If you spend a good deal of your working day typing documents, reports, or emails, you've probably had concern about repetitive strain injury (RSI). It's no secret that excessive keyboard use wreaks havoc on hand tendons, but there are a couple of alternatives to manually entering screeds of text. Dragon Naturally speaking is a long-standing desktop speech-recognition application and the latest release boasts improved accuracy over previous versions.
Installation is time-consuming, as you are forced to run through a dictation wizard to help train the software to recognize your voice. A few different types of sample text are available, though, including some humorous pieces to help make the process more enjoyable. After setting up a profile and performing some basic voice training, Dragon automatically indexes all the text files in the My Documents folder to learn how you use language. This is an impressive feature, as it allows the software to achieve reasonably accurate results straight from the box.
Dragon picks up words contextually, so it works better if you dictate in complete sentences - just as you'd speak. For example, stilted speaking, where each word is separated by a pause, tends to yield poor results, as the software is "listening" for groups of words, and deciding what you're saying based on probability. The more context you give the software, the greater its ability to eliminate possible words and produce more accurate dictation.
Occasionally the software will choose the wrong word based on what it thinks you said. Dragon has built in a handy correction system, where the user simply has to say, "correct that", to bring up a list of possible alternatives on screen. From here it's straightforward to select the right word, and Dragon will remember it for next time. As the dictation engine is able to adapt to different people's language usage, it's learning more about how you speak each time you use the software. The more you use it, the more accurate it becomes, to the point that after a month of testing, we were able to record entire paragraphs without serious errors. Once in a while a wrong word will slip through the system, so it's imperative to closely proof your documents.
The box includes everything you need to get up and running. A headset is bundled in, and the Mobile version includes a Philips Voicetracer 7630 digital voice recorder so you can take notes on the road and then convert them to documents when you get back to a PC. The voice recorder takes two AAA batteries and is able to store up to 17 hours of speech in four separate "folders". You can take notes on the road - or at interviews - and then connect the recorder directly to your PC to retrieve the files via the included USB cable. Dragon can then take the recorded speech and convert it neatly into a text document via its transcribe function. The transcribing interface is straightforward, and the output can be delivered into a window or text file. It's extremely handy for anyone frequently in and out of meetings, or spends time away from a PC while planning.
One minor gripe is the fact that the software is performing heavy computation in the background, and your PC slows noticeably when running the software. Thankfully, most productivity and email applications are relatively lightweight, and today's high-power CPUs make short work of the processing load.
While Dragon Naturally Speaking is undeniably handy for anyone editing documents or producing reports, it has the ability to enter text into any window on screen, including email applications, which can greatly streamline your computing... and save your wrists.
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