SpeechWare TravelMike Review: If You Thought 100% Accuracy Was Impossible, Think Again

It’s one thing to sit at a comfortable desk with a powerful computer, dictating away into a desktop microphone or wired USB headset that provides terrific accuracy in that environment. Most of us, however, don’t have the luxury of low background noise and a big, comfortable chair in front of a huge monitor all the time. In fact, sales of portable computers have outstripped desktops for many years now (you only have to look at Apple’s neglect of the Mac Pro and Mac mini lines to see where their priorities lie).

Getting the same level of accuracy I achieve at my desk has been an issue for a while for me – I don’t want to take my highly accurate desktop microphone on the road with me, so I’m often lumbered with a slightly less ideal headset (and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of wearing a microphone if I can help it). When Belgian company SpeechWare sent me their Standard USB TravelMike to take a look at, I approached it with an unhealthy level of geeky excitement. This is an external USB soundcard designed specifically for speech recognition – in fact, to merely call it a soundcard is something of an insult. As I quickly found, it’s far more than that.

It shares many of the same technologies as the USB TableMike that I recently reviewed and loved – and that’s a good thing. Things like Auto Gain Control, Auto EQ and a proprietary “de-clicking” algorithm that removes lip smacks and clinking coffee cups are all welcome here – but this microphone is truly unique in that it is genuinely portable. The company provides a carry case that houses the entire setup. This includes the USB “MultiAdapter” itself (with 3.5 mm headphone and microphone inputs), a couple of extension and right-angled connectors for optional use, a windscreen and, intriguingly, a 3.5 mm cardioid pivot microphone.

In keeping with SpeechWare’s other products, the design is all unashamedly functional and to the point, underscoring the versatility and flexibility of what you are buying. If you are one of the sensible people with a standard USB connector on your laptop or MacBook, congratulations – you can just plug the MultiAdapter into your computer and get to work. There are no drivers to install, just a few tweaks recommended by the company in their instruction guide to get things up and running perfectly.

I, on the other hand, have decided to live on the bleeding edge (a.k.a. foolishly own a new MacBook Pro with no legacy ports) and required a USB-C to USB-A adapter – a $3 one from Amazon worked just fine, even if the appendage sticking out of my computer is a little inelegant, to say the least.

Welcome to USB-C hell. Thanks, Apple.

To initially train the TravelMike, I performed a single dictation session of just under 2000 words on a brand-new profile dedicated to this device (this was using Dragon Professional Individual 6.0.7 for Mac – the results should be the same in Dragon Professional Individual 15 for Windows as both share the same recognition engine). Once this initial training was over (around 30 minutes), I dictated four sessions of new, unrehearsed text totalling around 3000 words. With such little “breaking-in” and the distance from the pivot microphone fluctuating between 15 and 20 inches each time, the results were astounding.

TEST 1: 100% accurate (!)
TEST 2: 98.7% accurate
TEST 3: 98.7% accurate
TEST 4: 99.7% accurate
AVERAGE: 99.3% accurate

Once I had got over my initial shock of achieving 100% accuracy at the first go, I came back down to earth with the next two sessions – although accuracy was still incredibly high, I had maybe got a little bit sloppy with the distance from the TravelMike. After making corrections and saving the profile, I exited Dragon for the final test. This time, I wanted to reopen the program with a reload of the updated profile and, astonishingly, the accuracy almost hit 100% again, tripping up on just one phrase. With an average 99.3% accuracy over the four sessions, the recognition wasn’t just stellar – it was also remarkably consistent.

Retailing at around $259, this isn’t a cheap piece of kit. Like SpeechWare’s other products, you are paying a premium for something designed specifically for maximum accuracy in Dragon (and, at an even deeper level, using the “Far Field” algorithms in the latest versions of the software). But here’s the thing – I have never been truly satisfied with a mobile microphone in the past. I’ve tried all sorts of miniature USB solutions with varying levels of success but nothing that has ever been at the level of my desktop setup.

