Dragon Dictate for Mac: Utterly Frustrating

Dragon Dictate might be the best dictation option for Mac users, but it's not very good at that

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.

Stephen’s Stance

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Fix the weird “add extra characters after the cursor” bug demonstrated in my video
  4. 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
  5. Add a “no abbreviations” setting to the Mac version so it stops correcting “minutes” to “min.”
  6. 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”)
  7. 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.

  • Mpowerslaw

    I feel the same way, but I am glad to read this because I thought I just didn’t know how to use it properly. I heard such great things about Naturally Speaking, which is, of course, a PC version. Dragon Dictate is SUCH a disappointment, and I paid $300 for it.  As for the 90 days of help- forget it. Even during the 90-days, I got no real help- just alot of frustration. One bit I have learned- Dragon will dictate better in Word than in Pages. Go figure. 

    My only hope at this point is that Dragon Dictate for Mac will be updated quickly if more people complain.  

  • http://blog.fosketts.net sfoskett

    I was really shocked how bad Dragon Dictate is. You’d think the Internet would be awash in complaints by end users. How could Joe Average possibly put up with the difficulty of using this product?

  • http://www.facebook.com/wcpreston W. Curtis Preston

    If you think it’s hard to learn Dictate from scratch, try being a longtime Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) user and then trying to learn to use Dictate.  I’ve used DNS for about 10 years, then I made the Windows -> Mac conversion.  Now that Office 11 has Outlook, DNS and Visio are the only products I miss from Windows. 

    Dictate works completely backwards from the way DNS works, and (IMO) completely backwards from the way (at least) I think.  I used DD for a while and had exactly the same results as you.  The extra characters at the end was the one that drove me absolutely batty.

    I gave up and went back to DNS and a Windows VM until they come out with DNS for Mac.  And I hope they do; it is a completely different product than DD.

  • Barnettmd_cave99

     Hi Stephen,

    I agree with much of what you have said. However, you are using the term

  • Erica Hill

    Hi Stephen


    Thanks for
    your thoughtful review of Dictate. We sincerely appreciate all feedback

  • http://profiles.google.com/erikalanhanson Erik Hanson

    The problem with expecting negative comments is that it assumes the commenters have the ability to comment. If you need to use voice recognition software, and that voice recognition software Isn’t yorking well, then it’s going to be awful hard for you to leave a comment on a website about it. Y

    Hey, guess what I used To type this. YY

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OBCHULUV3E3NQDL6CKKZ3ZTFRI ocbizlaw

    The author’s experiences are identical to mine.

    I have to laugh at the comment below from Dragon:


  • Pingback: Dragon Dictate review: speech recognition from Nuance for Mac | Apple Mac Enthusiast()

  • Christopher Payne

    Hi Steven,
    I came across you on YouTube after I posted my own video review of Dragon Dictate there. I loved your video that I went to your blog and found this written review.You can see my own review here…http://www.applemacenthusiast.com/dragon-dictate-review-speech-recognition-from-nuance-for-mac/I mention there other problems such as… 

  • Redbaronv

    I completely agree. It simply refuses to learn certain new words. I’m using it now to type this comment and it’s wonderful. But I’m an author and use a large vocabulary and having to stop regularly to type a word that Dragon Dictate has point-blank refused to learn is the most annoying thing in the world. One of the most bizarre being that it will learn the conjugations of a particular verb but utterly fail to learn the verb itself. I’ve been using it for 5 weeks now and also considering demanding a refund especially as for $20 the latest Mac software update will have speech recognition built-in by the middle of July

  • Johnny

    You and the author of this review echo my sentiments exactly.

    I am a fast typist, easily reaching 150 WPM but usually casually typing at around 100 WPM.

    However, one day my Parallels virtual machine software came up with an advertisement offering “Dragon Dictate” for my Mac at a discount. I’d never thought about trying dictation before, but there was something alluring about the idea of being able to just speak to your computer.

    So, figuring it was the market leader for a reason, I purchased Dragon 2.5 in late 2011 for nearly $200.

    I do quite a lot of writing and figured it’d be a great tool to add to my repertoire.

    I have an EXTREMELY CLEAR standard American English accent, being a voiceover actor and narrator. You seriously cannot get a clearer voice than mine.

    Well, even after spending an hour going through each and every “Voice Training” module to teach Dragon how my voice sounds, it just fails miserably. I get about 95% accuracy, which is FAR TOO LOW.

