Product review: Speech recognition for the road

Dragon Systems' new $US249 dictation package, NaturallySpeaking Mobile, lets you do your talking while you're walking. It combines a pocket voice recorder and NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software. You create, edit, and format documents by dictating into the recorder. Once back in your office, you connect the recorder to your PC's serial port and download your dictation; the software then transcribes it into editable text.

As with most speech-recognition products, you have to begin by training it. I spent 20 minutes reading book excerpts into a preproduction version of NaturallySpeaking Mobile before using it to dictate e-mail, letters, and reports at my office, an airport, and a trade show.

Dragon says the recorder's compression of audio files hampers the software's speech recognition ability, at least initially, and my tests bore this out. While both recorder and software were super-easy to use, accuracy was disappointing at first. Scores of words were botched--"thanks" was interpreted as "flanks," "Lisa Leno" as "let me know," and so on. The software understood most instructions ("new paragraph," "scratch that"), but it had problems with formatting requests like "bold that." Two more 20-minute training sessions improved accuracy, as did my editing corrections. But it took a month of use for the product to become truly convenient.

You'll need at least a Pentium-133 computer with 32MB of RAM (I had a Pentium II-450 with 128MB of RAM). The chic 4-ounce recorder runs on two AAA batteries. Dragon also bundles a copy of NaturallySpeaking Preferred, its excellent $160 desktop dictation program.

People who want to take notes or write drafts on the road will find Dragon's mobile product convenient, so long as they're prepared to do a fair amount of editing later. But for more formal work--like dictating letters--NaturallySpeaking Mobile has some catching up to do to keep pace with more advanced desktop programs like NaturallySpeaking Preferred.

NaturallySpeaking Mobile

PRO: Easy to use recorder, great for downloading dictation to a PC.

CON: Initial accuracy is spotty.

VALUE: Convenient for dictating drafts and notes while traveling.

Street price: $249

Dragon Systems: http://www.dragonsys.com

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