PC

Dragon 13 discontinued, Dragon 15 discounted

Do you use Dragon Naturally Speaking? Specifically are you on Dragon 13? Well I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for you.

The bad news is Dragon 13 is being discontinued. Nuance is no longer going to support it after 2018. It’s pining for the fjords, and at some future date a Windows Update is going to break functionality and Nuance isn’t going to fix it.

Now for the good news. If you own Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 Professional they’re offering Dragon 15 Professional at a steep discount of $99. Check the software notifications you probably ignore every time you open Dragon 13 and you’ll see a notification and a link to where you can get the discounted rate.

It’s only good through October 31, 2018, so be sure to act fast. This is a great deal on 15 and well worth the upgrade. Especially if you’re using it for a business purpose!

Huion GT-191: first impressions

I’ve already detailed all the problems I’ve had with the latest offering from Wacom. That was frustrating, to be sure, but I still found myself in need of a tablet of some sort. An iPad Pro with ProCreate was nice, but the screen was small enough that it was irritating to work with Photoshop for long periods of time.

So I decided to give Huion a try. They’re a Chinese company based in Shenzhen, aka that place in China where all of your electronics are manufactured. They’ve been up and comers for a couple of years now making cheap Wacom alternatives. At first it seemed like their products were a crapshoot, but the longer they’ve been around the better those reviews get.

I picked up the Huion GT-191. It’s the latest version of their stuff and at 19″ it’s just a tad bit bigger than the Cintiq Pro 16 which comes in at 15.6″ diagonal. I looked at their GT-221 Pro, but I’ve had a Cintiq 22HD on my desk before and the thing was too big for my space. Not to mention I don’t use express keys so the GT-191 with its lack of keys was perfect.

I’m going to break this down into three parts. The good, the bad, and the mildly annoying. Is Huion the Wacom replacement they so desperately want to be? Read on and find out!

The good

PriceĀ – There’s no arguing with the price. The Cintiq Pro 16 goes for $1500. Go back a generation for the nearest equivalent and the Cintiq 22HD retails for $1700. Compare that to the $500 for the GT-191 and you’ve got a hell of a deal! If you’re looking for an entry level pen screen then this is the way to go.

Looks – Right out of the box I was impressed with how sleek and nice the 191 looked. The first time I unboxed a Cintiq 22HD I was struck by how damn bulky the thing was. The Huion is still thicker than the new Cintiq Pro line, but it’s nowhere near as bulky as the last generation Cintiqs.

Connection – The GT-191 has connection options for VGA, DVI, and HDMI. After all the drama surrounding the breakout box for the Cintiq Pro 16, which only supports USB-C natively, it was nice to have something that would plug in directly to my mid-2015 MacBook Pro without any go between.

Screen resolution – The GT-191 is “only” 1080p, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At 19″ the screen looks very crisp sitting beneath my main monitor, and I have to get up close to the thing to see pixels. Compare that to the Cintiq Pro 16 which looked a little pixelated running at 2k through the breakout box. Not to mention at 4k everything was a little too small. 1080 on the 19″ monitor feels right.

Size – The size is just right for my desk. The Cintiq Pro 16 felt a little small and I didn’t want to use it as a second monitor. When I tried out at 22HD the thing was too big for my workspace. I could see it being a good primary monitor for someone who only used the Cintiq, but for my setup where I mostly write on another monitor it wasn’t ideal. Plus I felt that the 22HD screen looked a little pixelated. The 22″ size was just a little too big for 1080p viewed at close range. The GT-191 feels just right and is also a nice second monitor positioned just below my main monitor.

Pen response – Of course this is the main reason to buy the thing. The pen. I’m here to report that it works beautifully. I’ve been using Wacom products since the Intuos3 back in 2007 and this feels more or less like a Wacom pen. You can adjust the pressure curve if you want to, but I didn’t find that to be necessary. Note that the pen doesn’t have tilt support. That’s not something I’ve ever used in my work, but I want to put that out there if it is the sort of thing you use a lot and it’d b a dealbreaker if the pen doesn’t have it.

