We spent several hours a day for about a week with Dragon Naturally Speaking and found the longer that we used the product the more accurate it became. Nuance makes claims of 99% accuracy and we do not see that figure being outside of the realm of possibility, especially for a user that properly enunciates the Kings English.
There’s probably not a computer enthusiast out there that at some point in their life hasn’t been a Star Trek fan. Most of us can readily remember Captain Kirk or Captain Jean-Luc Picard carrying on high-level, mission critical conversations with the computer on board the Enterprise. Much to our dismay the current computer technology coupled with the artificial intelligence necessary to mimic a real life interchange of this type hasn’t quite made it to our doorsteps. On the other hand, voice recognition software has made giant strides in recent years, so much so that it peaked our interest in doing a product review.
We thought we’d research an array of products and choose the best available to present to our readers. WRONG! As it turns out there is only one commercially available voice recognition product currently available. This product is uniquely named Dragon Naturally Speaking and is the brainchild of a company named NUANCE, formerly ScanSoft. We immediately went to NUANCE’s website where we read the following product overview:
Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 9 gives small business users and PC enthusiasts the power to create documents, reports, e-mails and more—all by speaking! Fast, easy and amazingly accurate, it’s over three times faster than typing. Just use your voice to dictate and edit in Microsoft® Word and Excel®, Corel® WordPerfect®, and virtually all Windows®-based applications. You can even dictate into a handheld device when you’re away from your PC, or use a Bluetooth microphone! It’s never been easier to use—no script reading required, so you can get started right away!
Needless to say we were enthused! If Dragon Naturally Speaking performs as advertised it will be a must-have for Bjorn3D and quite possibly a number of our readers. After exchanging a few emails, NUANCE sent us a copy of their Preferred Edition of the product for review. We fully intend to determine in short order if the product overview is accurate or just marketing hype. So without further ado … Dragon Naturally Speaking.
Nuance: The Company
Nuance is the leading provider of speech and imaging solutions for businesses and consumers around the world. Our technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with information and how they create, share and use documents. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses, experience Nuance by calling directory assistance, getting account information, dictating patient records, telling a navigation system their destination, or digitally reproducing documents that can be shared and searched. Making each of those experiences productive and compelling is what Nuance is all about.
We comprise the world’s largest portfolio of speech and imaging products backed by the expertise of our professional services organization and a partner network that can create solutions for businesses and organizations around the globe. So whether it’s switching to speech to improve customer service or business productivity, or simplifying the way people work with documents, Nuance has the solution.
FEATURES & SPECIFICATIONS
NUANCE has three primary offerings of Dragon Naturally Speaking: Standard, Preferred, and Professional editions. Captioned in the table below are the features and specifications that correspond to each edition.
Short Set-up and User Enrollment
Dictate into Most Microsoft® Windows®-based Applications
No Training Required
Support for Non-standard Edit Controls
Support for Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird
Control Menus and Dialog Boxes in Most Microsoft® Windows® XP & Windows® 2000-based Applications by Voice
Simultaneous Dictation and Command Modes
Format and Edit by Voice
Mouse Control by Voice
Nothing But Speech (NBS)™ Natural Punctuation
USB Audio Support
Say Web and Browser Links by Voice
Award-Winning RealSpeak™ 2 Text-to-Speech
Use with Handheld Digital Recorder
Dictate into Pocket PC or palmOne™ Tungsten
Multiple Dictation Sources
Support for Cordless or Array Microphones
Save Audio with Text Dictation
Create Multiple Custom Vocabularies
Macro Creation Tools
Text and Graphics Dictation Shortcuts
Complex Macro Support
Basic Scripting Commands
Advanced Microsoft® VBA-compatible Scripting
Specialized Application Support
Internet Explorer 5, 6
AOL® 6, 7, 8, 9
Word® 2000, XP, 2003
WordPerfect® 10, 11, 12
Outlook® Express 5, 6
Excel 2000, XP, 2003
Support for Bluetooth Microphones
Citrix Thin Client Dictation Support
Outlook® 2000, XP, 2003
PowerPoint® 2000, XP, 2003
Lotus Notes® 6, 7
“Voice Notations” Feature for Microsoft Word
Import/export User Files
Specialized Vocabularies Available for Purchase
Network Tools for Centralized Vocabulary Management
Section 508 Certified
In addition to the primary editions captioned above there are also five specialty editions of Dragon Naturally Speaking:
- Legal – adds vocabulary specific to the legal profession
- Medical – adds vocabulary specific to the enterprise medical profession, includes 14 specialty vocabularies
- Small Medical Practice – vocabulary specific to smaller medical practices, includes 12 specialty vocabularies
- Audio Miner – makes it possible to use text keywords and phrases to search audio files
- SDK – allows developers and systems integrators to power Microsoft Windows applications with the interactive dictation features available Dragon Naturally Speaking
There are a few advanced features of the preferred edition of Dragon Naturally Speak that we’re reviewing we felt might be of interest to our readers:
- Verbally open a new document, navigate, dictate, save and close a document in Microsoft Word
- Verbally open a new document, navigate, dictate, save and close a document in Microsoft Excel
- Verbally open, select options and navigate the web in either Internet Explorer or Fire Fox
- Verbally open, navigate, dictate, save, close and read your email to you in Microsoft Outlook
- Transcription of digitally recorded verbiage
INSTALLATION & SETUP
The installation of Dragon Naturally Speaking was extremely simple and straightforward. The product installer does all the work leaving only a smattering of options available to the user if the custom option is chosen. Once installed there is a short (5 minutes or so) setup process that is necessary to configure the software.
