Name: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium Edition
Type: PC dictation and speech recognition software
Software System Requirements: Click here
Just as the clickity-clackity sound of the humble typewriter was superseded by the tip-tap of the PC keyboard, could we soon replace even this staple PC accessory with merely the power of our voices? That’s more-or-less the idea behind the Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium speech recognition software from Nuance, offering advanced dictation and hands-free PC navigation controls. Is it time to unplug your keyboard and warm up your vocal chords? Read on to find out.
Speech recognition software on the PC is nothing new; it’s been built into the Windows OS for years, and saw a marked improvement with the advent of Windows 7. However few have been as fully featured or as sensitively designed as Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium, holding your hand while you comfortably make the transition from keyboard controls to dictation input. That’s not to say your keyboard is totally obsolete upon installing NaturallySpeaking, but when using typing commands sparingly in conjunction with Nuance’s voice recognition software, you’re likely to see markedly faster text entry speeds.
While you can use the software straight out of the box, going through the 15 minute initial set-up process is recommended. By selecting your age, geographic location, accent (if you have one) and by reading a short test passage aloud into the supplied mic/headset combo, the accuracy of your dictated pieces should be as high as 99%. Alternatively you can sync a profile from a previous edition of the software, which will allow you to bypass the initial clunky stages of the software as it adjusts to your speech patterns. You can also allow the software to trawl your emails and stored documents to better prepare itself for your personal style of speech and writing.
99% accuracy may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the software managed to keep up with my dulcet cockney tones surprisingly well. What surprised me however was how quickly the software adapted to my speech and the corrections I made to the resulting text. My first extended session with the software saw me going from having to make a correction every sentence or so to barely a change every paragraph, with most corrections down to odd punctuation mistakes rather than wordings. NaturallySpeaking 11 manages to adapt more quickly than previous versions by tracking not only vocal corrections, but those you manually type in too.
However, the way in which Dragon Naturally Speaking uses this new correction-logging feature can be a little over-zealous at times. For instance, there was a moment during testing that required writing a piece that made use of the word “Museum” as a capitalised proper noun. After correcting the un-capitalised word once, the software always capitalised the word museum, no matter what the context, which was quite frustrating.
The Premium version of NaturallySpeaking 11 is compatible with not only all the major Windows Office programs, such as Word, Outlook, Excel and Internet Explorer, but also Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, OpenOffice and to a lesser extent almost every other application that makes use of basic text entry.
Of course with so many different possible actions across so many applications, it can be a pain memorising all the different voice commands to control them with. With previous version of NaturallySpeaking you’d have to constantly refer to a quick reference card supplied with the software. While a physical reference card is still supplied, the software now has a revamped UI that includes a right-hand bar of commonly used commands appropriate to the software package you’re currently voice-controlling. Having them constantly onscreen is very useful, but they aren’t context sensitive, instead displayed as a scrollable list of commands. It’d be great if this toolbar was more dynamic, for instance only showing the relevant commands to saving and filing a document when you’re in the process of carrying out that task.
Having this command list constantly on show is particularly useful when using the software to navigate a PC, as some of these voice activated commands aren’t quite as obvious as when using word processors or web browsers. Calling up the 3×3 mouse grid to navigate the desktop isn’t all that intuitive, making browsing the desktop feel more like playing a game of battleship. For those with accessibility issues or a disability that prevents comfortable mouse use, having the feature will be very welcome, but we can’t help feel Nuance could have made this feature a little more intuitive.
While precision typists will turn their noses up at NaturallySpeaking 11, there’s no denying that the software has unrivalled accuracy. The way it adapts to your speech patterns over time is remarkable, and even those with heavy accents will see good results. While some of the more advanced PC navigation controls are a little convoluted, the tired fingers of typists will approve of the software’s many excellent dictation features.