$60 dic­ta­tion pro­gram no match for Google’s free voice tran­scrip­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - BOB AND JOY SCHWABACH

Af­ter a lengthy strug­gle try­ing to in­stall Dragon Nat­u­rally Speak­ing on an or­di­nary Hewlett-Packard lap­top run­ning Win­dows 10, we gave up. The next day, Joy called the com­pany’s tech sup­port. Af­ter their ex­pert worked on it for an hour and a half, he got it in­stalled.

It was not a great ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with what is sup­posed to be the world’s pre­mier voice recog­ni­tion soft­ware. The idea is you load it in, speak into the mi­cro­phone and the pro­gram turns what you said into words on the screen. You can then edit it — do the re­write. To quote the best-sell­ing sci­ence-fic­tion writer Michael Crich­ton: “Books aren’t writ­ten, they’re rewrit­ten.”

So we have spent three days try­ing out dif­fer­ent dic­ta­tion pro­grams. We started with the best known, Dragon, and for $60 bought Home ver­sion 13, the lat­est avail­able. That was $60 down the drain. Aside from the in­stal­la­tion prob­lems, it was ex­tremely slow and made more er­rors than a last-place ball team. The first 50 words had more than a dozen er­rors, some of them hi­lar­i­ous. We saw many irate com­ments on the Web. Of course the Home ver­sion is just a small part of Nu­ance Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ busi­ness, so it may be low pri­or­ity.

Com­pared with us­ing Google’s free voice recog­ni­tion, Dragon was a dis­as­ter, miss­ing ev­ery other word the first time out. Us­ing our An­droid phone, Google Voice got our dic­ta­tion nearly per­fectly the first time and was much faster. Dragon tran­scribed Bob’s words “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna,” for ex­am­ple, as “Osama, Osama, Osama.” Does this even make sense? Af­ter sev­eral hours of sim­i­lar drivel, we dumped it.

You might won­der why we even con­sid­ered pay­ing $60 for Dragon when Win­dows has speech recog­ni­tion built in. But Mi­crosoft’s pro­gram is far from per­fect. We first tried it on a Win­dows 8 ma­chine. (Go to “Set­tings” and type “speech recog­ni­tion.”) It worked OK but not great. In Win­dows 10, it was a to­tal fail­ure, sput­ter­ing the same words over and over, like it was hav­ing a dic­tio­nary fit. By the way, Cor­tana, the built-in voice as­sis­tant, doesn’t do dic­ta­tion, just Web searches and other sim­ple queries.

An­other al­ter­na­tive is

those free pro­grams called ex­ten­sions that can be in­stalled in your Web browser. We liked the Chrome ex­ten­sion, Voice Dic­ta­tion. The Chrome Web store, by the way, has oo­dles of free ex­ten­sions in the form of games, pro­duc­tiv­ity tools, graph­ics, spread­sheets, etc. Even Open Of­fice, nearly iden­ti­cal to Mi­crosoft Of­fice, is a free ex­ten­sion. To use the one we liked best, search for “Voice Dic­ta­tion in Chrome,” and when it comes up, just click “add to Chrome.” To use it, click its icon in the up­per right of your screen.

A few other ways: If you own an iPad or An­droid tablet, try voice typ­ing in Mi­crosoft Word, a free down­load. On an An­droid de­vice, start by en­abling “Google Voice Typ­ing” in set­tings, then just tap the mi­cro­phone in Word, or “Pages” for iPhones. On an iPad, it’s al­ready set up. Just tap the mi­cro­phone and start talk­ing.


A cou­ple we met said they only use Ama­zon’s Alexa to tell them a daily joke. We use her mainly for mu­sic and weather. Here are some more ideas a reader sent in.

Babysit the kids. Tell them to ask the Echo or the Google Home dig­i­tal as­sis­tant to play

games with them, an­swer their ques­tions or play chil­dren’s songs. Google Home will talk like Yoda or sing to you if you ask. The Ama­zon Echo or Echo Dot can play Jeop­ardy and a rhyming game, among oth­ers.

We said, “Hey Google, play a game,” and she gave us sev­eral choices. Her Mad Libs was fun, and got fun­nier with prac­tice. If you don’t have a Google Home, go to MadTakes.com for some­thing sim­i­lar. On your phone, try the free Mad Libs app for An­droid and iPhones. You can find games for Alexa in the Ama­zon Skills sec­tion of Ama­zon.com. Click any­thing that in­ter­ests you and then click “en­able.” She didn’t do well in our Mad Libs test, but Silly Sen­tences is fun.

Google Home can be a travel agent. Say “Find me non­stop flights,” adding the date, air­line and des­ti­na­tion. This also works if you have Google As­sis­tant on your phone or Siri on the iPhone or iPad. For Alexa, en­able the Flight Deals skill.

For med­i­ta­tion, say to Google Home, “Talk to Headspace.” There are three choices: wake up, take a mo­ment or wind down. On the Echo with Alexa, en­able a Med­i­ta­tion skill. Or you could just down­load the Headspace app on your phone.

Find more ideas for Google

Home at Domino.com, or by search­ing on “9 Things Your Per­sonal Google As­sis­tant Can Do.” For the Ama­zon Echo, search on “Things Echo Can Do.”


■ EurAt­las.com has lots of in­ter­est­ing maps, some for dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods.

■ OpenTheBooks.com is a non­profit data­base that tells you where tax­payer money is spent. For in­stance, the Ivy League col­leges re­ceived $41.5 bil­lion in tax­payer­funded pay­ments and en­ti­tle­ments over six fis­cal years end­ing in 2015. Yet their en­dow­ment funds are al­ready big enough to spend $2 mil­lion on each un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent.

■ “17 charts and fig­ures that show the U.S. is not as de­vel­oped as you’d think.” Search on that phrase to find some sur­pris­ing statis­tics. For in­stance, 11 de­vel­oped coun­tries have more hos­pi­tal beds per 1,000 peo­ple than the U.S. does. Ja­pan has more than 13 beds per 1,000 peo­ple; we have fewer than three.

■ “10 in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful and eco-friendly places to visit.” Live with rein­deer herders, for ex­am­ple. Our den­tist said they had the best steaks he ever ate.

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