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If you didn’t experience the early days of dictation software, consider yourself lucky. It was boring and vague. I was an early adopter and remember thinking it was more work than reward. But that’s the nature of technology: we’re all guinea pigs.
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Luckily we can now test the dictation technology in action. While it’s not perfect, it’s accurate more than 90% of the time. You can speak at your natural pace, which was unheard of in the 90s. And with voice commands you can do it more efficiently.
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Here I’ll show you a variety of text-to-speech programs and give you tips on how to get the most out of what you’re using. And, of course, I’ll share my picks for the best dictation software with detailed reviews for each app.
When looking for online dictation software, keep in mind that it can include all kinds of apps and services. The terms dictation software, speech recognition, speech recognition, voice to text, and speech recognition can refer to software that converts your voice into text on a screen in real time. But sometimes searches for these terms include products that provide something completely different.
For example, some products will transcribe audio files to text, but will not transcribe your voice to text in real time. Others are advertised as AI personal assistants (they perform all computing tasks using voice) and may include a dictation component. You can find companies that provide human transcription services by using real people to transcribe audio files into text.
Then there are the AI assistants built into many of the devices we use every day: Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. They’re great for scheduling meetings, listening to music, and finding places to eat, but they’re not designed for transcribing articles, meetings, and other documents.
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For this review, I will focus on the standalone speech to text transcription software or device.
Why do you want to do this? Dictation software for beginners allows people with physical and speech disabilities to use technology and be more productive. For example, if you can’t use your hands, you can use dictation technology to work on a computer, create documents, and access the Internet. And those with chronic conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome can avoid the repetitive stress of typing simply by using their voice.
But as technology has improved and costs have fallen over the past 20 years, dictation software is almost immediately available as a productivity tool. Students can write articles and take lecture notes based on the software’s capabilities. Plus, the casual user can dictate notes, a shopping list, a message or a reminder while performing other tasks, making multitasking a reality. Think: Take a walk while you “write” your next novel.
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Whether you’re sending a text message or writing a TPS report, the right word should be your top priority. Accurate voice recording software instills confidence, allowing you to focus on what you’re saying and less on how you say it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to speak your words (you should), but the best dictation software usually works well with small errors and stutters in everyday speech. The first quality I looked for when deciding which software to choose was accuracy.
While Dictation software is quite good at recognizing different voices, it’s not perfect. Here are some tips to make it work best.
With a dictation program, your voice is recorded using a microphone included in your device (computer, tablet, cell phone) or as part of a certain software package (for example, Microsoft Office). For dictation users who write notes and shopping lists, the built-in microphone should work well. But if you use it more intensively—writing coherent content, narrating meetings, sending emails—consider something that picks up the sound waves in your voice more efficiently.
For under $100, there are many options for headphones or external microphones used by YouTube podcasters and interviewers. For this test I used Jabra’s mid-range USB headphones for everything except mobile applications. It is lightweight, very comfortable and has relatively good audio/sound quality. If you don’t want to connect your device, wireless devices like the Jabra Elite 45h ($100) may be faster. And the highly rated Blue Snowball USB Microphone ($70) has a cool retro look and its own adjustable stand.
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To test accuracy, I used the same 209-word script for all applications. It had five paragraphs, sentences of varying lengths, some punctuation, numbers, and a proper noun for good measure. Additionally, there were some compound adjectives (such as third party) that caused problems in all but one application, without hyphenation if there was no order. I didn’t penalize the app if automatic hyphenation was missing. For all candidates, except mobile, I used my Jabra headphones. My office testing area had very little background noise.
I wrote scripts for every app I tested. Then I stopped, noted the clarity and any impressions (like “random capital letters in the third sentence”), and repeated this step two more times. Since my dictations were never delivered flawlessly, I averaged three attempts to determine accuracy. I also tried different commands and other features, such as adding a difficult word to the app’s dictionary to ensure accuracy where suggested.
Keep in mind that most of these apps get more accurate the more you use them, so the numbers listed will improve with continued use. Also, because I was reading from a “script,” my speaking speed was faster than that of a normal person expressing their thoughts.
Look no further than your Mac, iPhone, or iPad for one of the best dictation tools available. Apple’s built-in Siri-based dictation functionality (I wouldn’t be surprised if they merge one day) is offered as part of Apple’s desktop and mobile operating systems. On iOS devices, tap the microphone icon on the main keyboard. On the desktop, you can turn it on by going to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation, then using the keyboard shortcut to turn it on in your app.
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If you want voice navigation and dictation on your Mac, try voice control. By default, voice control requires the Internet to work and has a time limit of approximately 30 seconds for each part of speech. To remove these restrictions for Mac, turn on Enhanced Dictation and follow the instructions for your operating system (you can also turn it on for iPhone and iPad). Advanced Dictation adds a local file to your device so you can dictate offline.
You can format and edit text using simple commands like “new paragraph” or “select previous word”. Tip: As you get the hang of it, you can see the available commands in a small window, like a little cheat sheet. Apple also offers a number of advanced commands for things like math, currency, and formatting.
Apple Dictation Accuracy: For this test I used a borrowed iPhone 14 with basic dictation capabilities. For my 209-word test, he changed an average of eight words across three tests, achieving an accuracy score of 97%. Like Gboard