Dictation solutions put to the test

As there are so many different things that people want to write, from letters to thoughts, diaries to the latest bestselling novel, transferring this information from it’s origin to text is vital for the information to be accessed at a later date.
There are three main options for doing this - writing by hand, typing, and dictation. Legibility of handwriting varies dramatically from one person to the next and it requires photocopying, scanning, or capturing as a photo to transfer from its source to a wider audience. Both typing and handwriting require a level of visual feedback so that you can see where the pen is on the paper or where the keys are on the keyboard (unless you can touch type). And then, there is dictation.
Richard from our Digital Team puts some of the most common dictation solutions to the test in this blog...

Introduction

Dictation on computers, tablets and phones is one of those developments for the sighted world that has great uses for people with a visual impairment.

As such, some forms of dictation are more ‘VI-friendly’ than others. For example, Synapptic will repeat everything back to you as you type, whilst Windows 10 does not give any audio signal when it stops listening.

So, I thought I would check out a few of the options and see how they fared. Here are the results…

Image shows a member of Henshaws staff wearing a pink t-shirt and hoodie. He is holding a mobile phone, showing the Talking Newspaper app on the screen.
Image shows a member of the Digital Enablement Team sat at a desk with several laptops on.

In the interest of fairness, I decided that the best way to compare like for like was to record something as if I was dictating it, and use the same audio track to try each product. At the start of lockdown, one of our Tameside service users sent in the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling – how appropriate!

So I started reading the poem into my audio recording software and then this recording was played back at the same volume to each piece of dictation software.

I tried all dictation software that was available to me. Dragon dictation software was not included as I do not have a licence and I was unable to download a free trial. If Dragon want to give me a temporary licence, I will happily try it out against the rest.

iOS dictation

iOS dictation is accessed through the iOS keyboard every time that a text input is expected. The tap of the microphone automatically starts dictation and when the device stops listening, an audible bleep is heard.

To review what you have dictated, you can access the text in your usual way, using Voice Over, Text to Speech or Speak Screen.

The iOS dictation’s word accuracy was very good at 96.5%, all of which were substitutions. Recognising the formatting commands was perfect at 100% accuracy, although there was one formatting error where a lower-case letter was used after opening quotes instead of an upper-case letter.

iOS dictation seemed to stop every sixty seconds but as I was alerted by a bleep, I pushed and restarted the poem accordingly.

Synapptic

Synapptic is a User Interface specifically designed for the visual impairment market. Voice recognition comes as part of that package and is available in all areas where text is expected.

Synapptic was the most fiddly to use for test purposes, but rather than being a weakness, it was actually a strength. The reason Synapptic took the longest to try out was because it would only allow you to speak one line of text at a time, so I was repeatedly pausing and restarting the poem and dictation. For example, the audio track would play, “If you can keep your head when all about you [new line],” at which point, Synapptic would bleep to say it had stopped listening. Synapptic would then repeat what it thought you had said and gave you the option to continue dictating, delete the last line, listen to the last line again or end dictation.

This was the only software I tried that had the functionality of repeating back during dictation. Word accuracy was slightly better than iOS at 97%, all of which were substitutions, but Synapptic fared worse on formatting and punctuation commands at 87.5%.

Synapptic phone
Windows 10 dictation

Windows 10 dictation

Windows 10 comes with built-in dictation software. Once the settings have been adjusted to enable dictation, the key combination of Windows and ‘H’ brings up the dictation toolbar, and then a click on the microphone starts dictation.

Unfortunately, Windows 10 does not give an audible alert when it stops listening, it is purely a visual caption in the dictation toolbar, which is not picked up by a screen reader as the focus is on a different window when dictating. As a result, Windows 10 performed the worst, only recognising the first 3% of words that were dictated.

Google Keyboard

Google Keyboard is the android equivalent of iOS dictation and can be accessed in the same way, by tapping the microphone button when the keyboard appears (which is when the device is expecting a text input).

Unlike the iOS dictation, the Google equivalent only stopped once, so I paused and restarted the audio accordingly. Word accuracy was the same as iOS dictation at 96.5%, but some of the errors were omitting or adding words, as well as substituting words. However, formatting and punctuation were not near as accurate at only 72%.

Google Keyboard dictation
Google Docs dictation

Google Docs dictation

If you have a Google account, you can access Google Docs as one of the online applications. If not, you can sign up for one free of charge.

You will need to access Google Docs via Chrome for Voice Typing to work, and grant access for your microphone. After selecting ‘Voice Typing’ from the tools menu, a dictation icon appears at the side of the document ready to click on to start dictation.

Word accuracy ran at 96% with errors being substitution, omission and duplicate words. Formatting and punctuation was less accurate at 59%.

Office 365 dictation

To get Office 365, you will need to pay an annual licence fee. Office 365 has dictation available when using any of the Microsoft Office products, and was the best overall performer.

It is already built-in and can be activated by clicking on the dictation button on the toolbar. This is not the same as Windows Dictation as it has been specifically designed for use within the Office 365 environment.

Word accuracy was 98.5% and formatting and punctuation was 96%.

Office 365 dictation

Summary

If you are looking for VI-friendly functionality for your dictation, then Synapptic is a good option as it is the only one I tested that repeats what has just been dictated line by line, enabling quick resolution of errors.

If we discount Windows 10, word accuracy across the board was generally very good, ranging from 96% to 98.5%, but formatting and punctuation accuracy varied a bit more, ranging from 59% to 96%.

As usual, it is very much ‘horses for courses’. The main things to consider is what you will be using dictation for, how often and what your budget is.

If you need any support accessing technology, get in touch with our Digital Team on 0300 222 5555 or drop an email to info@henshaws.org.uk

We can't do it without you

Henshaws rely on voluntary donations; our work just wouldn’t be possible without people like you. Your support empowers local people living with sight loss and a range of other disabilities to increase their independence, achieve their dreams, and go beyond expectations.

Donate now

Sarah
Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.