First I'd like to say, I can speak exclusively for my computer and my experience. The software may work perfectly for most people and many seem to love it, but I had a very bad experience. The first part of my review deals with my "fun" installing the software. If you think the software will work fine on your computer and you're not interested any install issues, please scroll down to the heading that says THE ACTUAL SOFTWARE.
I have a computer that's around 3 years old running Windows Vista premium, has an Athlon 60 X2 dual core processor 5600+ (2.80 GHZ) with three gig of RAM and plenty of hard drive space; it's a HP m8100n if you want to look up the exact specs. Suffice it to say, it easily meets the system requirements. The fun started when I installed the program. It took, with no exaggeration, over an hour to install from the CD. Yes, an HOUR. I timed it.
So I finally start up the program and guess what. It doesn't work. I get the below message.
"Error while unpacking program, code LP5. Please report to author."
So great, I'll try a repair installation. So I go to Add/Remove programs and try to use it there. Naturally, an error message is the response. I don't remember the exact text, but essentially there isn't enough access please run from the CD. OK, so the CD goes back in and I try a repair. Thankfully it goes faster than the install did and only takes maybe five minutes. However part way through, guess what ANOTHER BLOODY ERROR. This time there are processes running that won't allow it to update (more on what they were in a minute). OK, so you'd think clicking the option to shut down those processes would do the trick. I sure did when the window closed and the program kept going...only to fail right at the end and take even more time rolling changes back. The two processes responsible, the Dragon Speaking service itself and Acresso Software Manager (windows process name is ISUSPM.exe); both programs are Nuance's so you'd think it could manage shutting them down. You'd be wrong. So I try again, this time telling it not to bother, that I'd just reboot afterward. It finishes, I reboot. Same error. Just freaking great!
I go to try to find a solution. Their website is worthless. First, Firefox warns that the site is potentially dangerous, however IE doesn't have issues. Make of that what you will. Unless I'm the first person with this error, their search needs work because I found nothing helpful doing that. They offer free support for the first 90 days, but the site makes it a trial to get at that support. I went to try to submit an issue and it showed me as logged in, however the only options were "Create new account" and "Forgot my password.". I wish I could attach a picture to see how bizarre it is to have my name in the corner of the site showing me logged in, but having the site inform me I'm not. I clicked log out, but naturally I it threw me off of the page and I had to go back through the whole support thing to find the product again and this time be able to log in. I'm currently awaiting a response.
In the mean time, I found a post on a 3rd party website via Google search suggesting disabling antivirus. I tried that and the program starts. What exactly it is doing that is virus like I'd be really interested in knowing. I had the same result with Bitdefender 2010
and BitDefender 2011
. I was eventually able to add it to an exceptions list, but I'm VERY uncomfortable running software that has to bypass an antivirus program in order to operate. It seems like an infection targeting would then have an easy time avoiding the scanner.
How did the actual program work? Well, first off it demanded to be activated, which I really dislike. I already typed in a security key and now it wants to connect to the Internet; you only get 5 uses without activating. Not a deal breaker, but annoying. So I activate and start the profile setup. First step is testing the microphone volume. At first it failed, but it was my fault. If you have that issue, try going to Control Panel, choose Sound, then click the Recording tab. Make sure Microphone has a green check on it and if "Stero Mix" is enabled, right-click and disable it. That should let Dragon recognize input from your microphone. Anyway, after fixing that configuration I went on to "voice quality" training, which naturally failed and dumped me back to volume check. OK, so I try again. Volume is fine, quality fails again. I'm using the nice microphone headset that came with the software so it's not even unexpected hardware. After the fourth try it works. The rest of the training goes smoothly and pretty soon it's all set up.
THE ACTUAL SOFTWARE
The voice-recognition itself is really very good. The program is quick to recognize your speech and EXTREMELY accurate even with very little training. I have absolutely no complaints about the actual quality of the recognition. I was totally impressed how quickly it picked up speech and how was able to fill in the spaces after sentences automatically. In contrast the setting up of software it was user friendly and everything I'd hoped for. In addition the dictation, I also used it to try navigating in Firefox. I wasn't quite as impressed here. The controls seem pretty primitive even compared the "free" voice-recognition software that's included in Windows Vista premium and later. The Microsoft speech software has a very handy feature to show numbers on the screen allowing you to pick a number that corresponds to button. The Dragon software approach creates a MouseGrid which could potentially be more accurate in certain circumstances, but as a general rule is significantly slower. It took me 3 to 4 commands to do what I could do with Microsoft's software in about two steps. It may just be a learning curve though; I might actually end up liking it better if I get used to it.
