I have been sampling speech recognition tools for a long time (e.g., earlier Dragon versions, Microsoft Office add-ins) and they have always come up short. They required extensive training time, they were sensitive to background noise, they were only 80% accurate; for at least one reason (frequently several) they were not ready for prime time use. Nuance’s Dragon 8 changes that. I was blown away by the speed and accuracy of the transcription. I am using a 1GHz laptop with 512MB of memory – not a screamer – and it can keep up with me just fine. (Hint: don’t wait for it to catch up word by word, just keep talking; it analyzes context.)
The initial setup (including preliminary training) takes less than an hour – and that includes an analysis of your email and documents to better understand your writing style. I have been amazed at the things it picks up out of that analysis.
I had Dragon 8 installed for only a week when I used it to process large volumes of dictation (I was reading what others had hand written). One of the participants observed me dictating material and assumed I was using a $4,000 setup because of the speed and accuracy.
When you first use it, be sure to take the time to correct the early “misunderstandings” using Dragon itself (although you can use the mouse and keyboard concurrently with Dragon). Making corrections with Dragon adds to its learning — and the speed with which it picks up nuance (no pun intended) is amazing. The command syntax is fairly good and can be customized. For example, saying the word “select” followed by a word or phrase will result in the selection of that word or phrase. “Cap That”, “Bold That”, “Cut That”, are all valid commands at that point. It’s fairly sophisticated and only sometimes confuses words for commands.
The preferred and professional versions come with software support for a number of digital recorders (so you can send your recorded dictations through to be transcribed) but since the training is voice specific it would likely require additional training for interviews with others to be successful.
The Preferred edition is the best choice for general use – it comes with a good headset/microphone and is available from Amazon for $120, with rebate.
[The following edition is no longer available. If you have experience with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10, or any other speech recognition software, please let us know in the comments below. -- SL]