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on April 3, 2011

1) capable of decent accuracy with modest training, and very good accuracy with more extended training
2) can keep up with relatively fast speaking meaning overall excellent speed of text generation
3) capacity to train multiple users and work within multiple dialects


1) unreliable, crash prone, and buggy - this program needs major work
2) poorly sorted out Windows 7 correction dialog operations
3) program becomes unstable when microphone is turned off for protracted periods of time, requiring reinitialization.
4) program support is a joke

It's almost impossible to be on the Internet or working with the computer and not be aware of Dragon's NaturallySpeaking 11.0. You would think from the relentless advertisement by Nuance that the program never makes a mistake, and allows seamless control of your computer while allowing you to dictate virtually everything. Unfortunately, the program's actual functioning falls well short of the hype and promise.

Although quite good accuracy is possible with modest levels of training, and very good accuracy is possible in technical fields with training of technical vocabulary, the program's buggy operation, recurrent vulnerability to crashing, humongous speech files and subsequent painfully slow loading, and very slow correction interface (much lower for some reason on Windows 7 than on Windows XP) spoil an otherwise enjoyable experience badly.

Although I am almost totally dependent on the program for professional writing (cranking out roughly 20 single spaced pages a day in a scientific area), I am continually amazed with how many rough edges the program has that Nuance seems to be oblivious to, simply because they recur from edition to edition. As but a small example of lack of attention to relevant details, the program, within Microsoft Word, does not use the specialized characters for quotation marks, but uses a generic and plainer character set, instead of the one generated within Microsoft Word. This means that if you want professional looking final product, you have to run a macro to replace their generic quotation marks with the proper special character. Although this is a small issue, it's just an example of so many ways in which the program falls down, and displays its lack of polish. It is amazing that despite five editions of the product which I have used that this particular issue continues, despite I'm sure much feedback from multiple users.

Then there is the issue of loading and speed of operation. With a solid-state drive (which gets to the Windows 7 desktop in 20 seconds), it takes 25 seconds to load speech files on NaturallySpeaking 11.0. In other words, an extremely fast hard drive loads a bloated operating system faster than it loads NaturallySpeaking 11.0. I hesitate to think how long it would take somebody to load speech files on the average 250 GB 5400 RPM hard drive. You could go out, mow your lawn, calculate your taxes, then do your email, and come back just in time to start dictating.

Well, so what? Once the program is loaded, things should be okay, right? Well this is where again the program falls down. First of all, actually correcting any text reveals a major bug in their Windows 7 code around keyboard input within the corrections dialog box. When you bring up the correction dialog box, you can't type characters without generating a long delay before the program somehow incorporates your keyboard input (roughly 8-9 seconds) - this is unacceptable waiting time for entering a couple of characters. Dictating or spelling out words within the correction dialog box produces somewhat snappier results (and if you disable speech playback, things are much quicker), but is still amazingly slow (running this program on an extremely fast processor, with 6 GB of RAM, and the fastest 250 GB solid-state drive). It's scary to imagine how slow this program would be on the average system. In fairness, some of it appears to be a Windows 7 incompatibility, as I use the same speech files and the same 11.0 version on a Windows XP system, and had much snappier response from within the corrections dialog box. Nuance advertises that their code is Windows 7 compatible - so something got lost in the translation. But again, this suggests that Nuance is more concerned with their advertising than with the program's actual performance.

The biggest problem though is what happens when you put the program into 'Suspend' by turning off the microphone - and by the way, you are forced to do this because if you simply tell the program to "go to sleep," any sound into the microphone will cause the page to scroll back to where the cursor currently is sitting. In other words, any kind of sound acts as a 'reinitialization command' to the cursor - the logic behind that completely escapes me! So essentially you are forced to suspend microphone input if you want to scroll through your text instead of the program intrusively interfering with this. This is where things get really interesting (after you turn the microphone off). After about 5 min., the program will malfunction (again only in Windows 7 and not in Windows XP for some strange reason) and give you an error code which the program cannot recover from, and thus all this nonsense requires that you basically start from scratch all over again. This means not simply reloading the program, because the program actually doesn't pull itself out of memory reliably and oftentimes leaves a huge executable sitting in the background (taking up over 300 MB of RAM) - - if you don't kill the program this way, when you try to reinitialize it, you will immediately get the same error code. This means you have to bring up Task manager, find the program, and manually terminate it, and then start from scratch and reload your speech files. This will again take a long period of time - close to 30 seconds with a solid-state drive, a minute and a half with a slower, conventional hard drive. All of this nonsense of course significantly deteriorates the productivity advantage associated with dictating versus typing. Indeed, for short pieces of text, all these hassles mean that it is almost always faster to simply type out a couple of paragraphs then it is to struggle with the program. For longer text generation, and assuming that you dictate continuously and don't risk putting the microphone into the off position for any extended period, the program is obviously much more productive and faster than typing.