The stand – The stand is amazing. It bolts to the back of the tablet and it’s small and unobtrusive while also being large enough to comfortably hold the thing up. Adjustments are super easy as well. It’s easy for me to pull the monitor into an upright position to act as a second monitor and then pull it down if I need to do some work in Photoshop. It’s far less bulky than a Cintiq 22HD stand and fits nicely on my small workspace.

It’s also way better than the stand Wacom is providing with their new Cintiq Pro line. Anything is better than nothing, right? It’s also way better and more solid than the flimsy folding joke of a stand that came with the Cintiq 13HD.

The bad

Color accuracy – What you see on the screen isn’t necessarily all that accurate. Out of the box the colors were skewed a bit towards the red. I switched the monitor to using the User color profile on the monitor and set it up on an sRGB profile in MacOS and that got rid of that problem. The colors are still a little washed out and the whole monitor feels like it has a slight blue tint to it compared to my Asus 278Q which hovers above the Huion for a constant comparison. The whites are white on the Asus monitor and they seem slightly blueish on the Huion.

I’ve looked at videos of other people doing reviews and that seems to just be a thing with these monitors. Having said that, Cintiq monitors also appear “washed out” as well, so I’m not sure if going with the more expensive alternative is going to necessarily “fix” the issue.

Having said that, once I’ve been using the monitor for awhile my eyes adjust to the color oddness and it doesn’t seem so bad. I also have a second Photoshop window open on the Asus which I feel has more accurate color reproduction just to keep an eye on things. If you plan on using this as your only monitor for art it might be an issue, but even then I’d say that’s more a problem for professional artists and not people using this occasionally for work or as a hobbyist.

The mildly annoying

Lack of eraser – You can’t flip the stylus around and use the eraser functionality. I’m sure that’s an annoyance for some, but come on. This is a digital stylus. It’s easier to hit the keyboard shortcut for the eraser tool than it is to flip the damn pen around and erase, but I include this in my summary because I’m sure that’s a hill some people are willing to die on.

Charging a pen – This is another one that I don’t think is terribly annoying, but include it because I’m sure there are some people who will think it’s the end of the world. Yes, you have to charge the pen. I’ve gotten used to charging my Apple Pencil so it’s not a big deal, but it might annoy some. Thankfully Huion provides two pens with the tablet which means you can always have one charging while you use the other one. I think this is a non-issue, but include it here for the sake of being thorough.

Lack of express keys – Another non-issue for me that a lot of people might care about. For me the lack of express keys along the side was a feature and not a bug. When I’m in Photoshop I always have one hand on the stylus and the other hand on my keyboard. I’ve always felt that the keyboard or my Razer Tartarus were way better than express keys and was happy to see a cheaper model offered without the damn things.

Some people love their express keys though. Of note is that even Wacom has stopped including them on their device though. Now you get a nice upsell for a $100 bluetooth express key device. I think that $100 would be better spent on a bluetooth keyboard or a programmable gaming pad, but if you’re the kind of person who lives and dies by the express key then this tablet might not be for you.

Cables along the bottom – This is a very minor annoyance, but it is a thing. The cables stick out of the bottom of the thing which means if you’re constantly pulling it forward and pushing it back then you’re going to have to wrangle those. A plastic tie goes a long way towards taming this and it’s not entirely fair to complain about this since any drawing tablet is going to have cable management issues, but it is something that bugged me so I include it here.

Parallax at the edges – Yes, this table has some Parallax. I’d say it’s better than a Cintiq 22HD and worse than the new Cintiq Pro line which has mostly eliminated this by putting the pen right up against the monitor. The parallax effect gets worse as you get closer to the monitor’s edge which is also something that happened with the 22HD. It’s an annoyance, but it’s an annoyance that’s been with the Cintiqs up until the Pro line and something you can easily adjust to if you watch where the cursor is on the screen rather than where the pen tip is.

