I have been using speech recognition software for years now, mainly to let me write when my RSI and assorted ergonomic related ailments got too bad for me to type. Over this period I have primarily been a Mac user. Speech recognition on Apple’s machines has been an area in which they have lagged well behind Windows.
I have tried every incarnation of Mac speech to text software, starting with iListen before it was acquired by Nuance and working my way through DragonDictate and the renamed Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. Every version has ultimately disappointed. When Nuance took over the basic speech recognition engine became the same superb one as used on Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows. Unfortunately, the interface built around it was usually terrible— ugly, buggy and extremely prone to crashing.
The last (otherwise very good) version was ruined for me by the corrections interface. It randomly added characters as I typed corrections which made the process, so essential to accurate speech recognition, extremely long-winded and frustrating. Eventually, I gave up and went back to Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows running on Boot Camp.
I booted up version 6 of Dragon Professional with no great expectations. It installed quickly and easily, and the accuracy was superb out of the box. My hopes started to rise, but they always do at this point in testing a new version of Dragon. I am so used to having them dashed I gritted my teeth and kept at it. I fed it the texts of 9 of my books and some of my journal pages so it could get used to my writing style.
This time around making corrections actually worked. There were none of the show-stopping bugs I encountered with version 5. Soon I was dictating happily within Scrivener with full-text control. A dream come true for me this. The program learned fast and well.
The new batch transcription feature worked very well. I could dictate onto my Android phone, upload the results to Dropbox and then get the speech files turned into text. Being able to use a phone with speech recognition is incredibly useful. It lets you dictate anywhere and in a sort of secrecy. People assume you are simply making a call if they see you. If you are self-conscious about dictating in a public space, this is very useful.
I find myself making notes and jotting down ideas as I go. First time this has ever happened.
Recognition accuracy is extraordinary— over 99% on normal speech, 98.2% accuracy transcribing dictation of a fantasy novel with made up words. That’s 18 mistakes in 1000 words, better than my actual typing. (As an aside I tend to think my typing is more accurate than it really is— I correct mistakes automatically as I go along and so don’t notice them. When I bother to keep track, I discover I usually manage around 94% to 97%. ) I was dictating at 100 words a minute.
There have been a few problems, but they are fairly minor. Instead of randomly adding letters and symbols to my corrections, Dragon now sometimes locks up the letter A. No idea why. At first, I thought my MacBook’s keyboard was broken, but when I switched off Dragon, the letter became available again, and the program worked just fine. Simply restarting it got rid of the problem.
When it learns fantasy names, Dragon does not recognise the capitalisation. Kormak becomes kormak. Aethelas becomes aethelas. This can be cured with a simple find and replace, though. It’s a huge improvement on previous versions where there were certain words I could not train or get the program to learn no matter how often I tried.
You still can’t train Dragon to learn new words and phrases from your transcription files. I wouldn’t have noticed this except for the fact that the Windows version has been capable of it for several generations now.
These are all relatively minor glitches. The highest compliment I can pay Dragon for Mac 6 is that I have been using it and getting work done. My previous experience of Mac speech recognition has been to desperately try to make it work and give up in disgust after a few days or weeks and return to Windows.
So far it looks as if Mac speech recognition has finally come of age. I’ll report back in a few months and see if I still feel that way.
Addendum: Jeff Leitman from Nuance responded to my review with the following clarifications and solutions to the problems I mentioned. With his permission, I am sharing them here.
I wanted to let you know we are planning a 6.0.1 update this Monday, September 26th, that addresses a number of issues, including the difficulty with the A key you reported. It is related to changing Shortcuts, located in the Preferences.
The best way to have Dragon learn proper names is to add them to the Vocabulary Editor. If you use Vocabulary Training to read documents, it will use lower case. We will look into that for future updates. I added both Kormak and Aethelas directly into the Vocabulary Editor capitalized and Dragon did save them as capitalized terms.
I’d like to thank Jeff for reaching out. I am very impressed by the dedication this shows.
Addendum Two: A number of people have written to me concerning bugs and flaws in this version of Dragon. Since the last update, I have experienced a return of the random letters appearing during correction bug. More information is available in the comments below.
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