If there is one part of the software development industry that never fails to frustrate me with its lack of innovation, it is speech recognition and sufficient artificial intelligence to truly understand what I’m saying. I remember being really excited at the speech recognition system in Windows Vista, only to be disappointed by a lack of true functionality. My attention, therefore, naturally turns to third parties.
One application that promises to bring speech recognition to your computer is Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, which promises to “turn your voice into text three times faster than typing with up to 99% accuracy”. Considering how dubious I often find myself at these applications, I was surprised to be somewhat excited when this particular box arrived at my door. Can it truly be good on its promise though? Let’s find out!
In The Box
I was sent a box containing Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium, which includes a free microphone and headset in the box. If you don’t want to use the bundled microphone, you don’t have to, as the software works with any microphone, although if you want a good level of accuracy, I recommend you use a decent computer headset. Also included is the software and a quick reference card.
Installation and Initial Setup
Installation is simple from the included DVD, as with most applications. Autorun didn’t work straight away on my Windows 7 machine, though, so if you don’t see a pop up box, just give it a little encouragement through manually running setup.exe or right clicking on your disc in your computer and selecting autorun.
Once installed, you’ll be taken through a series of steps that are required for the program to work. This involves creating a user profile, and after being asked a few questions, such as what age group you are in and your region, your profile will be created.
After this, the initial setup may seem somewhat long winded, as you have to dictate things to the computer so that Dragon can be as accurate as possible. This is an important step with any speech recognition software though, so try not to breeze through it with little attention. During this step, things such as your microphone volume are also calibrated.
The Dragon In Action
Ok, so you have it all set up, you’ve got your microphone in position to dictate, but how good is the software? I chose to do a few things to test it out in action. The first thing you’ll notice is that you now have a sort of second taskbar at the top of your screen which is dedicated to Dragon. It tells you what the current status of the program is, and you can click the microphone icon to activate listening.
One great addition in Dragon 11 is the presence of the sidebar, which helps old and new users alike by providing a plethora of handy tips about what to say and how to get the most out of dictating. You can even control the microphone via dictation by saying “stop listening” and “wake up”, which is great to have.
Of course, with programs such as these, the proof is in the pudding, so I decided to dictate the entire introduction of this article using Dragon. To my surprise, accuracy was fantastic considering I had only spent around 10 minutes training it. It made only one mistake in the two paragraphs, which was “frustrating” instead of “frustrate me”.
The great thing about Dragon 11 is that it’s flexible, as you can use it to control a host of applications, not just likes of Microsoft Word 2010. During my testing, I composed an email without a single click, performed a search on Google, and opened a spreadsheet to edit, too. It’s versatility is a huge selling point and really makes it stand out from the crowd.
If you are tempted to try out Dragon 11 for yourself, I’d recommend that you do it on a fairly powerful machine with quite a bit of RAM. Because Dragon is still listening even when you stop dictating, it is always using CPU, and it tended to hover around the 10% mark on my machine. It also used over 280MB of RAM alongside that CPU usage, so I wouldn’t recommend trying it on a netbook or older machine with less than 1GB RAM.
I have to say that Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 is probably the best speech recognition system that I’ve used in a long time. It’s far more accurate than most other applications of its kind that I’ve come across, and works really well straight from the off. Don’t forget that the more you dictate, the more accurate it gets too as you correct errors.
If you want to try out Dragon 11 for yourself, there are a few editions that start as low as around £65.