Dragon for Mac 5
Significant improvements in speed and accuracy. Improved performance using inbuilt microphone. Quick and easy either to upgrade from previous versions or for new users to get started. Wide range of system and dictation commands makes hands-free a reality.
None significant but icon-driven menus take a little getting used to and the new Correction Window is a retrograde step from the previous Recognition Window.
RRP $284.95 (download) Academic Version $243. Upgrade from v. 3 or higher $134.95 (download)
As a daily user of Dragon Dictate I have been looking forward to giving version 5, now called Dragon for Mac, a run. One of the biggest changes happens at start-up. Dragon no longer behaves as a standard application but simply appears as an icon in the right-hand section of the Finder menu bar. There is no indication in the Dock that the program is open. It’s a bit weird at first but after a couple of sessions it becomes normal.
Clicking the icon gives me a status window which shows the current operating mode, Dictation, Command, Spelling, Numbers or Transcription. To switch modes I simply say one of these five words with ‘Mode ‘. Note to self. Switch back to Dictation Mode when you’ve finished spelling!
The icon drop-down window contains all the other standard Dragon menu features. I can show or hide the Status and the Available Commands window. I can edit my vocabulary, modify my commands, add auto – text, manage my profiles and improve recognition with extra voice training or vocabulary training.
With previous versions of Dragon I haven’t really used the command or spelling modes but promised myself that this time I would give it a go. It’s surprising how easy it is to launch Pages, open a new document and save it without going anywhere near the keyboard.
Similarly, with spelling, I simply switch modes and spell Dragon by sounding out each letter. It’s very quick and accurate. So, I’m on my way to becoming totally hands-free and I can say it’s well worth the initial effort.
(There’s someone knocking at the front door so I quickly invoke the ‘Go-to-sleep’ command. The microphone does just that until I tell it to Wake Up on my return. On one occasion I left the mike open and was amazed at the gibberish that Dragon had created from the voices from the next room).
Over time my previous versions of Dragon have built up a detailed profile of my voice and the more common words in my vocabulary, which I can augment with the Vocabulary Training feature. This asks me to create a list of text documents I have written which are typical of my style and vocabulary. It then analyses these, adding any new words to my profile. When I first opened Dragon 5 my previous profile was immediately identified and then upgraded to suit the latest version. This took a few minutes but I soon saw that all my old favourite words were still there. New users will be asked to read a few paragraphs of supplied text which Dragon uses to set up your new profile. This will be refined over time as Dragon monitors your input. The more you use it the better it gets.
The new version is claimed to be 15% faster and more accurate than the previous. This is a little difficult to quantify exactly but it certainly feels like it. The people at Dragon also say that they have put some time into sharpening recognition of regional accents including Australian, so this may contribute to the improvement. One feature I am missing however is the always-open Recognition Window which showed a number of variations of the last phrase I had dictated. If Dragon had got it wrong I could then select from the list by saying ‘choose (number) x’. To do this in version 5 I have to say ‘Show Correction Window ‘to see the options. It’s no big deal, just an extra step, although I am finding with the accuracy improvements that I’m actually not needing to use this feature anywhere near as much as I used to.
The Dragon folk have also cranked up the efficiency of the internal microphone for people who can’t afford or don’t like headsets. I gave it a run by switching input in my profile to ‘internal microphone ‘, letting Dragon run a quick test to optimise my volume and then dictating a short passage. I then switched back to my headset and dictated the same passage. Results were identical (100%), even with some of my more obscure vocabulary items. I can see this would be very useful for people working on a laptop or on a tight budget, but maybe not in a noisy office.
My previous versions of Dragon automatically opened up a Notepad file on launch for inputting text which I could then cut and paste into a word processor. This no longer happens. Now I simply type directly into any application that takes text. It even works in FileMaker, with special database commands ‘Click Next/Previous Field. ‘ I use FileMaker almost on a daily basis for my school archival work and this feature will be very valuable for data input.
Even though I’m committed to being more hands-free I’m still trying to resist the hard-wired urge to use the keyboard to make corrections. Previous versions of Dragon would go haywire when I did this because it messes with its document navigation memory. Now, after I invoke the ‘Cache Document/Selection ‘ command I can mouse around for a while if I really want to.
There is a Transcription feature which transcribes recorded voice memos but I’ve had no need for this. Yet.
In summary, version 5 of Dragon for Mac qualifies as a significant upgrade. It is definitely quicker and more accurate. I’ve got used to working from the menu bar icon and the Available Commands window is very useful because there are far too many to memorise. Although I miss the old Recognition Window the improved accuracy of the new version means I don’t need it anywhere near as much as I used to. This application is ideal for anyone who spends a lot of their days bashing letters on the keyboard, for rubbish keyboarders like me, and for people with arthritic hands and fingers.