Speech recognition, epitomised by Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 (Dragon 13), is much more than a convenience. After you're over the "magic" of seeing what you say appear on the screen as perfectly formed text, you start to realise the true benefits of the technology.
The most obvious one is the speed with which you can create new text. Most people can speak at between two and three times their typing speed. So with very little extra effort, and no risk of RSI, you can generate documents simply by thinking of their contents out loud. From brainstorming a new idea to writing up a multi-page report, talking to your PC can save a lot of time.
Installation of speech recognition software used to be an involved procedure. You'd have to train the software to understand the register of your voice and your accent. Over the years, Nuance has reduced these requirements, so now you can use the software straight out of the box, without any training. It really is as simple as installing the product and starting to speak to it.
In most people's working days they create several different types of text, nearly all of which can be sped up using Dragon 13. Working through your typical day, you might start by checking your email and replying to any important messages.
You can do this through Microsoft Outlook, or by using online mail clients such as Gmail or Yahoo! Mail. The clients can be operated by voice and the text can be dictated directly into a new message box, before posting. Simply saying "Reply" while viewing a message will call up the new message box where you can dictate its text.
You may also want to catch up with social media and you can post to both Facebook and Twitter with commands as simple as "Post this to Facebook/Twitter" for a piece of selected text, or "Post to Facebook/Twitter" followed by the spoken text you want to turn into the posting.
You can also use voice commands to work with the Internet through your browser. Dragon 13 supports Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox as well as Internet Explorer. Rather than just navigating from site to site, you can issue commands such as "Search Google for hotels in Lincoln" or "Open top site for local weather forecast," which in my case opened BBC local weather.
Perhaps the main part of your work involves creating reports or other regular documents. You can work with Dragon 13 in Microsoft Word and dictate into various versions of WordPerfect and Open Office. If you use specialised terminology for medical or legal work, there are versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking with vocabulary lists dedicated to these professions.
Dragon 13 has an extensive command list, which you can use for formatting text and controlling the applications it supports, but you can also add your own commands to create customised text and graphics, further saving time with things like digital signatures and company logos. In Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional, this facility is extended, so you can effectively create command macros to be called up verbally.
A time-saver not always obvious is the lack of need to spell check dictated text. Apart from the occasional homonymic error, where one word is replaced by a soundalike – "rose" for "rows", for example – Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 draws from its own, correctly spelt, word list. Once recognised, text doesn't suffer from typos or those ingrained spelling mistakes we all make.
As well as speech recognition, all versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking include improved text-to-speech capabilities, so you can listen to text you've created in a natural, British English, voice. This is useful particularly for proofing documents you've created and can show up errors you might miss simply by rereading what you've written.
If you also need to create tables and spreadsheets, Dragon 13 Premium works within Excel so you can construct and format the data in the same way you would with keyboard and mouse. The Premium version of Dragon 13 can also work within PowerPoint, to create and edit presentations. The most efficient way of working with both these applications is probably to combine mouse and spoken word entry.
There are few areas in which Dragon 13 can't be used to good effect to speed the entry of text, but you don't have to be sitting in front of a PC to take advantage of its benefits. Dragon 13 Premium can also transcribe speech from audio files. These can be created on a personal recorder and there is a version of the product with a digital recorder in the box.
It's also possible to create a suitable file on just about any device that can make quality sound recordings. Applications available on Android devices and iPhones can be used to create speech files, which can then be copied onto a PC back at base and transcribed by Dragon 13 Premium.
Dragon 13 also enables you to dictate into most Windows devices which have a built-in microphone. You no longer need to carry a cabled or Bluetooth headset around with you, but can speak directly to many laptops and tablets. You may need to pick a quiet corner to dictate, but it's easier not to have to carry accessories around when you're travelling.
The old adage 'time is money' applies well to Dragon 13. As you spend less time with the more mundane aspects of text creation, particularly true if you're not a touch typist, you can get more done and spend more time on the creative areas of your work.
In offices, enabling all staff to create their own documents, rather than having to rely on shorthand and dictation through specialist personnel, may mean typists and secretaries can be reused more productively, to reduce the need for recruitment in other areas.
The refinements on show in Dragon 13 really do make it the preferred way of interacting with your Windows PC, laptop or tablet. It is now so accurate and with such a wide range of commands that it is much simpler and certainly much quicker to talk to your computer, than to rely on your typing skills.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 is now available from the official Nuance store for £139.99.