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Why Microsoft Voice Access is Windows 11’s best feature

The best part about Microsoft Voice Access is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to access it. 

image of laptop displaying the windows 11 2020 update on office desk
Image: Microsoft

Earlier this month, Microsoft released the latest version of Windows 11 — the snappily-named Windows 11 22H2.

As updates go, it’s a big one. By prioritizing usability, the latest version of Redmond’s desktop OS feels slicker than ever. 

This post isn’t a round-up of the latest and greatest features. I want to talk about just one: Microsoft Voice Access. 

Talking to my Laptop

windows 11 voice access screen on a purple background
Image: KnowTechie

Microsoft Voice Access first appeared on the Insider Dev Channel in January. The feature is a necessary accessibility tool. 

In short, it’s a way to control your computer by barking commands through a microphone. You can switch apps, press icons, and select drop-down menus without touching a keyboard or mouse. 

Microsoft Voice Access is a game changer for people with mobility or sight impairments.

Sure, other companies offer similar functionality. Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking is a great example. But those products are expensive. This feature is free.

Best of all: it’s (relatively) application agnostic. Microsoft Voice Access doesn’t require developers to integrate the tech into their applications. A few minor exceptions notwithstanding, it just works

Dictating Documents

Microsoft Voice Access also expands upon Windows’ existing voice-to-text technology. For the first time, users can dictate entire documents with startling accuracy. 

Voice recognition has long been a Windows shortcoming. It’s something Apple does exceptionally well — especially if you own a new Apple Silicon computer. But not anymore. 

When it comes to the important metrics (transcription speed, accuracy, and the ability to narrate unbroken passages without having to manually adjust the text), Windows 11 22H2 rivals or exceeds MacOS Monterey

I’ll be transparent with you. I have a vested interest here

I have ADHD and dyspraxia. Both conditions affect focus. By dictating articles, I’m able to stave off distractions. It’s a tool — like medication — that allows me to control these conditions. 

I use both macOS and Windows laptops for work. For obvious reasons, I’m vastly more productive when using my shiny M1 MacBook Pro than my (equally expensive) Windows 11 gaming laptop

And that’s a shame. There are some situations where it makes sense to use my Windows laptop. I don’t want to split my work across two machines if I’m reviewing a game or a Windows-specific gadget.

Evolution not Revolution 

Admittedly, Windows has long included native voice-to-text functionality. The first version appeared in the much-maligned Windows Vista, six years before Apple followed suit in Mac OS X 10.9 Yosemite. 

The first version gave Nuance little to fear. It was comically inaccurate.

Windows Visa could barely handle crisp American voices, let alone regional accents. Its shortcomings were glaringly apparent to anyone who used it. 

Sure, Apple was a latecomer, but it improved. Microsoft didn’t. 

For many people, Microsoft Voice Access will be the first time they’ve attempted to use Windows’ native voice recognition technology since the turbulent days of Windows Vista. And I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. 

It comprehends Northern English accents. If I talk with a steady clip, Windows 11 keeps pace. Most importantly: it’s accurate. 

Microsoft Voice Access also benefits from substantial lexicography. It recognizes slang terms and field-specific jargon. In practice, this means you can dictate more complex bodies of work.

Mileage May Vary

setup windows 11 voice access on purple background
Image: KnowTechie

There’s another reason why I like Microsoft Voice Access so much. You don’t need to spend a fortune to access it. 

By contrast, MacOS’ voice dictation only really works if you have an M1 or M2 Mac. Those with older Intel machines suffer from worse transcription accuracy and are limited to one-minute dictation sessions. 

Put simply: it feels like a more universal solution. 

Microsoft’s offering is even more impressive when you consider that most Intel CPUs don’t also include a dedicated AI accelerator (an NPU, or Neural Processing Unit). Apple Silicon does.

Ready to try Microsoft Voice Access? You’ll find a quick-start guide here

And I’m curious about your experience. As mentioned, I have a pretty capable machine. It packs a dedicated GPU, an 11th-generation CPU, and plenty of RAM.

In short, all the ingredients you need to tackle complicated AI tasks. 

How will Microsoft Voice Access work on more austere computers? Or on an ARM-based Snapdragon PC? 

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platforms are glacially slow for most computing tasks, but they benefit from a dedicated NPU. Will this give them an advantage over similarly-priced Intel machines? 

I’m hoping you’ll tell me. Drop me a Tweet here

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Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Past work can be found on The Register, Reason, The Next Web, and Wired.

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