Over the years, Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-recognition software has helped disabled users, as well as those in dictation-heavy fields. I looked at the shipping version of the US$200 Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred, which includes features for customizing some commands, as well as full support for most popular business programs.
While this version offers excellent accuracy in capturing verbal commands, current vendor Nuance's claim that NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred is 99 percent accurate untrained seems a reach, based on my testing.
To adjust the software to your voice, Nuance suggests reading training excerpts, a process that takes about 5 minutes. (I didn't read the excerpts, as I'm familiar with the software.) I tested the software by taking a 675-word business article from a general-interest Web site and dictating it into Microsoft Word.
Close, but not quite 99 percent
A new-user file I created in NaturallySpeaking 8 Professional gave me 94 percent accuracy, while NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred, untrained, produced 96 percent accuracy, not quite the 99 percent Nuance promises. Although the company says that accuracy varies by sound quality and by how a person talks, my PC has a top-grade sound card, and I enunciated when I spoke.
While 96 percent accuracy falls short of the claimed mark, it's still impressive. And consider this: The app put the text on the page at about 150 words per minute. I typed the same article at 71 words per minute--a blue-ribbon rate for typists, but slothful compared with dictation.
The Vansonic HG-GEN headset that comes with both the Standard and Preferred editions of the software is not terribly difficult to adjust for good recognition results, but the hard plastic can squeeze the ear uncomfortably after a while.
The Preferred software adds official support for two Bluetooth headsets: the BlueParrott TalkPro B1000-GTX USB (about US$290) and the Xovox XCommunicator5 (about US$200). In contrast to version 8, it also supports more digital voice recorders, which you can use on the road and then plug into your PC at the office to transcribe. I didn't test these two features.
Mozilla products supported
Version 9 works famously with Microsoft Word and Excel, and it adds support for Mozilla's Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird e-mail client. Regrettably, my experiences with Firefox and Thunderbird voice support were fraught with "now-it-works, now-it-doesn't" moments. And dictation accuracy relies partly on the context of the words, which you lose when giving your computer isolated commands like "click link."
In general, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred is best for writing or dictating. Only with practice--akin to learning a new language--is it satisfying to use for navigating your PC for a true hands-off experience. If you're a version 8 user, you hardly have a reason to upgrade. But if you've been curious about voice recognition, now would be a good time to try it out.
Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Preferred
Newest version of venerable voice-recognition software provides excellent performance but doesn't quite live up to its maker's claims.
Price when reviewed: US$200