The mainstream choices for speech recognition under Windows are Windows itself and Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS). Even Microsoft would probably admit the Nuance product is a more sophisticated application than the integrated routine, and DNS 11 improves on the previous version in several ways.
It’s available in a number of different editions, from the fairly basic Home to the more accomplished Premium, tested here, which comes with a reasonably comfortable, though unbranded, cabled headset. There’s a version with a digital voice recorder and one with a Plantronics Bluetooth headset.
With each new version, the amount of pre-use training decreases and DNS 11 requires very little, though it benefits from being allowed to look through your saved documents and emails, to get a feel for your vocabulary and grammar.
Nuance claimed Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 was up to 99 percent accurate, so it’s hard to reconcile the fresh claim of 15 percent increased accuracy for DNS 11, since it’s also rated at up to 99 percent accurate. That said, in use it appears pretty good. There are still a few recognition errors, but most of these are homonyms (words that sound the same, such as ‘see’ and ‘sea’) which are difficult to eliminate entirely.
The two main improvements are the help system and the interface. The look of the program has been improved, though it’s been in need of an overhaul for several years. The menus and controls have changed little functionally, so if you know the program you won’t need to relearn them. The look is a lot more up-to-date, though, including the pop-ups which appear for correction of any recognition mistakes.
The help system now fills a panel to the right-hand side of the screen, but is little more than a copy of the quick reference card. There’s no attempt at context-sensitivity, but it’s still handier to read off the screen than to refer to hard copy.
As well as offering dictation, Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 works to control Windows, Microsoft Office and WordPerfect Office by voice command. Although Nuance doesn’t make specific mention of them, it also works with many other Windows applications, including OpenOffice. When working with the Internet you can use quite sophisticated commands, such as ‘Search the Web for Indian takeaways in Plymouth’.
The program works with Windows from XP through to 7, but needs from 2GB to 4GB of memory and a reasonably punchy processor. It’s faster than version 10 and text flows out way faster than most people can type: Nuance claims it’s up to three times as fast.
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