IBM – ViaVoice 10 Pro USB review

speech recognition with good quality mic
Photo of IBM – ViaVoice 10 Pro USB
£85.10 + VAT

Talking to your computer is one of the first signs of madness, probably. More realistically, given the average PC, it’s generally a choice of yelling at it to relieve your frustrations or forking out for a new keyboard if you let it all build into a pent up explosion of your A, S, D and X keys.

But for once, we have an excuse for yammering on at our poor befuddled computer, as IBM’s latest version of ViaVoice once again tempts us to ditch that oh-so-dated and clunky keyboard in favour of a voice recognition and dictation system.

This is the Pro USB version of the package, which basically means that it comes with a top quality USB headset boasting a built-in microphone. Installation is simple – set up the program, plug in the USB mic and you’re away.

Before you can dictate to the program, however, you need to train it to recognise your voice by reading a couple of short stories… Are you sitting comfortably? This takes about half an hour, although there are further stories to read if you wish to give the program even more scope for accuracy, something that’s worth doing in the long run.

Then you can command ViaVoice to open up Word and dictate away. Initial results were quite impressive, but you do have to pace your dictation. Speaking too fluidly invites too many mistakes. Slowly and clearly does it.

The program did have trouble with certain words – for example, it kept recognising “seem” as “scene” and “will” as “we’ll” – but this can be cured via the Correction window facility. Using this you highlight the wrongly recognised word and select the correct word from a list. Sometimes you need to do this a few times, but with a little repetition ViaVoice learns and stops making that particular mistake.

We were very impressed by the recognition quality overall, but the one hiccup was that ViaVoice has a bad habit of inserting small words (it, of, at) in sentences when you breathe a little too much after pronouncing a stressed word, for example. Keep your speech slow and clear, though, and this doesn’t happen too much.

As well as dictating text you can also use ViaVoice to open Internet Explorer and surf the web (using numbers for hyperlinks), or check your emails, operate the calculator verbally and so forth. These application commands are only in the Pro version of the package.

These extra features and the quality headset – which no doubt has a lot to do with the accurate results we experienced dictating to ViaVoice 10 – more or less justify the hefty asking price of the Pro version. Budget conscious users, however, will more than likely give these luxuries up for the standard version’s £35 price tag.

Company: IBM

Contact: 01475 892000

ViaVoice 10's improved speech recognition engine is very impressive, aside from the slight flaw that it enjoys inserting extra words into sentences at times. The Pro version has the extra application commands and quality headset which make it a worthwhile purchase if you're going to be a heavy user, but it is rather more pricey.