Can we talk?
- By Michelle Speir
- Apr 24, 2000
Have you ever found yourself rushing from one meeting to another, trying
to jot down key points without being late to your next appointment? Do important
to-do items suddenly strike you in the middle of an airport or during a
If you have experienced these or similar symptoms of today's fast-paced
world, Dragon Systems Inc. — maker of the well-known speech-recognition
software, Dragon Naturally- Speaking — offers a product that may make your
life a little easier and more organized.
It's called Dragon NaturallyMobile, a voice recorder that resembles
a small cellular phone. You can dictate on the fly and later have your notes
automatically transcribed to your PC via linking software and Dragon NaturallySpeaking
Preferred software. The software is included with the recorder, and the
entire package is called Dragon Naturally- Speaking Mobile.
We set out to test the usability and convenience of this unique device
and found that once you get the hang of it, it's fairly easy to use and
really does work. There are two key points to remember, however.
First, you must invest some time in training the voice-recognition software
and learning how to navigate the buttons and functions of the recorder itself.
This is not a product you can simply unpack, pop in batteries and be ready
Second, be aware of the limitations of speech-recognition tools. While
Dragon's software is very accurate, no speech-recognition software reaches
100 percent accuracy, and you will have some errors to correct. Your expectations
about the product should reflect the capabilities of the technology. Do
not expect to end up with perfect, printable lists and documents. Instead,
think of the product as a useful tool that will enhance productivity and
add convenience to your busy work schedule.
The great thing about Dragon NaturallyMobile is its immediacy and mobility.
You don't have to find a place to sit, dig out your notebook computer and
wait for it to boot. Simply pull out the recorder and capture your thoughts
right away, whether sitting or walking.
The recorder's standard memory of 4M holds up to 40 minutes of speech.
You can add extra 2M, 4M and 8M memory cards for extra recording time. The
unit contains flash memory, ensuring that your important data is not lost
when the batteries lose power.
You can organize voice files into up to 99 folders, and each folder
can hold up to 99 files.
A headset is included for using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred
software at your PC or privately listening to voice files on the recorder.
Setup is somewhat time-consuming and a little confusing. Dragon's documentation
is thorough, but there are so many manuals that we were confused as to which
would provide a step-by-step, out-of-the box set of instructions.
It turns out none of them do this. The closest is the "Using Dragon
Naturally- Speaking with the Dragon NaturallyMobile Recorder" quick guide,
which gives a bare-bones overview of the process. But there is no way for
a novice user to complete the setup with just this guide — you must flip
between the quick guide and several other documents to complete the process.
Installing the Dragon Naturally-Speaking Preferred software is easy
using the auto-start CD and installation wizard. The labor-intensive part
is training the software to recognize your voice. The documentation states
that training may take up to an hour, although it took us about 30 minutes.
The training time is based on PC processor speed. Dragon's one-hour estimate
is based on the minimum hardware requirement, a 200 MHz PC. If you use a
PC with a 300 MHz or faster processor, the system learns your voice pattern
You also must complete the Vocabulary Builder, which refers the software
to documents you have written so that it can discern language patterns and
frequently used words.
Before you train the software, however, you must learn the basics of
the recorder because it serves as the microphone. This part of the process
is quick and easy because you need only know the most basic functions. The
recorder connects to the serial port on a PC via an included cable. The
plug to the recorder itself is Universal Serial Bus, which allows for hot-plugging.
Once you have trained the Dragon software, the fun can begin — or so
we thought. It turns out that operating the recorder is not as intuitive
as we had hoped. Recording is easy: press Record to begin recording and
press Record to stop. The Pause button allows you to temporarily stop recording.
However, for anything beyond basic recording, it takes at least one
thorough read of the recorder user's guide and some experimentation. For
example, to exit the menu after making changes, you must press either the
Power button or the Delete button. Neither of these choices is intuitive,
so you must have a good handle on these functions before venturing to use
the unit. Perhaps Dragon should have labeled the Delete button with "Delete/Exit."
However, the recorder covers a thorough range of functions. You can
delete parts of recordings, insert comments in the middle of a recording
and move files from folder to folder.
Transcribing recordings to a PC is a breeze. Connect the recorder to
its cable and open the Voice-It Link software on your PC. Click a button
to open communication with the recorder.
Once communication is established, the folders and files will be listed
on the left side of the window. Select the files you want to transcribe
and click the Transcribe button. The Dragon NaturallySpeaking word processing
software opens, and you can watch your words appear on the screen. A nice
feature is the ability to listen to your recording while the software is
transcribing. This helps with correcting transcription mistakes, especially
if another person is transcribing your files.
The bottom line: This is a handy device that can enhance productivity,
but be prepared to invest at least several hours on the front end. Installing
and training the software is a bit time- consuming, and learning the nuances
of the recorder's functionality can take some time. Once you learn the quirks,
though, the unit is generally easy to use and extremely convenient.