Dictate 1.0 Review

It’s a couple of years since we last grappled with the iListen voice-recognition software from MacSpeech. While it could be ‘trained’ to recognise speech fairly accurately, the training process took quite a long time and didn’t seem to be worth the effort unless you had real difficulty in using a keyboard and mouse. The program has been given a fairly major overhaul and rechristened ‘Dictate’ – and it’s a massive improvement.

The software comes with a USB microphone headset that’s specifically designed for speech recognition (we tried using our iMac’s built-in microphone and the results were very poor). Once the software has been installed and the headset is plugged in, you need to create a profile for each person that will be using the software. Each profile can have different settings, such as ‘UK English’ or ‘US English’, which will help it cope with your accent and pronunciation. The next step is to ‘train’ the program to recognise your speech patterns by reading out short pieces of text that it displays on screen. If it has trouble recognising particular words it will highlight them in red so you can try again.

This is where the old iListen proved disappointing, as we had to spend hours reading bits of text to get anywhere near acceptable levels of accuracy. Dictate, however, managed to achieve almost 100 per cent accuracy after only a few minutes training. Admittedly, one member of the Macworld team did completely baffle Dictate with his northern accent, but it coped very well with someone else’s cockney twang.

The improvement really is impressive, and this is the first speech-recognition program that we could genuinely recommend as a dictation tool. You can also use Dictate to control your Mac, issuing commands such as ‘Quit this application’ or ‘Open iTunes’.

OUR VERDICT

Dictate is still a complex piece of software so you’ll need to put in a bit of work in order to get the most out of it. However, the accuracy of its speech recognition has improved so much that we can definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative to using a keyboard.

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