- Extremely accurate
- Transcribes voice recordings accurately
- Minimal voice training required
- Could do with a printed crib sheet
- You'll probably discover some great features by accident
Speech to text software has come a long way since its early days of poor accuracy and slow performance. What is now Nuance's Dragon Professional Individual has been through a lot of changes too, starting life as Dragon Dictate in 1994 and morphing through development, company mergers and acquisitions to its current state.
Dragon Professional Individual was launched on 18 August alongside a flurry of products including a version for Mac, Dragon Anywhere -- a device-agnostic subscription or annual-fee service that supports Android and iOS -- and Dragon Professional Group designed for enterprise document-sharing environments. Dragon Professional Individual (DPI) is the personal version of Nuance's PC-based speech-to-text product.
Nuance has given up its claims to be increasingly accurate with the new DPI, largely because it has already claimed near-100-percent accuracy with previous products, leaving itself very little room to claim further improvements. What matters now is coming up with an application that's easy to use, packed with features, and works across a full range of desktop computing requirements.
Still, it is worth noting that, with the absolute minimum of training, dictation accuracy is superb. As a fresh install on a new computer (that is, without access to existing voice files) DPI proved almost completely accurate. Correcting any errors is relatively straightforward too, so that accuracy should improve further over time.
Setup is extremely quick because there's no longer any need to read screeds of training text -- something we've gone through many times in the past. You can do this later if you find that accuracy needs a boost (which we didn't).
All you do next is select a geographical region during install, and then pick an accent during setup. Choices for the UK are Australian accented English, Indian accented English, Southeast Asian Accented English, Standard or 'Accent not otherwise specified'. You then read a pretty short text -- just a couple of hundred words -- and you're good to go. An interactive tutorial gives you some detail on how to get started with dictation.
Boxed copies of DPI's predecessors used to come with printed crib-sheets telling you how to do things like insert punctuation and bulleted lists, apply basic formatting such as bold or underlined and switch between -- and use -- different applications.
These days there's no printed crib sheet. Instead, extensive help is available via the Dragon Bar, which sits anchored to the top of the screen. This self-directed learning system makes for quite a learning curve if you're new to speech-to-text, but copious examples are included for you to work through and you can get started immediately by saying 'what can I say' to call up some context-sensitive help.
Still, we think a prominent option on the Dragon Bar to view -- and print -- a basic crib sheet would be useful; it could also list some of the superb time-saving features we find really useful, but which you might only ever stumble across. For example, simply saying 'send email' causes your current document to be saved and added as an attachment in your email client. It's a real time saver.
The Dragon Bar is crucial for using DPI. It offers access not only to all the help services, but also to every aspect of the software. It is, for example, your route to adding new vocabulary, and for encouraging DPI to learn about your writing style by analysing sent emails. It's also where you access the transcription service.
Dragon will transcribe recordings made in other voices. Our test of this feature involved making a recording of our own voice reading a text from a book using a speaker on a laptop sitting about three feet away. It isn't quite the situation you'd expect in a public hall, but the accuracy is quite remarkable. What you'll notice though, from the image of the transcription test (which we have not edited), is that it hasn't recognised punctuation. This is hardly surprising as we didn't give any verbal punctuation commands -- and nor would an orator. We also doubt it would be useful in situations with multiple speakers talking over each other, as might happen at a public meeting. But it is, nonetheless, a feature with its uses.
The Dragon Bar even provides access to an entire word processor: called Dragon Pad, this provides a basic range of features that are enough for generating relatively straightforward text documents, although it's somewhat limited in its file format support, which runs to TXT, RTF and a DRA Dragon format.
If you prefer, a Dictation Box allows you to enter and correct text ready for cutting and pasting into any application, which is handy for those that DPI does not support natively. You simply dictate your text and then hit the transfer button for it to be cut-and-pasted into an open application.
Meanwhile Auto-Text is a real time-saver. You can set up whole screeds of words that are invoked using a short verbal command. For example you can call up a standard letter simply by saying 'Standard letter', or configure frequently-used paragraphs with just a couple of words.
So, depending on the speed of your typing, Dragon Professional Individual can significantly boost your productivity when it comes to creating documents.
Beyond document creation
DPI is about more than just document creation though. It's designed for use across your computing environment, although to make the most of it you'll need to do some learning and perhaps think a bit differently about how you use your computer.
For example, to use Dragon in a web browser you need to first apply an extension to take full advantage. Having installed the Chrome extension we were able to enter URLs, browse web pages, click links, use tabs, explore and save bookmarks and so on.
It's a little more fiddly than just using a mouse and keyboard, though, and there are some conventions to remember. Take choosing links on a page as an example. The convention is to say 'click [link name]'. If there is more than one match to the link name, buttons appear beside the matches,whereupon you need to 'choose' the number of the match -- for example, by saying 'choose two'. There are some nice commands for moving around within web pages such as 'page down', 'page up', scroll down', 'scroll up', 'go to top', 'go to bottom', 'start scrolling down', 'scroll faster' and 'scroll slower'. You just need to remember them.
The help provides specific assistance with using Dragon in browsers, and with a range of other applications including Excel, PowerPoint, OpenOffice Writer, Thunderbird and Corel WordPerfect. Specific help is also available for tweeting and using Facebook.
You can use DPI in the desktop Windows interface with commands like 'press tab' to move through fields in a dialog box and 'click [button name]' to make selections in a checkbox. Menus are worked through by saying 'click [menu name]' and then saying a menu option, with 'cancel' closing things down.
Applications and Windows tools are opened by saying 'open [application name]', or 'open [tool]'. We found it was OK even with some pretty obscure applications we had installed.
Mouse commands can be managed in two ways. Say 'Mouse Grid' and the screen is broken into nine numbered chunks of equal size. Say a chunk number and that chunk is broken into nine. Rinse and repeat until a chunk is where you want to click or double click, and you can speak click commands, which are pretty intuitive -- 'Mouse right click', for example. If you say 'Mouse Grid Window' a grid is overlayed onto just the active window.
Alternatively you can perform cursor commands such as 'Drag mouse up' (or down, or left, or upper right, or lower left and so on). You can also control cursor speed, and drag, copy and so on using voice commands. There are also keyboard controls, of course, such as 'press key backspace', 'shift [key name]' and 'type [key name]'.
Some of this will take time to get to grips with, but one of the good things about DPI is that you can use as little or as much of its capability as you want or need to. We have used earlier Dragon products in combined voice, keyboard and mouse mode and found that they really can speed up productivity.
At £279.99 (inc. VAT) Dragon Professional Individual is an expensive product for anyone who hasn't tried digital dictation before. We have to say, though, that as serial users of this product since its very first appearance, this latest version seems slicker and faster than ever, and we're very impressed.
|Subcategory||office applications - voice recognition|
|Installation Type||locally installed|
|Subcategory||office applications - voice recognition|
|License Type||box pack|
|OS Required||Microsoft Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1 / 10, Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2|
|Additional Requirements||16 bit sound card, Internet connection, microphone|
|System Requirements Details|
|Min RAM Size||2 GB|
|Min Hard Drive Space||4 GB|