    Even simple things like “Go to end” will often come out as “Go to and” just like the author of this review noted. It’s infuriating because those two words have a very distinct first vowel and I don’t see how the software can be acceptable when it gets such a vital command wrong!

    What’s more infuriating is that the software manages to raise my blood pressure and almost makes me scream at it. Trying to do anything useful with this software is an exercise in frustration.

    The problem is really this: You sit back, you narrate a long passage with a fully fleshed-out idea… It converts it into text, and you’d hope that was it? You’d be wrong. So very wrong!

    Here’s an example of me narrating a previous paragraph via Dragon:

    “Even simple things like “Go to and” will often come out at us “Go to and” just like the altar of his review noted. It’s infuriating because those 2 words have a very distinct 1st vowel and don’t see how the software can’t be acceptable when it gets such a vital command wrong!”

    Compare it to what I typed earlier:

    “Even simple things like “Go to end” will often come out as “Go to and” just like the author of this review noted. It’s infuriating because those two words have a very distinct first vowel and I don’t see how the software can be acceptable when it gets such a vital command wrong!”

    Let’s look at the errors:
    * 2x “Go to and” instead of “Go to end”
    * “often come out at us” instead of “often come out as”
    * “the altar” instead of “the author”

    * “his review” instead of “this review”
    * “2” instead of “two”
    * “1st” instead of “first”
    * “and don’t see” instead of “and I don’t see”
    * “can’t be acceptable” instead of “can be acceptable”

    So, out of 53 words, it made 7 errors; 9 if you count the ugly way it spelled “two” and “first,” and that’s a total error rate of ~15%.

    Can you IMAGINE writing a book like that? You have to CONSTANTLY go back and re-read what it has done with your speech and correct everything from subtle errors to MAJOR errors that make the text incomprehensible.

    You’d better be fast as well, because the longer you wait the more confusing it will be to get back to a horribly mis-transcribed sentence like “Tomorrow there’s and bus and and flexible mountain.”


    I ended up using the program for about 1 hour in total and haven’t touched it again in the year I’ve owned it. I just re-visited v2.5 today to figure out if I wanted to “upgrade” to v3 which is currently a $69 offer. However, it’s still an archaic, buggy, garbage product. I am sure it makes lives better for disabled people, but for able-bodied people it’s just an exercise in frustration, churning out incomprehensible garbage no matter how clearly you speak. The worst “feature” is how the most common error it makes is very tiny changes to words or extra/missing words, which subtly change the meaning or messes up the flow of the text, but which take a lot of time and energy to detect when reading the text back again.


    Re-testing v2.5 today has just made me even more determined NOT to purchase v3, because it’s still the same old garbage under the hood. They’ve barely even changed the software and they still want $69 and that’s a DISCOUNTED upgrade fee. They can go screw themselves…

  • Johnny

    I am glad that v3 came out now, though, because re-testing v2.5 made me realize that it’s been sitting unused ever since the purchase and that it’s time to WIPE that garbage from my computer and to suck up the nearly $200 I’ve spent on it. Nuance are not getting another dime from me!

    Thanks for the excellent review, by the way. 😉

  • Johnny

    And… there we go! It’s now been thoroughly wiped from my system. I will never have to think about this garbage again, and removing it has liberated nearly 2 Gigabytes of storage. It’s a win-win for me! Goodbye, Nuance, you jerks! :-)

  • Johnny

    Oh and I hereby officially invite Nuance to use my review in their advertisement material as they see fit:

    Introducing the new Nuance Dictate 3. Just listen to what our customers are saying:

    You’re welcome, Nuance! 😉

  • Maria Sanchez

    It’s not true that the technology is not available. The problem is that Nuance isn’t interested in giving it to us. They spend all their money marketing and scouring the web to hide negative reviews so that no competitors pop up. But the built in voice recognition on my MacBook pro is better than Dragon and it’s free.

  • Maria Sanchez

    Actually, Nuance spends a fortune scouring the web for negative comments and then burying them.

  • btwall60

    They actually get to “hide” the bad reviews :) people will go to great lengths to decieve. I wish the bad ones would their power for good. Like Batman.
    Just asking: Do you sing? I hope that you do. My song in English&Spanish is Aqui Esta La Plata/That’s Where the Money Is” on
    thanks. from B.T. Wall

  • Mark McPherson

    I have used Dragon for years with windows and it’s great. Recently I’ve started using it for mac. It’s not good. It allows me to dictate about 50 words accurately but that’s all. Go any further and the accuracy drops to around zero. It was a waste of money.