Category Archives: Product review

Dragon versus Windows Speech Recognition, part 2

For some reason WordPress keeps snipping this short, always at the same point. (Don’t tell me, too many words!) Anyway, I was pointing out that Dragon comes with its own macro tool which you definitely want to use because it’s a very handy work-saver. Add that to the total: Dragon 13 is absolutely the better voice recognition and worth the price. Nuance has really upped its game in the years since I stopped using Dragon. Microsoft, many times its competitor’s size, ought to try to try to do the same sometime.

Can you hear me now?: Dragon vs. Windows Speech Recognition

This post is not timely. The software I’m talking about here is old hat. But I’m writing this up anyway for those like me who still have this particular question in mind: Dragon 13 versus Windows Speech Recognition Windows 10 version? For those on a budget – especially the disabled user who truly relies on speech recognition – which one?

The question is a done deal to most out there. The consensus is Dragon, hands-down. It has been so for a while. I was a longtime Dragon user, and now I am again. For years, Dragon kept me productive. But then I switched to Windows’s Speech Recognition. Why oh why would I do that?

I have relied on voice recognition since the mid-to late 90s. Then as now, Dragon NaturallySpeaking was the leader. Back then it had decent competition from IBM’s Via Voice. But I went with Dragon and was glad I did. It was affordable, much more so than Via Voice. I remember working with versions 2.something, 3.0, 3.5 and onward. They could be frustrating, especially because with my affected hands I was limited to desktop microphones, which weren’t as good as headsets. (I could not place the headset on my head.) But voice recognition was a new thing and it kept me in the game. I turned out a weekly column for years as well as some short fiction, though it took me a while to get those words down. Always I wished that my learned grandfather, who had been stricken with some form of polio or perhaps MS, could have used Dragon himself. He passed away in 1976 and did not get to experience the benefits of voice-recognition or the ADA. That puts my own frustrations in perspective.

A big shakeup in my order came around 2007 with Windows 7. I happened to get a copy on its first day out, loaded on a new, affordable HP laptop. That was the best computer I’ve ever owned: I don’t use much beyond voice-recognition and browsers, and once the new operating system and I had trained each other over a couple of days, things ran smooth like a big heavy sedan. Fortunately I had skipped right over Vista, so I had no experience with Windows Speech Recognition. Before I loaded Dragon, I gave WSR (which comes as part of Windows) a whirl. I was won over.

To this experienced voice-recognition user, WSR and Dragon ran neck-and-neck. There were certain features that one had over the other, but overall it was a wash. What sealed the deal with me was that the WSR was seamlessly integrated into Windows. Dragon, on the other hand, is loaded on top of Windows, and over time, it would degrade. There would be software conflicts, corruptions and voice profiles. More and more I had to create new voice profiles to replace corrupted ones. Then it went to having to reinstall the software itself. The microphone was a peripheral that had to be carried along and plugged into the laptop. Laptops are supposed to be mobile, after all. But in the new HP laptop, even the microphone was integrated: I simply used the webcam mic. Was it a crappy mic? Probably, but it worked at least as well as the string of desktops mics I went through. So, no more cords, no more system conflicts in the software, but with the same or better voice-recognition performance. It wasn’t even a contest. I switched to WSR and used it for years.

Skip ahead to 2018. Another new laptop, this one running Windows 10, still with WSR. I mean, still with the exact same fricking WSR. Do you detect a change in tone here? Things have lost their shine by this point. First of all, from what I can tell, Windows has made zero improvements to its computer speech recognition since Vista. Not a one. What I could glean from the techie bulletin boards confirms this. Microsoft is touting big investments in speech recognition, but apparently that’s all centered around phone applications. To me that’s shabby. How many versions of Windows and upgrades and updates have there been since the debut of WSR, and this is what they give us. No pride of product. Apparently the profit margins don’t allow such things, cough. It’s a pretty typical approach for many businesses to accessibility, unfortunately. As an afterthought.

