Dragon Naturally Speaking

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(Please scroll to the bottom of this page to see the comparison review of Dragon NaturallySpeaking Version 12 - released 15 August, 2012.)

If you've browsed my main page will be aware that I do a lot of writing. The problem with this is that at it's best my typing speed is a glacial 26 words per minute. When you're trying to pound out a 100,000 novel that means countless hours sitting at a keyboard and getting a sore back. For my latest novel (an archeological adventure titled Rahmed) I decided to see if using voice recognition software would enable me to type faster and more comfortably.

After reading reviews of three such systems, the one that received the most number of positive reviews was Scansoft's Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (Yes, NaturallySpeaking is supposed to be one word.) I got the 7.3 Standard version, purchased directly from Scansoft for $118, which included tax and shipping.

My initial impressions of the company were not favorable. They charge for technical assistance and the page on which this is explained was formatted almost as if the company wanted to alienate people. It was formal and authoritarian.

I placed my order over the telephone and therein encountered a second problem. From the Indian accents of the three people I spoke to on different occasions and poor connection I assume that Scansoft has out sourced its customer services to India. The combination of slight Indian accent and terrible acoustics of the microphones in use made it very difficult to understand the sales representative I spoke to. Also, while they were good at answering typical questions, they fumbled on anything out of the ordinary. It was like they had been trained to answer by rote a series of stock questions. Anything not on their list was met with confusion.

And speaking of confusion, ScanSoft miserably handled my order. I placed an order for one (1) copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking with someone named Mickey. One week later I received two copies of it, each shipped separately. The invoice on the second copy stated that the salesperson's name was Amy. I never spoke to anyone named Amy and when I placed my order I had Mickey read it back to me to make sure she had it correct. When she did so I confirmed that the order she took was for only one copy. I don't know who Amy is or why she copied the order, but it led to a big hassle.

Scansoft's site has an email address for problems with orders. I used it to send two emails on two different days regarding the problem. They never got answered. I also called the telephone number provided for the same purpose twice and as directed, left a message after the beep. Again, neither of my calls were returned. Finally, I called the number to place an order even though it wasn't the correct number to work problems. I finally got someone live on line to listen to the problem. They promised to look into it and get back to me. They called back the next day and said they had no explanation how or why the second copy was billed against my credit card. Without apologizing for the inconvenience, I was directed to open an email they were going to send me, print and sign a destruction agreement for the extra software, email it back to them, and when they received it they would forward it to their head office to work a refund. I did as they asked. The next day they said the form didn't come through and gave me two other email addresses to try. I did so. The next day they said that neither of those emails worked either and asked me to send them a hard copy via snail mail. I did so. A week later I emailed them to ask if they had received the hard copy. They then told me that they had gotten what they needed from the first email after all and had forwarded to the head office for consideration. It's been two months now and I still don't know if they have credited my account. All of this gave me the impression that Scansoft has both poor customer relations and an inefficient ordering and complaint-resolution system.

(Note: Scansoft did not request that I return the extra software. They explained it's quicker, faster, and cheaper to have the customer agree in writing to destroy it. This struck me as odd because while the CD may not be worth much, the software comes with a microphone/earphone set and a thick manual. You'd think such a package would be worth recovering. One the other hand they were very cagey about avoiding my questions about when the next version was going to be available. I suspect that with things could be explained by their wanting to dump all the old versions before the new ones come out in the near future. If I sound cynical, dealing with Scan soft has made me so.)

Okay, that's all my rantings about the problems I had dealing with the company. Let's get onto the review of the software itself.

There's one important confession I have to make: I am terrible about installing new software. Something always goes wrong. No matter how carefully I follow the instructions I always seem to end up lost in software space. I was delighted to discover that in spite of my being installation-challenged, I encountered no problems what-so-ever with installing Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The printed manual that comes with the software was clear and easy to read. All the installation steps were easy to follow and went off without a hitch. As advertised, the software was up and running in minutes and I was dictating and seeing my words appear on the screen. The tutorial is excellent: short, easy to follow, and clearly demonstrates the most important aspects of the software.

The one change I would recommend is for them to have suggested that new users have at least one WORD or COREL text-only or rich-text document saved ahead of time prior to installing the Dragon software. There's one step during the installation where you use this document to improve the accuracy of it's translating ability. Since I haven't been able to figure out how to get back to this step if you have to skip it because you didn't have such a document in place ahead of time, it seems that you only have one shot at it.

During the installation, you are given six reading options to teach the computer how to recognize your voice. It would have helpful if some explanation had been provided about the pros and cons of each selection. At the very least they should warn people that while the "easy" options only take a few minutes to read, the "medium" one I tried took 40 minutes. I blanch to think what how long the "hard" selections would take.

ACCURACY:

Immediately after getting the software installed. I dictated the first chapter of my next novel into it. This had been printed out ahead of time so it was a simple matter of reading it out loud. The software was 84 percent accurate in transcribing what I said. Some of the mistakes were my fault because I didn't wait long enough between saying "new line" and "tab." This resulted in the word tab being written instead of a space being "tabbed." The autopunctuation system for placing periods and commas was accurate only half of the time. This created other problems because if the program failed to place a period at the end of the sentence then it also failed to capitalize the next word. It was only fifty percent correct in getting possessives correct (it would print lines instead of line's)

Although the software is advertised as being able to accept dictation at up to 160 words per minute, I found that it's difficult to talk much faster than 60 per minute and that if you try the words start to slur together, which reduces the accuracy.

