I’ve been typing every day for twenty five years, often for long stretches at a time, and as a result I’ve developed RSI in both my hands. It’s painful and disabling: I can’t open bottles very easily (and with a gin habit like mine, that’s a terrible thing); I struggle to carry heavier things; and my grip is dreadful. I drop things very easily, particularly if they’re cold (which also plays havoc with the gin). It’s no fun, and I strongly advise all of you to take better care of your hands than I have of mine.
Because my hands are so bad, I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred version 10 from Nuance to do most of my typing. This program had a bit of bad reputation a few years ago: the earliest versions were challenging to use, and required their users to Sound. Like. The. Queen. And. Speak. In. Single. Words. Dictating was time-consuming, frustrating and dull, and the accuracy of the results was very poor. But my, how Dragon has changed.
I’ve used v8 since it was released and it’s great: it gives very accurate results; it’s simple to use; and it’s quick. I liked it so much that I missed out v9 completely, and was doubtful that v10 would be significantly different: but I was completely wrong.
I’m amazed by the difference that v10 has made for me. It responds phenomenally quickly to my commands; its accuracy is amazingly good (I’m using it to write this and it’s made just one error so far, despite all the cut-and-paste editing that I do as I work); and it’s incredibly simple to use. I’ll accept that as a long-term Dragon user I’m going to find it more intuitive to use than a complete newcomer would but honestly, it’s a very easy program to learn to use and if my eight-year-old son can sneak my headset on when I foolishly leave my computer unattended and manage to fill a whole page with a Zen-like stream of consciousness, liberally studded with swearwords, before I discover what he’s up to, it’s got to be good. He hadn’t even trained it.
Dragon isn’t just for typing: you can navigate the internet with it, and use it to move from program to program, and window to window. All I now have to do with my hands is start my computer, put my headset on, and stop the cat from clambering about on my keyboard as I try to get any work done.
And (without wishing to sound like an infomercial), that’s not all. Previous versions of Dragon required ultra-high quality headsets if you wanted to get a decent level of accuracy, and they’re expensive: I spent around £140 on a Sennheiser ME3 headset and Andrea soundpod to use with v8, which gave me far greater accuracy than the headset that my Dragon was packaged with. But v10 is far less temperamental: I got the wireless version which comes with a natty little bluetooth headset, and I get better results with it than I used to get from v8 with my Sennheiser. I tested them alongside one another yesterday and while v8 made fifty-seven mistakes over a 587 word test, the cordless v10 made just twenty-one: not only that, but I completed the test more quickly with v10 than I did with v8 (I’m sorry, but for once I wasn’t obsessive enough to keep a proper record of the times: it’s not like me to be so lax). And when I use v10 with my Sennheiser headset, the speed and accuracy are abso-bloodly-lutely brilliant.
There’s just one downside. When I was tethered to my computer by the cable of my Sennheiser I did at least remember that my computer was listening to me. With this new little bluetooth headset I keep forgetting that I’m on, and have subsequently managed to dictate several pages of text in which I advise my children to sharpen up their acts and tidy their bedrooms, tell the dog to get off the kitchen table, and suggest to a double-glazing salesman that I’d chew my own feet off before I’d put uPVC windows into my glorious house. At least this has this proved that the headset has a greater range than either Dragon or Plantronics advertise. I can only hope that I’ve edited all of it out of the book I’m working on at the moment.
So, would I recommend it? You bet I would. If you’re considering Dragon NaturallySpeaking but wonder whether it’s worth it, stop wondering. Just buy it. Now. It’s wonderful.