This changes all of that. For a truly portable solution, SpeechWare have managed to produce something that not only matches but exceeds the accuracy of a huge number of far bulkier microphones out there. You can even plug a headset into it if you wish (and they have a solution for that too, which I’ll be reviewing shortly). To consistently hit near-100% accuracy from any device is remarkable, especially with such little training. To be able to do it anywhere you can take your laptop with a device that fits into your pocket is, for me at least, a dream come true.

The Speechware USB TravelMike is, by some distance, the most accurate portable dictation solution I’ve ever used. Now if only Apple would bring back proper USB ports. I guess you can’t have everything.

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(Thanks to Speechware for sending me this product for an honest review. I do not receive any monetary compensation from the company and the links above are not affiliate links. I’ll be looking at their FlexyMike DEC very soon.)

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 13 currently $39.99 at Amazon – Is This the Lowest Price It’s Ever Been?

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I don’t normally post details of special offers as Dragon is frequently discounted anyway and as soon as I’ve written about it, the prices may have changed. But for anyone who hasn’t taken the plunge with dictation yet or is seriously considering upgrading from an older version of Dragon (12.5 or lower), this is an offer that simply cannot be ignored.

Thanks to a user on the excellent Dragon Riders Facebook group who uncovered this, Amazon.com is currently offering Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 13 for just $39.99 in a bundle with McAfee software (which you can choose not to install, if you wish). This is almost $50 less than Amazon is currently selling the stand-alone version of Dragon 13 for and is over a staggering $200 less than Dragon Professional Individual 15.

This could be ideal for someone who wants an extra copy of Dragon for additional PCs (don’t forget you can install it on two machines as long as you are only using it on one at a time) or for Mac users thinking of dipping their toes into the waters of using Dragon under a virtual machine.

In other news, I’ll be reviewing some speech recognition-specific microphones kindly sent to me by Speechware over the coming weeks which I’m really excited about. Stay tuned.

(Note: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link. You don’t need to use it, of course, but if you do I will receive a small commission for which I’m really grateful.)

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Talking the Talk: Dragon Dictation – Self Publishing Formula Podcast Interview with Mark Dawson and James Blatch

Want some more Dragon tips and a FREE cheatsheet? I’m interviewed on this week’s edition of the Self Publishing Formula Podcast with Mark Dawson and James Blatch – check it out below:

SPF-060: Talking the Talk – with Dragon Dictation expert Scott Baker

You can listen to this one, of course, or see my ugly mug in glorious technicolor via the wonders of video. Whichever method you choose, I hope you pick up some handy tips – oh, and be sure to download the FREE cheatsheet I’ve so lovingly prepared.

Big thanks to Mark and James!

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Using Dictation to Supercharge Your Writing Output – The Author Biz Podcast Interview

I was lucky enough to be interviewed for this week’s edition of The Author Biz podcast with Stephen Campbell. Now here’s the interesting thing – Stephen is a bit of a sceptic when it comes to dictation but, by the end of the interview, he had rushed out to buy a copy of Dragon. We had a terrific chat and he became convinced of the benefits of dictation – and transcription in particular – as a result.

Training Your Dragon with Scott Baker Author Biz Podcast interview image

There are lots of great tips for beginners and newbies alike. Check it out – and thanks, Stephen!

“The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon” Has Been Updated (also now an Audiobook!)

The Writer's Guide to Training Your Dragon

OUT NOW – Revised and updated to cover the latest Dragon Professional Individual v15 for PC & v6 for Mac

I’m pleased to announce that the latest, updated version of my book “The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon” has been released in ebook and paperback and is available now! For the first time it’s also finally available as an audiobook!

Want the Audiobook for FREE? Simply click this link!

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(You will receive a FREE 30-day trial to Audible. Don’t want to keep it? Simply cancel your membership within 30 days with no further obligation.)

This latest edition contains a brand-new introduction covering the differences between the various versions of Dragon currently available, including the brand-new Professional Individual releases for PC (version 15) and Mac (version 6).

The latest versions are available at Amazon and all other stores right now:

Ebook:
Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk – iBooks – Barnes & Noble – Kobo – Google Play Books – Smashwords

Paperback:
Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk – Barnes & Noble

Audiobook:

Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAudible USAudible UKiTunes
(Get it FREE!)

