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Thanks to Siri, we’re all getting familiar with voice recognition. Where the technology really comes into its own, though — in a business sense — is in OS X, where Dragon Dictate is the long-time leader in converting what you say into neatly typed documents and accurately executed commands.
Most of the features have been carried over from the previous edition, which already boasted excellent recognition and zippy performance even on mid-range Macs. Transcription tools are new this time around, having previously been sold as Scribe, a separate app. Feed it a 90-second sample of your subject’s voice and it should be able to transcribe a recording. Nuance reckons this will benefit students who’ve recorded a lecture on their phone, and business users who dictate quick notes while on the go.
We found the results to be mixed when in this mode. It performed well when transcribing one of Barack Obama’s online addresses, but it was less effective when working with a well-spoken and clearly enunciated British voice, even though we’d told it to expect an English accent.
Reverting to regular dictation proves more predictable, and lived up to our expectations. First-time setup requires you spend five minutes reading samples as they’re displayed on screen, so that Dictate can compare what it hears to what it knows for sure you’ve been asked to read. This builds a profile for it to use to decode your speech.
Neatly, if you’re upgrading from a previous edition you can also upgrade an existing profile. It’s a fairly time-consuming process that involves first converting your saved data file and then using it to “retrain” the app, all of which is automatic. It’s well worth the effort, as doing so allows the new version to recognize various things you taught its predecessor, such as non-standard words and various style preferences.
You can also hook directly into Gmail and issue commands such as “Click Compose” and “Click Send” while dictating the body of your email. Doing so requires a plug-in, which to date is available for Safari and Firefox, but unfortunately, not Chrome.
Even without the extensions, you can issue commands like “search Google for MacLife” or “search Bing for Apple,” and it obeys your instructions. Naturally, you can navigate to any link by vocally directing the pointer around the screen. Spoken mouse control is of most use to anyone with a motor impairment, but telling it to switch between apps by voice is also highly beneficial for anyone suffering from RSI or otherwise wants to minimize their mouse time.
The bottom line. The transcription tools are tempting, but it’s the live dictation that remains the main draw here.
Dragon Dictate for Mac 4.0
OS X 10.8.3 or later, 3GB hard-drive space, 4GB memory
Excellent dictation accuracy. Allows for multiple profiles. Now includes transcription.
Expensive. New transcription tools a mixed bag.