Dictation software has been a work in progress over the past few decades, but in recent years it has finally become a reliable offshoot of mobile tech. Siri users already know the value of voice recognition, since Apple made the technology famous years ago, but harnessing such software is especially useful in the multicultural multiverse of mobile tech, more specifically in the realm of writing.
Every wordsmith has a different practice, but we’ve come a long way since the analog typewriter. With all the productivity apps available for your phone, tablet and laptop, choosing the right digital assistant for your project can mean the difference between an afternoon lost to procrastination, or a word count worth bragging about.
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In the age of ever-learning AI algorithms, you don’t need to look far for the best dictation software. In fact, your favorite writing tool might already be right under your nose.
The best dictation software:
Speaking of conspicuous nostrils, would you consider a dragon for your desktop? You might like this one. Nuance Dragon Home (v15) has a hefty price tag, but this software suite represents a one-stop shop for voice recognition and dictation. It’s well worth the extra spend for professional writers of any caliber.
Fun fact: voice typing is baked right into Google Docs, which turns any typing exercise into a lightspeed endeavor of speech-to-text. Give Google’s gadgetry a spin and watch your typing speed increase at an exponential rate. No joke.
Apple dictation is no slouch, of course, and MacBook users may be pleasantly surprised to find what their notebook has to offer in terms of built-in voice recognition and dictation capabilities. It’s already part of the OS; all you have to do is activate the feature.
Dragon’s breath is the bane of any writer’s morning routine, but with Nuance Dragon Home (v15), your hot air can breathe new life into that novel, script, or homework assignment you’ve been
putting off working on. There are plenty of free dictation software options out there, but if money is no object, you can’t do much better than Dragon Home’s next-generation speech engine that adapts to your voice — and the surrounding environment — in real time, allowing you to triple your typing speed with up to 99% recognition accuracy. Nuance has been perfecting this software since 1997, and the technology sure has come a long way.
As any professional scrivener can tell you, most writing projects involve some degree of research. Luckily, Dragon does double duty with Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer compatibility, which lets you search the web for Wikipedia articles, news clippings and more. It’s great for dictating, editing and sending emails, too.
On-the-go authors may want to consider Dragon Anywhere, an app customized for both Android and iOS devices, but if you’re a Windows user who’s usually near your desk when the muse strikes, Nuance Dragon Home is an ever-evolving speech recognition platform that promises to boost your productivity, creativity and connectivity in one fell swoop.
With support for more than 100 different languages, Google Docs’ voice typing tool is perhaps the platform’s worst-kept secret, as it’s hiding in plain sight whenever you open a document to edit. Driven by the company’s deep-learning algorithms, there’s no prerequisite software to install. All you need is a Chrome browser, an internet connection, and a steady flow of words coming out of your mouth. (Never an issue in my home.)
Granted, no-strings-attached voice recognition was a persnickety pipe dream not so long ago, but just like Dragon, Google’s been working on the backend (since 2010-ish) to improve their software’s overall accuracy and usability. Nestled in the middle of the Tools dropdown menu, voice typing might be one of the most useful things on the whole list. Clicking that option adds a floating microphone widget to your doc, which you move anywhere you like. Next, click the mic icon to utilize dictation mode at will. You can even use voice commands to select text (ex, “Select last line”), format your document (ex, “Strikethrough”), and edit as you go (ex, “Insert bookmark,” “Decrease font size,” “Align justified”).
When it comes to browser-based, voice-recognition platforms, writers of any industry can’t do much better than this baked-in futurism, especially if you already use Google’s robust suite of productivity apps to organize your creative hustle. If you’re a Chromebook owner, voice typing is perfect for on-the-go dictation, no matter what you’re working on.
Whether you’re crafting emails or wordy work documents, any text-heavy task is made easier with Apple’s internal voice control software, which — similar to Windows Speech Recognition — comes baked right into the MacBook OS. Powered by (who else?) Siri, Apple’s improved speech-recognition engine is easy to activate, and just as easy to use.
When enabled, the on-screen microphone icon lets you know Big Mac is listening — kind of like Google Docs’ voice typing feature, except Apple flavored. Whereas the former is found within Google Drive, Apple’s voice control feature is activated from your MacBook’s settings, allowing you to instantly navigate web pages, rearrange windows, and (most importantly for writers) convert the spoken word to the written one in any document, email, or text field.
Siri’s software understands contextual clues, too, which means you can seamlessly transition between dictation and computer commands without missing a beat. It’s not ideal for longer dictation sessions, according to some reviewers, but for shorter bouts of voice-to-text inspiration, Apple’s voice recognition is more than simply “good enough.”
Can an otter take on a dragon? Surprisingly, the answer is “kind of.” Students, business professionals and creative collaborators of all types are bound to appreciate Otter’s robust feature list, which includes custom vocabulary lists, live note captioning for Google Meet and mindful Zoom integration. Oh, and you can convert your voice to text in a snap, regardless of accent or dialect.
For writers working in teams, there’s an awful lot to like about Otter’s feature set. For example, the software is perfect for group brainstorming sessions, since it can differentiate between various speakers and transcribe text accordingly. You can import audio and video files directly into the app, and there’s even Android/iOS support for when random (read: mobile) inspiration strikes.
Journalists are sure to appreciate sharing Otter with other editors, and the company’s tiered pricing plans give you more control of the features you need — and the ones you don’t. If covering live events with multiple collaborators is part of your writing hustle, Otter’s always-learning AI tech might be the team player you never knew you were missing.
As a profession, wrangling the written word rarely comes with a personal assistant, which is why from my perspective, it’s an exciting time to be alive. Braina (Brain Artificial) bills itself as an “intelligent personal assistant, human language interface, automation and voice recognition software.” Similar to Google’s offering, it’s compatible with more than 100 languages.
But dictation is just the beginning. You can use Braina to control your PC from your phone; create customized voice commands for your desktop; solve complex math problems; search for files and a whole lot more. Like other dictation software on this list, there’s a free version to test drive before making any commitments, but if you like what you see, you can lock in a lifetime subscription for $199.
Braina isn’t smarter than you are (yet), but when it comes to speeding up multifaceted writing projects, it’s sure to give your noggin a boost, and your fingers a rest.
How to choose the best dictation software for you
Converting speech to text is potentially useful for any writer, but not every writer needs the same tools. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before plunking down any coin on the best dictation software:
What’s your budget like? This is a good place to start, as newer laptops already have some kind of voice recognition and/or dictation tech baked right into the OS. For dedicated dictation, some companies offer their software for a one-time fee, while others operate under tiered pricing plans.
What do you need dictation software for? If you plan on using voice recognition to simply jot down notes as you jetset across town, make sure your dictation software of choice has some mobile options. Some dictation software, however, like Nuance Dragon Home (v15), is desktop-only, which is only beneficial if you tackle writing projects from your desk.
Do you write alone, or in groups? Some software is smarter than others. For example, Otter’s AI algorithms can tell the difference between multiple speakers, which is ideal for busy brainstorming sessions. If you’re a lone wolf, however, such functionality might be overkill for your day-to-day workflow.