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Do not ever give voice recognition software to a writer who's a keyboard junkie. Do not ever give Dragon Dictate to any one who saw how rubbish dictation software was in the 1980s, 1990s and probably 2000s but they didn't check. For a few minutes sitting in front of Dragon Dictate will destroy their worldview like a politician discovering that encryption makes monitoring computers hard. Dragon Dictate works and it works extremely, just extremely well. It also does more than dictation: this is powerful software for word processing by voice command.
If your only experience of voice recognition is Siri then you're probably only a little dubious at the claim that you can successfully dictate any amount of text into your Mac and have it be correctly typed for you. Siri is a remarkable piece of work but it seems have its good days and its bad. Then OS X has dictation software built in that is fine but limited: you can only speak in short phrases at a time plus you have to keep clicking or tapping keys to start and stop.
Dragon Dictate needs you to click one big button to start but there on you just need to speak. It's odd how much pressure you feel under while the cursor is blinking and you're trying to think of the next thing to say. It's slightly uncomfortable how judgemental Dragon Dictate appears to be as sometimes it seems to wait for ages before agreeing you've said something worth writing. Yet in both cases the fault lies not in our software but in ourselves and Dragon Dictate itself is remarkably free of problems.
We didn't test it out statistically so we can't give you exact figures but we can say that it felt rare to see any transcription errors. In any one piece of writing that we did, we'd expect to have to go back to change some text but usually no more than we type a piece. Small edits, corrected tiny mistakes, it was only ever trivial stuff we wanted to change.
What's more, while we did still tend to make those corrections through the keyboard, as we got increasingly used to Dragon Dictate we used its other features, its non-dictation features, to make some changes. If it has made a mistake about a word or you've changed your mind about it, you can tell the software to select those words. Then just say what you want it changed to and then carry on. Superbly, you don't have to spot the mistake right away: tell it to select that word or those words whenever you spot it, then make the change and say "Go back". The cursor returns to the end of your piece of text ready for the next thing you want to say.
Similarly, you can say "microphone off" and it will stop taking dictation. We learned this one after answering the phone during a dictation and discovering when we'd hung up that our entire and complete side of the conversation was now in an email in front of us. It was a messy kind of transcription because we hadn't realised it was happening and so we did not specify punctuation. In normal use, you would say words like 'comma' or 'open brackets' as you go and Dragon Dictate knows those are punctuation commands.
There is a difference between a command and a word you want to be transcribed. We fell foul of this when inadvertently telling Dragon Dictate that we didn't want to dictate anything more, we wanted to specify how a particularly unusual word was spelled. You'd expect the software to have this feature and it works fine enough, though we struggled adding the word "MacNN" to the dictionary, but we hadn't realise we'd made this mode change. Consequently we lost many minutes and got supremely annoyed by how it suddenly wouldn't write what we were saying. Instead it would type out a few letters, spluttering them out like it wasn't hearing us properly. It's probably a good thing that it didn't write what we were saying as this is a family show but it's a great thing that we finally realised what we'd done wrong. One click and we were back dictating as well and as easily and as quickly as we did during the training stage.
You do train your Dragon Dictate to recognise your voice. It takes perhaps 20 minutes and involves the software showing you lines it needs you to read. If it recognises the words as you speak them, sentences turn green. if it doesn't, they turn red and you have to repeat them until you get all green. It was effortless to get the dictation part right and the only problem with practicing various commands like "Go back" is that it felt there are myriad ones to learn. There are myriad but you don't have to learn them: use them as you need and look into the rest as you can.
We'd like Dragon Dictate to remember whose voice it is using, though. Whether you've trained it to recognise one voice or many, you still get the same kind of login voice-picking dialog box whenever you open the app. We had a problem when we had only one voice set up: Dragon Dictate displayed a little warning triangle next to the name and greyed-out the Continue button but it wasn't at all clear what the problem was. In the end, we discovered that it was because we'd set that voice up to use our external microphone which we'd later removed. It'd be good if the software told us that or if the warning were readable or clickable.
Once you've picked a voice and it has external or internal microphone selected, you press Continue and Dragon Dictate loads in the voice profile. It takes a time and you have to approve the software's desire to use your Mac's keychain. That's fine and it's even good that you need to do this, but less good that you have to do it every time you start up.
It's even less great that once you've installed a Safari extension then Dragon Dictate will ask if you're happy for it to be usable – invariably you are or you wouldn't have installed the software. Yet it asks you separately for each and every website you visit.
None of which is exactly slow but it's slow enough that switching on Dragon Dictate was always a positive choice: we decided to switch it on, we didn't just leave it there and click the button when we felt like it.
We did feel like using it a lot and it always did feel a bit magical as it worked away. However, there is nothing like seeing dictation software in action for yourself: take a look at us dictating an email.
We won't win prizes for our filmmaking. However, you can see how well the dictation goes and you can see something of how you can control your Mac. That's what we needed to see before we were so completely turned around from cynics to fans. We do still type much faster than we can dictate and we also rather like typing, but Dragon Dictate does what it says it does – and it does so extremely, just extremely well.
As a past Dragon Dictate user I have this to say about Dragon:
1. Dragon's upgrade pricing is exorbitant. Once you buy-in you will have to pay and pay and pay if you want to be able to continue to use Dictate when Apple releases a major operating system update.
2. Dragon's tech support is terrible.
3. Dragon essentially stole the technology from its original developers. The story has been widely covered in technology media.
4. The functionality of Dictate on Macs is a shadow of its Windows variant. Development of the Mac version is always several steps behind the Windows version. Some essential features that have been part of the Windows software for years are still missing on the Mac. It appears unlikely that the Mac software will ever catch up to its Windows counterpart.
Even though I was highly motivated to use dictation software I simply refuse to support a company with Dragon's track record. I used some of the money that I saved by not upgrading and bought a high-quality mechanical keyboard.
Although I get by with using the less-accurate built-in dictation feature on iOS devices and Macs, I have used Dragon Dictate before. For fast typists, the high price is a definite barrier; but for slower typists, or people with disabilities as mentioned above, the program is worth every penny. As you'll notice in the video above, the accuracy rate for Dragon Dictate is really exceptional.