You have a report due soon and it needs to be typed up quick or you won't meet the line. You've been at the computer slaving yourself for hours so you decide to take a break but while in the kitchen making a snack, you cut yourself! Your hand hurts and you're left with one hand to type up the rest of the long report. You can only type half as quickly now and cannot finish on time, so what do you do? Use your feet of course! Err
I mean, your voice!
Yes! Type using your voice and Nuances Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 (I'll call it DNS for short) will let you do just that! Now before you all start shouting at your keyboards and waiting for the words to appear on screen, the idea is you speak into a microphone and the software will recognise what you're saying and type what you say. This is called 'Voice Recognition' and is great for much needed finger breaks after long periods at the computer (that or simply laziness).
There are various flavours, such as Standard, Preferred, Professional, and Mobile. I bought the DNS Preferred Wireless Edition and it is bundled with a Plantronics CS60 Wireless headset. It cost me £118.66 from Misco.co.uk and although quite expensive, I think this was a bargain because DNS9 alone can cost £100 with a high quality, but wired headset, but the Plantronics CS60 headset isnt just any headset. Unlike the usual bundled accessories like the cheap headphones bundled with a new MP3 player, the CS60 retails for £150 new so buying the software and then this headset separately could set you back £250. However, there are official copies of the software on its own on eBay for around £50 if you dont mind hunting for a different headset.
INSTALLATION AND SET UP
The Plantronics headset came with a charging cradle, which is easily assembled by attaching the cradle to the base to stand it up. I left the headset charging for about 8 hours first time via the mains power adapter. It comes with various attachments to let you wear the headset the way you like, one of which is an adjustable over-the-head, headband, which is quite comfortable but it also comes with several over-the-ear (like what many Bluetooth headsets have) attachments in several sizes. The headset unit itself is quite big (but not too heavy) with a long extension at the front for the microphone but the attachments still hold it firmly to my ear and the microphone near my mouth, assuming Im sitting up straight if using the over-the-ear attachments. No software is required for the headset and it just plugs into my computer via the USB cable.
Installing the software is the usual next, next, accept user agreement so I can't sue the software company if the software blows up my computer, next, customise install since I want extra dialects, next and finish. DNS will then check the volume and audio quality of your microphone by getting you to read two passages of text. You then need to do basic training, which involves reading more passages of text. There are different difficulty levels but the very first one is simple and only takes 5 minutes to complete but other passages last between 10 minutes to even over an hour. They dont specify length but Ive done some in the past with an older version of DNS. However, they do let you skip pages and end the session early if you dont have the time for the whole thing. Ive done about 30 minutes of training, 25 minutes of which is reading text passages and the odd adding of words to the dictionary. Ive basically just let the software learn as I go along but only have to make the occasional correction so I find the accuracy very impressive.
Thirty minutes of training should be the minimum amount of training you do as Ive found that after reading the shortest passages taking about 5-10 minutes doesnt let me use the software effectively at all as many words are misrecognised. I believe the amount of training required before being able to use the software effectively will vary from person to person with factors such ones accent, how clearly and loudly they are able to speak, as well as the headset (if not using the CS60) affecting the recognition. According to one of the passages, you should speak as if you were a newsreader on TV, which makes perfect sense to me.
Next, (with your permission) it scans through all your Office documents and e-mails to adapt itself to your writing style (this is recommended). This can take a few minutes or much longer depending on number of documents you have and the speed of your computer. You can also manually select documents to scan later, inside the Accuracy Centre, if you have a document with lots of new words and names. The Accuracy Centre is where you can do further training and other things to improve the accuracy of the voice recognition. These include adding new words to the dictionary, sound quality checking, etc. There are useful keyboard shortcuts, which can let you tell Dragon whether you want to dictate or use commands as well as to bring up correction options. This is usually hold down CTRL for commands and hold down SHIFT for dictation in case DNS gets confused over what you want to do and starts bringing up menus (i.e. File menu in MS Word) when you start dictating. All shortcuts and keystrokes to control the Dragon Bar can be changed in the DNS options.
The interactive tutorial teaches you how to use DNS9, effectively by demonstrating and then letting you try a series of 14 short exercises. They teach you how to use punctuation, selecting words, navigating around documents, paragraphs, inserting new lines, corrections, commands, etc. They all have step by step instructions and you can just read the instructions word for word to complete the exercises. I found it very useful and learnt a few new tricks. It can be found in the 'Help' menu in the Dragon Bar but pops up right after the first training.
Different users should use their own profiles and separate training to avoid confusing DNS. Once a profile is set up, it can be backed up, restored, put on disc so it can be transferred to another computer or restored after a fresh install of Windows in case your computer dies on you (don't forget to back up!). This way, you wouldn't have to do the training again or re-add words you have added to your dictionary, which is great and well thought out as for people whove completed hours of training and made lots of use of DNS (it learns as you use it) would be very frustrated to have to start from scratch.
Program loading time can be a bit slow on slower systems but you set it to run the most used profile in the System Tray on Windows start for it to load more quickly. Each time you close DNS9, you're asked if you want to save changes to the profile. In other words, remember what it has 'learnt' about the way you write in this session so it can be more accurate next time it is run. The saving process is a bit slow for my liking but not a problem if youre not in a rush. When starting up DNS, if you trained the program with the wireless headset, then it needs to be plugged in before you load up the program, or it complains and wont open the profile. I find this a bit annoying as I dont always have the headset plugged in since it takes over the soundcard with its own, hence no sound out of my speakers for other applications. You can plug it in after and then manually open the profile though. The headset works as long as the cradle / receiver is plugged into one of my computers USB ports and so long as the headset has power and is turned on. The headset has an on/off button and a simple up/down volume control trigger at the back so is extremely easy to use.
