How good is speech recognition in Windows 8?

My VAIO Duo convinced me to move beyond the keyboard.

How many times have you looked at your computer, phone or tablet and dreamed of just not using your keyboard? When Scotty in Star Trek was trying to talk to a computer to show the design for transparent aluminum, how many of you yearned for the day when you could just dictate your notes and control your computer with only your voice? (if you don't see a video below this line, please hit reload)

Of course, this has been a holy grail in the computer industry for some time. Whether it be Siri, new user interface concepts or even the old standby, Dragon Naturally Speaking, we are all fascinated, or dare I say seduced, by the idea of just talking to our computer to get things done.

Since I have been using my Sony VAIO Duo, I have been having a tough time with typing. The keyboard is just a little too tight for my fat fingers. I find myself spending more time moving the cursor back to the right spot and correcting the mistakes I make by hitting the wrong keys inadvertently. Finally, out of sheer frustration, I decided it was time to revisit speech recognition. I wasn't as interested in voice command for my computer as much as accurate voice recognition for dictation.

I knew that Windows has shipped with speech recognition built-in for a few years now. Like most of you, I tried it back when I didn't think it worked very well, and hadn't looked at it since. Since that time, mobile systems have all had some voice command capability. Some have been better than others, certainly. I have read that the Dragon product has consistently made steady progress in ease of use and accuracy. They have apps for most of the smartphone operating systems as well as PCs. Frankly, I just never valued it enough to pay the money for it.

But the DUO keyboard was driving me crazy. I was trying to write a white paper on PCI and finding it really hard to get through by typing. I was just fed up enough to try something new, and started to do a little research on voice recognition. I read a few reviews of the latest releases. It quickly became obvious that my options were the latest Dragon version, which had some great reviews, or the Microsoft-included system that has been shipping with Windows for a while now. Most of the reviews said the Microsoft product had not really been improved in some time and was no match for Dragon. I was about to plunk down the $80 or so for Dragon, but decided I literally had nothing to lose by giving the Microsoft product a try first.

First, I had to pull out a decent headphone and microphone (it would be nice if that wasn't still a requirement, but it seems it is a must). Since I was doing this on the cheap, I found an old pair I had laying around my home office. I plugged them in and opened the Windows Voice Recognition on my machine. My thought was that, with Haswell i7 and all of the RAM, I should at least have the horsepower to handle this.

I spent the 20 or so minutes walking through the training and instructions on the system. I found the commands much more intuitive and the recognition pretty darn good. After finishing the training I opened Word via voice command and started dictating. In fact, my last post on whether iOS 7 was a must-have or not was voice-dictated in Word. 

While I am not saying that it was perfect, it was very easy to make corrections using only my voice. I still went in and used the keyboard a bit to polish it off, but it really was much faster and easier than typing.

If the Dragon product is better than this, I would be truly impressed. If any of you have used it recently, I am interested in your thoughts. In the meantime, I have been enjoying using the voice recognition for about a week now. The more I use it, the better I am at it. I don't expect to stop using it anytime soon.

This short trial has really impressed me, though. I don't think it will be long before Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise would be able to talk to our computers if they did come down to Earth. Voice recognition has certainly come a long way. I am sure it will only continue to get better. In the meantime, if you are terrible at typing or have a small keyboard or even on your smartphone, give voice recognition and voice command a try.

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