MacSpeech Dictate: Solid Voice Recognition


LogoAlthough it used to be considered “odd” or “weird” to speak to your computer, the increased availability and accuracy of voice recognition software has encouraged the practice for more and more people. Up until now, though, it has been difficult to find a solid option for Mac OS X. However, with the introduction of MacSpeech Dictate at Macworld 2008, the game has truly changed. This program not only does the obvious service of speech to text, but it does a whole lot more. Read along to see what else this very powerful application can do.

MacSpeech Dictate is based on the Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition engine. As this was probably the most powerful and accurate engine on the Windows platform, it’s not really a surprise that it works very well at many things on the Mac. To start things off, you need to have a “Data Disk” which I presume has all the dictionary material for the speech recognition and typing. The program should ask you for it when it needs it, but I was able to dictate and issue commands without the disk image being mounted. The disk image is about 970mb, and can definitely be stored on an external HD for use when needed.

When you run the program for the first time, it asks you to complete a somewhat lengthy set-up wizard. It took me about 8-10 minutes to get through, and the nice thing about it is that you’re reading instructions for the program and training it to your voice at the same time. You also set up a profile that will be linked to your voice training. It took a surprisingly long time to get it fully set up, but after that the wait wasn’t horrible.

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I used the built-in microphone in my MacBook Pro. It says that this isn’t one of the preferred methods, but unless you’re really a heavy user, it should be satisfactory. Once I got all set up and running, I immediately opened up a new Word document (I even launched Word by using the command “Open Microsoft Word”) and then tried to voice away. My first sentence was very simple: “I’m reviewing MacSpeech Dictate for MacApper.com” but from the screenshot below, you can see that my text wasn’t exactly interpreted correctly.

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It takes a little getting used to, but I can really see some of this functionality working out to help me in the future. It’s a little odd to start speaking much slower and enunciating more throughout your sentences, not to mention the frequent necessity of saying “PERIOD” to end a sentence or add another punctuation mark. However, you can really get into the hang of it and it does work pretty well.

Another really nice feature of the program is that once a specific program is active, the MacSpeech window on the side of the screen (which can be moved) shifts to include some of the special functions for that particular app. For example, when I had Safari set as my active window, a set of specific Safari commands showed up in the side. I can see this being very useful, especially if it’s possible to set up custom commands or add other applications that aren’t supported out of the box. The first screenshot shows the global panel itself, and then there is a shot of how it changes when Safari is active.

Overall, this program is very solid and I can definitely recommend it. There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve to it, but once you get over the hump it’s a very useful program and I like it a lot. MacSpeech Dictate is available from MacSpeech.com. It costs around $187.99 and can be purchased from MacMall.