07 January 2021

Dragon: a review

I have been dictating to my computer since October. I started in Word, and then soon after switched to the Microsoft voice recognition software. But when I still ended up with awful RSI, the University offered me Dragon. I only got trained up in that literally a few hours before the end of term, so it hasn’t quite been put to the test yet, but I am using the Christmas holidays to get used to it. As soon as I have to go officially back to work, I will need all the skills I can have! My arms are getting better with regards to heavy work, but it still only takes a handful of mouse clicks or other mouse manipulations to make my arms hurt. I really need to be able to use Dragon to not use my arms at all!

So what is my verdict so far? Well, I don’t really see why anyone would still want to type text if they have access to Dragon. You can even get away with not typing if you only have Word dictate, or Windows speech recognition. It works quite well, and quite often, the correct function is quite good. For instance, earlier in this paragraph I said “access”; it is quite thinkable that the computer will think I am actually saying “excess”. Windows speech recognition is quite good at taking that possibility into consideration. If it’s misunderstood something you said, and you say “correct that”, you tend to get a long list of possible options. The problem is, though, that you probably also get lots of impossible options. I mean, I am not famous for articulating, but sometimes windows speech recognition really goes to town with making a dog’s breakfast of what I said. And you can spell things, but that can be a bit cumbersome. If you just list the letters, it tends to confuse between P and B, and M and N and such. I seem to be physically unable to articulate so well the computer understands I am pronouncing a P. So then the only option is the NATO alphabet. And that can be a bit cumbersome!

The thing that really infuriated me, though, was that sometimes the computer just doesn’t get it when you are making a choice. It gives your options as a numbered list, and you just give the number, and say okay. But it happened quite often that I wanted, say, option two, only for the computer to ask “what was that?”, and taking about ten turns to understand my increasingly impatient “two!” But in the end, you always get there.

And in Dragon? Well, my experience is that it is better in understanding you the first time around. If you make it correct things, it tends to give you a very limited list of alternative options. The good thing, though, is that it understands spelling a lot better. I can just list the letters, and nine out of ten times, that works flawlessly. NATO alphabet not often needed!

So that was dictating text to Word. What about everything else? Well, one thing I really like about Dragon is that you can open a dictation box in different programs. In a dictation box, you can manipulate text to your heart’s desire, and only transfer it to the programme you’re in when you’re satisfied. So you can spell out difficult URLs in the address bar of a web browser, or you can write and edit an email in Outlook, or any of that. Windows can’t do that, so I was always composing text in Word, and copying it over into whatever it needed to go into. Dragon is a lot more user-friendly that way!

And what about moving around in a web browser or in file Explorer or any of that? Well, whatever programme I am using, I still find that cumbersome. When I was just using Dragon, I found it harder than when using Windows speech recognition. With the latter program, you can just ask “show numbers” and you see everything you could click on. If you then just name the number you want and say “okay” then you get there. It doesn’t always work; sometimes the programme recognises several options lying on top of each other, and then it can be hard to find the one you need, as it can be at the bottom. And if there are too many options, it can be hard to make yourself understood. The programme is likely to understand you when you say “13” but that likelihood is smaller when you say “876”. So it’s not perfect, but it is very useful! And Dragon doesn’t do it. I found it devilishly difficult to move around a browser with Dragon alone. I tend to use the web version of email, so that was a browser too, and it was deeply frustrating. Whatever I seemed to say, the computer interpreted it as me wanting to archive arbitrary mails. It was infuriating! I found out that that doesn’t happen if you use the desktop app, so that’s what I do now, but for some reason that displays my emails in some awkward way and I haven’t managed to rectify that. But at least, I can say things such as “previous message” without all my emails vanishing into the archive.

For a while I just had both voice recognition programs open, switching regularly between them; using Windows voice recognition for clicking things, and Dragon for the rest. But then I got SpeechStart! And that replaces that function. And it does it better than windows! It recognises the times in Adobe reader, for instance. Windows doesn’t, as far as I can tell. So now I can manage with only Dragon and SpeechStart. But I still can’t use web email without detrimental effects.

If you don’t manage to select what you want using SpeechStart, though, you can still find a way in Dragon; you can either ask for a mouse grid, which divides your screen in various rectangles that become smaller with every iteration, and then just ask it to click on the rectangle of your choice. Or you can manipulate the mouse around. You can tell it to move in one of eight directions. And both these options are really slow, but they allow you to click anything you might want to click.

I also still find negotiating file Explorer difficult with whichever software I use. I hope practice makes perfect! As you can’t really do your job without rummaging around in your files. And if you have to make your mouse move around to get the right directories, things take forever. And if things are not working well, the temptation is there to just grab your mouse and get things over with. And I should not give in to that temptation! A mouse is for emergencies only.­ I need to find a new balance in which I can work normal hours without hurting my arms!


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