ViaVoice review: ViaVoice

In some ways, ViaVoice 10 is a lightweight and less expensive version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8. Nuance (formerly ScanSoft) now distributes both programs, which even share some voice commands, such as "Scratch that" (to erase text) and "Go to sleep" (to turn off the microphone). ViaVoice is a dictation program, however, not a hands-free app like Dragon. For example, you need to click the mouse to pause text as ViaVoice reads it back to you, and you can't use your voice to enter keyboard commands, as you can with Dragon. Not surprisingly, ViaVoice also has lower memory requirements--about 750KB per minute for recorded speech, which is less than the 1.5MB of memory that Dragon requires.

ViaVoice understood our straight dictation moderately well. We found that it recognized larger words, such as subscription, but fumbled with smaller parts of speech that people tend to mumble, such as prepositions and contractions. Luckily, ViaVoice is designed to continue improving its speech-recognition vocabulary by analyzing the text errors that you correct. You can also return to the User Wizard for further training.




By correcting words in SpeakPad, you help to strengthen ViaVoice's speech recognition.

Voice commands within ViaVoice are logical, but the program sometimes had trouble recognizing them. In theory, you can improve performance by doing further voice-recognition training to acclimate ViaVoice to your pronunciation or by saying an "attention word" before speaking a command. Unfortunately, neither option improved voice-command recognition for us.

As with Dragon, you can use ViaVoice with a number of popular programs. You can dictate text into the bundled ViaVoice SpeakPad word processor or directly into Microsoft Word 97, 2000, or 2002. Intuitive commands such as "Open document" are available for Word and Excel 97, 2000, and 2002, and for Outlook 97, 98, 2000, and 2002. ViaVoice lets you surf the Internet with voice commands, but we found it unresponsive when we tried to select links verbally. The voice-activated Voice Mouse was more effective for clicking links.

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