A New Version of Dragon 

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While computers have recently been given the ability to talk to use through the use of applications such as Siri and Cortana, we have been able to talk to our computers for a number of years and have our spoken words transformed into editable text using specialist software. A leading product in this particular area is Dragon Naturally Speaking with the latest version of this speech recognition software package being available in Professional Individual and Professional Group editions. This review is based on my experiences with Dragon Professional Individual product.

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When Dragon Professional Individual is first fired up, it will be in trial mode allowing the user up to five launches to check out the software.  You will need to enter the supplied serial number in order to activate the software and remove the launch restriction.  If the software detects a previous version of the product, it will offer to upgrade your user profile using the data gathered by the earlier version. 

Offers will also be made to analyse the emails you have sent and other documents either selected individually or by folders.  The analyses will allow the software to better understand your style of writing and discover unknown words and unusual use of capitalisation of any vocabulary you might use.  Depending upon the amount of documents you make available, this process can be a little time consuming but it can be worth the wait.

For newcomers to the product or if you decide to create a new user profile, you will need to select your geographical region and type of accent from those listed in drop-down lists.  You will also need to identify your microphone and run a test to check that it is working correctly.

Following the trend that has been established over the more recent version of this product, the need to undergo specific training for the software to adjust to your voice has been greatly reduced.  In fact you could almost ignore the training although I do feel that those coming to the product for the first time would benefit from reading one of the supplied documents to allow the software to build up a user profile.

As with the previous version of the product, this new version of the Dragon software presents the user with a DragonBar that provides various tools and options.  It its latest form, this new DragonBar sits at the top of the screen giving the user access to features that have been categorised as Profile, Tools, Vocabulary, Audio and Dictation & Commands plus the means of turning the microphone on or off (Red for off and Green for on) and the Help feature. 

As mentioned the DragonBar sits at the top of the screen and can be moved sideways to the left or right.  It also possesses the ability, through an auto-collapse option, to contract itself to a smaller size whenever it is not required.  In this reduced state you are left with the microphone on/off option.  It is possible to reposition the DragonBar to other areas of the screen, such as the bottom, sides or floating.  However this does have the effect of changing the appearance of the bar to one that is far less appealing.

Especially useful for those coming to this speech recognition software for the first time is an Interactive Tutorial.  This is available from the Help menu.  The tutorial covers topics such as DragonBar’s messages, good dictation habits, applying corrections using the software, spelling, navigating & selecting text, web access using extensions that can be downloaded for IE, Firefox and Chrome browsers, and auto-text commands.

In use the software can be switched between modes that have been enhanced for working with different types of vocal input.  By default the software will divide its attention between recognising dictation and commands.  Other modes, available from a drop-down menu, allow you to select just dictation or commands plus numbers and spelling.

Along with the basic dictation and commands for opening and using applications, you can carry out formatting and editing tasks by voice.  In the case of the latter, a Correction Menu will offer a choice of options plus the ability to spell, playback the dictation and add words to your vocabulary.  Smart format rules and auto-text commands can be created to cover eventualities such as inserting boilerplate text following the issue of a user-specified command.

With this version of the Dragon software, recorded audio files can be transcribed into editable text.  These audio files can be recorded by yourself or somebody else such as captured audio downloaded from a podcast.  However with recordings made by a third-party, you will need to create a profile for that speaker.  A wizard will lead you through the necessary process.  You can also sync the output and functionality of the main program with the mobile version of the product on iOS and Android devices.

Nuance has always been proud of the accuracy of their speech recognition software.  The company is currently claiming an accuracy level of up to 99%.  Putting this figure to the test, I dictated a 533 word document.  Rather than follow my usual practice of dictating part of this review, I opted to use part of the promotional documentation issued with this product.  Just five errors were detected in the resulting text, confirming Nuance’s accuracy rating of 99%.

As the product’s title of Dragon Professional Individual should indicate, this latest version of the company’s speech recognition software is aimed more at the office worker rather than residential user.  The new features, over and above the software’s core speech recognition functionality, are all aimed at those looking to increase their productivity potential.  This targeting of a more professional marketplace goes some way towards explaining the jump in price over that being asked for Dragon Naturally Speaking.  Dragon Professional Individual is priced at £279.  System specifications call for a dual core processor with 2GB of RAM for 32-bit or 4GB of RAM for 64-bit software with 4GB of hard disk space running Windows 7 and later.

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