We're all getting more comfortable talking to devices these days, whether it means talking to Cortana, Google Now or Siri to check the weather forecast, asking Amazon Alexa which room your keys are in or telling Xbox to pause the video you're watching. But there's a voice dictation and control application that's been available for many years that is considerably more advanced.
Nuance's latest Dragon voice recognition for Windows now comes in several packages. Dragon 13 Home ($100) is for simple personal use; Dragon 13 Premium ($200) adds email, to-dos and other document-related features; Dragon Professional Individual ($300) is for business users who need features such as transcription; and Dragon Professional Group adds IT admin options for deployment and tracking. For this review, I worked with Dragon Professional Individual.
(There is also a version available for the Mac, which was reviewed in a previous article.)
If you're not familiar with Dragon, it is an application that lets you use your voice both for dictation and control; for example, you can tell Windows to open Word and then dictate your document. It works directly with familiar applications such as Word, Excel, Outlook, WordPerfect and Notepad, and popular browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer; you can also control some popular websites like Bing and Gmail using spoken shortcuts.
When you start dictating in applications that are not directly supported, a Dictation Box pops up automatically to recognize your text and let you transfer it into the application.
Command and control
Getting started with Dragon Professional is much less work than in older versions of the software. Once upon a time, you needed to read an entire chapter from a book into voice recognition software to get it to understand anything you were saying. Those days are gone. Setup and initial training took me less than 20 minutes, after which the software recognized my voice reasonably well.
You do need to pick both your region and accent; there's a different set of accents for different regions. For the UK that includes Australian, Indian and Southeast Asian as well as a "standard" British accent, whereas the U.S. and Canadian regions include not only "standard" English but southern U.S. English, British English and Pakistani, Spanish and teen (because children's voices need a different speech model).
Cleverly, the text you read to set Dragon up is made up of tips about using the software, such as keeping a consistent distance away from the microphone, speaking at the same volume and keeping your natural tone of voice. (Nuance's acoustic models for voice recognition are based on recordings of people speaking normally rather than in the artificial tone of voice some people adopt when speaking to a computer. They also use samples of users' voices; if you don't want to upload your own speech and recognition data to Dragon anonymously, you can opt out during setup).
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