Dragon Anywhere review: Much more powerful than Siri dictation
Even though Dragon Anywhere can only take dictation inside its own app, it works better than Siri, especially for long chunks of text.
By David Sparks
At a glance
The touch keyboards on our iPhones and iPads are great, but we’re still trying to type on glass. Users should have the option of dictating into their mobile devices, and Apple has made a lot of strides over the last few years with Siri dictation. As Apple has improved its voice-dictation software and back-end servers, Siri is now better than it ever has been at turning your spoken words into text on your screen.
Nevertheless, there remain some issues with Siri dictation that have yet to be solved. The first is the timer. Siri dictation only works long enough for you to dictate three or four sentences. My informal timing of Siri dictation shows that it shuts down at around 40 seconds. As soon as you press that microphone button on your device, the fuse is lit, and at some point Siri dictation will just stop. Sadly, that often happens when you are midsentence, and pressing the button again leads to grammatical hijinks. Going back and fixing these issues later takes time, and that constant knowledge that your dictation will stop at any moment is a huge distraction.
Another problem is the limited vocabulary. Siri dictation can handle just about any word you will find in a standard dictionary. However, when you start adding proper names or industry jargon, it falls apart. Beyond adding contacts, there’s no mechanism for you to add words to the Siri dictation dictionary, and as you are dictating, you have to constantly be aware of those words that will give it fits. In the past I have solved this problem by substituting simple words such as monkey and banana in place of those words I know Siri dictation cannot recognize, and I go back later to do a search and replace. That, however, also takes a lot of time. For power dictators, these limitations in Siri dictation can be maddening.
Nuance Communications, makers of Dragon Dictation and other dictation software, have attempted to solve these problems on the iPhone and iPad with the subscription-based Dragon Anywhere. Dragon Anywhere is multiplatform mobile dictation software for iOS and Android. The subscription starts at $15 a month and goes down slightly if you pay quarterly or yearly. Once you subscribe, you can log in with the free application and dictate away.
Dragon Anywhere solves both of the above-mentioned Siri dictation shortcomings. With Dragon Anywhere, you can dictate for long stretches of time without getting shut down. Just press the app’s big green button and start dictating without worrying about it quitting midsentence. Dragon Anywhere will turn off the microphone if you are silent for 20 seconds—which I think is too short of a delay—but as long as you’re talking, it keeps transcribing. I’ve used Dragon Anywhere for long dictation sessions and written multipage documents without any of the trouble I get from Siri dictation’s timer.
Dragon Anywhere also has a customizable user-defined dictionary. You can add words right in the application. The application allows you to add new words in both the written and spoken forms. For instance, I was writing about the iPhone camera app “Carmera+” and wanted to be able to dictate the app’s name. I added Camera+ to the Dragon Anywhere dictionary but also listed the app’s spoken form as “camera plus.” Now Dragon Anywhere gets the word right every time. Your custom words will synchronize across all installations of the application, including those on your iPad and iPhone. If you are using Dragon Dictation on your Mac, the custom words will synchronize with that as well.
In addition, Dragon Anywhere generally does a better job than Siri dictation. It gets noticeably more words right, and there are fewer corrections required. When corrections are necessary in Dragon Anywhere, you can use your voice to select words or groups of words and dictate over the top of them without touching the keyboard. Siri dictation simply cannot do this.
You also have voice commands, such as “scratch that,” which removes the last bits of dictated text, and “go to end of field,” which moves the cursor to the bottom of the text entry field. There’s also a feature called auto-text that is similar to a voice-controlled TextExpander. You can set up blocks of text that are triggered by a simple voice command.
Unlike Siri dictation, which works in any iOS app that supports the built-in keyboard, all of your dictation in Dragon Anywhere must be done in the Dragon Anywhere application. Working in a single application for dictation can be a pain. Nevertheless, iPad multitasking and Split View make this a lot easier. Dragon Anywhere is nearly a permanent fixture on the right side of my iPad when I’m writing.
When you’re done with your dictation, you can save the text to your clipboard with Dragon Anywhere’s Transfer Text tool or just dictate the words “transfer text.” You can also share the text out to other applications. There’s built-in support for Evernote, but you can share the text to just about any application on your device that accepts words. The export format can be set to text, Microsoft Word, or Rich Text Format (RTF). One problem I have experienced is that exported words from Dragon Anywhere, even using Dragon Anywhere’s plain text format, appear in Apple Mail with a slightly smaller font than the default.
The decision to pay for Dragon Anywhere when Apple already has a free dictation solution is going to depend on a few factors. If you’re a regular user of Siri dictation and the timer and lack of a custom dictionary don’t bother you, you’re probably doing just fine. If those limitations and the time you spend compensating for them bug you, I would recommend signing up for the free one-week trial of Dragon Anywhere. That’s how I started, and now I’m a paying subscriber.
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