind you but it will always seem to catch up no matter how fast you type. That means if you were to try and recount the complete works of Shakespeare in one go this system would eventually catch up to you and the things you said no matter how far ahead you got. It has a slight delay which records what you say so you can listen back to what you just said at least on a temporary basis to check that the system has actually written down the correct thing in case you're unsure what you actually set. I mean said, in the case of typo's like that you can say "delete" and it will remove them so you can train the system to correct words or at least to know what you've said as you said it.

Setting up the software takes about 10 min and during that time you read sample sentences such as Alice in Wonderland or in my case I chose quotes from a Dilbert book and the system uses this information to initially calibrate to your voice. You can also request that the system reads through your documents and your past e-mails to try and determine what your writing style is like which is pretty cool. In addition you can choose to partake in extra training exercises or you can just choose to have it learn on the go so every time you make a mistake you can correct it and the next time it shouldn't make the same mistake again.

One thing that I feel is lacking is that you are thrown in a little at the deep end once you start using the software. A prompt card is included with some common sayings and there is a help window but I would prefer to see video / audio tutorials where you see someone else say the words you can say and you can learn that way. The problem is that when you use the software for things like web browsing it isn't immediately obvious what words you have to say to get the desired functions you want. Although I see that the functionality is there, not knowing what words to say is very frustrating because you feel limited by your own lack of knowledge of the tool. Therefore I would like a much better tutorial to be included as I felt that was lacking.

I did try the tool for aspects such as web browsing and opening software and it did work well when I knew the commands I needed to say and that was the main difficulty really. I found trying to load a webpage very difficult until I looked at the key cards and saw the process which is self-explanatory once you understand it but not necessarily what you would say on the first go. When you do know all the correct things to say web browsing is still significantly slower than with the mouse so I don't feel that the software would ever replace traditional keyboard and mouse for web browsing, however if your only option of using a computer is to speak the things you need to do then it would certainly be a worthy solution to that problem.

When used with Microsoft Word the system really comes into its own. Hopefully as you can see by the above paragraphs there are very few errors and I've only been using the system for a couple of days and trained it whilst I have a cold so it's done remarkably well. In fact everything you see above was written in 10 minutes which is the fastest I've ever written a review and that's purely because of being able to record what I say rather than typing it in.

One feature which is underutilised is the ability to record your own commands. This seems to just be the ability to say a word and then have the additional words typed at the same time. What I’d really like to see is the ability to record macros so that specific actions are completed when you say the keyword. That type of functionality isn't something I could find in the software, although it would be a very logical next step for the developers to add.

The Dragon system works best when doing one task and focusing on that entirely so trying to open a webpage whilst editing a Word document can cause problems; for example I tried to do a search on Amazon whilst editing a Word document and was unable to complete the search because every time I said the word "search" it just inserted text in the Word document.

Initially when using the software it's also recommended that you do keep a keyboard to hand rather than going completely into the process with a microphone. That's because you can edit the words you say directly in Word on the keyboard and it's a much quicker way to teach the software what the correct words. It is possible to use the software from day one and never touch a keyboard and mouse again but if you can use them it does help to keep them to hand at least in the early training stages.

Overall Dragon NaturallySpeaking is excellent speech recognition software. You do have to put the hours in initially in order to train the microphone to your voice, but the result is very empowering and it’s a much faster, more natural way to write.

Provided by: Nuance

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