The software also has a feature I didn't realize when I got it, transcription. You can provide the software with a MP3 file in the program will attempt to dictate to text what the file said. It's a very cool idea! However, my experiences were a mixed bag. The program was able to accurately understand most of what the file said, but it made enough errors that there was really very little point in using it. By the time I went back and corrected all the errors, I'd wasted about as much time as I typed out the information myself. If you're slow typist, I can see it still being a benefit. I don't know if the program will learn the speech patterns of whoever is in the recording over time. After I'd use the transcription, I could no longer dictate any text. When I issued commands the program and understood a few minutes before, now the program didn't understand anything.
Instead of typing, all I saw was a message asking me to repeat the command or the program would sometimes mistakenly take commands and start opening windows selecting windows or moving the mouse around. Shutting down the program and restarting it fixed these issues, however you shouldn't have to shut down the program and restart it just because you've chosen a different option. Sometimes after using it for a while it seemingly randomly stops capitalizing the beginning of sentences and adding spaces around words, then it'll start back up again doing things correctly; it's very strange. I'm awestruck by how sloppy this program is. I mean the recognition itself is nearly perfect, but in most other aspects I've found it wanting.
All in all, and again this is my experience only, I find the quality of the software to be completely unacceptable for its price tag. It would be hard for me to recommend if it was budget software. While it is more accurate and much faster to train than Microsoft's "free" speech recognition software included with Windows, I've seldom had this much trouble installing/using a program. Considering the listed price, I would not have expected half these issues and the over three hours it took to get it installed and running. Unacceptable. Hopefully if you have any issues they're come up right away. After the first 90 days the company charges for web support, or 2x that charge for phone support. I don't think the service you're getting is a good deal for the price you're paying. Honestly, I regret choosing the software. If I had to do it over again I would just stick with the Microsoft software. The only thing that saves this from a one star rating for me, is that when it works like it's supposed to it is so accurate it's amazing. If you manage to get lucky and have no problems, it's decent software. If you're not lucky, you're in for some pain.
Got a response from tech fairly quickly, though I don't see a way to send a follow-up question to an answer. It said basically the same thing I found on that 3rd party site. Leave the program unwatched by your AnitVirus software and you'll be alright. I have no proof, but I suspect it's some kind of copy protection scheme that unpacks the file only as needed so it can't be cracked. Guess what, if you're using CA 2007 antivirus software or something that won't let you bypass the protection directly, tough luck; they suggest you upgrade the software. It's unclear if they mean purchase new software or just do a free upgrade. While searching, I happened across a related post for some software called "Voice Xpress 5" where they simply say to turn off any antivirus when it's running. That's your fix. That's it. Unbe-freaking-leavable. Concerns me quite a bit, since it seems like a virus writer could target Nuance software directly, knowing it's set to bypass any antivirus people are running or better yet knowing that people have it disabled entirely to use their stuff.
By the way, check the Nuance website for the requirements on the software or at least read the box before opening. They're the most detailed requirements I've ever seen and far beyond what Amazon is listing. For one thing, make sure your processor supports SSE2 (in most big name chips released after 2003 I think) or the software won't work. It's not their fault if you open the box and it and can't run it due to the system requirements so be really careful reading boxes even if Amazon appears to list everything. If it's not opened you can always return it.
I've tried using it some more, honestly I've tried, but this is getting ridiculous. I just used the optimizer on the voice file, which took about 5 and a half minutes to run...then the program crashed and corrupted my voice profile apparently because the program just made me retrain it for a new profile. It doesn't make its own backup before it does something that can screw up the file? I lose all my training time and effort? Bloody unbelievable how sloppy this software is. I have to shift my position to "strongly urge you to avoid". I really, really wanted to like this software going in, but it's just not worth the headache. If you still want to use it, be sure you backup your voice profile (option under the Profile menu) often to avoid this kind of annoyance. At least you actually can back it up manually; I do like that.
A minor update as I have now been using the software off and on for several months; it seems to have settled down a bit. I'm no longer getting all the weird command errors I was seeing, though it still routinely fails to capitalize the first word in a sentence.
A month or two ago an update finally came out for it. Stability isn't perfect, but it's been vastly improved on my system. It's not perfect and I'm sorry to see it took so long to be released, but I give them credit that they released the fix. Mostly, it seems to have fixed some of the weird capitalization issues.