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Review: Nuance Dragon for Windows offers strong voice recognition

Mary Branscombe | Jan. 6, 2016
The latest version of the pricey but powerful voice recognition software for Windows continues to improve.

Eventually, I found that I could dictate most of a sentence without a break on my Intel Core i5 laptop and Dragon would catch up with me soon after I got to the end of the sentence and stopped talking, while I was thinking about what to say next. This is close enough to real time so that most users should be able to talk in phrases and sentences rather than a word as a time, and still keep an eye on how accurate the recognition is.

You do need to minimize background noise though. If there is music playing or people talking elsewhere in the room, or if a pet is making noise, you're likely to get far more errors. And if you accidentally leave the microphone on while you're having a conversation, what you get is a particularly abstract form of poetry.

The most disconcerting thing is likely to be getting used to talking to your computer (and hearing your own voice) instead of typing on a keyboard. The times when spoken corrections went wrong occasionally left me in a loop where the commands I used to try and correct the mistake were recognized as words instead. It was sometimes easier to drop back to the keyboard briefly just to fix the problem -- but I ran into this far less often than I did in earlier generations of the software.

Follow the rules

Dragon has some built-in rules for how it presents what you dictate. Numbers are usually recognized as words, unless they're in a list or part of a date or measurement. If you are correcting text that has been formatted by one of these automatic rules, you'll get a large pop-up explaining this and telling you how you can change the rule; for example, if you always want to have numbers recognized as digits rather than as words or choose your preferred spelling. And again, you can make those changes with voice commands as well.

A convenient feature is the ability to save boilerplate text like your name and address for signatures, or terms and conditions you often add to an email, so you can insert it by saying a single word. You can make this much more powerful by putting variables into the text which you can fill out as if you were dictating fields into a form (by saying "next field" to jump to the next field); you can use this for mailing labels, reports and other things that need to use a specific template.

However, I had to choose the shortcuts to trigger these Auto-text entries carefully -- otherwise Dragon would just show the phrase I had said instead of inserting the Auto-text.


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