Dragon Dictate review: speech recognition from Nuance for Mac
Update: I am now using Dragon Dictate version 3, and it is much better than version 2.5.2 reviewed below, but some of the bugs mentioned in this review are still in version 3.
I was one of the beta testers for version 3 and reported the bugs, but as of now, November 2012, Dragon Dictate is still rather frustrating to use at times.
I’m using version 2.5.2 of Dragon Dictate for Mac with a Plantronics noise cancelling headset I bought from ebay.
My MacBook Pro has 8gb of RAM and a 512gig solid state drive. It has a 2.3Ghz i7 processor. So it’s very fast.
Dragon Dictate’s speech recognition is excellent. Really excellent.
However… there are many silly inconsistencies in the software which make Dragon Dictate a real nuisance to use at times.
I find Dragon such a nuisance to use at times that I started noting down all the daft things it did, so…
Here are 45 ‘weirdnesses’ I’ve come across recently…
1. I’m a Brit. If I say “I now weigh 120 pounds” Dragon types out “I weigh £120”.
2. If I say: “I am not the first person to point out this bug in Scribe”, Dragon types ‘1st person’ with no option to choose ‘first person’. Equally it types “I have a 6th sense about things” whereas I’d like the fourth word to be “sixth”.
3. I said the word ‘reader’. The cursor went back to the first word of the document and a spoken voice said ‘are’! This happened twice!
4. If I say a phrase, then say ‘new line’, whether the first word of the next thing I say appears in caps or not seems inconsistent. I find this to be distracting.
5. Whether the first letter after a colon is a capital letter or not seems also inconsistent.
6. Sometimes, after a dash, the first letter is capitalised for no reason. “This is great–Ultimately…” Yuck!
I dictated the exact same sentence again later and this time the word “ultimately” was lower case. So the transcription is inconsistent.
7. When I say “I’m using Dragon Dictate for Mac” Dragon types, sometimes “I’m using DragonDictate for Mac” – with “DragonDictate” as one word being the primary option and “Dragon Dictate” as the second option. Why do that? Why not stick with “Dragon Dictate” as 2 words as it’s written on Nuance’s site?
8. If I say “Dragon Dictate can be inconsistent DASH which is a nuisance”, Dragon types “Dragon Dictate can be inconsistent–which is a nuisance”. This may look fine in America, but in the UK we always put a space before and after the dash. Always. So we expect the following: “Dragon Dictate can be inconsistent – which is a nuisance”
9. If I say: “It’s one fifty three pee emm” Dragon types “1:53 PM” I would love to be able to get “1:53pm” – which is what we’re used to seeing in the UK.
10. If I say: “This will take you 5 minutes.” Dragon types: “This will take you 5 min.”
11. While I was dictating, my son Felix blew a raspberry into the mike, and Dragon launched an app called Yep!
12. I dictated the following as text: “Open the pod bay doors” – and Dragon Dictate launched an app called Clipstart!
13. I said “delete hardy” (a word DD transcribed) and Dragon recognised that as Read High, and spoke the word ‘High’
14. I said “new paragraph find the book”. DD typed “findable”, I said “scratch that, choose 2”, and DD typed “find the book”. The ‘f’ should be in upper case after a ‘new paragraph’ instruction, but it’s not. If I say “new paragraph fiver”, again ‘fiver’ is in lower case.
15: If I say “Caps on journey outside” DD types “Journey outside”. Why is ‘o’ of outside in lower case!
16: I said the word “buy” and DD offered only one choice: “by” . It didn’t offer the spelling “buy”.
17: I said “Get other people to list theirs”. DD offered the word “there’s” but didn’t suggest “theirs”
18: I said “four half cups” and DD typed “4 /2 cups” instead of “4 1/2 cups” or “4 half cups”
19: If I say 8% and say delete 8% it deletes the 8 and changes % to percent!
20: In Pages, I said the word ‘us’ after stonewall and Dragon went up 2 lines and bolded the word ‘is’!
21: If I say “New line”, the cursor goes to the next line, but if you say “bullet”, the bullet appears at the end of the previous line! Even if I say “new paragraph”, the bullet STILL appears at the beginning of the previous line!!
22: I dictated “You can write a long ad” (by ‘ad’ I meant advert) — and Dragon typed “You can write a long” — the word ad didn’t appear!!