Step 1 … Properly Position Your Headset & Microphone
Step 2 … Adjust Your Microphone’s Volume
Step 2a … Microphone Volume Verified
Step 3 … Verify Microphone Quality by Reading a Few Words
Step 3a … Microphone Quality (S/N Ratio) Verified
Step 4 … General Training
Step 4a … Choose Training Material Based on Your Intended Use
Further tuning of the software follows but is completely optional. This advanced setup option adapts Dragon Naturally speaking to your writing style. We opted not to use this option initially and performed some basic testing. Later we returned and went through the adaptive steps which consist of reading about a page of data into the system and then the software performs a rather lengthy (20 minute) analysis of your writing style. We then repeated our tests which we’ll show later in this review and saw no mentionable change.
To finalize the setup process the user’s identity profile must be established within the software. You can have any number of users but each must have their own profile. This only makes sense in that no two people enunciate in the same manner.
User Profile Setup Screen
Once the system has been trained to your voice and writing style it’s necessary to train you, the user, in the software’s operation. NUANCE incorporates an excellent tutorial that consists of 14 short interactive lessons in the basics of the software’s operation. Taking your time and going through each of the lessons in detail will only take about 20 minutes and is well worth your time. Each of the lessons included in the tutorial is detailed in the image below:
Basic Tutorial Menu
Another tutorial that details some of the more advanced features is also available an also well worth the user’s time (approximately 15 minutes). This set of five lessons deals primarily with how to use Dragon Naturally Speaking in conjunction with other software such as: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Internet Explorer. The use of portable digital recorders in dictation and playback is also covered in addition to dictating in a non-standard window.
Advanced Tutorial Menu
The Dragon Bar is the entire user interface with Dragon Naturally Speaking. It is quite simplistic, yet very powerful.
Dragon Bar with Advance Options Visible
NaturallySpeaking Menu Options
Tools Menu Options
Words Menu Options
Sound Menu Options
Help Menu Options
As you can see even though the Dragon Bar is is not obtrusive it packs quite a bit of options in a small package. Most of the options in the images above are fairly self-explanatory. There were two options that we found tremendously impressive and felt worth expounding on them. The first is the Accuracy Center which provides a plethora of various options to help improve accuracy of the transcription from your perceived dictation.
The Preferred Edition of Dragon Naturally Speaking doesn’t have the extensive macro support that it’s big brother the Advanced Edition does, but then again it’s $700 cheaper. It does however offer a Command Editor that allows the user to essentially construct text based macros.