Thank you so much for all of your support and kind words regarding the book. I hope you’ve all got great accuracy from it and your words have been flowing accordingly.

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Should You Use a Mac or a PC for Dictating with Dragon?

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We are all grown-ups here, right?

Of course we are. The “platform war” thing has been done to death a million times with no clear victor. Some people love using a Mac, some people love using a Windows PC. That’s just how it is and how it always should be – after all, huge faceless corporations don’t care about any of us anyway, right? Why should we treat our choice of a computing platform as if it’s some kind of good or bad personality trait, anyway?

Things are a little different when it comes to using the best tool for the job, however. I’ve flipped and flopped between the Mac and Windows several times over the last 20 or so years. I’m old enough to remember when people hated Windows with a passion. I also remember when the Mac wasn’t so hot, either (I’m looking at you, OS 9). But that was a long time ago and both platforms now have excellent operating systems in the form of OS X (soon to be called macOS) and Windows 10.

But Dragon is a strange beast as, despite sharing the same brand name, the products are very different on the Mac and the PC. I highlight in some detail in “The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon” how Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows is, in many ways, a far superior product to the product formerly known as Dragon Dictate (now simply called Dragon for Mac). I stand by that opinion still, despite currently dictating this blog post using Dragon for Mac 5.

I’m in the lucky position of being able to use both – if you have a Mac, after all, you can run the Windows version of the software in a virtual machine or via Boot Camp. If you have a PC, then you arguably already have the preferred version of the software. Really, the best option is to choose based on what computer you already own.

But Mac users do have a quandary and the last thing anyone should do is switch platforms based on one piece of software. After the last few years of being firmly entrenched in the PC camp (I tried to love you, Surface Pro, I really did), I am firmly a Mac user once again despite my reservations that Dragon is a compromised piece of software on the platform. But I simply prefer OS X and several pieces of software I use (mainly Final Cut Pro, Ulysses and the deep integration with their iOS devices) make it a better platform for me.

If you are in the market for a brand-new computer and, frankly, don’t mind whether you use a Mac or PC, then I would be inclined to steer you towards Windows if Dragon is going to be a major (if not the main) part of your workflow. If, on the other hand, you are set on owning a Mac, just know that Dragon for Mac will get the job done, despite the horror stories. For purely dictating into TextEdit, it works just fine and the recognition engine is exactly the same as the Windows version, so your accuracy shouldn’t suffer.

When it comes to tweaking and refining your profile over time, however, Dragon for Mac cannot compete and transcribing files, while convenient, is vastly superior in Dragon NaturallySpeaking as you can make corrections to the transcribed text once it has appeared on your screen. That, bizarrely, is something the Mac version simply cannot do and will result in a cap on your accuracy on the transcription side of things. You can always correct it later with the keyboard, of course, but that kind of defeats the purpose of speech recognition software that is supposed to improve over time, no?

Your other choice, of course, is to run Dragon NaturallySpeaking on your Mac using virtualisation software such as Parallels or VMware Fusion – both have modes which make it appear as if the program is running natively on your Mac desktop and Windows simply gets out of the way. This option, however, means slightly more expense – you will need a Mac capable of running Windows in a virtual machine (anything from the last three years will do, but 8 GB of RAM is probably a prerequisite and an SSD wouldn’t hurt either) and you will also have to buy a Windows license.

Neither option is right or wrong and both Mac or PC will get the job done, for the most part. But before you drop a lot of money on one or the other, think hard about both the platform you will be most comfortable with in the long run and whether you will be using Dragon purely to get words on a page or for more advanced dictation usage. If, for example, your mobility is impaired and you want to use Dragon to control your computer I can only truthfully recommend sticking with a PC and NaturallySpeaking.

There. I’ve said it. I, Scott Baker, hereby declare as a happy Mac user that the Windows fans have it best when it comes to dictation software. See? It’s not so hard to get along. After all, isn’t choice a wonderful thing?

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Should you pay for Dragon Anywhere?

 

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I love dictation. I love how quickly it enables me to write and, in turn, the time I save to do things other than working – like being with my family or bingeing on the latest series of “House of Cards”.