This process of recurrent shutdown and reinitializing (due to fatal program errors) can be very frustrating, and oftentimes has to be repeated multiple times, because if you leave the program on (by not turning off the microphone), and there is any background noise, you'll get endless junk words into your dictation space. This brings us to another striking failure of the program - its inability to discriminate speech from background sounds and non-speech noises. The program seems to believe that every conceivable sound must translate into a word, and therefore, any kind of background noise makes it impossible to use the program particularly if you are not using a noise canceling microphone, and instead are dictating on a laptop that has a standard integrated microphone. You would think that the program, which runs on an enormous number of laptops, would be optimized for the standard integrated microphones on laptops. Unfortunately, it is not. You have to use Dragon's headphone microphone gear or some equivalent. Curiously, a much earlier version of the program NaturallySpeaking 8.0 seem to work much better with laptop microphone arrays. Why this might be is beyond me.

Because the program code is buggy and unreliable and subsequently the program locks up, you will find that occasionally your speech files are completely trashed and cannot be repaired through Nuance's repair algorithms (there is a speech file 'Restore' function from within the program). This means you had better make a backup copy of your speech files (make that several backup copies), or you will find yourself having to retrain your user identity all over again, from scratch - if you have spent years training various version of the program, this loss of speech files without a backup could make you suicidal or homicidal!! Additionally, you will find that their optimization program (which gives you the chance to optimize speech files that have had numerous corrections made to them) is not reliable and also occasionally locks up.

In case you're suspicious that these difficulties are unique to my machine, or are a function of viruses, spyware, or other hardware problems, rest assured that none of these issues are remotely responsible for the Programs buggy and unreliable operation. I run two spyware and antivirus programs concurrently, my system is about as fast as a window 7 system can be (Windows experience index 6.7 overall), and I always keep the machine in good working order.

All of these operational headaches spoil what otherwise might be a useful program. I believe that all of this emerges from Nuance having a very grandiose notion about their software, and not really listening very much to end-users. It's a shame that there is no real competition in the PC marketplace when it comes to dictation software. If there was, I suspect Nuance would have to get their act together because they would quickly lose market share. Given all these issues, 2/5 stars is actually generous - 1/5 stars would be justified.

I wish I could make do without the program, or transition to another speech recognition platform, but unfortunately I can't.


Well, Nuance seems to have been listening, but of course they never admit that their program has any real flaws, so they quietly released 11.5 - and it is somewhat better than the very buggy 11.0. It is less likely to lock up, although Microsoft Security Essentials doesn't seem to like this program, and sometimes you will have to stop MSE from running to dictate (perhaps MSE regards this as a virus!) Corrections are reasonably snappy, if you disable playback, or curiously, use an external mic. Not clear why the choice of microphone effects speed of operation of the corrections dialog box but it does. Nuance's support is still terrible. Improved product, but still 2/5 stars, but edging towards 3/5. No sign that Nuance is truly as committed to product debugging though as to advertizing.

Maybe next year?
77 comments|37 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This whole review is done with Dragon I will not edit it at all. Also older versions of this software will work fine and some users find them better.

As a quadriplegic standup comedian (okay I'm the cant stand up comic) I spent a lot of time doing voice dictation. I have been using Dragon naturally speaking since 1995 and I must say it is truly an amazing product and Dragon Dictate for Mac/Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PC are only getting better. I want to give a basic overview on voice dictation and being successful. One other thing to note is Nuances voice technology is the same software Apple uses on Siri their iPhone voice command interface.

To see my comedy set just google: AskACapper or I'm The Can't Stand Up Comic

One other thing to note I do not use Dragon for mouse movements and commands as I had the ability to use a touchpad mouse so I will not delve into those features in my review. This will merely focus on how you can use voice dictation effectively to receive near 100% accuracy. And how Dragon does it almost perfectly every time.

One thing you need to think about when you get into voice dictation is speaking in word clumps. You have to think about what you want to have Dragon type for you then you have to say those sentences in chunks (I hope that makes sense) most people who complain about voice dictation don't take the time to realize this.

In the following example I did edit the text when errors were made for continuity of thought.

if I wanted to say "Is that the wheelchair that goes upstairs?" "No it is not but it goes downstairs one time really fast!"
The way I attacked this sentence was "Is that the wheelchair -pause- that goes upstairs question mark -pause- no it is not -pause- but it goes downstairs -pause- one time really fast exclamation point

Here is another one "what is the worst thing that a handicapped person can hear? Is it a doctor telling you you'll never walk again? Or someone saying you can't go with us because you are disabled? No the worst thing we can hear is someone in a crowd yell "run for your lives" at that point I know I am boned.

Here is how I approached saying that joke out loud I will put in a - where I pause
what is the worst thing-that a handicapped person-can hear question mark - is it a doctor-telling you-you'll never walk again question mark - or someone saying-you can't go with us-because you are disabled-question mark - no-the worst thing that we can hear-is someone in a crowd-yell-open quote- run for your lives-end quote- at that point-I know I'm boned period
[End example]

I hope that helps you again understanding how to speak in clumps of words remember to keep your word count between pauses at about 7 to 10. If you do this you will be successful in using voice dictation. If you put a microphone near your mouth and learned to speak in word clumps I say you will have 99% accuracy every time.

