It's been nearly a year and a half since the last update to Nuance's speech recognition software, Dragon Dictate, was released. Over the past few years, Nuance has been refining the software, taking it from a pretty good speech recognition app to something one can now rely on.
Nuance has taken a while to find their path on the Mac, since they bought out MacSpeech, whose earlier MacSpeech Dictate was good, but flawed. In between, the company flirted with the short-lived Dragon Express app, but abandoned that pretty quickly; it didn't offer good enough accuracy, and OS X, since Mountain Lion, includes basic speech recognition functionality that replicates much of what it did. But as I wrote when I compared OS X's dictation and Dragon Dictate, back in 2012, "If, however, you want to dictate regularly, for more than short, occasional texts, Dragon Dictate is the way to go."
Dragon Dictate 4 is now available, and, while the list of new features doesn't look impressive, there's something new under the hood. I've seen, over the years, how Nuance has refined and tweaked its speech recognition engine. But with version 4, I now feel, for the first time, that I can dictate without paying too much attention to the words on my screen, and go back and edit after I've finished speaking. Recognition quality is radically improved over Dragon Dictate 3. Using SpeechWare's USB 6-in-1 TableMike, with the boom peeking out below my Thunderbolt display, I've been dictating articles and blog posts, and read a number of articles from the Web, using Dragon Dictate 4, and in all cases, the quality of the recognition was excellent.
Not everyone will appreciate some of the new features in Dragon Dictate 4, but if you use Gmail on the Web for your email, a new browser extension lets you manage Gmail using voice commands. Dragon Dictate 4 also lets you mix dictation and editing in Pages 4.3 — that's Pages 09, not the latest version. As always, you can dictate into almost any application, but Dragon Dictate works best when you dictate into its own Note Pad; it also works very well with Microsoft Word or Pages 09. For all three of these apps, you can dictate and edit without getting the software confused; when you use other apps, if you do any editing, things can get messy.
Nuance says that Dragon Dictate 4 offers "Higher performance with drastically reduced latency and faster editing," and this is certainly the case. I'm running the app on the same Mac mini I used for the previous review, and it's noticeably faster; there is no lag between the time I pause to allow Dragon Dictate to type my words and their appearance in my documents, and this is with the same settings as I used with Dragon Dictate 3. (In the Preferences, there's a Recognition tab, with a slider that lets you choose between Speed and Accuracy. I've left that in the middle, as it was with the previous version.)
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