- Editor's Rating
Dragon Dictation is a free voice-to-text app from Nuance Communications, available through Apple’s iTunes store.
I’ve been testing this app on an iPhone 4. There are some differences in iPhone/iPod versus iPad features. It runs on an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and it requires Apple iOS 3.1 or later.
Nuance is probably best known for its desktop/notebook speech recognition products (speech-to-text and also voice-control for commands) including the well-known Dragon Naturally Speaking program for Windows and Dragon Dictate for the Mac.
Dragon Dictation does what it promises — as long as you read the Nuance’s online How to use FAQ, support, and other web pages thoroughly. Otherwise, you’ll be unnecessarily frustrated. If you do your reading, you may still end up being somewhat frustrated, but at least it will be legitimate.
It may also convince you to try the non-free desktop/notebook product, which has more features, but may, also, be more frustrating.
USING DRAGON DICTATION
Dragon Dictation requires Internet connectivity; the actual text-to-speech transcription is done through the app that is communicating with a Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking server.
Tap the red RECORD button and begin speaking, for up to a minute. After a brief processing delay, Dragon Dictation displays a text version of what you said (or what it believes you said).
You can edit this text, including correcting errors, according to Nuance, in one of two ways: “You can tap on a word to get a drop-down list of alternative suggestions. Or you can tap the keyboard icon on the bottom left corner and use the standard iPhone text editing feature.
Once you are satisfied with the text, you can email it, push it to your Twitter or Facebook status bar (you have to use Settings to configure your ID and password in), send it as an SMS, or put it on the clipboard, making it available to be pasted into another application. There is no way within the Dragon Dictation to save directly to a file.
For example, here’s a post to my Twitter account
Once you understand its features and limits — many of which are not obvious from the user interface, only documented in the FAQ, Support and other web pages of Dragon Dictation’s How to use information — and the inherent limits of speech-to-text, Dragon Dictation can be a useful tool.
Like I’ve said, there are a few key things you need to know, or you will have an unnecessarily unhappy experience like I did, until I belatedly read the online information.
One, in SETTINGS, set “Detect End-of-Speech” (which, on my iPhone, displays as “Detect End-of-Spe…”) to OFF, unless you want the app to treat a long pause as “DONE.”
Two, understand that a given “session” is one minute long. The only mention of the minute limit that I found is in the SUPPORT section of the web site. You can append to an existing session, but you need to learn to not be in the middle of a sentence or thought when the minute is up. This is unnecessarily difficult because Dragon does not present a countdown timer, and the iPhone doesn’t seem to have any way to show a timer in the foreground while this app is running.
Three, optionally, learn and master some of Dragon’s formatting and punctuation commands to include in your dictation, like “New paragraph,” “exclamation point,” and “comma.”
Other features, which I haven’t finished exploring, include localization (let the app know where you are, and it adjusts its accent settings), the opt-in ability to take names and email addresses from your contacts, and other languages.
Here are some “positives” about Dragon Dictation:
- On my iPhone, speech-to-text is significantly faster and easier than fingering the virtual keyboard.
- It’s free.
- Anything happening in the earbuds doesn’t interfere (e.g., an NPR show I was listening to didn’t also get transcribed).
And some negatives:
- The app only works when you’ve got Internet connectivity. It can’t save your audio, when you’re off-line, and upload it later when you’ve got connectivity again. That’s the nature of this implementation… but I’d pay money for the ability to work off-line. (You can always buy a copy of the Windows or Mac software, which will accept digital recordings…)
- No obvious way to delete and abandon a current transcribed session on the iPhone or iPod. (There is a way, on the iPad.)
- The one-minute session limit.
- Not enough onboard help, or even a “click to open web browser for help info.” Close to zero. One colleague says that this is symptomatic of many mobile apps.
At “free,” Dragon Dictation is worth the price, whether just for Tweeting, or for sending email, instead of using the iPhone’s virtual mini-keyboard.
But I’d rather spend a few bucks and get more usability, specifically off-line mode, a time used/remaining progress bar, and longer sessions.