Nuance’s latest update to Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) — a software package for turning talk into text — brings initial Windows 8 support and new enhancements to a product that was already very good, anyway.
Talking to your PC and having it accurately type what you say has long been a dream for power users, one that many vendors have tried to fulfill over the years. Probably the most recognizable of them all is Nuance Software, with its venerable DNS product line.
Although DNS has been around for decades, it’s only over the last few years that processing power in the typical PC has caught up with what speech recognition software can offer. With that said, Nuance has continuously evolved DNS to improve its accuracy, speed and features. These efforts have shown impressive fruit, as evidenced most recently by the latest iteration of DNS, version 12.
DNS 12 provides new capabilities aimed at attracting more users than previous versions of the software product. Available in four separate editions (Dragon Home 12, Dragon Premium 12, Dragon Professional 12 and Dragon Legal 12), the product offers functionality tuned towards particular usage cases.
For example, as its name implies, Dragon Legal 12 is targeted specifically at the legal community. It’s designed to automatically format legal citations, to accept third-party corrections, and to provide accurate out-of-the-box recognition of dictated legal terms.
However, those looking to leverage the most out of speech recognition will most likely opt for Dragon Professional 12. Although it carries a steep MSRP of $599.99, the professional edition supplies a lot of specialized functionality geared towards business professionals.
Features include natural language commands for applications like Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, as well as support for multiple dictation sources (digital recorders, iPhones, and other sound capture devices); Bluetooth microphone support; and even remote desktop connections, where a thin client or terminal services client can access a remote PC with Dragon installed on it.
One nifty feature is support for wireless dictation, enabling an Apple iOS or an Android device installed with a small app from Nuance to work as a wireless microphone over a Wi-Fi connection.
Also with DNS 12, Nuance begins to support Windows 8. In addition, Nuance touts new features that include greater accuracy; faster performance; wideband Bluetooth support; smoother cruising of Gmail and Hotmail; new Smart Formal Rules, for learning your preferences around formatting words, phrases, or numbers; and “more natural” text-to-speech (TTS), if you want to review your typed words by listening.
I installed Nuance‘s Dragon Professional 12 on a Windows 7 desktop PC and a Windows 7 notebook computer. Both were running 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Ultimate. Both were equipped with Core i7 level processors and 8Gbytes of RAM. Installation turned out to be a snap, requiring little more than inserting the included DVD and registering the product online.
I was also able to optionally upgrade my existing version of DNS version 11. The upgrade process imported my saved profile information and custom dictionaries. This process can be a real time saver for those who are already using a DNS product, simplifying training and the initial setup of the new release.
Speaking of training, the next step after installation typically involves training the system to better recognize your voice to identify personal speech idiosyncrasies, such as accents, pronunciations and so forth. Over the years, training has become a somewhat optional element. Still, I found that a fresh install of DNS 12 was able to quickly pick up on my “lawn-Guy-land” accent with surprising accuracy.
For many, the word “training” is off-putting, conjuring up images of spending hours in front of a PC reading dull text and trying to stay awake at the same time. There is a modicum of truth to those beliefs, Dragon Professional 12 does a terrific job of removing the boredom from the process and slimming down the amount of time required. For my training session, I chose to read an excerpt from Arthur C. Clark’s 3001.
Dictation & Transcription
In releasing version 10 of the product, Nuance reported 99% accuracy on dictation. Version 11 upped the ante another 15% and version 12 increased accuracy by another claimed 20%. While the math behind those assertions might be complicated, my testing did give me the impression that accuracy was improved over previous versions.
I found very little to complain about with this latest iteration of DNS. I dictated several documents (including this review) using the included USB headset. The results were very satisfying. I did notice that when compared to previous versions, this latest version could more readily keep up with my fast speech patterns. Also, it automatically corrected some elements that were problematic in the past. For example, numbers, dates, and percentages were transcribed correctly and formatted to the way they should be represented in a professional document.
One area where I noticed a very significant improvement in accuracy was with transcription — where I recorded dictation into an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder and then had DNS convert that recorded information into text. In previous versions, accuracy was far from great under this scenario. In contrast, version 12 proved to be almost perfect at bringing my spoken word into text.
Of course, there is a lot more to DNS than “you talk, it types.” The product is also meant to simplify the use of a PC by allowing users to leverage voice commands instead of using a mouse or keyboard. Here, Dragon does an excellent job as well.
I am not one to order my computer around. I prefer the mouse/keyboard combo to launch and control things. However, I did give Dragon’s voice command capabilities a good try, and while I didn’t turn into a a voice command advocate, I did find the voice command processing to be very well executed. I was able to launch applications, create emails, save documents, and perform a whole host of other pedestrian processes all with the use of my voice.
Wireless Microphone App
Also, when I tried out the wireless microphone app on an iPad, I found that it worked pretty well, as long as I used a headset. Nevertheless, if you are in a noisy environment, the wireless microphone app might not be such a good idea, because accuracy is likely to drop.
DNS runs on “Windows 7 and above,” Vista, and XP, Nuance says. More specifically, also in DNS 12, Nuance offers first-time support for Windows 8. According to an FAQ on the company’s Web site, published on Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch date of October 26, “Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 has been tested to meet all of the technical requirements to be Windows 8 Compatible. The distinction of ‘Windows 8 Compatible’ denotes devices and desktop apps [which] have passed Microsoft’s tests for compatibility and reliability with Windows 8.”
On the other hand, though, “NaturallySpeaking 12 performs as expected in Windows 8, with a notable exception: [Currently], Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 may not be able to execute certain commands specific to File Explorer and commands related to Start Menu items. Microsoft has changed the command structure of some programs within Windows 8 (e.g. the Windows Start Screen replaces the Windows Start menu) and we are in the process of developing support for these,” also according to the FAQ.
With this latest version of Dragon, Nuance faces two real challenges: to improve a product which is very good already and to entice new users into the “you talk, it types” camp. At first blush, Nuance has successfully met those challenges. However, the high initial price of the DNS 12 family of products could be all it takes to scare off many potential users, especially students and small office owners.
- Fast and accurate speech recognition
- Features tuned to specific kinds of uses
- A few initial Windows 8 compatibility issues
- Pricing is rather steep