This quite venerable, by now, dictation software has reached a new high, but a lot of this territory has been since covered by Siri and even the straight dictation software in Mac OS. But you have to admit, being able to chat at your Mac and have it type out what you’re saying has its attractions – plenty of people have never really got to grips with typing but that doesn’t mean their thoughts shouldn’t be turned into editable text.
Dragon does more than that – it also enables spoken commands (a la Apple’s built-in VoiceOver)
After installing, the latest Dragon Dictate (which just had an incremental update to add El Capitan compatibility) asks permission to access Accessibility in System Preferences so it can use the built-in mic, and then a short welcome screen takes you through a few other steps: it asks you to put in your serial number (or go for the 14-day free trial), then to register with name and email address, and then you get the option to set which microphone you’re using, in case you have something better than the Mac’s internal mic, and some text to speak with so Dragon can evaluate your speech and your audio environment.
Also, this new version no longer needs you to enter text into the Note Pad within the application. Dragon is happy to type in any app and Dragon offers the same accuracy in all of them.
A small menu appears at top right of your screen (above) and a dialogue with a red Mic logo on it – click that and it goes green, and you’re in business. This is a bigger change than you might think, as it used to demand you buy a Dragon mic to make the software work at all. Now you can use your Macs built-in mic or any better quality mic you have that can plug into your Mac.
So now I can just talk, and with a word processor open – in this case my faithful favourite Nisus Writer Pro – I just talked … this very text, as a matter of fact. And Dragon happily typed it all out. It does a remarkably good job, although it transcribed ‘Nisus’ as ‘nicest’ (t’s pronounced ‘nice us’) but that sort of thing is to be expected, with a product name like Nisus. Dragon does work very fast and accurately – you talk and there’s a slight pause, then the text spews out.
Nuance has rewritten the speech recognition engine. Dragon learns when you perform an initial microphone volume calibration (you read for about 40 seconds to set the volume of your microphone) but as you use the app, Voice Training improves, but Dragon’s ability to start correctly transcribing your voice immediately is an improvement from previous versions.
Swearing — Just a note, though – it’s not very good at transcribing swear words, or perhaps that’s a built-in thing. I discovered this when I spilt my coffee. But since you can train it, that’s not &^%# insurmountable.
Thanks to Voice Training, the software learns your voice, but it also has Vocabulary Training: you let Dragon read documents you have written. Dragon listens to the words you speak, but also looks at the context in which words are used. The more familiar it becomes with your specific vocabulary, and the way you order words, the more accurate it is. You can launch this vocally too: say Show Vocabulary Training window and when it appears, click the icon in the menu bar and select Improve Recognition>Vocabulary Training (shown above). This pays off quickly. You select files you’ve written for Vocabulary Training and Add them (or drag them into the file browser window) as .txt, .rtf, .doc or .docx, as long as the files are individually under 3MB in size. Then click the Next (right-facing) arrow when you have added all the files you want to analyse.
Dragon analyses your file to see if there are any words it doesn’t know, and when it’s finished, you see a list of new words in the Included column. To exclude one of those words, ie a typo, select the word in the Included column and click Exclude. If Dragon doesn’t find unknown vocabulary in the selected file, you get a message that all the words in the text are already in your vocabulary, but you can still improve Dragon’s accuracy by continuing the Vocabulary Training process. In either event, click the next (right-facing) arrow again and Dragon runs its analyses. You can do this at any time, so if you suddenly switch to writing zombie vampire pirate romance drama to technical manuals, Dragon can keep up.
Versus Mac OS dictation — Since Mac OS has speech recognition built in now (it’s in System Preferences>Dictation and Speech), you might wonder why you’d need to buy Dragon Dictate. Well, Dragon does a better job, and it’s way more trainable is the short answer. Dragon so far supports you chatting in US UK and Australian English – and in Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwan Mandarin, Cantonese, Czech, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia, Hebrew, Hungarian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, European and Canadian French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, European and Brazilian Portuguese, Turkish, Romanian, Russian, European and American Spanish, Slovak, Swedish, Standard Arabic, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Thai and Croatian (38).
Not that the built-in Mac OS Dictation is bad – it’s surprisingly usable as a cheap (well, free) option. I did notice both managed to here my ‘wood’ as something else, even though I modified my diction for the second attempt, and Dragon has the advantage that I can punctuate just by saying ‘comma’.
(Mac OS speech recognition works for Saudi Arabia, Spain, China, Hong Kong SAR China, Taiwan, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, UK, US, Finland, French (and Canadian and Swiss French too), Germany (plus Swiss German), Greece, Israel, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy (plus Swiss Italian) Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Norway, Poland, Brazil, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain (plus US and Mexican Spanish), Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam (I think that’s 43)..
Both, naturally, didn’t get the name ‘Cumming’, both rendering ‘coming’, which is throughly understandable. Dragon 5 does support more accents than previous versions, including Canadian, Southeast Asian, Indian, and Australian English, but not New Zild yet.
Talk-ease — While you are talking and you’re Mac’s doing the donkey-work of typing for you, it pays to learn a few dictation commands, which are available from a menu under that with the mic controls: Cap makes the first letter a capitol, Caps On, Caps Off, All Caps, No Space and so on. There are commands for Text Editing and Movement (New Line/Next Line etcetera). Proofreading (Proofread[The words] etcetera), Punctuation (Exclamation Mark…) Special Symbols and also a Global set (per Application, as in Quit Calendar and any other apps that are running, and Activate Automator and any other apps you have that aren’t running). There are equivalents for key commands, mouse commands and menu navigation. You can not only get your Mac to type out your words, you can literally run everything by talking – and it may seem like a daunting amount to learn for some, but it’s not that much effort to get it up and running and to add a few commands in as you go. It certainly beats learning to type faster, or at least, it will for many. This may not be a solution for a shared office space, but if you’re in a relatively enclosed space, it’s effective.
One slightly confusing aspect is that you get no app to quit … but you do. Dragon installs a right-top menu, and here you can initiate commands and also Quit, since there’s noting in the Dock to quit from. Also, since Dragon places control windows that ‘float’ – not matter what other windows you have open, these are always on top and visible – this menu lets you Hide them, since the software, once installed, will always be running and available for your voice.
What’s great — Fast, accurate, handy, easy to use, able to both type and command your Mac while it’s running, learns more the more you use it.
What’s not — Once it’s trained for your voice, it’s not much good at others, which is its strength of course (OK, I tried to get it to type out the voiceover of documentary playing on my Mac …)
Needs — Someone better at talking than typing – in other words, most of us.
What — Nuance Dragon for Mac US$200 online only.
System — Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4Ghz or faster processor; Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 recommended. Faster processors yield faster performance. Needs 8GB HD space, OS X Mavericks (10.9) or OS X Yosemite (10.10) [Note my testing took place only on the public beta of El Capitan, no problem).