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Dragon NaturallySpeaking 'Preferred' Edition
Date 4th December 2006
Author Scott "Sciby" Eiby
Editor James "Agg" Rolfe
Vendor VoiceRecognition Pty Ltd

Usage, Example Videos and Conclusion

Straight out of the box, without any training whatsoever, NaturallySpeaking gave an impressive accuracy rate, understanding the vast majority of whatever I said. It would stumble over obscure words and grammar issues would appear, such as 'to', 'too' or 'two', but no amount of training will ever correct that particular problem. Instead, it employs a context-sensitive algorithm to attempt to second-guess exactly which iteration of the 'to' sound you're wanting to use.

You can also select the word in question, by saying "select *word*" (in this case, 'select to'), to which it will select the word, and bring up the Choose dropdown menu. It will present you with several options for the vocalisation of 'to'. When you find the correct spelling you require, you state 'choose 1' or whatever the number is of the correct phrasing, and NaturallySpeaking will substitute the selected phrase and return you to editing the document. "Go to the end of the line", will move the cursor to the end of the line (obviously) where you can finish your paragraph.

As discussed previously, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 features a lot of built-in commands, most of which centre around the editing and manipulation of text, such as "New paragraph", "Delete last word", "New Line" and various punctuation commands. However it includes a lot of functionality when it comes to controlling Windows itself. A useful tool for these extended capabilities is the command "What can I say?". This pops up a separate 'Sample Commands' help window, which gives you a list of available functionality commands, which changes based upon what application has focus in Windows.

For example, a web browser uses commands such as "Go to address bar", "Go back", "Start scrolling" or the useful "Tab key".

There is a command that is referred to in the help files, which is "Which tool can I use?", which sounds great, but when I tried to use this, Dragon gave me the < ??? > sign, which indicates it was an unrecognised command. I looked through the Command Browser, and that particular command didn't seem to appear anywhere. I'm not sure what the go was there, but “What can I say?” seems to cover what most people need to know.

Even though I’ve dabbled in speech and voice recognition before, the power and accuracy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 definitely gives the sensation of having a viable interface to the computer. Being able to rattle off my thoughts (such as this entire review, except for minor editing) is liberating and frankly, pretty damn neat. It almost becomes a game, trying to trick NaturallySpeaking by talking too fast, but it rarely skips a beat when transcribing my babblings.

Click to Enlarge
You can see the dictated text in the upper left hand corner, as it is recognized by the software.

While there are many positives to this application, there is a downside: the amount of time you have to put in to it for it to be very accurate. You have to spend a fair amount of time and energy doing the training, expanding the vocabularyand developing your own commands. But, this is when it starts coming into its own. If your profession requires a lot of documentation or note taking, the ability to just talk naturally and have it all in a text format is time-saving and stress-reducing.

I shouldn’t even have to explain how life-changing this software is for someone with limited ability to interact with a computer. There have been older versions of NaturallySpeaking before (the ubiquitous Dragon Dictate), but from my understanding, no previous incarnations were as pervasive or powerful as this.

Example Videos:
To give you an example of Dragon Naturally Speaking in action, in the hands of an average user like myself, I recorded a video of me using it (125mb). I created this video a couple of weeks ago, and have trained NaturallySpeaking further than this, so this is probably representative of the worst performance in terms of accuracy that I came across. Of course, it had to happen when I was capturing video for this review, but I've included it to be complete in reviewing the product.

Russell from VoiceRecognition.com.au recorded some videos to give an idea of how well NaturallySpeaking will work for someone who uses it on a regular basis. You can find them here:

Using Microsoft Word (11.4MB).
Using the OCAU Forums (20MB).

At $479AUD, with the good USB headset and average headset included, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred isn’t cheap, but if you’re someone who writes a lot, or has limited physical function, or wants to explore alternative computer interfaces, consider saving the pennies up, because it’s worth the cost. If you want a cheaper entry into voice recognition without the command tools, you can try Dragon NaturallySpeaking Standard, which comes in at $199AUD. But for most power users, Preferred would be the choice to make simply because of the extended interface controls it provides. Either way, the core product remains the same, and it's a product that's highly recommended.

Here's the text I read in the example video:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Thanks to VoiceRecognition.com.au for providing the review samples!

All original content copyright James Rolfe.
All rights reserved. No reproduction allowed without written permission.
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