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Review: Dragon Dictate 3 for Mac

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November 6, 2012

Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 is available in both boxed and digital versions

Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 is available in both boxed and digital versions

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Nuance Communications has updated its leading speech-to-text application Dragon Dictate for Mac to version 3, and Gizmag goes hands-on to investigate whether it can finally offer software-based dictation which is both practical and appealing, when compared to manual typing.

Dragon Dictate 3 for Mac commands a hefty price tag, and though it's available in both boxed and digital versions, Nuance offers no discount on the latter, despite it not including the documentation and wired headset which comes with the boxed version. This review is based upon the digital version, which should be identical to its boxed counterpart, except for the lack of headset.

Getting started

The speech calibration process

Following a painless installation process which requires a download of roughly 1.8 GB, Dragon Dictate then presents a series of texts to be read aloud in order to calibrate the software to the user's voice. This step is very much recommended, and I noticed a marked improvement in voice recognition after returning again later and slogging through another calibration text comprising a couple of children’s stories.

Without a headset, I simply spoke into the built-in microphone on my 2011 MacBook Pro, and this was activated by clicking on a floating icon which is also present in the menubar. Despite my initial concerns, the internal mic of the MacBook Pro is up to the task of picking up my voice, though a headset would probably perform better in a noisier work environment.

Dictation

Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 can open applications with a voice command

When dictating, it’s important to speak as clearly as possible, and articulate all necessary punctuation, such as “comma” and “exclamation mark." Perhaps stronger regional accents could give the software fits, but for what it’s worth, Dragon Dictate handled my own Welsh accent very well on the whole, even converting the words into U.S. English spelling without demanding U.S.-centric commands like “period” in place of my own preferred “full stop.”

While testing Dragon Dictate 3 over the course of a few days, I found the most difficult part was altering my own habits and getting used to speaking thoughts out loud, rather than tapping fingers on a keyboard. There are also a few eccentricities which are bound to pop up when using any speech to text software, such as Dragon’s occasional inability to decide whether I wish to say “for,” “four,” or “4." Issues like this can be worked out in Dragon Dictate's expansive options, but they slow down the initial adjustment period.

In the Dragon Dictate promotional material, Nuance boasts an increased accuracy to a level of 99 percent, but this was definitely not the case when testing the software with a microphone built into a computer. However, it was still impressively accurate and required relatively little hands-on editing compared to earlier versions I've tried. As always, your mileage may vary.

Editing via voice command is improved, though remains unwieldy compared to keyboard and mo...

Dragon Dictate does take a stab at offering voice-controlled editing facilities and these are about as good as one could reasonably expect. However, editing by voice is still clumsy and time-consuming compared to keyboard input, and involves the user making use of commands like “correct [word],” which Dragon Dictate then searches for and offers alternatives to.

Dragon Dictate will insert text into the simple built-in text pad which comes with the software, in addition to word processors such as Apple’s Pages and Microsoft Word. Emails can also be dictated, as can text in a web browser, such as Firefox or Safari.

Everything else

Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 sports support for the OS X Mountain Lion Notes and Reminders app...

Beyond simple dictation, there are several other useful features in Dragon Dictate, like system commands, for example. Saying “open Firefox” or “open Mail” will cause those applications to duly launch, and there’s some further interaction possible too, as saying “new email” also performs that task. Increased integration with third-party apps in this regard would be most welcome, though presumably Nuance are at the mercy of developers here.

To enable easier proofreading, Dragon Dictate can be ordered to read back the previously entered text, and this is done so with the usual “Alex” voice, which will be familiar to anyone who has heard OS X’s built-in voice.

Though I spent relatively little time testing it, I came away impressed by Dragon Dictate’s transcribe feature and hope to put it to the test in the future with longer dictaphone recordings. To use this, one simply points the software to the relevant audio file, and Dragon Dictate does its thing.

Finally, there's also an iOS app tohat can be used to configure an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch as a Wi-Fi-connected microphone. Using the iOS app in this way, I was able to speak into Apple's bundled iPhone earbuds as a basic external headset. The system performed well and there was little noticeable lag.

