Dragon Dictate 3.0 full review

What's the best Mac OS X dictation software? Is Mac OS X Mavericks Dictation good enough, or is it worth buying Dragon Dictate?

In our Mavericks Dictation vs Dragon Dictate comparison review:

• How to speak your text with Mac OS Mavericks Dictation
• What a Dragon Dictate download offers that Mavericks Dictation lacks
• Is it worth paying £129 for Dragon Dictate 3?

The Apple Mac computer is one of the best systems available for people who prefer to speak rather than type, or people who find typing difficult. While Mac OS X doesn’t have Siri just yet, it does feature an impressive built in speech-to-text feature called Dictation. With Mac OS X Dictation enabled you can speak out loud and Mac OS X will quickly transcribe your words into text.

Mac OS X Mavericks dictation isn’t the final word in speech-to-text for the Mac. There is also a popular piece of software by Nuance called Dragon Dictate. This costs £129 but offers a range of powerful features and Nuance claims advanced accuracy over other systems. (There is also a medical version available for doctors, which costs £649.)

Is it worth paying the additional price for Dragon Dictate, when Mac OS X Dictation does a similar task for free? Here we take a look at what the two services offer.

See also: Apple OS X 10.9 Mavericks review | Dragon Dictate 3.0 review

Mac OS X Mavericks Dictation

Mac OS X Mavericks Dictate

Mac OS X Dictation is built into Mac OS X. Unlike Siri for iOS, which is turned on by default, Dictation is fairly well hidden inside Mac OS X. You’ll first need to turn on Dictation in System Preferences.

Once Mac OS X Dictation is turned on you can speak words and have them transcribed just about anywhere in Mac OS X. The shortcut is tapping the Fn (Function) key twice. Do this and you’ll see some animated purple dots next to the cursor. This indicates that Mac OS X is listening. Speak your words and tap the Fn key again when you’re done. (Unlike Siri you need to tap the Fn key to stop it). You can change the shortcut key to something else, which is handy if you’re suing a non-Apple keyboard.

When you’ve finished Dictation will replace those dots with your dictated text. By default Mac OS X doesn't do the heavy duty of converting your speech into text; that's instead handled by Apple servers elsewhere. However, a new Use Enhanced Dictation feature enables you to use Dictation offline. It also enables continues dictation with live feedback. Switching Enhanced Dictation speeds up transcribing and allows you to use Dictation offline.

Dictation in Mac OS X is far from perfect. For one thing, you’ll need to get used to peaking your punctuation out loud. So, comma, you’ll need to get used to speaking like this, full stop.

Apple claims that Mac OS X Dictation improves its accuracy in transcribing your particular voice over time. Whether this is principally to improvements at Apple’s server end, or whether it simply responds to you practicing with the system is hard to discern. It’s certainly the case that Dictation (like Siri in iOS) improves dramatically if you frequently use it. Still, the accuracy rate will never be as good as if you used a keyboard. Words that it didn’t quite catch are underlined in blue, and you can Control or Right-click on them to see alternative suggestions. You’ll always have to check your text carefully.

One thing worth remembering with Dictation is that even though it isn’t a system-wide service like Siri, it works in far more places than you’d imagine. You can use it to speak website in the Safari Smart Search Field; enter search terms in Spotlight and enter the name of somebody in Mail. You can even use it to enter posts in Facebook and Twitter (in the web pages and apps.) So it’s far more versatile than you think, and once you get into the habit of tapping Fn twice rather than just typing things out you’ll soon find it becomes second nature.

How to set up dictation in Mac OS X Mavericks

Dictation isn’t automatically set up in Mac OS X. You need to turn it on first. Follow these steps:

• Open System Preferences
• Choose Dictation & Speech
• Ensure that Language is set to English (United Kingdom). If not choose Language and Add Language and add either English (United Kingdom) or the language of your choice

How to set up dictation in Mac OS X Mavericks

You will now be able to use Mac OS X dictation to enter text any time you have a cursor on the screen.

See: Mountain Lion's Dictation feature causes privacy concerns

How to turn on Mac OS X Mavericks Enhanced Dictation

Enhanced dictation downloads the speech-to-text conversion file from Apple and stores it locally on your computer. This has two main advantages. The first is speed, because the file is local (rather than online) it transcribes your speech faster and you can see the words being transcribed as you type. Also because the file is local you can use it without an internet connection.

How to turn on Mac OS X Mavericks Enhanced Dictation

Here’s how to turn on Mac OS X Mavericks Enhanced Dictation:

• Open System Preferences
• Choose Dictation & Speech
• Tick Use Enhanced Dictation

The first time you double tap the Dictation shortcut you’ll need to wait until Mac OS X has downloaded the dictation file. This is currently a 491MB download so it could take some time. It’s usually best to immediately perform a test after turning on Enhanced Dictation so the file downloads there and then.

See: Using Mountain Lion's dictation and text-to-speech features

Dragon Dictate 3.0

Dragon Dictate 3.0 review

If you like using Mac OS X Dictation then you could take the time to invest in Mac OS X Dictation.

Nuance claims a 15% improvement in the out-of-the-box accuracy in its latest edition: Dragon Dictate 3. And it also features better editing tools, the ability to transcribe recorded speech into text (most popular audio file formats are supported) a free iOS recorder app for those without a digital recorder, cleverer formatting tools that Mac OS X Dictation and the ability to edit the vocabulary. It’s essentially like Mac OS X Dictation on steroids.

There are useful built-in commands designed for Mountain Lion's Notes and Reminders and the Express Editor. This floating window enables you to dictate text and paste it into applications.

Dragon Dictate has an uncanny ability to recognise all manner of voices with very little training; it’s forgiving, too, and our reviewer found that accuracy improved as his delivery stopped being so mannered and became more natural.

Dragon Dictate is designed principally for those with accessibility issues, but we feel that Siri and other similar services are raising awareness of dictation as an alternative to the keyboard for everybody. And there’s no denying the huge leap forward in technical quality that’s taken place amongst in human to computer speech interaction over recent years.
Our review found that regular use become almost ubiquitous on social media sites thanks to Dragon Dictate’s ‘Tweet that’ and ‘post to Facebook’ commands.

Dragon Dictate 3.0 review

Dragon Dictate vs Mavericks Dictation

In general, Dictation performs quite capably, but is far from flawless. While you can speak naturally, you'll get better results from Dictation if you're careful to enunciate, particularly on potentially homophonic words and phrases.

If you aren't yet a regular dictator (in the sense of someone who regularly speaks to a machine, not a despot), using Dictation can feel a bit awkward at first. If you stick with it, though, it can become a powerful way to gather thoughts and write text of varying lengths, when using your keyboard would be difficult or unwieldy.

Dragon Dictate, on the other hand, is a much more robust and integrated system. It’s highly recommended for anybody who finds typing difficult, but as more people turn to dictation as an alternative to the keyboard we feel it should have a bigger audience. Mind you it’s expensive unless you need it, and we believe Siri will appear in Mac OS X sometime (possibly in the next iteration).

Read more: Siri and Scroll trick turns iBook into audiobooks


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