What the best voice-recognition software has

  • Voice control. Aside from dictation, the best software allows you to control and interact with your computer without using a keyboard or mouse. By using simple commands, you can navigate through opening and closing apps, creating documents and even edit as you go.
  • Education and support. Speech-recognition software typically has a learning curve, so there should be adequate tutorials, forums, desktop support, helpful hints and onscreen training to get you up to speed.
  • Fast and accurate dictation. It's the primary reason that users purchase speech-recognition software: the ability to dictate and see your speech turn into text. Accuracy and speed are important, as is the ability for the program to recognize and adapt to your voice and speech syntax.
  • Transcription. Featured in premium software versions, the ability to transcribe voice recordings and audio files is a bonus. Better versions also offer playback and read back functions.
  • Continuous speech technology. Also a premium feature, this means you can speak conversationally, without pausing between words. Reviewers almost universally agree that even with a slight lag for the text to catch up to your speech, the results are still faster than typing manually.

Know before you go

How much hard drive space and memory does your operating system have? One of the drawbacks to some PC-based speech-recognition software is that it does take up a lot of memory. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Premium has a feature that allows you to turn off commands that you are not using, which might free up some space if you notice slowdowns. To operate at full capacity, make sure you have no less than the recommended requirements.

Will you be able to use it in a quiet environment? Though most speech-recognition software does a remarkably good job of tuning out ambient noise, it's still important to have a relatively quiet setting and a good microphone to maximize performance. If your office is in an open area with lots of background chatter, it may be worth it to invest in a microphone that will filter out any outside commotion.

Do you need a microphone? In most cases, if you buy a boxed version you'll get a high-quality microphone, which doesn't come with a digital download (for the same price).

What voice-recognition program are you currently using? For those who are new to voice-recognition software, purchasing the best product makes sense, but for someone who is using the previous version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium, upgrading may not be completely necessary. Consider waiting for the next release to see if there are improvements in hard drive requirements, price and background noise filtration.

What applications do you use most frequently? Make sure the programs you use the most are compatible with the software package you choose. For example, the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 11 does not work with Excel. You'll need the Premium version for that.

What type of writing do you do? There is specialty software geared to legal and medical professionals that is not included in this report. And if you are in a scientific or technical field, or use a lot of proper names, you might not see the results you would like.

Have you tried built-in software? Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 have built-in speech-recognition software that isn't as powerful as some of the market leaders, but it might be suitable if you're an average user. Give those free versions a whirl to see if you really need to purchase a third party application.

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