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.

With a dictation macro, you can use a voice command to insert frequently used text into your dictated documents.

Since ViaVoice is designed for dictation, some users will find its customizable macros handy. The macros let users insert boilerplate text and create customized forms. ViaVoice also transcribes from some Sanyo and Olympus digital recorders.

ViaVoice 10 arrives with a decent printed user guide and searchable help files. The Information Central menu includes tips on getting started and using the help files. It also provides a list of voice commands, a product-support link, and productivity tips. In our version, however, embedded links to online technical support led to an old, unavailable IBM Web page. Telephone and e-mail support will cost you dearly. The first call is free; after that, Nuance charges $19.95 per incident. We reached a helpful tech assistant by phone after several minutes. E-mail support costs $9.95 per incident. Telephone help is available weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.

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