23: If I say “and include upper case holy cow”, Dragon types “AND INCLUDE holy cow”. Bizarre. (I know I should have said “and include caps on holy cow” — I wasn’t thinking straight!)
24: I said “Have 120 to” and Dragon typed “120 122”!!
25: I said “Buckminster Fuller” (the man who invented the geodesic domes (as seen at Disney’s Epcot). Dragon typed “book minster Fuller” with no option of “Buckminster Fuller”. A day later and Dragon got the guy’s name right! So Dragon seems to me to be inconsistent at times.
26: I said “look” [pause] “up” and Dragon launched an application called Yep.
27: I said “settee” (a popular word in the UK for a couch) — and Dragon only offered the word “city” as an option.
28: I said “caps on more than a carpenter” and Dragon typed “More Than a Carpenter”. I wanted the ‘a’ to be capitalised.
29: I said “a tea made of myrtle and rosemary” – but there was no option for ‘myrtle and rosemary’ – just ‘Myrtle and rosemary’ or ‘myrtle and Rosemary’.
30: I said “caps on essential adverts to get your message across” and Dragon typed “Essential Adverts to Get Your Message across”. I want the ‘a’ in ‘across’ to be capitalised.
31: I said “appendix a” and Dragon typed “Appendix a”. It offered 2 choices: (1) Appendix a and (2) appendix A. I said Choose 2, but it still displayed “Appendix a”. Why didn’t it put a capitalised A in my text? However when I said “appendix B” Dragon got that right.
32: I said “and strengthen the book’s focus” and Dragon typed “and strengthen the books focus”. There was no suggestion of “book’s” with an apostrophe.
33: I said “reveal that” and Dragon typed “reveal that *” — i.e. it put an asterisk next to the word ‘that’! Weird!
34: I said “possesses a knack” — and Dragon didn’t type anything. I said “possesses a knack” again, and Dragon still didn’t respond! The internal fan came on and when I said “has a knack” it took several seconds for that text to appear.
35: I lifted up my arms and stretched and Dragon launched Yep. Dragon does seem to like Yep!
36: I said “swot analysis” and Dragon typed “swot analysis”. I think Dragon should know this phrase and offer “SWOT analysis” as an option (where SWOT means ‘Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats: SWOT analysis is a common phrase in business.)
37: I said “re-think” and Dragon interpreted that as a command: Read think — so my Mac said the word think out loud.
38: I said “dot org” and Dragon typed “.or”. I said “org” and got “all”.
39: Dragon doesn’t have the word “intuitives” in its dictionary. It would be FABULOUS if there was a way to send words to the Nuance team to update the dictionary for everyone so Dragon Dictate got smarter!
40: I said “I read the book called steve jobs by walter isaacson” and Dragon typed “”I read the book called Steve jobs by Walter Isaacson” — i.e. ‘j’ was lower case instead of upper case. I think Dragon Dictate should have “Steve Jobs” as a phrase in its dictionary by now!!
41: I said “what site or book” and Dragon typed “What site to pull”. I said “delete pull” [pause] “delete to”. Dragon moved the cursor back 2 paragraphs, one character space at a time — which took about 10 seconds — until it found another ‘to’ earlier in the text and deleted that!
42: I said “Nobody gives a damn” and Dragon typed “Nobody gives a dam”. I can’t get it to write the word ‘damn’.
43: This one drives me mad: I dictate, say, ‘new paragraph then “Product idea”. Dragon suggests “Products idea” and ‘product idea’. If I choose the second one, it types “Product idea”. Here’s an example…
Can you see that Dragon gives 3 options? Options 2 and 3 have a lower case ‘p’, yes? But if you say ‘choose 2’ or ‘choose 3’ you’ll get that text with an upper case ‘P’ pasted into the notepad. I find this very distracting.
Equally, when I say “caps on dream sculpture” I get the following…
…and if I choose options 2 or 3 then all the words will be capitalised: so why not show it this way in the Recognition window??
44: If I say ‘you tube video’ Dragon offers ‘you Tube video’ ‘u-tube video’ – but not ‘YouTube video’!…
45: Here are some words/phrases Dragon doesn’t know, which I would like it to know!: ClickBank; CreateSpace. Dragon knows the word ‘ebook’, but I can’t get it to type ‘ebooks’.
