Dragon NaturallySpeaking

I am on the verge of abandoning Dragon NaturallySpeaking. No software use should result in a significant loss of hair and I’m pulling them out by the roots. I initially thought that it was just me being stupid. I have owned the software for almost a year now and yet I still haven’t managed to utilise it successfully. The only function I am using regularly is dictation mode and even that isn’t going all that well. Hundreds of hours have gone into dictation and still every fifth word is incorrect. I have invested in a decent microphone, actually make that two – the software can hear me perfectly, but still doesn’t understand me.

The worst by far is the menu which is woefully inadequate. It contains only four drop down menus, each in turn, quite useless. The first bar contains 8 commands: (i) toggle speaker (for which there are two other icons as well), (ii) prepare user for dictation – which is always greyed out, not that the really matters, (iii) – (vi) is open, open recent, close and manage user, followed by (vii) save and (viii) close.

The second bar is labeled ‘tools’. First option is accuracy centre – great for set up and training, but not really relevant to actual use. Second option is command browser. Possible the most useful section for usage, but unfortunately, I haven’t progressed past the dictation level as the speech recognition component find it impossible to distinguish between dictation and commands. If I enable commands, it starts to randomly open, close, edit and delete things while I’m merrily dictating away. As the accuracy is still awful, I’m hesitant to use commands. If it types the wrong words, fine, but once it has access to do other things, I’m less happy to put up with miscommunication. On the brave occasion where I have ventured into this section after backing up all files, I’ve found it quite overwhelming. It’s lists within lists and I’m not sure where to start and how I’d remember it all and if I don’t, I’m sure I’ll never find that particular command in that particular list ever again. The third section opens a dictation box (no thanks, I’ve got wordpad already) and the fourth a Dragonpad (again, I have notepad, not required, thanks). Administrative settings is greyed out and although I’m the administrator, I haven’t been able to get in to that at all. Lastly is options providing lists of options I find inadequate. It’s nice to be able to customize a few things, but setting up a handful of hotkeys and choosing where the bar should be is not really what I want to change. I want to change the text size (can’t), the commands (can’t), the name of my computer (can’t) and am left a little dissatisfied.

The third drop-down menu is called ‘words’ and you’ve guessed it, it’s all about teaching the program new words. There’s new, edit, train, import and export options. Great, but still doesn’t helping really using it. There’s an option to view recognition history and then there’s the modes: normal, dictation, command, numbers and spell. I’m personally pretty stuck in dictation mode.

The fourth and last drop down is ‘help’ and it’s not what I expected. It offers me help through a help contents file (press F1) which crashes my computer every time. It moves on to a performance assistant – necessarily when you have performance issues – but otherwise useless. We then have ‘tip of the day’, sample commands and tutorials. I’ve not found any of the above illuminating at all. There’s an online section that gives me nightmares – I’ve tried to check for updates, tried to register, tried to see what naturallyspeaking on the web is all about, but I’m thrown into a www-loop with no real information and no exit. And last but not least, we have the usual ‘about’ bit.

I find it frustrating that the majority of the program is about getting it to work, i.e. accuracy, and still I’m having accuracy issues. I find it even more frustrating that in my head, training the program in voice recognition and using it are two different things. I would have liked to have a more simplistic introduction to commands instead of a complete alphabetical list.

I also have a list of pet peeves:

  • It’s S-L-O-W. It pauses for 30 seconds plus every three words. I can type faster with one finger!
  • It repeatedly has this pop-up “The recogniser has encountered an untterance that is too long to process” – should I stop breathing as this is the only sound it could possibly be picking up on?
  • The menu is inadequate. It has only four drop down bars and each is as useless as the next. I want relevent information under my fingertips not imbedded obscurely in lists of alphabetical lists.
  • It slows down my whole computer. If Dragon is open, I spend more time tapping my fingers whilst waiting than actually using my computer.
  • It uses a foreign language. I don’t say ‘strike that’ or’ scratch that’, or ‘accelerate playback’.
  • I can’t swap between the modes with ease. Other speech recognition programs that I have used with more success implemented a system that any phrase preceded by the word ‘computer’ was a command and anything not, was to be dictated. That worked for me. No universal command mode and it all falls apart.

Despite the frustration, I’m still using Dragon, for now. It’s the third I have tried and although I did bond a little with the second, I had to let it go after the free trial expired and it was too costly. I bought Dragon because it was affordable in a half-price sale and came recommended by everybody I know that uses speech recognition software. If this is the best on the market, I guess speech recognition is still in its infancy.

I vow to train a little more, be a little more lenient and try to practice ‘normal mode on’, ‘normal mode off’, ‘dictation mode on’, ‘dictation mode off’, ‘command mode on’. No, hang on, there is no ‘off’, only an ‘on. Except for ‘microphone off’. ‘Microphone off!’