Conclusion

When one considers that Nuance doesn’t offer a demo or trial version of any kind, it’s a big leap of faith to take in order to see whether or not Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 will fit into your workflow, especially when there’s already a built-in dictation feature within OS X Mountain Lion. But in this case you get what you pay for, and Dragon Dictate is far more advanced than Apple's software.

Dragon Dictate does sport a steep learning curve, which can seem overwhelming at first use, but once this is surmounted, it eventually does work much like you would imagine, and could well be a boon for those who wish to cut down on the risk of Repetitive Strain Injury, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other related conditions, in addition to computer users with accessibility challenges.

The high price of the software (currently US$179.99, and that's reduced) prevents me promoting it as a definite solution for everyone, but providing you have the required funds and patience, Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 could well prove an invaluable addition to your computer setup.

Product page: Dragon Dictate for Mac

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About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road.

  All articles by Adam Williams
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5 Comments

Thanks for this article. I've been wanting to get my hands on it but thought it was a huge leap of faith, especially if I'm not that sure it can do what I want. I want to collect my thoughts anywhere, laptop, desktop, iPad, iPhone, etc seamlessly. Ideas strike anywhere and not just in front of your computer. In the meantime there is the free IOS Dragon system, that while limited does most of what I need. It's just slow and like I said, very limited.

For that price, I'm sure it's a great product but I won't spend that until I've had some hands on experience. Silly about the same price for the online version. They need to modernize their practice.

Nicolas Zart
7th November, 2012 @ 09:12 am PST

Thanks for the great review! I've been using Dragon 3 for Mac for about a week, and I pretty much agree with everything you said, but there one thing that's important to me, that you failed to touch on. Honestly, I'm blown away with the technical ability of this program, which can be used in a very basic way almost right away.

The real problem is that although Nuance has obvious talent in the area of technical software creation, their ability to produce an effective owners manual is extremely poor, in fact if I were the company I'd be flat embarrassed by their manual. It's not that it doesn't continue information, it's the fact that there's no index, no effective way to navigate the manual to locate specific information (other than a fairly vague table of contents), and in some places it refers you to other certain areas, and never tells you where to find those areas; in fact at least once, I'm quite sure that the area that they referred to doesn't even exist. It's sort of like that manual was written by a bunch of separate people, and just thrown together. To make matters worse, if you try to print the manual out, which I like to do, their page numbering does not match the actual number of the series of pages, so it's extremely difficult to print out a portion of the manual, at least by designating page numbers desired. Additionally, some "idiot" decided to use a gold, or light yellow, high light for the commands, and they are near impossible to read in the print out.

For this kind of money, Nuance needs to hire a professional manual designer, and allow them control to create a usable manual; when that happens, I'd love to recommend this product, but certainly not until that happens!

Zobsi1
10th December, 2012 @ 07:27 am PST

Well, based on your review and one other, I'm about to take the leap from Dragon Dictate version 2.5 to version 3. I almost feel that Nuance owes me a free copy because Dragon Dictate version 2.5 has so consistently and quickly degraded to uselessness every time I try to use it even though I have 8 GB of RAM and a 2011 model Mac book Pro with plenty of space and plenty of power running Mac OS X 10.7.5 which ought to be a perfect environment. Nonetheless, I am taking the leap because I really like how the product works–when it does work.

Wish me luck!

Dave Keys
21st January, 2013 @ 10:46 am PST

I bought Dragon Dictate 3.0 the first day possible--I was so excited about seeing the improvements. Well, it is incompatible with my Word for Mac 2008 and Lion--v. 10.7.5 and I cannot dictate into Word whatsoever. Email and Pages, yes--but it doesn't work with Word The bother of dictating into a little window, then copy/pasting into Word for someone who is a full time writer is not worth the time. I found a whole forum of people with the same problem who are not happy! Hopefully, Nuance will take notice of this and figure out an update soon. I miss using speech recognition!

Roxanne N Rustand
23rd January, 2013 @ 10:42 am PST

Adam, as you are a music writer, did you test Dragon Dictate to manage Logic or Garageband? Is it possible to customize the commands?

Emanuele Lopopolo
23rd March, 2013 @ 02:06 am PDT
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