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Another year, another upgrade to Nuance’s Dragon ($300; $150 upgrade), their speech recognition solution. I reviewed version 5 last year, pointing out that “Dragon offers some of the biggest changes since this software was first introduced, both under the hood and on the screen.”
Building on the changes made to the speech recognition engine in Dragon 5, Nuance has improved Dragon’s performance across the board. Boasting improvements in accuracy of either 15 or 24 percent (the company has cited both of these numbers), Nuance claims that Dragon offers “up to 99% recognition accuracy.” Naturally, “up to” covers a wide range of results, but this version of Dragon does seem more accurate than version 5.
Nuance claims that this version of Dragon leverages “deep learning” to improve accuracy. Reading about this technology, it seems like a more powerful extension of the way Dragon already created speech models for each user. In my testing, I created a new profile and it did seem that Dragon was more efficient out-of-the-box, with the briefest voice training, than with previous versions. It’s not perfect and probably never will be, but it seems to get better every year.
I’ve been using Dragon 6 for several weeks, and I’ve been impressed by this accuracy. I would be hard pressed to find an improvement of a double-digit percentage, but I find that I’m correcting fewer small words: prepositions, adverbs, or articles. That may not sound like much, but if you dictate often, you understand that correcting those little words takes as much time as any other correction.
Visually, Nuance has simplified the Dragon interface. The status bar is smaller, and the correction window is separate, making these two items easy to position on your screen.
The company has improved formatting for numbers, times, and amounts, which can save time. And the transcription process—when you use Dragon to create text from a recording—is simpler.
Mixing typing and dictating
The biggest change in Dragon 6 is the ability to mix dictating and typing in certain applications. Dragon for Mac was never very happy when you combined dictating in the same document, except with just a couple of apps. In the past, if you dictated a couple of sentences, then typed or pasted something, Dragon lost track of the text and the position of the cursor in the document, making it harder to edit text. You can get over this by saying “cache document” every time you made a change; Dragon quickly reads through the entire document to know where all the words are.
In the new version, Dragon takes advantage of Apple’s accessibility framework to insert text into documents more quickly, and to keep track of what words are in a document, and where. With version 5, every time you paused after saying something, you would see the text appear on the screen one letter, one word at a time, very quickly. But now, with apps that correctly use the accessibility framework, Dragon actually pastes the text, the entire utterance in one go. This makes dictation much faster, as long as you’re using an application that supports this, such as TextEdit, the most recent versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, Scrivener, Messages, Microsoft Word, Outlook, and others. You can see a list of these applications here.
Dragon 6 was designed in such a way that if a new application supports the accessibility framework it can automatically allow you to dictate and type, and insert text quickly. You won’t need to update Dragon in order to benefit from this.
Nuance has long recommended that one use a microphone designed for speech recognition, and, in the past, I did so. But for my tests with Dragon 6, I used a microphone that I bought for podcasting, the Rode NT–USB. The results with this microphone are nearly as good as what I have seen in the past with microphones specifically designed for speech recognition. You can even use your Mac’s internal microphone; the results aren’t quite as good, but they are much better than you might expect.
My only criticism of this version of Dragon is the price. While $300 is a fair price for an app that does what Dragon does, I feel that $150 is pretty steep for an upgrade, especially if you just bought version 5 last year, or even a few months ago; at the time, the app cost just $200. For non-professional users, this is a pretty steep price, and is likely the most expensive app on their Macs.
Despite the price, I wouldn’t want to be without Dragon. I don’t dictate all of my work, far from it, but I take advantage of Dragon’s powers to change the way I work several times a week. Instead of leaning over my keyboard, I sit back, relax, and talk to my Mac. And my words appear on screen. That’s pretty magical.