Miscellaneous Ramblings

Dragon Dictate 2.0.2 'a New High Water Mark in Mac Speech Recognition'

Charles Moore - 2011.02.09 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4

I love Nuance's Dragon Dictate speech recognition software, which I find an indispensable typing stress reducer and efficiency enhancer. As a user of Mac OS dictation software since the mid-1990s - initially as a workaround to help minimize typing's aggravating chronic nerve pain symptoms in my arms and hands - I can affirm that Dragon Dictate represents a new high water mark in Mac speech recognition excellence.

Back in the '90s, dictation software was so clumsy, slow, and error-prone that I couldn't imagine anyone using it unless obliged to for health reasons. However, the technology has advanced exponentially. Dragon Dictate is based on former MacSpeech software developer Dictate application (MacSpeech was acquired by Nuance just about a year ago), but improves on the accuracy and performance of already impressive MacSpeech Dictate 1.5 - thanks to the new Dragon 11 speech engine that also powers recently announced Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 for the PC.

Dragon Dictate is so slick and accurate, even with a minimum of voice training, that I don't doubt Nuance's claim that it can speed up typing performance by up to three times the rate even skilled typists can achieve with a keyboard, thus presenting an attractive alternative to manual typing even for users who have no issues with repetitive stress or typing pain.

Unfortunately, the one significant bug I encountered in the early builds of Dragon Dictate 2.x had an unhappy and frustrating propensity to transpose the last two letters of some words in transcribing spoken dictation to digital text. This was most evident when dictating into third-party applications - and mostly absent when using Dictate's own Notepad application. But since one of Dictate's marquee features is its ability to enter dictated text virtually anywhere, it amounted to a serious and aggravating flaw.

Happily to report, that bug has now been eliminated with the release of the Dragon Dictate 2.0.2 update. I've been dictating this article into my favorite text editor, Tex-Edit Plus, and the transcription bug is evidently completely squashed. Bravo! Dictate is now an unalloyed pleasure and joy to use.

Incidentally, in addition to allowing you to use your spoken voice instead of a keyboard to produce text, you can also control your Mac by voice with Dictate. Instead of using your keyboard and mouse, just speak commands into the microphone to launch and control applications, move the cursor, or click anywhere on screen by voice.

Dragon Dictate commandsDictate has four modes: Dictation Mode, Command Mode, Spelling Mode, and Sleep Mode. Dictation Mode is self-explanatory, but while you're in it you can also issue commands, while when in Command Mode the program recognizes and executes only commands and can be considered "Command Only" Mode.

A completely new Spelling Mode made its debut with MacSpeech Dictate 1.2, allowing users to spell words, names, or acronyms by using either natural language or the International Radio Alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, etc.). Sleep Mode simply lets you toggle the microphone and application on and off.

Another Dragon Dictate feature is Phrase Training, which helps you increase accuracy by letting you train your voice profile as you proceed. While most of the speech recognition industry refers to this feature as "correction", which is accurate in the sense that it can indeed be used to correct text in your documents, this descriptor in some respects misses the point, because ongoing training also helps refine Dictate's ability to recognize what you intended to say.

Dragon Dictate vocabulary editorWith Phrase Training you're not stuck with the level of accuracy arrived at with your initial voice training until you take the time to read more training stories, and you don't have to specifically train the recognition engine from a document or selection. Instead, you can train a phrase immediately when you see it was misrecognized. Then the next time you dictate that phrase or word in the phrase, Dragon Dictate is more likely to recognize it accurately.

Rating Dragon Dictate presents a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it's the closest to perfection in Mac dictation software anyone has yet achieved. On the other hand, there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially in making getting up to speed on its more advanced features more intuitive and user-friendly. There are also a few functional niggles that could stand some work. I wish there was a way to hide the floater control palette (even though it's a lot prettier than the old one in MacSpeech's former PowerPC dictation product iListen) when it's not in use other than closing the program. Working on a 13.3" MacBook screen, one cherishes every square millimeter of desktop real estate.

The program still takes a long time to start up, which I guess is somewhat inevitable when it has to load a voice profile and dictionaries before you can get underway, a process limited by processor and hard drive speed. A 7200 RPM hard drive or SSD would probably speed things up noticeably. However, once it's running, even on my 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook with 4 GB of RAM, a relatively modest spec power-wise these days, Dictate is satisfyingly responsive.

The Plantronics microphone headset that comes bundled with Dictate has proved excellent, equal to or better than any mics I ever used with MacSpeech iListen. It's light, adjustable, attractive-looking, and has a conveniently long cord. The mic does require a USB dongle, which uses up a precious USB port, but I prefer the precision responsiveness of a hard-wired mic to the lesser accuracy I've experienced dictating with Bluetooth wireless microphones.

For now, I'm giving Dragon Dictate 2.0.2 a three out of four rating, but with a bullet. At this stage of the game it's your best (actually only) Mac OS dictation solution and a tool well worth having in your software suite.

Dragon Dictate requires an Intel-based Mac, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or greater, 3 GB of available hard drive space, 2 GB of RAM recommended, and an Internet connection for product registration. The software comes complete with a bundled, Nuance-approved Plantronics USB microphone headset that's lightweight and comfortable to wear for long sessions.

System Requirements:

  • Intel-based Mac
  • Mac OS X 10.6 or later.
  • Internet connection required for product registration.
  • MacSpeech-certified USB microphone (included with new purchase).

Dragon Dictate for Mac 2.0 sells for $199.99 through Nuance's Website and third-party resellers and includes a high-quality USB microphone with new purchases. A Bluetooth microphone option is available. Existing MacSpeech Dictate customers and Dragon NaturallySpeaking customers can upgrade to Dragon Dictate for Mac starting at $49.99 and $99.99 respectively for a limited time.

The version 2.0.2 update is free for registered version 2.0 users.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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