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Hands on with ... Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium

Blazing speed and precision accuracy

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Kat Orphanides
24 Jul 2014
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We have a very productive chat with the latest voice recognition software

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 brings the company’s latest and most accurate speech recognition technology to your Windows PC. With a faster set-up process and support for more applications than ever, we’ve taken a hands-on look at its new and improved features.

READY TO GO

While previous versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking required you to read out a passage of text so the software could tune itself to your voice, the latest version 13 has no such requirements. Voice recognition works instantly, without training. You can simply install the software and start speaking, and we were immediately impressed by the accuracy of its transcription.

The microphones built into the latest laptops and all-in-one PCs are far better now, so Nuance has implemented streamlined detection and support for a wide range of integrated and external mics. If there’s only one mic connected to your PC, then Dragon will use it automatically. If you have multiple microphones, you get to choose which you’d like to use.

This means you’re free to sit back and dictate to your laptop in a relaxed environment or put on a headset for increased sound isolation if your neighbours, like ours, decide to spend their day using power tools. As ever, a headset is supplied with the boxed software bundle, so there’s no need to spend on additional hardware.

WRITE, EDIT, PROOF

Complementing Dragon NaturallySpeaking’s remarkably accurate transcription of the spoken word is a set of powerful voice-controlled editing options to help you refine your prose. A fast and intuitive set of commands makes it easy to select words for replacement, move your cursor around the page or add formatting to text. Want to delete your last sentence? Just say “delete last sentence”.

Nuance calls this Full Text Control and it’s available in a wide range of paid-for and free desktop applications, including the current versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook, WordPerfect and Open Office Writer. You can still dictate into unsupported applications, either directly or using Dragon’s built-in dictation box for full editing. To help you correct and proof-read your work, Dragon has a built-in speech synthesiser, which clearly reads back a block of text or an entire document to help you spot errors and awkward turns of phrase.

^Full voice editing is available in a wide range of popular office applications and web browsers

Everyone uses language differently, and one of Dragon NaturallySpeaking’s greatest strengths is that it adapts to your own manner of speech. Although it no longer needs training to recognise your voice, both the Home and Premium versions learn as they go, adapting themselves to your vocabulary and personal writing style.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium can even learn from existing documents. To build its knowledge of the words you use, Dragon can analyse your sent emails, including those from popular webmail services such as Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com. You can also feed the program individual documents, entire folders and now even Google Docs to teach it any unfamiliar words, acronyms and names you use. You can even ask it to take note of unexpected capitalisations, often found in brand names. Once Dragon’s found unknown words, you can choose the ones you’d like it to add to its vocabulary. This proved particularly useful for importing the technical terms and unusual product names we use in our reviews. You can also add words and train Dragon in their pronunciation using the program’s new vocabulary editor.

^ After analysing your existing documents, Dragon Premium lets you choose which words you’d like to add to its dictionary

CONTROL YOUR WORLD

As well as allowing you to dictate documents and rapidly note down ideas without having to use the keyboard, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 can also control your desktop. You can use voice commands to launch programs, access the Start screen and click specific buttons.

While you could use this to give you completely hands-free control of your desktop, we found it particularly easy to use these commands alongside our normal mouse, keyboard and touchscreen interfaces. We loved being able to open a new browser tab with a keyboard shortcut and then simply dictate the URL we wished to visit.

^ Dragon’s polished and updated interface is as unobtrusive as ever, but it looks and feels smarter and works seamlessly with Windows 8.1

As with previous versions of the software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 uses plug-ins and extensions to integrate with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome web browsers, giving you access to full dictation and editing commands in online text boxes. You can also post directly to Facebook and Twitter with a single command straight from your desktop: ideal if you want to share a paragraph you’ve just written.

^ Browser extensions bring Dragon’s full dictation, editing and voice control capabilities to your favourite web browsers

Within your browser, you can also use voice commands to tick boxes, select images, move between text fields, open new tabs, select from pull-down menus and navigate web pages. Once again, these navigation features are a powerful companion to conventional human interface devices. As for dictation, Dragon will happily type your words into Google Docs or your favourite webmail provider, just as it would in a desktop office application.

THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 is available in Home and Premium editions. Both use the same accurate speech recognition engine and both can control your desktop. However, the Premium version includes a few extra features. We’ve already looked at its ability to import words from existing emails or documents, but you can also export word lists as text files that can be easily imported by other users. This is particularly useful if you’re working as part of a team with a shared style guide or technical vocabulary.

^ You can even manually add words to Dragon’s vocabulary

The Premium version of the software also supports importing files from a digital voice recorder. The accuracy of these transcriptions depends on the quality of the recording, and you’re encouraged to make a training recording using your recorder to ensure that Dragon’s analysis of future audio notes is as precise as possible. The ability to import recordings made on the move is excellent if your work takes you out in the field regularly or if you just fancy getting a bit of thinking done in your local park.

Another of the Premium Edition's key extra features is the ability to create custom voice commands to insert an image or a string of text. It’s useful for any content that you use repeatedly, such as your contact details, account information or a company logo.

^ Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium lets you associate formatted text and images with a vocal shortcut

BUY IT NOW

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium is available now from Nuance for £139.99, while the Home version comes out in August, priced at £79.99. If you already use Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium version 11 or 12, you can upgrade to the latest edition from £79.99.

Order a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium from Nuance to be entered into a prize draw to win one of two sleek and powerful Acer Aspire S7 laptops.
 
 
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