Equally worthy of praise are NaturallySpeaking 11.5’s refined windows and sidebar. Long-time users will likely minimise both, but for new users they are a godsend. Most useful is the sidebar that displays commands and tips, which automatically change depending on the program you are using. For example if you’re using Word the sidebar will display editing, formatting, Office Ribbon and file commands. Switch to a web browser and the sidebar will display browsing and social networking commands while in Windows Explorer this changes again to highlight common computer browsing tools and how to manipulate windows and switch between programs.
As for the pop up windows, they follow a similar system to the sidebar adapting dynamically and showing only contextually-relevant information. A major improvement is the correction window, which not only allows you to make edits, but also spells out words. It also always displays a list of likely alternative words meaning most of the time you can select the correction option by simply saying the number alongside it.
So how does it all work? The good news is – remarkably well. What will strike new users and even those who own v11.0 is how quick this new version of NaturallySpeaking is to train itself to the voice of a new user. An obligatory section of reading is required, but it lasts roughly five minutes and cleverly one of the passage options is a basic guide on how to use the product allowing you to kill two birds with one stone. Nuance claims accuracy of up to 99 per cent and what recognition errors it does make the company says have been reduced by up to 35 per cent (that’s 35 per cent of one per cent). While this boast is incredibly bold we would say it is achievable.
Having completed just the five-minute training we found accuracy to be around 97 per cent when dictating 100 words. Of course training doesn’t just stop after this five-minute reading. NaturallySpeaking continually learns from every correction to refine its profile database (you can have multiple profiles for different users on the same computer and have it scan your email and documents to learn your writing style). After a few days we found reading another 100 word section produced 99 per cent accuracy with NaturallySpeaking even detecting when we mumbled or slightly mispronounced certain words.
A great deal of credit here goes to the context aware system which looks at the whole of a sentence to determine which words you mean, eg: “cereal” not “serial” would be picked if it detected the food “eat” or “eating”, and it knows to capitalise “Windows” when “Microsoft” precedes it. Because of this Dragon NaturallySpeaking works best when you speak in whole sentences, regardless of speed, as opposed to speaking a few words at a time and watch to see if it got them right. This can seem strange at first, especially for more formal work, but gets easier with practice and we found the concentration it involves made us focus more and reduce our tendency to get distracted from the task at hand.
Given Nuance powers Siri, NaturallySpeaking also understands a great deal of natural language meaning there are a few instances where exacting formal language must be used to carry out a specific task.