Wrapping up

Is the Huion GT-191 worth it? Honestly you’re going to have to read above and see what you think. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with all the good and bad that comes with the tablet. As with all drawing monitors you’ll have to decide if the good outweighs the bad.

Drawing monitors have never been perfect. Even with the super expensive Wacom stuff there have always been issues. Check out my thoughts on the Cintiq Pro 16 for a laundry list of issues that I feel shouldn’t come with a $1500 piece of kit.

That’s the thing. There are always going to be issues and tradeoffs with these tablets, but with the Huion you’re paying a fraction of what you would on a Wacom. If you’re a professional artist then maybe this isn’t the tablet for you. If, like me, you only use the tablet occasionally for Photoshop stuff related to work, or if you’re a hobbyist looking for a way to get away from your Intuos, then I think this is a great value for the price.

Wacom has issues. Huion has issues. Huion’s issues come at a far more reasonable price point, though, and that makes all the difference for me.

A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking

There are times when I feel like I’m not giving Dragon Naturally Speaking a fair shake. I see so many people out there who swear by it. Who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

My experience with the software has never backed up those glowing recommendations, but I figured maybe I should give it a try. So I was going to do a new feature. A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking. A year where I used the software and really dedicated myself to getting the most I could out of the software. See if it made a difference in my productivity.

So with that in mind I busted out my recorder over the weekend and dictated some stuff. I did it in four minute increments which I’ve discovered yields about 500 words when I transcribe the file. I plugged those in and got to trying to correct them.

The only problem? Nothing was working correctly. I started correcting one four minute file and everything was fine. Then I did a second file and started working, but the whole thing froze. Dragon refused to respond for a couple of minutes. Everything else in Windows worked fine, and clicking out of Parallels showed that my Mac was working just fine as well. It was only Dragon that had completely shit the bed.

Finally it came back up and ran through all the commands I’d given it while it was frozen and I was trying to get things to work. Which resulted in a mangled mess. Dragon told me it had encountered a problem and I needed to restart.

No fucking shit.

So I restarted Dragon. I tried using it again. Only this time after doing some transcription I ran into an issue where I couldn’t correct anything. A weird error manifested that I’ve seen a couple of times now. The upshot is that I’ll tell Dragon to select text, but it selects the wrong text. It’s as though where Dragon thinks the dictated text is and where it actually is in Dragonpad gets out of sync because it always selects a part of the text that is the same distanced away from what I’m trying to select.

Needless to say this renders any corrections completely useless.

I figure maybe the problem is that I’m trying to do all of this in Parallels on my Mac. Maybe there’s something about the virtual machine that isn’t playing nice with Dragon. So I dust off my old Surface Pro and try to get it working, only to be confronted with the same out of sync text/dictation error I was getting on the Mac in Parallels.

Huh.

Finally, in desperation, I trued running Dragon for Mac. It gamely loaded up and then promptly crashed and asked if I’d like to send in an error log.

The one bit of text that I managed to go through and edit/correct using Dragon took me about twenty minutes to get through on top of the four minutes I spent dictating it into a recorder in the first place. I could’ve typed that out in twelve minutes. The errors and troubleshooting I went through trying to get Dragon to work correctly on my Mac and Surface ended up wasting a whole morning.

Needless to say my “year of Dragon Naturally Speaking” has ended before it could really get started.

Calculating the time I would’ve lost using Dragon Naturally Speaking

Someone was asking about Dragon Naturally Speaking in an author group this evening and I was the dissenting voice urging caution. As part of that I sat down and figured out exactly how much extra time I would’ve spent writing if I’d used Dragon Naturally Speaking rather than typing a draft.

I wrote close to two million words in 2016 and again in 2017. Let’s just round it up for the sake of simplicity.