What all this means…
When I use Dragon Dictate, it does one of the silly things above every 5-10 minutes – and I find this VERY distracting. It gets in the way of my dictation. Dragon Dictate simply isn’t polished enough using its own Notepad.
I tried dictating in Pages, but it’s disconcertingly slower than in Notepad. I abandoned that option.
Here’s a video I created to show Dragon Dictate in action in its Notepad mode so you can see how fast/slow it is at transcribing my dictation…
I have reported a few problems with Dragon Dictate to the customer support team at Nuance, and I wasn’t happy with the replies I got back: maybe they are very busy, but they didn’t get to the root of my issues.
I read a post by a very knowledgable guy on the Nuance forums called Philip Blair, who is a US-based speech recognition consultant. I tracked down his email address using Google, and dropped him a line. He kindly responded, and confirmed that Nuance’s customer support has been, and continues to be, poor in his experience.
I wrote this on the Quora website…
“I think the reason bugs/issues like this exist is that Nuance’s tech support team don’t seem operate in the way other software companies do. They don’t seem to check their forum. They don’t reply consistently to emailed issues. And I’m guessing that, as a consequence, customers aren’t emailing them with the problems they are having. And maybe tech support aren’t relaying problem issues to the programmers.”
Furthermore, I wonder if Nuance are focusing on so many areas: the new low-price Mac App Store app, the various smartphone apps, and so on, that they’re too stretched to make each product remarkable, which is what I want!
…but I could be very wrong!
By the way, I emailed a link to this page to one of the managers of Dragon Dictate around February 2012 – and we have had a brief correspondence about my issues, but I didn’t feel I got any real feedback to assure me that some or all of these issues are being addressed.
Using a digital recorder
I dictate a lot of audio on a digital recorder. Dragon Dictate will only handle transcribing live dictation. You need MacSpeech Scribe from Nuance to handle audio files, and you can only get Scribe to process one file at a time. The PC version, Dragon Naturally Speaking, handles audio files as well as live dictation. And you can ask it to transcribe a batch of audio files.
You will find a good review of Dragon Dictate here where the reviewer, Steven Foskett, expresses his utter frustration with it.
Erica Hill from Nuance replied to him, and Steven commented on her response on this page of his site. Maybe by the summer of 2012 Dragon Dictate will be a better product. We’ll see!
(You’ll find my review of MacSpeech Scribe here.)
- Really really excellent recognition: I am often delighted when Dragon again and again accurately types exactly what I say!
What’s not so good…
- Inconsistency in transcription (for example, sometimes the software types Dragon Dictate and sometime DragonDictate)
- Weird transcriptions (“1st” instead of “first”, “I weigh £20” instead of “I weigh 20 pounds”, etc)
- If I dictate the first few words of a new sentence, I expect all alternative suggestions in the recognition window to have the first letter in upper case, but it doesn’t. Instead many of its suggestions have the first letter in lower case, but if I choose one of these alternatives, Dragon will put it in upper case into the notepad. (See point 43 above (with photo). This, to me, is a silly bug which should have been ironed out long ago.
- Customer service isn’t great (questions on forum ignored, issues like the inconsistency in transcription ignored or skirted around (“it’s your headset”) when I’ve sent emails to the team)
What I recommend…
From comments I have come across on the web, Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC is a much more polished program.
For example, this is what speech recognition consultant Philip Blair, MD, wrote to me in an email…
“Dragon NaturallySpeaking on the PC side is so superior to Dragon Dictate it’s hardly comparable.”
(If you think you would benefit from online coaching from Philip in how to get the very most out of Dragon Dictate, do get in contact with him (he’s based in Viera FL, USA): cell 360-991-4791; Skype: abledoc.)
Here’s my recommendation to you…
If you are serious about using speech recognition on the Mac, and you want to process multiple audio files in one go (I think the PC version can do this), you may want to consider the following…
- Buying Dragon Dictate and MacSpeech Scribe together will cost more than the PC version.
- Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC is a more mature product.
- MacSpeech Scribe is very buggy and, for me, not fit for purpose.
- Look at setting up Parallels on your Mac, or use Bootcamp and install Windows.
- Buy Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC and use that.
This is what I’m seriously considering!
Apple Mac Enthusiast rating…
Ease of use: 4/5