I’ve used Dictation software for some 15 years and its a tool I enthusiastically recommend — even if you don’t have issues with typing pain (I do) or a disability. Nuance’s new Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 is the best voice application I’ve yet encountered.
Some might question whether a freestanding dictation program is a worthwhile investment now that Apple has built a Dictate function into OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Mountain Lion Dictate is great, and I’m delighted that Apple has included it in OS X’s feature set, but its untrainability and consequent lower level of accuracy renders it more of a utility for occasional use than a serious workflow enhancer tool, which is what Dragon Dictate is.
In order to install Dragon Dictate for Mac 3, you’ll need at least OS X 10.7 Lion, so Snow Leopard holdouts will be henceforth limited to version 2.5 as their ultimate Dragon Dictate upgrade.
Nuance also recommends a minimum of a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor. My late 2008 unibody MacBook is only 2.0 GHz, so I was interested to see how Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 would perform on it. So far, all seems to be well. Dragon Dictate 3 is at least as lively on the old MacBook as version 2.5 was, and seems to be working fine. I do have 4 GB of RAM, which is twice what Dictate’s minimum system requirement calls for, so that probably helps.
Installation has been simplified. The program now ships on a single DVD and uses a standard Apple installer. The easy install was a another reason for me to be happy that my computer still has a built-in optical drive. The installation took about 10 minutes, and after I typed in the registration code, I was good to go.
In the interest of research, I created a fresh voice profile as if installing the application for the first time. The training process has been simplified considerably. I’ve been using dictation software since the late ’90s, and have read more training stories to various dictation applications than I care to recall, but there’s a new library of selections in Dictate for Mac 3. I chose a little vignette on stage fright by Mark Twain from the several alternatives offered. That took only about 10 minutes, plus another 10 to process (I went away and didn’t time it exactly, so that’s a guess). After that I had the option of completing an interactive tutorial, which I tried a few sections of, and highly recommend if you’re new to dictation software. You can return to the interactive tutorial at any time by selecting it from the Help menu.
Moving on to try out some actual dictation, I was blown away by this application’s transcription accuracy with only that short 10 minute training session. Nuance claims that Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 delivers a 15% improvement in out of the box accuracy compared with version 2.5, and I’m seeing no reason to doubt that. The accuracy and speed are simply amazing.
Other new features include faster, more advanced correction. Simply speak to correct individual words or phrases through a single, easy to understand window. Select an alternate word choice, or spell and train new words. Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 includes a more extensive list of alternative word choices to, so when you make a correction it’s more likely that the word or phrase you intended will be presented as an option, and this improves the more you use the program.
For users with disabilities that make even small amounts of typing difficult, this program is a priceless facilitator, but for just about any user, Dictate’s voice transcription capability is a dream realized — a slick method of entering text that’s usually faster than manual typing. It’s certainly faster than mine (non-touch typist). Nuance’s dictation software has reached a level of speed, accuracy, sophistication, and convenience, that it presents a very attractive alternative to manual typing even for users who have no issues with repetitive stress or typing pain.
With Dragon Dictate for Mac, you can also control your Mac by voice commands as an alternative to keyboard and mouse, using a suite of commands designed to simplify document editing, allowing you to select and delete text, insert new text, capitalize text, and so forth. Proofreading commands leverage powerful Text-to-Speech capabilities built into Mac OS X, and a suite of punctuation commands.
There are also voice navigation capabilities in Dragon Dictate for Mac 3.0 that let users control cursor and mouse actions by voice, some examples being:
– MouseGrid: Placement of the cursor can be accomplished with MouseGrid commands
– Mouse Click: Speak a command, with optional that designate one or more keys such as Command, Option, Shift or Caps Lock
– Mouse Movement: New commands move the mouse pointer by voice
There’s also control in more applications with Dragon Dictate for Mac 3’s Express Editor, which allows you to dictate into a text field that does not have fulltext control. After you’re finished dictating, you can transfer the text from the Express Editor to the desired application quickly and easily by voice.
Transcription of recorded speech has also been enhanced. Simply establish a user profile for a digital voice recorder and have Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 transcribe your recorded voice quickly and easily. MOV, WAV, M4A, MP4, AIF and AIFF files are supported. If you don’t have a digital voice recorder available, you can use Nuance’s free Dragon Recorder app to record your thoughts using an iPhone, iPad, or iPad touch (fourth generation or later). Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 will transcribe the recorded audio files when you’re back on your Mac.
The program also now adapts by detecting your format corrections – abbreviations, numbers, and so forth, – so your dictated text books the way you want it. The vocabulary editor also provides the ability to set alternative written forms of words or phrases (e.g. color versus colour).
Bluetooth support has also been enhanced, with Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 adding support for support for 16kHz wideband Bluetooth wireless headset microphones. When the program detects that the USB dongle of a certified microphone is plugged into the Mac, it will offer “enhanced Bluetooth” as an audio source type that does not require a script reading to get started.
Users who have multiple microphones, such as both wired and wireless headsets, can easily switch between microphones within the same voice profile.
An improvement that users of MacBook Airs with storage space at a premium on SSD flash memory drives or ones with multiple users on a single machine will especially appreciate is that with this version Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 by centralizing its speech engine data, saves valuable drive space.
Also new are more commands from Mission Control. Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 delivers enhanced support for Mission Control, with more commands for many of the most common functions, for example “swipe left” or “swipe right.” also new are built in commands for the new notes and reminders applications in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.
As before, Dictate For Mac 3 has four modes: Dictation Mode, Command Mode, Spelling Mode, and Sleep Mode. Dictation Mode is self-explanatory but while you’re in it you can also issue commands, while in Command Mode the program recognizes and executes only commands and can be considered “Command Only” Mode. Spelling Mode allows users to spell words, names, or acronyms using either natural language or the International Radio Alphabet. Sleep Mode simply lets you toggle the application on and off.
Another Dragon Dictate feature is Phrase Training, which helps increase transcription accuracy by letting you train your voice profile as you proceed. Ongoing training also helps refine Dictate’s ability to recognize what you intended to say. With Phrase Training you’re not stuck with the level of accuracy from your initial voice training until you take the time to read more training stories, and you don’t have to specifically train the recognition engine from a document or selection. Instead, you can train a phrase immediately when you see it was misrecognized. Then the next time you dictate that phrase or word in the phrase, Dragon Dictate is more likely to recognize it accurately.
The way this works is that when you notice the program’s transcription has misinterpreted a word, for example substituting the word “cause” when you intended to say “pause,” while in Dictation Mode say “select the word cause.” Confirm that the word has been correctly selected, then say “pause” and check to ensure that the word actually has been changed to “pause.”
With Phrase Training, speak the phrase you want to train, then open the recognition window, which will display several possibilities from among which you can select the correct phrase using its respective button, or say “edit one” “spelling mode” [ pause ] and spell out your words. Note that sometimes it can take more than one attempt before Dictate learns to properly recognize a particular phrase.
Suffice to say, I love this program. As I noted in the intro, Dragon Dictate for Mac 3.0 is the best dictation software I’ve used yet. However, it’s still not perfect. I wish there was a way to hide the floater control palette when it’s not in use other than closing the application. Working on a 13.3″ MacBook screen, one cherishes every square millimeter of desktop real estate. Also, the program frequently demands a restart after the MacBook sleep/wake cycles.
Another thing that hasn’t been improved, unfortunately, at least to a noticeable degree, is the tediously long time Dragon Dictate takes to start up and load your voice profile and other data. No doubt a newer, faster Mac, especially one with a SSD, would improve substantially on this. It’s nothing new. In my experience dictation applications have always been slow at lumbering to life, but hopefully it’s something that can be improved on in the future.
However, once it’s up and running, even on the 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook with 4 GB of RAM, Dictate is satisfyingly responsive, and the mic headset that comes bundled with Dictate has proved to be an excellent performer. It’s light, adjustable, attractive looking, and it has a conveniently long cord. The mic does require a USB dongle, which does use up a USB port, however, I still prefer a hard-wired mic to any of the wireless mic solutions I’ve tried.
It would also be convenient if Dragon Dictate was able to support email clients other than OS X mail as the default email application. Being a Thunderbird user can generally and non-fan of Mail, that would be a significant enhancement for me.
Overall, however, Dragon Dictate For Mac 3 Rates a 4 out of 5.
A full list of all the new features and capabilities in Dragon Dictate For Mac 3 can be found here:
Dragon Dictate for Mac 3 is available for $199.99 through Nuance’s website as well as its global network of reseller partners, software retailers and professional sales organizations.
For more information, visit:
Dragon Dictate for Mac 3.0, with Bluetooth Headset from Amazon