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(Pocket-lint) - Typing away and mousing about are fine, but there's a more convenient, hands-free way of working with a PC that involves no more than speaking. Speech recognition continues to grow in popularity through its adoption on smartphones and mobiles, but its traditional home is the PC.

Speech recognition is an exciting technology and Dragon is the best-known producer for both consumer and business. Nuance continues to develop the core PC recognition engine in Dragon Naturally Speaking, which has now evolved into version 12.5 and is available as Home, Premium and Professional (£549) products.

Talking to advantage

There are several practical advantages to speech recognition. Even if you’re a trained touch typist, it’s a lot quicker to dictate than to type. Most people are able to speak around three times as fast as they can type.

You don’t need to worry about typos, either, as Dragon uses internal vocabulary tables to retrieve correctly spelled words. With high recognition accuracy, including contextual analysis which can usually differentiate between, for example, to, too and two, what appears on the page usually needs less correction than conventionally typed text.

It’s also ideal, or course, if you have physical difficulties using a keyboard and mouse. Dragon can be used to control a Windows computer, as well as to record what’s said, so it may mean the difference between being able to work with a PC and not. 

What Dragon does

There are two parts to Dragon: dictation and application control. Dictation is much as you’d expect: you talk, it types. You can speak into cabled or Bluetooth microphones, a voice recorder for later transcription (Premium only) or, with the latest version, by using a smartphone as a wireless mic. Both the Home and Premium versions of the software come with cabled, noise-cancelling headsets as standard.

You get a very good level of recognition straight out of the box, but with some elementary training, taking around 10 minutes, it improves still further. Dragon can also search through your documents and emails to spot any specialist terms you regularly use and add them to its vocabulary.

The software also learns with use, of course and as any misrecognitions are corrected, they are incorporated into your personal profile and are less likely to occur next time the same word is said. While you’re familiarising yourself with the software, an optional, context-sensitive help panel can be called to the right-hand side of the screen, to show the most immediately useful commands.

The software works well to create word processed documents, but also with productivity applications such as email clients and web browsers. It integrates with web browsers, so you can browse by word command, and with email software, so you can compose and send emails.

Tip-top tailoring

Auto formatting rules make it easy to handle specialist dictation and to tailor the software to your needs. For example, in work that requires a lot of numerical content with units of measure, it’s easy to specify when those units are spelt out and when they are abbreviated. The Vocabulary Editor also enables customisation, and alternative versions of words can be added to cope with technical terms.

Application control enables you to operate most functions within Windows through speech, rather than with mouse and keyboard. So, by saying “Start Microsoft Word”, for example, you can call up the word processor, or by saying “Search Wikipedia for Dalmatians” you can open a default web browser, browse to Wikipedia and look for spotted dogs, all with the one command.

You can dictate directly into, for example, Word or an Outlook message field, but Dragon automatically pops up a dedicated dictation box whenever text entry is required in a field or text box in other applications. 

New version

Among the new features in version 12.5 of Dragon are:

  • Smart Format Rules, offering global selection of formatting rules to tailor Dragon to the way you write and enhanced support for Gmail and Hotmail within web browsers and automatic pop-up of the Dictation Box when needed.
  • There’s now support for Android phones as wireless microphones, to add to that already available for iOS devices and you can use the latest high-bandwidth Bluetooth headsets to further improve recognition accuracy. The new interactive tutorial, uses a series of short simulations to help you practice the basics of voice recognition.
  • The entry-level Dragon Home provides support from Word, WordPerfect and OpenOffice Writer and enables spoken email through Outlook and LiveMail and spoken posts to Facebook and twitter. The Premium version adds support for Excel and PowerPoint, multiple dictation sources, transcription of recordings and custom command creation.

Why Dragon makes a great gift

So why not surprise someone with Dragon Home or Premium? It makes a quirky gift, but for anybody who regularly works with a PC, it could speed their everyday work and make it much more enjoyable.

Speech recognition saves time, relieves symptoms of conditions such as RSI and improves spelling – ideal for the dyslexic. It can provide communication and control and may open up a whole digital world by the simple power of voice.

Nuance is a world leader in speech recognition, its Dragon technology is the best on the market and Naturally Speaking is the premier consumer product for anybody wanting to be able to talk effectively to their computer.

There are currently deals available on Dragon products and you can save 50% on Dragon Home from 5 to 9 December. Additionally, you can save 65% on the Dragon Gift Set, which includes a copy of Dragon with a USB headset and a copy of the DirectPass password manager, on the same dates. You can also view all other Nuance software products on the official UK site.

System Requirements

Processor: 2.2GHz Intel dual core or AMD equivalent with 2MB L2 cache

OS: Windows 8, 7, Vista SP2 (all 64 or 32-bit), XP SP3 (32-bit only), Server 2008

Memory: 4GB for 64-bit, 2GB for 32-bit

Hard Disk: 3.2GB free

Nuance costs £80 for the Home edition and £150 for the Premium version.