Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium review

£140
Price when reviewed

Voice recognition is gaining momentum on mobile devices, but the technology has grown rather stale on the PC. Now Nuance hopes to turn things around with a new approach: rather than requiring a dedicated headset or dictation device, the latest release of Dragon NaturallySpeaking works with your laptop’s built-in microphone.

It’s a great step forward: business travellers can flip open their laptops and immediately start dictating emails or memos without having to fiddle with extra equipment. It’s also great for Windows tablet users who don’t want to rely on the screen-swamping software keyboard.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium review: loud and clear

In our tests, the accuracy of NaturallySpeaking’s transcription didn’t seem to suffer as a result of us using the internal microphone on our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop. Even with the laptop placed to the side as we sat in front of a monitor at our desk, it picked up every word uttered in our home-office environment.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium

Accuracy was impressive – if not perfect – from the get-go. Dragon no longer requires users to read out four minutes of text to train the software, so you can get going right away and let Dragon learn as you work. We saw accuracy improve noticeably over the first couple of days as the software adapted to our verbal tics, acquired words from our emails and learnt from the repeated correction of errors.

Even after a few days of heavy use, though, we were still seeing an average of one or two errors per paragraph – largely grammatical or contextual errors, not transcription errors that might improve over time. Take this uncorrected test passage, for example: “Correcting thoughts takes far too long. For example, the software just transcribe the word forts when I meant faults, as in 40 software. There are other problems, to.”

You might forgive Dragon for mistaking “faults” for “thoughts” in the first sentence, but having worked out that we meant “faults” in the second sentence, it should have inferred that we meant “faulty software” rather than the nonsensical “40 software”. The failure to add a second “o” on “to” at the end of the final sentence was another common error, as was missing possessive apostrophes and the constant transposing of “its” and “it’s” – all basic errors that were picked up by Word’s grammar checker but seemingly considered acceptable by Dragon.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium

What’s more, correcting errors using voice commands is a faff, wasting some of the time saved by dictating emails or documents instead of typing them. We found ourselves frequently switching back to the keyboard to fix errors.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium review: voice control

Dragon isn’t purely concerned with dictating text: it can also be used to control a variety of Windows applications, including the major browsers, various web applications, Outlook and Word. We found it particularly pleasing to be able to open Chrome, fire up Gmail and compose and send a message without touching the keyboard once. The optional Learning Centre window provides specific instructions on how to control each application as you flick between them.

We also like the way you can wander through web pages hands-free. Saying “click links” sees Dragon apply a numbered label to every link on the current page – simply speak the number of the link you wish to open to open the page immediately. Commands such as “page down”, “close tab” and “search Google for [search term of your choice]” make the mouse and keyboard largely redundant.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium

The Mouse Grid is another clever navigation tool. It throws a grid of nine squares over the screen: when you say the corresponding number (“one” for top left, “two” for top middle and so on), another grid appears in that square with another nine segments. Keep choosing until the grid is placed over the link or item you want to select, then simply say “click”. It sounds long-winded, but it’s actually a fast way to navigate by voice alone.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium review: verdict

We have to admire Dragon’s ability to transcribe speech via a low-grade laptop mic without any training whatsoever, but it’s undermined by too many basic grammatical mistakes. If Nuance could weed these out, voice control might have a chance of becoming a mainstream user interface. Until then, it remains a priceless tool for those who struggle with a mouse and keyboard – but an expensive novelty for those who don’t.

Details

Software subcategoryOther software

Operating system support

Other operating system supportWindows 8 and 8.1

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