After receiving my 15″ MacBook Pro last week, I decided to go ahead and purchase an OS X Mountain Lion license in order to take advantage of some of the features made possible by the latest version of OS X. One of these features is Dictation, a long-awaited addition to the operating system that allows users to use their voice rather than their hands to type.
It’s easy to write off other speech-to-text programs in favor of this free one that comes baked right in to the operating system. For most users, Apple’s Dictate may be all you really need to make life a little easier for you as you work. For others, there are still some features exclusive to these applications that the built-in speech recognition software just doesn’t handle… yet.
In terms of accuracy, both Apple and Dragon are exceptional. Whether my head is turned toward or away from my MacBook Pro, my words are interpreted about the same on both programs. I found Dragon Dictate to be a little more forgiving than Apple when it comes to mispronunciations thanks in part to the training you have to go through before using the software.
Where Dragon Dictate pulls ahead is error correction. You can say things like “strike that” and “correct that” to correct things you said incorrectly with Dragon. Apple Dictation gives you what it got, and you’ll need to make adjustments manually.
Launching applications using your voice is a big deal for many users, and it’s a great advantage to using Dragon Dictate over Apple Dictation. You can say, “Open iTunes” and play music without touching your keyboard. With Apple Dictate, you still need to do some things with your mouse.
Another feature I love about Dragon is also available with Apple Dictation. Text-to-speech allows you to hear articles and stories without having to stare at the page yourself. Just highlight what you want it to read and give it a right-click. The text will read to you in robotic (yet not terribly bad) voices. You can choose from six different voices on Mountain Lion, including the all-too-familiar Siri voice. Personally, I prefer “Alex,” which is a clear male voice that doesn’t break up on complicated words quite as much as its counterparts.
Free is a good price to me. Sure, you have to pay $20 for the Mountain Lion upgrade, but if voice recognition is really your only reason for upgrading, you’re still beating the price of Dragon Dictate for Mac.
That said, you’re also missing out on some seriously useful features. Voice correction, application launching, sleep and wake (by voice), and advanced training are just some of the advantages of having commercial third-party software rather than just what comes with the operating system. The price for these extra features? You’re looking at between $130 and $200, depending on if you’re a student or not.
Whether you’re a Dragon fan or a fan of Apple’s Dictation software, it’s hard to see either of these products as being at risk of being taken out by the other. Dragon has a long history of exceptional speech recognition software, and undoubtedly these products will just continue to get better as the technology evolves. Likewise, Apple’s introduction of speech recognition to its aging OS is sure to be a big hit among folks who prefer talking to typing.