Voice recognition is a technology that has definitely come of age over the past decade.
With everything from Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant now available for smart homes and smartphones, the ability for computers to accurately recognize and represent speech has now become an everyday reality.
This is a shame as this is one of the key areas where voice recognition can really develop, especially in a age where accessibility is key to an increasing number of people. And while voice recognition may be seen as a technology for those with additional needs, the truth is that when it works well it can be so much of a time saver, especially when it comes to typing up documents.
And because there's little need to wrestle with a QWERTY keyword, voice recognition software can be used to help prevent either the occurrence or development of a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, which can otherwise be debilitating to those who have to do large volumes of typing.
While voice recognition isn't yet perfect, the amount of time required to train the software to both recognize and work accurately with your voice is very much reduced these days.
So if you're looking for voice recognition software, take a look at the best that we've featured below.
- We’ve picked out the best free software for small businesses
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Best voice and speech recognition - at a glance
- Dragon Anywhere
- G Suite
- Braina Pro
- Windows 10
A beast of a package powered by deep learning
Dragon has long been regarded as ruling the roost when it comes to speech recognition on the PC, with a long line of quality products which work at a high standard. This is not least because of the ‘deep learning’ technology which helps the dictation software achieve greater levels of accuracy the more you use it, learning common words and phrases that you employ, and also adapting to background noise or your accent.
The latest Dragon speech recognition software has a higher baseline accuracy right out of the box, as well. Overall, we found it noticeably more accurate and responsive than older versions.
This software provides full dictation capabilities, as well as voice commands to control your PC (to open programs, navigate web pages and so forth – and note that you can dictate wherever you want, for example, in Gmail in your browser). It’s also built to work with touchscreen devices as required. All of this is included in the Dragon Home edition, which retails at $150.
Additional features are available with the Dragon Professional Individual upgrade, including the ability to create boilerplate forms or email signatures which can be inserted into a document with a single command. There’s also a transcription facility which can analyze an audio clip, podcast or similar, turning it into text. Furthermore, there are advanced custom command options available, plus the ability to synchronize your work with Android or iOS devices.
Dragon Professional Individual retails at $300, but there is also an enterprise package available for business groups which includes all these capabilities and makes them available for multiple users, along with additional integration features.
Benefit from dictation capabilities wherever you may be
Dragon Anywhere is the mobile product for Android and iOS devices, however this is no ‘lite’ app, but rather offers fully-formed dictation capabilities powered via the cloud.
So essentially you get the same excellent speech recognition as seen on the desktop software – the only meaningful difference we noticed was a very slight delay in our spoken words appearing on the screen (doubtless due to processing in the cloud). However, note that the app was still responsive enough overall.
It also boasts support for boilerplate chunks of text which can be set up and inserted into a document with a simple command, and these, along with custom vocabularies, are synced across the mobile app and desktop Dragon software. Furthermore, you can share documents across devices via Evernote or cloud services (such as Dropbox).
This isn’t as flexible as the desktop application, however, as dictation is limited to within Dragon Anywhere – you can’t dictate directly in another app (although you can copy over text from the Dragon Anywhere dictation pad to a third-party app). The other caveats are the need for an internet connection for the app to work (due to its cloud-powered nature), and the fact that it’s a subscription offering with no one-off purchase option, which might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Even bearing in mind these limitations, though, it’s a definite boon to have fully-fledged, powerful voice recognition of the same sterling quality as the desktop software, nestling on your phone or tablet for when you’re away from the office.
Nuance Communications offers a 7-day free trial to give the app a whirl before you commit to a subscription.
Google assistant in the office
Google had made strides to provide Google Assistant for Android apps, but this also applies to Google's own G Suite cloud office software suite.
The voice recognition feature is already built in, and although there's no extra charge for the feature it is actually quite accurate and therefore worth considering.
There are some limitations though, in that it's primarily for use with Google Docs for dictating text and using commands for formatting your document, rather than general voice control across the G Suite platform of services.
One requirement is that you must be using the Chrome browser, and when used to access Google Docs you can do to the Google Docs Tools menu, then select Voice Typing as an option.
It isn't as powerful as paid-for software, but it makes for a good start, and another particular noteworthy point is that it offers speech recognition in up to 150 languages (with varying degrees of accuracy).
So if you're already using G Suite, or you use online office software, this can be a handy feature to be aware of.
A virtual assistant for your PC
Braina is speech recognition software which is built not just for dictation, but also as an all-round digital assistant to help you achieve various tasks on your PC. It supports dictation to third-party software in not just English but almost 90 different languages, with impressive voice recognition chops.
Beyond that, it’s a virtual assistant that can be instructed to set alarms, search your PC for a file, or search the internet, play an MP3 file, read an ebook aloud, plus you can implement various custom commands.
The Windows program also has a companion Android app which can remotely control your PC, and use the local Wi-Fi network to deliver commands to your computer, so you can spark up a music playlist, for example, wherever you happen to be in the house. Nifty.
There’s a free version of Braina which comes with limited functionality, but includes all the basic PC commands, along with a 7-day trial of the speech recognition which allows you to test out its powers for yourself before you commit to a subscription. Yes, this is another subscription-only product with no option to purchase for a one-off fee. Also note that you need to be online and have Google’s Chrome browser installed for speech recognition functionality to work.
Microsoft’s desktop OS has fully integrated voice recognition
If you don’t want to pay for speech recognition software, and you’re running Microsoft’s latest desktop OS, then you might be pleased to hear that Windows 10 actually has some very solid voice recognition abilities built right into the operating system.
Windows Speech Recognition, as it’s imaginatively named – and note that this is something different to Cortana, which offers basic commands and assistant capabilities – lets you not only execute commands via voice control, but also offers the ability to dictate into documents.
The sort of accuracy you get isn’t comparable with that offered by the likes of Dragon, but then again, you’re paying nothing to use it. It’s also possible to improve the accuracy by training the system by reading text, and giving it access to your documents to better learn your vocabulary. It’s definitely worth indulging in some training, particularly if you intend to use the voice recognition feature a fair bit.
This speech recognition capability is actually in previous versions of Windows as well, although Microsoft has honed it more with the latest OS. The company has been busy boasting about its advances in terms of voice recognition powered by deep neural networks, and Microsoft is certainly priming us to expect impressive things in the future. The likely end-goal aim is for Cortana to do everything eventually, from voice commands to taking dictation.
Turn on Windows Speech Recognition by heading to the Control Panel (search for it, or right click the Start button and select it), then click on Ease of Access, and you will see the option to ‘start speech recognition’ (you’ll also spot the option to set up a microphone here, if you haven’t already done that).
- Maybe you’ll use voice recognition with one of our best business laptops