The major operating systems - such as Windows and macOS for PCs, and Android and iOS for mobiles - come with voice to text inputs built-in as an accessibility tool, but if you're dealing with a lot of typing, it can be helpful to take a step back and make use of this feature. The accuracy isn't 100 percent - it isn't even 90 percent for the most part - and it is further muddled by Indian accents, or rooms with background noise such as ceiling fans and air conditioners, but the results are pretty usable, and after a long day in office, switching to voice can help you put off carpal tunnel for another day.
Here are the different ways in which you can enable voice dictation, whether you're using a Windows PC, a Mac, an Android device, or an iPhone. Here are the steps you need to follow, along with a few short thoughts on the quirks of each platform.
How to enable voice input on Windows
The steps to start using voice typing with a Windows PC are pretty straightforward. Following these steps will get you started with Windows Speech Recognition, which lets you talk instead of typing, but also lets you control the PC with your voice - an essential tool for people with accessibility issues.
If you are on Windows 7, open Speech Recognition by clicking the Start button > All Programs > Accessories > Ease of Access > Windows Speech Recognition.
On Windows 8, press the Win key (which looks like the Windows logo) + Q. In the search box, type in speech recognition, and then click on Windows Speech Recognition to get started.
On Windows 10, go to the Control Panel > Ease of Access > Speech Recognition > Start speech recognition.
Then follow these steps:
- Say "start listening", or click the Microphone button to start the listening mode.
- Open the program you want to use or select the text box you want to dictate text into.
- Say the text that you want dictate.
To correct text, you can simply say "correct that", and edit the last thing you said. In use, it works out really well. On Windows 7 with the language set to English (United Kingdom), we had no major issues, and the Windows speech to text also seemed to be more forgiving of our accent than the other operating systems' voice to text agents. Windows 8 and Windows 10 let you use English (India) as well, if you prefer that.
Voice to text with Windows worked well, and you can also use commands such as "new line", or "press control B". You can use it wherever there is a text-entry dialog box. Also interesting - as long as the Windows Speech Recognition toolbar hasn't been closed, you can use the commands "start listening" and "stop listening”.
Windows 10 has another feature called Dictation. This feature was only newly added in the Windows Fall Creators Update, which only just became available to all users. This is likely connected to the improvements to the Windows virtual keyboard, which now has a microphone button you can tap to start dictating. If you're using a regular PC, you can access dictation by pressing the Win key + H and start talking, However, unlike speech recognition, the dictation feature only works if your language setting is US English, possibly because it's still a new feature.
How to enable voice input on macOS
Voice typing with an Apple computer is also pretty straightforward. Here are the steps that you have to follow.
- Go to the Apple Menu > System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation
- Turn on Dictation by clicking on the button.
- Check Use Enhanced Dictation - this allows you to use dictation even while offline, which is a useful feature to have. It required a 433MB download to activate.
- You can also choose your shortcut key from the drop-down menu. We kept it at the default press Fn twice, but you can enter a custom binding as well.
This enables dictation in a text box whenever you invoke the keyboard command, and you can then talk to the computer to type the text you need. Like with Windows, can use various commands, such as "select previous sentence", "go to beginning", "replace 'this' with 'that'", and "stop dictation" to stop. If you go into System Preferences > Accessibility > Dictation and check Enable the dictation keyword phrase, you can also start dictation by saying "computer, start dictation".
Getting started doesn't take long, and in general the dictation is fairly accurate, however it appears to be more sensitive to accent related issues. "However" is one word that we had a lot of difficulty getting Apple to understand. Also the dictation on the Mac tends to insert the occasional "all" in the middle of sentences, which probably has something to do with the accent as well.
Note that with computers, especially, you will get much better results if you use a headset with mic, instead of relying on your laptop’s built-in mic.
How to enable voice input on Android
Dictation in Android is a breeze, and you don't even need to go into any settings - it appears to be on by default on the phones we were able to check this on. Whenever you enter a text field with the default Google keyboard, you'll see a mic icon on the top right of the keyboard. Just tap that and start talking, and Google does a great job of transcribing what you're saying.
There's a certain amount of mistakes in the text that you will have to manually check even so, but it's fast and easy to use. You can quickly send replies to messages or mails like this, and in case you don't see the option to voice type, here are the settings:
- Go to Settings > Languages and Input > Text to speech output
- In current keyboard, choose Gboard if it isn't already selected.
- If Gboard isn't available as an option, you can download it from Google Play.
Other keyboards also support voice typing, though the methods to use them might be a little different. If you want to use a different keyboard, please check the provider's website for more information.
All in all, Google's voice typing is forgiving about the accent and incredibly fast. However, it still makes a fair number of mistakes, and so you won't be sending in an unedited document like this. It's a great tool, but just remember that it will also miss some words.
How to enable voice input on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
If you're using an iPhone or an iPad, voice typing is just as simple. Open the keyboard, tap the mic, and tap on Enable dictation if you haven't already. That's it, you're good to go.
We tested this on a first-generation iPad Pro, and the results were excellent. We had guessed that the voice dictation would be the same as on the Mac, but the iPad Pro either has a better mic on board, or the algorithm being used is slightly different, because this was actually the best voice typing experience of the entire lot.
For the most part, it worked really well, although a few words were missed - however, the document continues to update itself as you add more words, so when you end the dictation, it tries to re-contextualise the results. When we said "overall", it just displayed "all", which was something we were going to have to go back and edit; but once we ended the dictation session, it took a few seconds before presenting the keyboard, and in that time, changed the text to "overall"!
This can lead to some strange results though - for example, the word "type" became "sick", and after closing dictation, became "say what about". AI is a mysterious thing sometimes, let's just leave it at that.
Once again, you won't get a perfect document at the end of your session, but there's a lot to be said for being able to quickly speak out a number of paragraphs, and then just tweak them to remove the errors.
So there you have it - those are the built in tools for voice typing on all four major operating systems. Do you use any specialised tools for voice typing? If so, what has your experience with them been like? Tell us and the other readers via the comments.