Who wants to risk or aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome at a keyboard? People who suffer repetitive stress injuries, type slowly, or dictate long documents for work are among the best candidates for Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10, which types as you talk. While not perfect, it's the best consumer tool available for digital dictation and can save time and headaches for the right user.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking's maker, Nuance, estimates that built-in speech-to-text capabilities in Windows Vista are about five years behind those of this application. You could get by with such features in Windows for occasional use, but Dragon is deeper and more accurate.
Version 10 is supposed to be 20 percent more accurate, both which supposedly offer greater than 99 percent accuracy. However, that won't likely translate to your personal experience. We found success with about four out of five spoken words. Should we blame our lisping, soft-spoken ways, the software, or the hardware?
The updates to Dragon 10 include support for people with accented English, as well as voice-command shortcuts for supported applications and Web searches. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is supposed to translate spoken words to text twice as quickly as version 9. We couldn't measure that, but did notice a speed improvement.
Setup and interface
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 runs only on Windows XP or 2000 SP4 or higher or on Vista, so Mac users are out of luck. (ViaVoice for the Mac, which uses Nuance's technology, is no longer updated.) It requires 512MB of RAM and 1GB of free hard-drive space. You'll also need a noise-canceling headset microphone, a 16-bit or equivalent sound card, and a DVD drive.
If you only need a tool to type as you talk and don't want to dictate commands to software or for Web searches, then opt for the $99 Standard edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Preferred, for $199, includes software voice commands as well as support for mobile devices. Preferred Mobile adds a digital voice recorder.
We tested the $899 Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional 10, which adds support for forms, networking capabilities for an office, and the choice of a standard or Bluetooth headset. We wish a USB headset were an option; you'll have to buy a dongle to hook up the mic-in headset to a USB slot. The $1,199 Legal edition also helps you dictate briefs and court documents.
Make sure to uninstall an earlier version of Dragon if you have one. And if you already have the latest version on a PC, don't overwrite it with a lesser-featured version that may be bundled with a new, supported digital voice recorder.
Installing Dragon 10 on two Windows XP machines took around 20 minutes without incident. Unfortunately, Windows Vista installation was a nightmare. It took more than 10 minutes to install Visual C++ 8.0 Runtime, only to find out it hadn't fully installed. Or had it? We were caught in a catch-22 of circular commands after rebooting more than a dozen times. The issue was related to a known bug in Windows Vista. We spent what amounted to more than two hours with a polite, bright tech support representative who offered a workaround.
Once it's running, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 adds a small feature bar that sits atop other open applications on your desktop. The well-organized pull-down menus haven't changed from the past. The text will "type" pretty much wherever a cursor appears, including word processing pages, Web form fields, and the included DragonPad.
Dragon performs a microphone check during setup. When our volume was too low on the Windows Vista laptop, we couldn't use the software. Somehow reading our frustrated mind, it typed "I hate you I" when we said, "Type. Type!" Saying "crazy" got spelled out as "greasy." Then "greasy," spoken, translated to "leafy," then "greens fee," then "Greenstein." In fact, the included headset didn't deliver adequate voice quality to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking at all. We reverted to the same headset packaged with Dragon 9, with better results.