Word-recognition wise, Dragon Naturally Speaking did a good job. The only real problems occurred when it refused, even with training, to write Poole for a person's name instead of pool. As long as I talked clearly it worked quit well,

After learning to enunciate more clearly and leave longer breaks for it to recognize commands I was able to get the accuracy up to 90 percent. Training it to recognize particular words increased this to 92 percent. Then by optimizing a list of optional settings suggested by in the manual I was able to get up to 98 percent accuracy. Turning off the autopunctuation feature and dictating the commas and periods pushed this to 99 percent accurate.

Having got so much better I decided it was time to test how much faster it was than my normal hand-typed speed. Dictating a 120-word passage took 76 seconds and had four errors, which took 48 seconds to correct by hand for a total of 124 seconds. Typing the same passage took me 260 seconds. Dictating was more than twice as fast. Also, it is much more comfortable to dictate because you can do so while rocking, slouching, or even walking around.

I learned very quickly that it was quicker to correct mistakes by hand than it was to use voice commends to change them. Too often the software would select the wrong word when speaking the "Select xxx" command. Time wasted repeating the command wasn't worth it.

Although I intend using it primarily for novel dictation, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is capable of controlling virtually every function on your computer. You can even set it up so that it turns on when you first power up your computer and from them on you can use voice commands to do everything from moving files around to working on the Internet. Since I have not explored these functions I can't comment on how well they work.

Each user creates a separate file to enable the software to recognize her or her voice. To test how well it can adapt to other voices I had my wife try it using my file. Accuracy dropped to 50 percent. Then my son tried it and the program had the same accuracy with him as me. This isn't too surprising because his voice is very similar to mine.

For writing novels, voice recognition software may not save much time. Half of the time spend writing is invested thinking up what to say. The other half is taken typing it out. Since Dragon NaturallySpeaking only speeds up the writing-down part the overall increase in speed is probably less than 25 percent. If you type around 60 words a minute the odds are you could beat it.

 

NEW!!!

Seven years have passed since I created this review of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 7.3. Now we're up to version 12.0, which begs the question: "How much have things improved?" I'm happy to report it has. That's the good news.

The bad news is that total dictation speed hasn't increased that much over the much early version 7.3. Reading the exact same chapter used all those years ago produced almost the same level of accuracy. The only difference is that the version 12 software immediately understood the difference between "Poole" as a name and "pool" as a hole in the ground filled with water. On the other hand it stubbornly refused to correctly write "a 100." Even after specific training it writes "800." This may be more of a problem with my pronunciation or dictation speed, though modifying both didn't help. The autopunctuation system's accuracy has increased to 70 percent, but that's still far too low so I still recommend turning it off. In the speed test the same 120-word passage took the same 76 seconds but produced only two errors, which took 28 seconds to change for a total of 104 seconds. That equates to 69 words per second without errors, which I believe is excellent.

Installation was easy and only took ten minutes... with one caveat. After I'd finished the initial training, I decided I wanted to do more training to improve accuracy. I spent an hour trying to figure out how to do this without success. I spoke the voice commands that were supposed to bring up the training box but it never appeared. In frustration I started closing everything down and when the main window closed I discovered that the training window had appeared as it was supposed to, but behind the main screen, which is why it was impossible to see it. Whether this is a design flaw or I failed do to something is impossible to tell. However, it suggests the software hadn't been tested by average users, who would have pointed this problem out.

I invested almost two hours reading the first six training documents to get the software tuned to my voice. Talking that long can be difficult. I recommend training one document at a time.

The initial tests looked promising so I tried using it to write a three-page chapter in my latest novel. It was a complete failure. No matter how carefully I dictated, the software repeated missed short words like "it" and "he," refused to recognize words like "grit" even after training, often left words out, added in words that were wrong and failed to add "n't" to the end of contractions like "can't." I honestly believe I could have hunted-and-pecked my way through the chapter faster. Perhaps I need more training. Maybe my dictation just isn't clear enough. Whatever the reason, while it looked good during testing in actual use I found Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 to almost certainly be a waste of time and money. I plan to continue working with it and if it improves enough to warrant my approval I'll certainly update this page to reflect that. Until then I have to warn people considering purchasing this software to do so at their own risk.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is now sold by Nuance. I purchased it through Amazon and had no problems so I can't comment on Nuance's customer support. (Most Amazon customer reviews give Nuance very poor marks for support.) Physically, the included headset now has two earphones instead of version 7.3's single earphone and head clip. The new earphones are much more comfortable, though not nearly as much as a good set of headphones. Version 7.3 came with a detailed, printed manual. Version 12 doesn't. Instead, you have to hunt through topic lists or the index, which aren't as convenient when you're trying to solve a problem. Finally, one of the truly amazing things about Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 12 is is that the total delivered new-release price was $104, $14 less that the much earlier version. When inflation is taken into account, that means that the latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking is almost half the price it was ten years ago.

 

 
Click here to go to my homepage and browse 70 other topics: everything from metal detectors and knitting Nancies to the strange world of lucid dreaming.