As someone who writes for a living, I have relied on dictation software for a number of years. Dictation software allows me to complete my work more quickly than would otherwise be possible, and it reduces the potential for getting carpal tunnel syndrome. Today, a number of dictation apps are available for the PC. These applications vary widely in terms of price and features. Let’s look at five possible options.

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1: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium (Figure A) is the speech recognition application I use for my day-to-day work. Dragon has been around for many years, so it’s time to mature. When properly trained, Dragon version 13 makes very few dictation errors.

Figure A

Although Dragon’s accuracy is definitely its biggest selling point, it also includes a number of nice features. For example, it allows you to link multiple sound hardware devices to a user’s profile, so you can switch to a different microphone without creating a brand new profile. Dragon lets you create a backup of your profile, too. This is an important option, because Dragon learns over time and becomes more accurate as you dictate or perform additional training. Without a backup option, a hard disk crash could mean retraining Dragon from the beginning.

Dragon 13 Premium sells for $199.

2: Braina

Braina (Figure B) is significantly different from dictation applications like Dragon. Braina does allow you to dictate to your PC, but dictation is not its core competency. Braina is designed to be a speech-driven, artificial intelligence engine for your PC. You can also type rather than speak. The thing that sets Braina apart from some of the more popular digital assistants is that it can learn from you. The company’s website includes an example in which someone asks Braina the name of the president of the United States. Braina doesn’t know the answer, so the user tells it the answer. The next time the question is asked, Braina remembers the answer. Braina also includes a dictionary/thesaurus, alarms and reminders, a calculator, operating system control, text-to-speech, and the ability to play media upon request.

Figure B

Braina offers a Lite version of its software for free. The PRO version can be licensed for either $29.00 per year or $59 for three years.

SEE: Five apps for converting text to speech

3: Express Dictate

Express Dictate (Figure C) is designed to allow you to use your PC for dictation, much like a Dictaphone. But unlike Dragon, it doesn’t contain a speech recognition engine. Instead, it allows you to create high quality recordings, which can then be sent to a transcriptionist. The software contains a rich, but easy-to-use recording engine that lets you mark and delete unwanted audio.

Figure C

Once recorded, audio can be saved for later, archived, or sent to a transcriptionist. The software even supports HIPAA-compliant encryption of audio data.

Express Dictate sells for $79.99, but a free 14-day trial version is available for download.

4: SpeakToText

SpeakToText (Figure D) is an older dictation application, but it’s still a viable option because it leverages the Microsoft SAPI API. Microsoft’s speech recognition engine has vastly improved over the last few years. SpeakToText allows you to perform live dictation or to transcribe an audio file. It contains options for configuring speech properties and for training it to recognize new words.

Figure D

SpeakToText uses its own editor for dictation but contains menu options for copying text to Word or to the clipboard. Clipboard text can also be pasted into the editor.

SpeakToText sells for $39.95, but a free trial is available for download.

5: Dictation Pro

Dictation Pro (Figure E) is a lightweight speech dictation application. Unlike Express Dictate, Dictation Pro does include a speech-to-text engine. In addition, it includes an integrated word processor that receives the text that’s been dictated.

Figure E

The voice recognition engine contains options to create and manage voice profiles and to start and stop dictation. The software also contains a voice training function, and you can add words on an as needed basis, but the software is not as advanced as Dragon. The built-in word processor is roughly on par with Microsoft WordPad.

Dictation Pro sells for $29.95, but a free trial version is available for download.

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Your picks

Do you use any old-school dictation apps? Share you experiences and suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.