As wonderful as it is, though, I find it incredible that we are still tied to a desktop application to get the best results. Obviously, if you are dictating into your PC or Mac then Dragon has the ability to learn from its mistakes and build an increasingly accurate profile of your voice and writing style. The processing power required to do this (and to physically store the large file containing all your dictation data) is beyond the capacity of most mobile devices.

Until now.

A few weeks ago, I took delivery of a shiny new 12.9 inch iPad Pro. Once you get over the initial shock of a tablet that is literally bigger than your head, you are struck by the sheer power of this thing. The A9X processor Apple has put in this device (combined with 4 GB of RAM) is desktop class and, boy, can you feel it in use. Along with its recently released smaller version, this is a tablet that I have no doubt could comfortably run an iOS-optimised version of Dragon.

So why won’t Nuance make one?

Instead, they’ve given us Dragon Anywhere. On the surface, it’s great – super accurate, continuous dictation finally available on a mobile device. But just like the long neglected (but still perfectly usable) iOS Dragon Dictation app, all the recognition processing is done remotely. It’s the same as using Siri or Google Now – you speak, a server somewhere on the planet thinks about what you said and, a second or two later, the results are whizzed back to you. The big advantage of Dragon Anywhere is that unlike all of those examples, there’s no 30 or 60 second limit on your dictation – you can just keep talking, as you would in the desktop version.

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One big upside is you can run this on pretty much any mobile device that supports it – both iOS and Android. The downside? All of that power I talked about in a device like the new iPad Pro is going to waste. The sad reality is that desktop PC sales have been declining quarter on quarter for many, many years. While Microsoft certainly doesn’t need to worry about the state of Windows just yet, there’s no question that people are moving to Macs or even mobile devices to get things done.

I love the idea of one device that can just about do everything. I’m not a gamer or too heavily into video editing, so my mobile needs are simple – I want something lightweight with a great screen that is capable without needing liquid cooling. I have a Mac desktop (also running Windows under Parallels) for the heavy lifting back at my desk. I’ve owned several Microsoft Surface devices (including the latest Surface Pro 4) and every one of them has been riddled with hardware problems, software issues or both. As ideal a portable Dragon setup it seemed, I finally gave up in frustration on that avenue recently.

The iPad Pro would be an ideal Dragon device for me on the road – it’s easily powerful enough, has plenty of storage and the screen is gorgeous. But Dragon Anywhere doesn’t take advantage of it and I think the reason for that is simple – money.

Dragon Anywhere is expensive. Really expensive. It uses the subscription model (something I have a sneaky feeling Nuance may shift to in the future for the desktop product, as well) and costs an eye-watering $15 per month or $150 per year. For a mobile app that doesn’t even interact with the desktop product (despite what Nuance claim, the synchronisation is minimal), the pricing is absurd. And this ties in to the reason why Nuance will probably never make a desktop-rivalling mobile version of the program that doesn’t rely on an Internet connection – they can’t sell it for enough.

Mobile apps are cheap. Could you see Nuance developing and selling a version of Dragon for iOS and Android that cost, say, $10? Not a chance. Not even $20 or $30 would cut it, and that would be considered expensive in the average app store.

So $15 per month it is, then. Is it worth it? It depends on how desperately you want to use Dragon on the move, but I struggle to see the value. Dragon Anywhere needs a constant Internet connection to work and, disappointingly, is little more than a dictation notepad. You can’t simply talk directly into, say, your mail app or the mobile versions of Word or Pages. Everything you say is translated within Dragon Anywhere and must be copied and pasted from there – and, of course, if the app crashes, it will take your dictation with it.

It’s also accurate, but only to a point. There’s no profile being saved, so the only thing it remembers (and syncs, if you have DNS Professional or Dragon for Mac 5) is your custom vocabulary. There’s no training of your voice or writing style going on. None.

So, it seems, the best way to dictate on the move is still to use transcription. That means having the full version of Dragon installed on a Mac or PC somewhere, but until Nuance rethink their mobile strategy, it’s probably still your best way of writing while you’re away from your desk.

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