Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Premium review
When you reach version 13 of a program, you start to wonder what it can do that's new. With speech recognition, you just want it to recognise what you say and set it down on a screen. In fact version 13 of Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking does manage two significant improvements in what it offers.
You'll appreciate the first as soon as you run the package. You no longer need to perform any training.
While you can still, optionally, read from Lewis Carroll or Scott Adams, you can also jump straight in and start dictating. Nuance claims that the software's 15 percent more accurate, but since we were already well into the last decile of accuracy, this represents only a small increase.
In use, the program is remarkably good at transcribing speech, even with comparatively technical terms, as found in this review anyway. It still sometimes makes ‘an' for ‘and' types of error, but for the most part, one error in every two or three paragraphs is about it.
Each iteration of the program seems to have its own idiosyncrasies, which may be tied to individual voice. Dragon 12 often had trouble with ‘full stop' from this reviewer and the new version occasionally produces the word ‘stop' rather than ‘.', too.
The other breakthrough is a move away from having to use a headset. In previous versions, you could use the cabled headset provided in the box, an optional Bluetooth headset or a voice recording from a recorder, media player or phone. Now, you can also use the built-in microphone in a laptop.
Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Premium: how good is it at recognising your speech?
As long as you're sat in front with it reasonably close, recognition is claimed to be good, as long as background noise can be kept down. Fine for a hotel room, not so much in an open-plan office.
We tried it on a Dell Latitude E5500, hardly cutting edge, but with a suitably high enough specification to run the software (Nuance says 2.2 GHz dual-core processor or faster).
Dragon 13 did very well. Speaking at around 40 cm from the laptop, a natural distance for use, there was little noticeable difference in accuracy from using a desktop PC with a cabled headset.
Other innovations include a redesigned control bar (pictured below), which minimises itself to take up less space on the screen. In its reduced state it shows whether the microphone is live but little else. It then enlarges when you mouse over it to provide quick access to vocabulary, audio and other controls.
Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 can't use user profiles from earlier versions directly, but it can convert them. However, when we tried this, it only managed to convert two out of four old profiles successfully.
Nuance has also revamped the Dragon sidebar, now called the Learning Centre, which offers context-sensitive help and lists available commands when you move between applications or from dictation to command modes. It also provides access to the new interactive tutorials.
Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 works with more Windows programs than previously, so you can now dictate emails into Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or iCloud, through IE, Chrome and Firefox browsers. It also accepts dictation into OpenOffice/Libre Writer 4.1 and WordPerfect X7, although it doesn't offer any further control on these two.
There used to be several choices for anybody wanting to use speech recognition on a PC. Now, there's pretty much only Dragon Naturally Speaking, but version 13 is still innovative. The ability to use built-in microphones on Windows laptops and tablets works well and gives extra flexibility, but the software still demands a fairly high spec portable.