In the spirit of this review, I’m actually doing this entire post only using Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
I’ve lately been experiencing some issues with my hands which have prevented me from typing or using the computer mouse. Several readers were kind enough to offer advice on alternate mice devices and also on several voice to text and dictation programs. My desk is currently a haphazard mess of alternate ergonomic mice and a wide variety of hand braces and supports.
The one thing nearly everyone suggested, however, was getting some kind of voice to text program. If you’ve never heard of programs like this or if you’ve never used them yourself, these programs not only allow you to type using dictation, but also allow you to do basic functions on your computer such as browsing the Internet, opening and closing programs and checking e-mail in addition to standard writing, formatting and editing.
By far the most recommended program was DNS 11, which is short for Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Unfortunately this program was expensive, so I opted to get the previous version, which was Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10. This was a savings of over $50 and the program works just fine with Windows 7, so this was really a no-brainer decision for me. But understand as I write this review that I am not using the newest version.
But before Dragon NaturallySpeaking arrived I decided to start training myself to use voice to text software and was delighted to find out that Windows 7 comes standard with voice to text capabilities. For the last week, I’ve been using Windows 7s voice to text features and dictation exclusively for writing and controlling the computer. My DNS software only actually arrived a few days ago so wanted to wait until I had the opportunity to use both extensively before wrote this review. I’m going to try to keep it short. But if you’re trying to make the decision between DNS, which is rather expensive program, or whether the free version that comes bundled with Windows 7 would fit your needs, I hope to give you a more complete picture.
You can find the activation for the Windows 7 voice to text software under: All Control Panel Items> Ease of Access Center> Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard. Once there, select use Speech Recognition.
- Windows 7’s tutorial and training are one and the same. This worked so well that I was frankly shocked and highly disappointed that DNS did not have this feature. When you first activate the Windows 7 software, it sends you through a tutorial which both teaches you how to use the program and allows you to train at the very same time. The best part about this is that you could go through the entire training and tutorial process without having use your mouse or keyboard at all.
- As you might expect, the program works fantastically with any Microsoft programs. It works flawlessly in things like Word, Outlook and the rest of the Office suite for editing formatting and navigating the file menus and was also very slick with how it opened and closed programs and let me use my computer while just in the general explorer.
- As for dictation, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked, especially considering it was a free program. Accuracy was certainly not 100% but as I trained this and corrected my mistakes. Its accuracy just kept getting better and better. I also found many of the Windows 7 voice commands to be more intuitive than the ones DNS wants you to use.
- Non-Microsoft programs and “Show numbers.” The biggest problem I ran into is that any program not made by Microsoft is a black hole when it comes to this voice software. Microsoft tried to work around this issue by giving you this feature called “show numbers” which numbers every clickable link or button on the screen or matter what program you’re in, so you can tell it what to click. This worked fantastically when I first set it up and enabled me to use nonstandard programs like Songbird and Tweetdeck without any difficulty. However, after a few days of using it, the show numbers feature just stopped working entirely. No matter how many times I would say the phrase “show numbers” it would not understand what I was saying. I even repeated the training and couldn’t get the show numbers feature back. This may be an issue unique to me and how I speak, but the loss of the show numbers feature made it virtually impossible to use the software in anything beyond a Microsoft program and presents a serious disadvantage.
- There is no auto punctuation option. This was sort of a dealbreaker for me. I found it infuriating to have to say the name of the punctuation mark I wanted every time I completed the sentence. I don’t mind having to go back and do some editing after I finish my dictation. But having to put input every single solitary punctuation mark was crushing my will to live. I offer the disclaimer that this may bother me more because I’m writing fiction, and may not be a problem for you if you’re using it for e-mails and other work, but I wanted to mention that this was an issue for me.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10
- Dictation is much more accurate than Windows 7. Even with the shorter training program, I found that the program was much more accurate from the start in understanding what I was saying and that I was having to do less corrections.
