For the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with dictation software on the Mac. Previously, I had used the built-in dictation software in Windows Vista and Windows 7, but it was annoying to launch a virtual machine every time I wanted to dictate something. On the Mac and purchase an (expensive) copy of Dragon Dictate for Mac. So far, my experience has been less than positive.
What I Was Looking For
I use dictation software for dictation, not control my computer. I was looking for a product that would allow me to speak naturally to my computer as a way to accelerate my writing. See, I am a professional writer and regularly churn out thousands of words per week. Although I can type very fast, I find that dictation allows me to sit back and collect my thoughts without being distracted by the keyboard.
It is critical for me that the software I select recognizes my words consistently and does not require a great deal of post-speech editing. In other words, I want to be able to carefully talk through an entire piece without going back and doing word by word checking after the fact.
Since I write on technical topics (I specialize in enterprise data storage), it is critical that the dictation software is flexible in allowing bizarre spelling and capitalization combinations. It seems that every enterprise product and company has some strange combination of capital letters and made-up words!
Dragon Dictates (Sometimes)
Dragon Dictate has proven frustrating in regular use, especially for a software package that cost nearly $200. Although it is quite adept at recognizing flowing speech, it utterly fails to be useful in regular applications and workflows.
Adding new words to the Dragon dictionary is frustratingly complicated, requiring nearly a dozen steps with keyboard, mouse, and the GUI. Why can’t an end-user dictate a new word? Alas, this seems to be impossible. Spelled (or even typed) words don’t appear to be added to the dictionary and will be mis-recognized even in the same document.
Dragon stubbornly refuses to learn certain words, as well. I can’t figure out how to tell it to spell the word “minutes”, for example, rather than the abbreviation “min.” though there is such an option in Dragon’s PC product. It is frustratingly inconsistent at recognizing common punctuation marks and commands, often typing “exhalation point” or “go to and” rather than “!” or moving the cursor to the end of the line. I can’t figure out how to tell it to spell my name without a “V” and it even mis-recognizes its own name as “DragonDictate” (no space).
But by far the most frustrating aspect of Dragon Dictate is its incompatibility with just about every native application I use. The only satisfying dictation experience relies on the ultra basic text editor included with Dictate. Although it is supposed to be compatible with Microsoft Word, actual usage is frustrating. And attempting to use dictate in other applications makes me want to throw my computer out the window, as illustrated in the video below.
I am utterly frustrated with Dragon Dictate for Mac. It shows sparks of brilliance but is so tarnished by the obnoxious experience of actually using it that I have half a mind to demand my money back. And it certainly did cost quite a bit of money, especially compared to the free and less frustrating speech recognition software bundled with Microsoft Windows!
I’d like to see Dragon improve this product in key areas:
- Add a simple, streamlined dictated command to add a word to the dictionary – “add that” should allow you to spell and train in one go
- Fix the obnoxious behavior outside the Dictate “notepad” window – or add an “insert only” setting to not “guess” where you are in a document and overwrite things
- Fix the weird “add extra characters after the cursor” bug demonstrated in my video
- Allow me to fix one or two words, not a whole phrase, and allow me to fix it outside the Recognition window’s (limited) choices
- Add a “no abbreviations” setting to the Mac version so it stops correcting “minutes” to “min.”
- Allow me to say “always recognize it this way” for words like “Fibre Channel” and “Stephen’s stance” (not “fiber channel” and “Steven’s stance”)
- Improve recognition of common commands and terms (“explanation point”? Seriously? When has anyone ever dictated that?)
See Nuance Responds to My Dragon Dictate Concerns for detailed information on these concerns
Finally, I suggest that Dragon does something to lower the price. I got mine at a steep discount, but it was still $129, which is pretty stiff for a utility of limited utility. The included headset and USB adapter are of mediocre quality and aren’t worth more than $20. If Dragon brings Dictate to the Mac App Store at $49 and fixes the bugs it might be worthwhile. But for now, it earns a “don’t buy“.
One more thing: 90 days of support? For a product costing over $100? Seriously? I was so frustrated at my initial attempts to use Dictate that I stuck it on the shelf for months before giving it another shot. Now I have to pay for support. Or not.