Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium 12.5 review

Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium 12.5

There's been a lot of action recently in the speech recognition world, but most of has been on phones and tablets, with Apple's Siri and Google's Voice Search. The pioneer of speech recognition, though, is Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) on the PC. This is Nuance's flagship application and has now reached version 12.5. See all software reviews.

DNS does two things for a PC: it enables dictation and control of Windows. All versions of DNS 12.5 integrate directly with Word, WordPerfect and OpenOffice/Libre Office and the Premium product also works directly with Excel and PowerPoint. No speech training is required, though you will see some improvement if you spend 10 minutes or so running through a training text, and more if you let the application examine your documents and emails to tailor its vocabulary.

This is more of an evolutionary upgrade than a revolutionary one and most of the improvements are soil turning, rather than ground breaking. The biggest single update is support for using a smartphone as a remote microphone.

Using Dragon Remote Microphone, now in both iOS and Android versions, involves downloading a free app and setting up a new user profile to work with a phone. After a brief training session and linking your phone to the PC running DNS 12.5, you can use your phone as an alternative to the cabled headset supplied in the box. You may also have to adjust your firewall settings to allow the phone connection – we did.

The quality of microphones in iPhones and most Android smartphones is as good as from Bluetooth headsets, so recognition accuracy from our tests was well up to standard. You need to hold the phone to dictate, of course, but this is no more awkward than using an audio recorder to record dictation.

Other improvements include full support for Gmail and Hotmail, so you can use online email resources as well as offline ones, like Outlook. You can turn off Windows command recognition when dictating to improve recognition speed, too. New microphone options include wideband Bluetooth models, which have superior accuracy to 8kHz devices.

The core engine has been improved and Dragon claims 20 percent better recognition. Since it's already in the high 90s, you're looking a differences between one misrecognised word in 100 and 1 in 120. Under test we saw very few misrecognitions and most of those were of homonyms, like ‘to', ‘too' and ‘two'.

There are still some annoying hangovers which should have been fixed, though. You can't, for example, make a global change to the formatting of units of measure. If those you write for demand ‘2kg', ‘6mm' and ‘300dpi' rather than ‘2 kg', ‘6 mm' and ‘300 dpi', you have to change every unit of measure you use individually, in the vocabulary editor.

Also, periodic update tasks for accuracy and speech training have to be conducted when your PC is on, but DNS isn't running. Many of us turn our PCs off at night and , oddly, use the program during the day, so this maintenance repeatedly fails. If it's really not possible to run these tasks with DNS open, surely it's not beyond the wit of Nuance to shut the program down automatically (with a warning dialog), perform the scheduled tasks and then restart it.

Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium 12.5: Specs

  • PC: Windows XP SP3 (32 bit only)/Vista SP2/7/8, 32/64 bit, 2.2GHz Intel or AMD dual core with 2MB L2 cache), 2GB (32 bit) 4GB (64 bit) RAM, 3.2GB HD, internet connection
  • PC: Windows XP SP3 (32 bit only)/Vista SP2/7/8, 32/64 bit, 2.2GHz Intel or AMD dual core with 2MB L2 cache), 2GB (32 bit) 4GB (64 bit) RAM, 3.2GB HD, internet connection

OUR VERDICT

If you want speech recognition on your PC, there's little alternative to Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's just as well, then, that Nuance hasn't been resting on its laurels and continues to improve the application's speed and accuracy. While none of the new features in version 12.5 taken individually demands you buy the upgrade, added together they make a worthwhile improvement to earlier versions.