- Works better with non-Microsoft programs. Notice I say better, not well. Navigating the Web is particularly frustrating. It’s a double-edged sword. Windows 7 didn’t work with Firefox at all, but worked great with Internet Explorer, whereas DNS only works sort of well with Firefox and Internet Explorer both. Since Firefox is predominately what I use. I’ve been trying to use DNS, but it has been a frustration, and it does not work as well out of the box as the Windows 7 one did.
- Has auto punctuation for commas and periods. You still have the option to manually set your punctuation marks and “! & ?” still need to be put in manually as you speak but they’ll put the commas and periods in for you. While this certainly doesn’t work flawlessly. It is a huge help, because at least it puts in most of the punctuation without your having to think about it and you can just go back and correct the rest later.
- Gives you more options for customization. The one thing that really distinguishes DNS from the Windows 7 program is that it allows you to program in all sorts of additional commands to supplement with the program already comes with. I haven’t had this program long enough to really touch on this feature yet, but I could see it making a huge difference in how the program works. I’m cutting this program a little more slack in this review because I’m assuming that using these custom commands would help make up for a lot of the shortcomings of the program as it comes from the manufacturer.
- It’s really freaking expensive. As I mentioned above, I saved a lot of money by buying the previous version, but the most current version of DNS 11 costs $100. If you have Windows 7 (or were going to upgrade to it soon), then the question becomes, does DNS work that much better than the Windows 7 program, that it’s worth the extra money? Obviously, if you’re not using a version of Windows that comes with voice to text, this question is moot as DNS is your only choice. But, having used both, I have to confess I’m not sure it’s worth that much extra
- All set up, tutorials and training requires you to use the mouse. I have to tell you, I was absolutely furious when I found this out. I’m in a situation where I can’t use my hands. I buy a program which is supposed to enable me to use my computer without hands and it turns out the setup and training of it can only be done with a mouse. Perhaps I would’ve been less upset about this fact, had I not used the Windows 7 setup which let me set everything up using my voice while training at the same time, but finding out that DNS’s training and tutorial forced me to use the mouse was a very rude discovery to make when I was hoping to be able to only use my voice. I hope to God they fix this in the newest versions of the program. Training while teaching is definitely the better way to go.
- Out of the box, commands do not work as well. Even after two days of using it, I still can’t get DNS to open programs, minimize and do other basic explorer functions as well as the Windows program did them right from the start. As I said above, I’m cutting the program some slack because I suspect I can fix a lot of these issues with custom commands. But for now, I’m just not finding the computer browsing abilities of DNS to be anywhere near what the Windows 7 program could do. As I’m in a situation where I can’t use my hands, I’m finding this particularly frustrating as I really need a program that allows me to do everything with my voice while resting my hands.
So, what would I recommend? When it comes to dictation, DNS is really your best option so I’ll be using it for nearly all of my writing for sure. It seems silly to switch back and forth between the two programs, but that’s actually what I’ve been doing since I got DNS because the Windows program is so much better at running the basic functions of the computer like opening and closing programs. My hope is to eventually train DNS to be able to do the sort of things that Windows 7 can do, so that I only have to leave the one program open and not both but, right now, I’ve been interchanging them.
The Windows 7 program would probably mean more work for dictation since it takes a
little more time to train it to the accuracy that DNS comes with right
out of the box.
In the end, it all depends on what you need voice to text software for. If you’re going to use it mainly for dictation and still use the mouse for basic Explorer functions than DNS is your best option. If however you’re looking for an all-computer solution that lets you both dictate and do other basic functions in the computer, I’m not sure which to recommend. With what I’ve seen so far, there’s nothing to indicate that DNS is worth the extra money over the Windows 7 program. But, understand as I say that, I haven’t set up any of the custom commands which may make the DNS program more user-friendly in the end.
Well, there you have my quickie review. I know many of my readers have used various voice to text programs in the past and I’d like to know what you think and what programs you recommend.