I just load up any program that requires text entry and then speak to type up what I say. So long as I speak clearly, the program can recognise most of what I say. It types out what I say on the document where the cursor (black flashing vertical line) is. A good noise-cancelling headset is necessary since cheap microphones pick up background noises (even keyboard taps) and would type gibberish, but I got the Plantronics CS60 with DNS9. Its a Radio Frequency (RF) based headset so it has quite a good range and produces excellent quality sound output. I use the headset to listen to music sometimes and I can walk to another room and still hear the music with great clarity and no sizzling noises, as if Im hearing the sound straight out of speaker. Its a bit tinny with music with bass but its not supposed to be good for music. The range is quoted up to 100m and 50m in office environments. I get around 10m due to the walls but its more than enough since I would normally be at the computer anyway unless Im popping to the kitchen for snacks.
The input from the headset is also excellent because of how accurately the recognition is when I use it (DNS9 plays its part too). My only two quibbles is with its lack of standby battery life and how all sound is taken over by the CS60 sender/receiver. When the headset is not on the cradle charging, I usually find that theres no power the next time I want to use it, and this is when the headset is turned off. To use it, I would need to leave it on the cradle all the time (which wastes energy) or start charging it about half an hour before I want to use it. Charging time is very quick and battery life is quoted at 9 hours (which sounds about right), when the device is fully charged so thats not a problem. Im not keen on the headset taking over the sound because it means I always need to unplug the headset after use if I want sound out of my speakers. I sometimes forget to unplug it and I end up with no sound out of my speakers as it is channelled through the headset.
Words that sound similar, such as 'weather' and 'whether' may get mixed up. The best way to correct this is to use the correction features. Just say 'Correct that' and it'll give you a list of choices (keyboard shortcuts or clicking on the button can also bring up the list). If the correct word is not in the list, you can say 'Spell That' and then spell it out letter by letter. Unfortunately, sometimes going back to your routes and correcting it with your keyboard can be quicker when it just doesn't want to give me the correct letters! For example, I had to spell the word 'Daemon' out and it would not recognise the letter 'a' for some reason. However, I resolved this by completing further training.
Although it misrecognises words sometimes, the program does learn each time you use it and when you make corrections, and so becomes more efficient in time and I do find that after correcting misrecognitions that it gets the right word the next time. You can also complete further training or teach it certain words, as well as add new words and names to the dictionary (even swear words!). You can even teach it your email address, for example saying My Email Address adds your email once you've trained it to do so. There are lots of other features like reading selected text out loud and transcribing pre-recorded dictations in the .WAV format but I've found that it is quite picky with what WAV files you use. With punctuation, you need to know the name of the characters. i.e. full stop, ampersand (&), comma (,) but these can be looked up in the help file if needed.
- Type faster
- Learns as you use it as well as further accuracy training options.
- Lots of useful commands.
- Lots of features.
- Less typing so reduces risk of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury)
- Headset input and output sound quality is excellent
- Headset is RF and has good range
- Requires fairly fast computer
- Need to train software first as well as learn to use to be effective.
- Can misrecognise words. (99% accuracy)
- Sometimes frustrating to correct mistakes.
- Does not recognise context so can type wrong words (easily corrected)
- You need to be in a quiet environment (no listening to music or watching TV!)
- A bit expensive for some (but this edition is still a good deal)
- The headset has poor standby time
I have also used DNS 7 and 8 and aside from the icon and Dragon Bar facelift and the company changing from Scansoft to Nuance, DNS9 does seem to be more accurate and a lot speedier with the recognition. The improved accuracy could be due to the Plantronics headset as well as the software but even so, Im loving the results of the combination of the two. It's not just voice recognition for typing. There are so many other cool commands such as:
- Opening file menu ("File" or "File Menu") or similar for other program menus
- Navigate websites in Internet Explorer ([Read the link] or say "Link" then read [the number] that appears next to the link you want)
- Switch to different programs ("Switch to [say program name]")
- Cut / Copy / paste ("Cut That", "Copy That", "Paste That")
- Close windows ("Close Window")
- Microphone control commands ("Go to Sleep", "Wake Up", "Turn off Microphone")
- Make my breakfast ("Scrambled eggs on toast"), and loads more!
Okay, maybe not that last one but there's plenty. DNS9 can easily speed up your work rate once you know how to use it effectively. It's great for giving your fingers a break or using it to work faster. It may even be ideal for those with disabilities and can't type quickly (or at all). Once you overcome the disadvantages, it's definitely well worth having. Its accurate most of the time and the software comes with lots of useful features. Whether youre a home or office user, so long as you have a bit of patience, it can be an incredibly useful piece of software if you type a lot. I highly recommend DNS9 and especially the Wireless Edition as the headset works great with DNS and because wired bundles cost just as much.
Thanks for reading!
Minimum System Requirements:
- Intel® Pentium® / 1 GHz processor (for example, Pentium® M, Pentium® 4), or equivalent AMD® processor - Faster processors will yield faster performance
- 512 MB RAM or 1 GB RAM for Windows Vista
- 1 GB free hard disk space
- Microsoft® Windows® XP (SP1 or higher) Home and Professional, 2000 (SP4 or higher), Vista (32-bit)
- Creative® Labs Sound Blaster® 16 or equivalent sound card supporting 16-bit recording
- Microsoft® Internet Explorer 5 or higher (free download available at www.microsoft.com)
- CD-ROM drive (required for installation)
- Nuance-approved noise-cancelling headset microphone (included)
- A web connection is required for activation
- A free USB port