But at least this latest HP (my second laptop since that 2004 Windows 7 unit) has more horsepower: more RAM and more processor speed. Nothing too extreme, because I’m on a budget – this whole blog is premised around a tight budget. Anyway, I expected a little better performance. What I got was less.
After a rocky getting-used-to-each other period that extended a couple of nonproductive weeks longer than my previous new systems, I was still seeing hot and cold results. I do nothing exotic in my work, only dictation and browsing. In these ordinary tasks, sometimes things went along OK. But more often than not it took multiple repeated commands only to navigate a webpage. Speech recognition accuracy plummeted. Terrible performance. My microphone setup was the same: I had picked up a Samson Go Mic for under $30 that clips to the laptop, and I simply transferred that over to the new HP laptop running Windows 10. Again my results went from decent to garbage.

Windows 10 itself with its interface that concentrates on phone usage is not a welcome change for the PC voice-recognition user. A lot of valuable keyboard shortcuts have been written out or are difficult to find. The old start menu allowed keyboard navigation using the direction arrows. The redesigned start menu requires you use the MouseGrid. That might be OK too, if I could fly around the grid like I could in Windows 7. For some reason MouseGrid is slower. (By the way, a handy improvement was finding a Windows classic shell program on the Internet, which restores the Windows button and start menu to the familiar Windows 7 configuration.)

All right, enough kvetching and tedious explanation. Purchasing Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 is well worth your $100. Running it on Windows 10 with the same inexpensive Samson microphone, I achieve accuracy like I never have before. I am able to dictate blocks of text 100 words or more with only a few errors because of sloppy dictation, usually at the trailing end of my thoughts. I had only heard about capabilities like this. Amazing.

There is a slight lag where sometimes the software seems to be deliberating before it spews out words. I don’t know if that is a limitation of my system (list the system) or because I tend to get breathless and sloppy with my speech. I am still getting used to the program and so I am running both Windows Speech Recognition for some navigation and Dragon for dictation, switching as needed. Going back and forth can be rough on the system, with occasional long delays for processing. Dragon will freeze, get stuck, and sometimes I have to close the program. Definitely inconvenient, and at times Dragon does not close cleanly. But as I find Dragon’s Chrome extension to be more and more useful, my need for Windows Speech Recognition is tapering and so are the conflicts.

One last advantage I’ve found in Dragon’s favor is that it comes with its own macro tool. You can create voice-recognition shortcuts to automate phrases or keystrokes for navigating Windows and entering frequently used text. Before, I was using Microsoft’s own macro utility, offered for free but as a tool to create macros was frustrating. I ran it in conjunction with the

Dot + fan = Relief

Summer heat! One very useful gadget helping me this year is the Alexa Dot. Whenever I’m hot I turn on my fan, by voice. You don’t have to get up when you’re feeling wobbly and weak. Dot $40 plus $18 for adapter that controls three devices (fan, light and computer). A great purchase for me.

Great Product: Med Aire Mattress Pad System With Alternating Pressure Pump by Drive Medical

Living in a wheelchair means constantly being on guard for pressure sores. Last summer, they finally found me. After 24 years of good luck, I got one that kept me in bed for much of the summer. Lying in bed so long, I also got weaker and started losing ground. Ironically, 24-7 bedrest that’s required actually puts you at risk for even more wounds. I also found out my mattress was too hard for all-day use, but by then it was too late to do anything about it. My back was literally up against it. But in the nick of time, the luck kicked in again and we found this product.

How much does it cost for a new mattress or topper? Hundreds? Thousands? This product is less than $80. It is a twin-sized air pad (78″ x 36″) that sits atop the mattress. It covers half of our queen-sized bed and works fine.

The beauty of the thing is its automatic electric air pump that changes and redistributes pressure all by itself, every 5 minutes. So, you never have the same pressure for more than 5 minutes. That’s a huge benefit to someone like me who sleeps in the same spot every night, unable to adjust position. The pump isn’t noisy, particularly when positioned under the foot of the bed. My computer’s voice recognition is sensitive to extra noise, and isn’t affected at all. You can adjust settings for firmness and softness.

It is well-made and durable. Replacement cushions are available for cheap without having to replace the pump.

In the product reviews you’ll find case after case of users and overwhelmed caregivers whose situations improved dramatically with this inexpensive purchase. It really is invaluable.

In my own case, the trouble spots – elbows, heels, and of course ischials – all improved using this cushion. When on bedrest, you don’t want to lose ground, and this product eased a lot of those worries. This thing is a no-brainer.

Also, a hat tip to heavy-duty moisturizers Udderly Smooth and Bag Balm, to heal and keep me in the game.