When it comes to voice recognition, few are as experienced or accomplished in the field as Dragon. The NaturallySpeaking series now includes version 9.5, recently updated with all-important Vista compatibility and in this particular case, a wireless headset.
The Preferred Edition incorporates handy extra features such as text-to-speech output, dictation playback and support for handheld devices. You’ll also find better support for Microsoft Office, including Excel 2000, XP and 2003. The bulk of the software works in the same way, though, all of which involves converting spoken content into written words or commands on your PC.
We’re in two minds about the performance of Naturallyspeaking 9.5. On one hand it’s very accomplished as voice recognition goes, and it is quite impressive how well it recognises most words. However, we think at least two of Dragon’s claims about the speed and accuracy of the package are highly dubious for the majority of users.
First of all, you’re unlikely to get close to the 99 percent accuracy rate: while it might be technically achievable if you speak slowly and clearly enough and spend enough time training and teaching individual words, this is rarely practical in a real-life situation. This point also addresses a second claim, that dictation with NaturallySpeaking is three times faster than typing by hand, going on the assumption that the average typing speed for an individual is 40 words per minute and the average speaking speed around 120 words per minute.
If you’re expecting real-world performance that reflects these assertions you’ll be disappointed. When you factor in the amount of time it takes to go back and correct the odd word or phrase in a large document, we can see it being more of a selective convenience than a timesaver for most people, particularly if you work in a busy office full of distractions.
That said, there’s more to NaturallySpeaking than just dictation. You can control much of your Windows environment with the software, including running programs, browsing the Internet with support for Internet Explorer and Firefox, launching applications, opening files and more.
As mentioned you’re provided with a Plantronics Bluetooth headset in the box, which comes with a range of earpieces and a headband fitting so you can pick the most comfortable.
This connects and performs well, and conveniently charges automatically when not in use through the USB dock-cradle. Once you’ve found the right attachment it’s also pretty comfortable to wear and use, and far more convenient than being tied to your PC by a wired headset or having to speak directly into a mounted microphone. The Bluetooth connectivity means you can wander quite a distance away from your PC and still have it recognise text and execute voice commands, which is a considerable bonus.
Despite the faults we’ve outlined above it’s unrealistic to expect commercially available voice-recognition software to be faultless, at least at the moment, mainly because of the combination of vernacular, speech patterns and dialect unique to the individual, some of which even longer term training will struggle to overcome.
If you’re looking to be able to speak to your computer like Captain Picard in Star Trek, we’re a good few years off achieving anything that resembles flawless operation (and it seems that we always are). If, more realistically, you’re looking for a way to dictate notes or control operation of your PC vocally for whatever reason, the latest version of Dragon’s software still manages to justify its place as the world’s best selling speech recognition software.
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