Without speaking a word clumps and thinking about what you want to say is when voice dictation has problems, here is an example of a long sentence I will speak this without stopping and pausing at certain points.

What I said: I am not disabled I am just very lazy and really I'm only in this thing for the parking.
What Dictate heard: I am not disabled I am just very lazy and really I'm only in this thing for the parking.

There you go it got a perfect 19 word sentence correct but most of the time keeping your clumps lower helps the program not make mistakes that is just what I have found.

How to train your Dragon: DO ALL THE TRAINING Is all I have to say! Sorry for yelling out better now. But really one thing I found super helpful in doing voice dictation is doing all of the training that you can. While you might not feel like reading a bunch of chapters from random books it really helps and should be done. I make a rule to do all the training the program provides so that it gets used my voice.

Now the microphone that comes with Dragon is decent and will get you almost 99% accuracy. Right now I'm using a tabletop microphone I'm sitting about 6-8 inches away from the microphone and still getting perfect accuracy! Truly amazing how far it's come in 15 years.

What I appreciate also about Dragon is its low resource usage. I mean as I use Dragon through the years it would talk a lot of resources i.e. CPU power and RAM space but now on even a low-cost computer will be fully capable of running this powerful program. I would happily recommend at least 2 GB of RAM though.

Till I Collapse by Eminem lyrics, this is unedited straight dictation. First line is dictation - (Second is the true verse to compare.)
As soon as the verse starts I eat it at MC's heart - (Soon as a verse starts I eat it at MC's heart) * ERROR
what's he thinking? How not to go against me? Smart. - (what is he thinking? How not to go against me? Smart.) * PERFECT
And it's absurd how people hang on every word - (And its absurd how people hang on every word.) * PERFECT
I'll probably never get the props I feel I ever deserve - (I'll probably never get the props I feel I ever deserve) * PERFECT
but I'll never be served my spot is forever reserved - (But I'll never be served my spot is forever reserved) * PERFECT
if I ever leave Earth that would be the death of me first. - (If I ever leave earth that would be the death of me first.) * PERFECT
Visit my heart of hearts I know nothing could ever be worse. - (Cause in my heart of hearts I know nothing could ever be worse.) * ERROR
That's why I'm clever when I put together every verse - (That's why I'm clever when I put together every verse) * PERFECT
my thoughts are sporadic, I act like I'm inadequate - (My thoughts are sporadic, I act like I'm an addict) * ERROR
I rap like I'm addicted to smack like I'm Kim Mathers. - (I rap like I'm addicted to smack like I'm Kim Mathers.) * ERROR
the fact is I would rather sit back and bomb some rappers. - (The fact is I would rather sit back and bomb some rappers.) * PERFECT
So this is like a full-blown attack I'm launching Them - (So this is like a full blown attack I'm launching at them) * ERROR
the track is on some battling raps who wants some static - (The track is on some battling raps who want some static) * PERFECT
because I don't really think that the fact that I'm slim matters - (Cause I don't really think that the fact that I'm Slim matters) * ERROR
a plaque of platinum status is wack if I'm not the baddest. - (A plaque of platinum status is whack if I'm not the baddest.) * ERROR

I would say that there were a few errors in that resuscitation of that rap but not bad, and good enough that it would save me about 30 minutes to type that okay maybe 15 but I do type one key at a time.

Is that voice dictation sometimes makes mistakes but those mistakes can really be great. So sometimes voice dictation will misunderstand what you say what the end result is better than or uses different words then you are going to ever use. For example the other day I went to use "definitely demonstrates" and Dragon burped out "deftly demonstrates" and in the context it's error was a better fit is so bonus when that happens! Keep that in mind voice dictation for the win!

So all in all I recommend Dragon to anyone with a disability for sure, and if you are dyslexic Dragon can really help you also. I think you'll find that this program will free you from the keyboard when it comes to entering tax into e-mails or documents web forums and the like.

I am Chuck Bittner and I approve this message LOL!
0Comment|4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 25, 2014
I've been training and working with the product for a month or two and it works well. When using a hand-held recording device it is a challenge to get it to work with peoples' names and the technical support said that because its a dated product (DNS 11.5 and not 12) and purchased on Amazon they would only answer one question for more. They suggested buying the updated DNS 12. As it is being used for work, it may be a necessity. They, tech support, "might" have answered more questions if they had been told it was purchased elsewhere.
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on December 14, 2013
Having been a huge fan & booster of Dragon Naturally Speaking for over 10 years this turned out to be a major disappointment. The claims that it can work in virtually every program is simply not true. My main need is for creating documents. This version only works in either Notepad or Workpad & even then you must remember to save every 2-3 sentences or you can lose all your work. Problem is, it's the only game in town.
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on November 2, 2013
As an academic, producing several papers each week, I have found NDNS to facilitate my efforts. I intend to acquire the Mandarin Language version in the near future.
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on January 15, 2014
Terrible software. Gives me nothing but system errors and doesn't work at all. It won't let me uninstall it. Horrible.
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