I’ve calculated that I add ten minutes of production time for every thousand words written using Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Take two million and divide it by one thousand to see how many thousand word increments I wrote. The math is easy and we get two thousand. Now take two thousand and multiply that by ten to get how much extra time would’ve been added by using Dragon instead of typing.

The result? Twenty thousand wasted minutes. Divide that by sixty and we get roughly three hundred thirty-three hours that would’ve been lost in a year. That’s almost fourteen days. Two weeks of time.

The ability to write fast, clean drafts is one of the superpowers that has allowed me to make it as an indie author. With a little simple math it’s easy to see that Dragon would’ve cost me a lot of that time rather than helping.

Dragon might work for you. All I ask is that you sit down and figure out how much time you’re actually saving by using it. You might be surprised at the answer you come up with.

Dragon Naturally Speaking: PC or Mac?

Dragon Naturally Speaking is available for PC and Macs. Which version is better?

I realize that this article is going to be a moot point for a lot of people. You’re either a Mac person or a PC person, and you’re naturally going to gravitate towards the version of the software designed for your computer, right?

Not necessarily. It turns out when it comes to deciding between the PC and the Mac version of Dragon Naturally Speaking there are several different options available to you depending on what kind of performance you demand. This is also a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been switching my writing workflow to 100% dictation and I try to figure out a decent way of getting text from my recorder to a word processor.

The problem is pretty simple. I made the switch to Mac about a year ago and I love it. This is coming from a lifelong PC user who grew up on the things. Seriously, my first PC was a monochrome 8086 IBM compatible that my dad spent thousands of 1980s dollars to buy. The only problem with that switch is I still like to use Dragon occasionally, and Dragon for Mac sucks.

Training Your Dragon

Training: This is by far the best reason to get Dragon for PC. If it gets a word wrong then you can correct it and Dragon learns from that correction. If it repeatedly gets a word wrong then you can train it on that word and the problem goes away.

Seriously. I can’t tell you how much of a lifesaver this feature is. I’ve taught my Dragon how to swear. I’ve had it learn specialized vocabulary for fantasy and science fiction stories I was working on. It’s a game changer, a productivity saver, and something that you absolutely need in my opinion.

Dragon for Mac? Not so much. You just can’t train it the same way you can the PC version. I’m not sure what’s going on under the hood that they weren’t able to include the central feature of every PC version of this program going back to its inception, but it was a really boneheaded move. Dragon for Mac is basically a nice way to get your words on screen, but you’ll constantly be correcting the same transcription errors and It. Gets. Old.

Transcription

Transcription is a mixed back between PC and Mac, but it’s a mixed bag that I think leans towards the Windows version even though there is a minor annoyance about the Windows version.

Transcription is how I use Dragon. I have a Philips recorder that I carry with me at all times so that I can utilize my downtime. If I’m on a drive then I’m dictating. If I’m in the parking lot waiting on my wife to do some shopping I can pull out the recorder and dictate. It’s a great tool for getting out a first draft and putting thoughts on the page, and because of that transcription is the thing I focus on the most when I’m setting up Dragon.

The nice thing about transcription in Dragon for Mac is that I can load up multiple files at once and tell Dragon to transcribe them, and then they’re transcribed in the background leaving me free to do other things. Compare this to the PC version of Dragon where you can transcribe multiple files at once by selecting them, sure, but the drawback is Dragon takes control of your PC while it’s doing the transcribing rather than doing that transcription in the background.

So it’s a game of tradeoffs. Dragon for Mac does the transcribing in the background, but remember that training I was talking about in my first point? Yeah, you really can’t do that with transcription. In Dragon for PC you create a separate input for your digital recorder under your existing profile and then you can train that input source as it makes mistakes and it will get better and learn how you talk.

Dragon for Mac? Not so much. It does transcription, sure, but it’s the same old problem where it’s going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again because you can’t train it so it never learns. The end result is you’re going to be spending a hell of a lot of time going back and fixing the same mistakes over and over again and believe you me that gets very old very fast.

So for transcription the tip of the hat goes to Dragon for PC.

