Can we talk?

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

cab ride?

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

to use.

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

more quickly.

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.

AT A GLANCE

Dragon Naturally-Speaking Mobile

Score: B+

Dragon Systems Inc.

(800) 4 DRAGON

www.dragonsystems.com

The Dragon Naturally-Speaking package, which includes the recorder andsoftware, lists for $299.

A clever device that can save time and enhance productivity. Just beprepared to invest some time on the front end because it takes a while toinstall the software and learn the device's sometimes quirky functionality.

Related Stories

"Top speech recognition vendors to merge"[FCW.com, March 29, 2000]

"Speech recognition: The talk of the town" [Federal Computer Week, Sept. 6, 1999]

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