We thought it prudent to make a table with a few of the basic commands to show the ease of the system’s use:
Exclamation Point or Exclamation Mark
Add a New Line
Add a New Paragraph
“Select” + Text to be selected
“Correct” + Text to be corrected
“Choose” + alternative number
Spell Text in error
“Spell That” + correct letters or words
Open MS Word
Open a New Word Document
Open a New Word Document
Open Internet Explorer
Open Internet Explorer
Open a Menu
“Click” + Menu Name
Intel E6850 Core 2 Duo at 3.0GHz
ASUS Blitz Formula SE BIOS 0903
2GB of OCZ Reaper 8500 DDR-2
2 – Seagate 750GB Barracuda ES SATA Drives
XFX GeForce® 8800 GTX XXX running ForceWare 162.22
Enzotech Ultra w/ 120mm Delta Fan
PC Power & Cooling 1KWSR PSU
Dell 2407 FPW
Lian Li G70 (highly customized)
Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
Dragon Naturally Speaking is not the type of product we test very often at Bjorn3D! For that reason we had to put our respective noodles to work to come up with a test regime befitting software of this quality and type. We felt that the two primary items that needed to be tested were the speed and accuracy of dictation and transcription using Dragon Naturally Speaking as opposed to typing the same text. Here’s what we came up with:
- Test #1: Dictate and type a linguistically easy paragraph and compare the results
- Test #2: Dictate and type a linguistically difficult paragraph and compare the results
- Test #3: Dictate and type a linguistically easy page of text consisting of 425 words and compare the results
- Test #4: Dictate and type a linguistically difficult page of text consisting of 458 words and compare the results
For the record it should be noted that on a good day I type somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 words per minute and my work is far from mistake free. I also made sure that I dictated at a normal pace and considering the fact that I’m Southern Challenged (from the South) this would indicate that I speak slower than most. Nuance claims that Dragon Naturally Speaking has the ability to transcribe data dictated at a rate of 160 words per minute. All tests were performed using Microsoft Word 2003. We used the Nothing But Speech Natural Punctuation feature in all of our testing. This feature allows the software to perform simple punctuation based on enunciation and inflection. Each test was timed and performed twice with and average of the results reported.
FINAL WORDS & CONCLUSION
We spent several hours a day for about a week with Dragon Naturally Speaking and found the longer that we used the product the more accurate it became. Nuance makes claims of 99% accuracy and we do not see that figure being outside of the realm of possibility, especially for a user that properly enunciates the Kings English. We also neglected to mention that there are several different dialects of the English language: US English, UK English, Australian English, Indian English, and Southeast Asian English. Dragon Naturally Speaking also supports other languages.
In our testing we had a few errors but overall the speed and error rate of Dragon Naturally Speaking was hugely better than typing the same text. We also experimented with our Internet Explorer 7 using Dragon Naturally Speaking’s verbal commands to surf the Web. We were able to navigate without too much difficulty, but an excess of commands were in many cases necessary to achieve the same results as one or two mouse clicks. We were also quite impressed with the “Nothing But Speech” punctuation feature in which the software automatically performs basic punctuation based on your voice inflection.
Being visionaries of sorts we can see a number of different uses for this excellent voice recognition software:
- College students recording lectures on a digital recorder and transcribing that lecture with Dragon Naturally Speaking
- Writing anything from a simple paragraph to a complex novel
- Aiding those who have physical infirmities to more easily use the computer (writing, Web surfing, and etc.)
- Reading of text to those individuals both with and without reading deficits
- Coding/programming with the use of macros (Professional Edition)
While Dragon Naturally Speaking version 9 is not yet perfect in all respects, it has made gigantic strides forward from the last version we used (version 5). This product may not yet be at a point where it appeals to more than a medium sized specialty market. However, as its accuracy, speed, features, and product support continue to improve we feel it will be embraced by a much larger segment of computer enthusiasts. We feel that currently this product rates quite highly in most areas but still has room to grow and additional features to add. The current suggested retail price of the preferred edition of Dragon Naturally Speaking is $199 USD. While this may be a drawback to some users we don’t find the price obtrusive in the least given productivity increase we witnessed with our testing. Finally, Dragon Naturally Speaking is a software tool that we feel can certainly be of use to almost anyone who uses their computer for writing to any extent.
+ Fast, transcribes up to 160 dictated words per minute
+ Accuracy up to 99%
+ Support for Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird
+ Control Menus and Dialog Boxes in Most Microsoft® Windows® XP & Windows® 2000-based Applications by Voice
+ Current version supports Microsoft® Vista
+ Nothing But Speech (NBS)™ Natural Punctuation
+ Transcribes from a handheld Digital Recorder
+ Dictation Playback
+ Text and Graphics Dictation Shortcuts
– The cost may be prohibitive to some
– Training improves product performance despite advertisement that it is unnecessary
Final Score: 8.0 out of 10 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval .