Speech recognition has been ‘the application to change the way we interact with our computers’ for the last 15 years or so. Over those years, buyouts of one company by another have reduced the number of developers until Nuance, formerly ScanSoft, formerly Dragon is now the only mainstream purveyor, other than Microsoft (in Vista). The Vista speech recognition is worth trying if you haven't used the technology before, but Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) will give you more accurate results and has wider application.
DNS 10 is the latest iteration and claims several innovations to differentiate it from version 9. There are three main editions of the application: Standard, Preferred and Professional. Specialist medical and legal versions of the program exist, too, as well as two different versions of the Preferred edition: Wireless and Mobile.
DNS 10 Standard (£80) is good for dictation into mainstream programs, such as Word and WordPerfect, as well as controlling web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox and AOL. If you want control over a wider range of applications, DNS 10 Preferred (£150) also works with all of Office and e-mail clients like Outlook and Outlook Express. Finally, the Professional version (£758) adds network compatibility, multiple vocabularies and a full scripting language, to define your own commands.
We're going to concentrate on DNS 10 Preferred Wireless (approx £200), which now includes a Bluetooth headset in the box. The Plantronics Calisto headset replaces the DECT wireless headset, which was supplied with DNS 9. The older DECT one included a cradle and worked via USB, but also had a mains power supply, which was needed to charge the device.
Now everything’s done from a USB Bluetooth adapter and a separate USB lead that you plug directly into the headset for charging. This is obviously quite a lot cheaper to include than the DECT headset, and would be more convenient, if it gave adequate speech quality. Unfortunately, the review sample we tried gave a lower speech quality index and when we listened to the input, was noticeably more distorted than the headset with DNS 9.
The big feature of the previous version of DNS was that it needed no training and could be used straight out of the box. As we said at the time, you would get better results if you did invest the 20 minutes or so in basic training and this is still true with version 10. It’s also worthwhile letting the program look through your documents and emails to build up a personalised vocabulary of the words you’re likely to be using.