JUST TALK NATURALLY

People love to talk. Just look at all the TV shows that are about nothing else. But here in the computer world, we want to see that talk printed on the screen and the page. So, every time we mention a program for converting talk to text, we get a lot of reader response: Is it any good, they ask? Does it really work? People have a lot to say.

It’s like this, there are two or three programs that can listen to the words coming out of your mouth and show them on the screen. More or less.

Windows and Macintosh computers come with speech recognition programs built in; you talk, they listen. (These dictation programs are not to be confused with “Siri” or “Android S-Voice,” used for web searches.) In our tests, the dictation programs were junk.  When Joy said something about reviewing Bob’s dinner, it wrote “Reviewing Butthead for dinner.” (Were they trying to tell us something?) Windows was just as bad.

The one you see advertised regularly on TV and in print is Dragon Naturally Speaking 12, referred to henceforth simply as “Dragon.” Besides dictation, Dragon can be used to control your computer. (Dragon, by the way, is the program behind Siri for iPhones and “Dragon Go” for Android phones.)

What they call the “home” version of Dragon 12 is available for $100 from the maker’s web site, nuance.com. The “premium” version is $200. What’s the difference? The premium version lets you make up your own commands instead of memorizing theirs. For example:  “Send this brilliant note to Bob and Joy.” It also lets you use a wireless headset; great for pacing around the room. Both versions are available for around half price at discounters like Amazon or Tiger Direct. This is a lot cheaper than the first time we looked at Dragon several years ago; back then price was over $400.

As in the past, there’s an initial learning period with Dragon, in which you get to know the program and it gets to know you. This takes a few hours. If you have a heavy accent it takes longer.

Dragon gets it right ninety-nine percent of the time. You might think: well then, no problem. But in fact, that is the problem; there are mistakes on every page. In practice it means you should edit everything before printing or sending, or you can easily look like an idiot.  When Joy said “I have to remember.” It changed that  to “After member.” “Love you too” came out “love you to.”

The use of verbal commands is handy: You can post to Facebook just by saying “Post to Facebook.” The same goes for Twitter. This works in Internet Explorer or Firefox. In Google Chrome, “Post to Facebook” sent our post to Twitter and “Go to Gmail” started up Microsoft Outlook. They’re working on that.

There’s a free version of Dragon, called Dragon Dictation, which is for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch or Android. This just turns your voice recording into text on the phone screen. The result cannot be edited by voice command but you can email it or post it to Facebook or Twitter.

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