Accuracy and the Little Things

Finally there’s accuracy to think of. How good are these programs out of the box?

I can remember a time in the late ’90s and early ’00s when you had to spend a lot of time training Dragon if you wanted anything approaching accuracy, and even then you still had to go over everything you wrote with an editor’s eye to make sure it was coming out correct. This was fine for my dad because he was a lawyer and lawyers employ secretaries to do dictation anyway. Dragon just made life easier for everyone involved.

But what about for an author who doesn’t have a secretary to go over everything? And that’s the rub of it. I’ve discovered that no matter what you do, no matter what version of Dragon comes out, there’s nothing that’s going to be one hundred percent accurate whether you’re talking about transcription or dictating to the computer. There’s always going to be little mistakes that creep in, and you’re always going to have to keep an eye out for those mistakes.

I’ve not done anything approaching a scientific study of this, but I have a general feel between using Dragon for PC and Dragon for Mac, and I’d say that for sitting down and dictating or for transcribing the accuracy is definitely better on the PC version out of the box. And since you can’t really do any training worth the name in Dragon for Mac it’s not like it’s going to get better, whereas in the PC version you can train and it’s going to do a better job of learning your unique style.

Dragon for Mac also has odd idiosyncrasies. The transcription sucks, as I mentioned, but it also capitalizes words randomly and inserts random spaces. There are a lot of little niggling details it gets wrong that adds up to a very frustrating experience for a piece of software that costs so much.

Which version of Dragon should you get?

This is simple. If you have a PC then you need to get Dragon for PC. If you have a Mac? You still want to get Dragon for PC.

Stay with me for a moment here, because this is the solution I ultimately came up with since Dragon for PC is the one piece of software that I found myself missing when I made the switch to Mac.

Dragon for Mac costs $300. That’s a steep pricetag for a piece of software that’s essentially a less functional version of its PC counterpart. This is one piece of software where you’re definitely paying the Mac tax.

But don’t forget about Parallels.

The wonderful thing about today’s Macs is they’re fully capable of running a modern Windows OS, and it’s never been easier to run a virtual machine like Parallels that allows you to run a Windows install within whatever version of MacOs you’re running. Which means you get all the benefits of the one or two Windows programs you need to run while also retaining all your Mac stuff.

The cost makes sense too. Dragon Premium 13 costs roughly $120. Parallels costs $80 to either buy outright or to get a one year SAAS subscription that includes updates. That means you’re only out $200 to get Dragon working on your Mac, which is still $100 cheaper than buying Dragon for Mac outright! You don’t even have to worry about Windows, because Microsoft is giving away Windows 10 right now. The only penalty for not paying for Windows 10 is you get some annoying text in the bottom right corner of your screen and you can’t personalize the background, but why would you want to do that when you’re doing most of your computing on your Mac?

There are two potential drawbacks to this approach:

  1. There is a learning curve to figuring out how to run Parallels on your Mac. I didn’t think it was a particularly steep learning curve, but it’s definitely there. Thankfully there are a number of tutorials out there that will get you up and running, and you can even do a 15 day free trial to see if it works for you.
  2. You have to have a computer that has some resources to it. You’re running two OSes at the same time including Dragon which can be resource intensive. I’m running a higher end MacBook Pro of recent vintage so I didn’t have any problem, but if you’re running older hardware you might have an issue. Then again if you’re running hardware old enough for this to be an issue then you’re also probably running hardware old enough that Dragon for Mac isn’t a terribly viable option either.

In a nutshell

So there you have it. Avoid Dragon for Mac. Get Dragon Premium 13 for PC. If you’re using a Mac then you need to either run Dragon for PC in Parallels or install Windows on your system using Bootcamp and use Dragon for PC if you’re serious about voice recognition as part of your writing workflow.

That’s it for this update. Up next: Why Dragon isn’t the magic productivity silver bullet some people make it out to be, and why it can still be damn useful.