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No texting while driving. We don't know how often it has to be said. But with smartphones now we have to say no texting, no Twittering, no emailing, no updating your Facebook status. How about just no typing on your phone when you're supposed to be driving?
Maybe it's not about texting while driving, but sending a text when you're in a hurry, and don't have time to stop walking to tap tap tap out your message. Or email or whatever. Well, dictation apps work to take the typing out of typing.
Nuance Communications, the maker of Dragon Dictation have been in the speech to text game for quite some time on the PC end of things, and Dragon Naturally Speaking, the software that powers this app, has been around since the early eighties. So, you've got to expect a pretty sophisticated and accurate text to speech app.
And does Dragon Dictation deliver? Does it ever, and the app is simplicity to use. When you first start it up, there's a bit with the app synching with your Contacts on your iOS device to help recognize any unusual name spellings. The home screen is one red and white button, dead center of the screen with the instruction "Tap and dictate" above it. Lower right is a settings button, and lower left has a grayed out keyboard icon.
Tap the center button and begin speaking into either your headset microphone or the device's built in mic. The screen changes to a blacked out "Recording" screen with a big red "Done" button at the bottom and a much smaller cancel button. You are spotted sixty seconds of talk time and after the first sixty, you can hit the record button and grab another sixty, and so on. Your results show up as text.
You Can Talk and Talk and Talk and Talk...
Response times are speedy and if Dragon mistypes a word you can tap that word and a drop down appears with a close enough approximation or the option to delete the wrong word. On this results page, the grayed out keyboard icon becomes accessible and you can tap it to manually edit individual words or the entire passage.
You Can Either Edit a Word or Delete It
Tap the upward pointing arrow bar icon in the right hand corner and a miniscreen pops up that gives you the option of posting your ranted dictation on Facebook or Twitter, sending it as an email or a text message, or copying it to the clipboard to paste into a word processing document. The settings button makes its reappearance allowing you to link your social network accounts, to choose from English (of different varieties) and other major European and Asian languages, and to make a few other minor tweaks.
Where Do You Want This Text To Go?
There used to be a help document in the app that gave you tips on what spoken commands would produce punctuation, but that seems to have disappeared in a recent update. That was quite helpful and they should bring it back from the Nuance website where it currently resides. It helps to know that "left parenthesis" or "open parenthesis" will make that mark while just saying parenthesis will give you the word "parenthesis" in your text. Likewise for quotation marks.
The only real drawback to the whole process is that Dragon requires internet connectivity to work. This might mean there are places Dragon won't, but it does give the app the advantage of pulling from Nuance's certainly immense database of phonemes while keeping the app to a small 5MB size. This means that Dragon Dictation is incredibly accurate and as it grows and learns from you and the way you speak, it only gets better over time.
Now we'll admit, we've been using Dragon for years now and we're pretty in love with the ease and the accuracy, but the vlingo corporation, maker of their eponymous app, wants to make a play for our affections. Start the app and instead of Dragon's little red button, they've put a huge blue "Press & Speak" button at the top of the app. This does make it a little easier to use without really looking at the screen.
They Even Give Tips To Get You Started
Where Vlingo's voice app hopes to trump Dragon is in its specific built in command structure. If you simply press the button and speak, Vlingo defaults to using your words as a search string (letting you opt out of default Google for Bing or Yahoo). But speak a specific command, like "call Mom" and Vlingo accesses your contacts to auto dial the phone number. You can even add in the word "home" or "mobile" to get that specific phone number, just like Voice Control does.
All Kinds of Settings in Here
But like Voice Control on steroids, Vlingo has a few other tricks up its sleeves. You can link your social networks and say "Twitter update" to post there or "Facebook update" to post there. Press and say "Find Apple in Cupertino, California" and Vlingo will take you (after a tap) out of the app and to the Maps app and your specific location. Say "Email Susie, subject app showdown, message the app showdown article is up" and you can email your boss that you've posted your column. Say "Text wife, message going to be late getting home tonight" and your spouse will receive an SMS that buys you another half hour out at the bar.
That's Pretty Close to What We Said
Ah, but these last two features come at a price. While social networking, web searching, finding on maps, and dialing your phone handsfree (or nearly) are all freebies built into the app, texting and emailing come at a price. If you find you really only want one of those two options, it'll set you back $6.99 in an in-app purchase. Decide to go for both? That'll be $9.99.
Or a Much More Innocent Email Message
To be sure, these speakable commands cut out a lot of tapping. Say the name of the person in Vlingo and if they're in your address book, you're gold. In Dragon, you say the message, then tap the email button, then type the email address, then type the subject line. At that point, if you're driving, you've already run over a pedestrian. Vlingo's definitely got it beat on that score.
As far as accuracy, Vlingo was very close to what we said, though it also required internet access to work. Instead of a drop down menu for incorrect words, editing in the app defaulted to keyboard at the ready with a small ticker of alternate choices across the top of the keyboard. It also worked with you to learn how you said words and the kinds of things you'd say. It's a slick little app with a slick feature set, but the price seems a bit steep.
To be frank, this was one of our hardest app showdown calls to make. We've been loving Dragon forever, but we love Vlingo's similar ability to transcribe accurately. We love Dragon's free pricing for everything (there's even a free Dragon Search app), and we don't love Vlingo's pricey in-app purchase for those very features. We love Vlingo's voice commands, and we don't love Dragon's tap tap tapping to get to the same feature set. There were pros and cons on both sides of the coin and as far as performance, both were excellent apps that worked like dreams.
Finally, though, we had to go with our first love, Dragon. This app could (and might) update to add those voice command features with little extra effort on their part, and Vlingo could add in an option just for straight text transcription. But ten dollars to do something that Dragon has for free strikes us as a high bar to jump. Yes, Vlingo makes it easier to send emails and texts when you're doing something else, but in all honesty, should you really be doing these other things when you're driving, no matter how easy they are? Sure, you can use it while walking too, but let's be real about why people want hands free dictation. It's for the car. A distraction is a distraction when you're behind the wheel, so while we like the simplicity, we worry about the additional distractibility.