Speech recognition is an application which has been ‘nearly there’ for a long time. Early examples worked to an extent, but needed a lot of training and had to be pulled up immediately they made mistakes, in case they learned bad habits. That’s no longer true.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 6, under its new owner Scansoft, needs minimal training and is then highly accurate – over 97 percent so, allegedly. It copes with both dictation and commands in common applications like Word and WordPerfect, and will work within the Windows desktop, too. You can navigate menus and make selections without your hand ever having to touch a mouse.
Even so, when creating a new document from scratch, you’re best off using a combination of voice and mouse commands. Although NaturallySpeaking has navigation commands like ‘go to end of line’, it’s often more efficient to position the cursor by hand. As before, you speak all punctuation as you dictate and it takes a little while to overcome some self-consciousness. Just think Star Trek.
It’s certainly much more efficient to talk than to type, though. This package supports true, on-the-fly, natural-language speech recognition, so it actually copes better when you speak continuously at your normal speed than if you try to over-enunciate.
In its standard mode, the program recognises the difference between commands and dictation, but you can force it into either mode exclusively if you need to. You can also declare ‘microphone off’ if you need to answer the phone without NaturallySpeaking noting down everything you say.
You’ll need a fairly well equipped PC to run this application, with a processor running at 700MHz or more and 128MB of memory, plus a good quality sound card. There’s a noise-cancelling headset from Plantronics in the box, which helps prevent background noise leading to mistakes in recognition. It’s comfortable to wear, covering only one ear and fitted with an adjustable boom microphone.
The high asking price of the full version of this product is down to its scripting language, with which you can add your own natural language commands. If you don’t need this facility, a basic version will cost you around £150. Whichever version you go for, you should notice a dramatic difference in the speed with which you can create text. And yes, this review was dictated.
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