DragonBarI’ve always found it difficult to review a new version of a piece of software that has a long history. Most of the changes take place behind the scenes. Unless you can do a side-by-side comparison with previous versions, it’s difficult to pinpoint the substantive differences. To counter this, most software developers change the look to make it obvious that this is a major upgrade. Another tactic to get the consumer to think that this is something different, is to add one brand-new feature that is unavailable in any of the other versions. The new iteration, Version 13, uses the two  techniques mentioned above.Dragon 13 logo

I’ve been a long-time user of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Check related link at the end of this post.

The major new feature is support for internal microphones. The previous versions required an external microphone. With the dominance of laptops and the reduction in size but increase in sound quality, the built-in microphones work quite well with Dragon 13. Not only is the software good at detecting which soundcard is installed on your Windows machine, but setting up the microphone is now one step instead of two.

I switched back and forth between the external mic and the internal one with no real discernible difference in my dictation being recognized. However, I live on a main thoroughfare and occasionally buses, trucks, motorcycles and cars with music cranked up to the eardrum bursting level override the software’s ability to isolate only my voice. The external mic built into my headsets works best. The reason I like using an external headset is that it has a mute button. I’ve had long conversations, with my wife recorded because I forgot to tell the microphone to “go to sleep”.

Google link imageThe other big deal, for me, was support for multiple browsers. In earlier versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, you were pretty much limited to using Internet Explorer. The new version supports IE, Firefox and Google Chrome. The first time you open a particular browser after installing Dragon, you are prompted to install the appropriate extension or add on. I use multiple browsers to see if there are any differences in how accessibility functions work on a given website.

In the last version, there was some support for the Google Chrome browser. While you could dictate into a text box, on any website, you were not always able to edit or format that text with your voice. Those kinks seem to have been worked out in the new version. With my low vision, I have a problem with the “click link” command. If you give that command on a page it numbers the links and all you have to do is say, “[choose] number]”, and it takes you to the link. While it works quite well, it presents a problem for me. Even with the text magnified, the numbers are sometimes hard for me to read.

I initially thought the new look was mostly cosmetic. The DragonBar, the program’s control panel, is larger and has a black background and white text. This color scheme is easier for many people with visual contrast issues. The microphone status icon is now in the center of the DragonBar and is much larger. I like that positioning because it was easier for me to see. However, after switching back and forth between the old DragonBar, which has been relabeled “classic”, it proved to be an inspired decision. In earlier versions, the microphone status bar was a small icon on the left of the screen. Microphone status is also determined by the color the of the icon. It was red, if the microphone was completely off, yellow if it was in sleep mode and green if it was activated. It’s still red when off, blue when it’s sleeping and green when activated. With the new version, the changes are staring you in the face instead of hiding in the corner.

Each iteration of Dragon NaturallySpeaking claims to be faster than the previous version. Again, I’m not able to do a benchmark. There is some empirical evidence that this version is faster. I can’t put a number on it, but I have observed that using the new DragonBar in its collapsed mode appears to make the program run faster. There was a noticeable slowdown when using the Classic DragonBar.

In summary, the program performs as advertised. The only real problem I had was getting the Dragon extension in Firefox to work consistently. Maybe I didn’t set it up properly. I’ll keep trying.

Related link: A Vision of Dragon NaturallySpeaking.