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Trying out speech-to-text apps

Photo: Many deaf young people now use speech-to-text apps.

There are lots of speech-to-text apps available for mobile phones and tablets, and it can be confusing to find the one that’s most useful for you. We put three to the test to find out which is worth downloading.

All speech-to-text apps aim to do the same thing – convert spoken language into text that’s displayed onscreen. The App Store (for Apple devices) and the Play Store (for Android devices) have many of these apps available for download. But why are they priced differently? And what are the differences between them?

In order to answer your questions, our Technology team and some deaf young people teamed up to test three different speech-to-text apps to understand the differences between them and see how well they perform.

Available on: iOS and Android
Cost: Free for the basic version or £6 for the pro version
Mistakes during our test: 0

Otter.ai is a phone app, which can also be run on a desktop or laptop, which makes it useful for Zoom calls. The free version offers 600 minutes of live transcription a month. For more minutes, you have to pay for the pro version.

The accuracy, punctuation and user-friendliness of the app are pretty good, but it’s a pity it can’t be used offline and that it doesn’t have an option to type dialogue, which would be useful for deaf children and young people who don’t use their voice.

There are a couple of features that make this app stand out.

  • Transcripts can be saved and edited. Once you create an account, transcripts are saved in your account and can be shared with others.
  • Words can be added to the vocabulary. We’ve used this to add jargon and people’s names.

Molly (15), who is moderately deaf, says:
“I think this app is really useful. It’s much more accurate than others I’ve used and can separate what’s been said into different speakers. I can add my school and home calendar to the app as well. It’s a shame that you only get 600 minutes usage a month though.”

Verdict: An app with great accuracy. It is relatively low cost and the saved transcripts come in handy to refer back to at a later time.

Available on: iOS
Cost: £4.99
Mistakes during our test: 1

The iOS Live Transcribe app offers the option to quickly switch between typing and speaking, which not only makes it easier for a deaf person to understand a hearing person, but also for the deaf person to make themselves understood. There’s no need to create an account.

Apart from a full stop at the end of the sentence, the punctuation isn’t great.

However there were two features we particularly enjoyed.

  • There’s an offline mode, meaning it can be used in shops or buildings with limited signal.
  • It has a flip screen button. The hearing person can see what’s been typed after they’ve spoken and check its accuracy, before flipping the screen for the deaf person stood or sat opposite them to read. The typing option doesn’t do the same.

Rosie (16), who is profoundly deaf, says:
“I didn’t find it that useful as the text wasn’t always correct and it didn’t pick up clearly what someone was actually saying. I find using the Notes app on my phone more useful for communicating in loud environments.”

Verdict: The offline mode and speak and type options show its potential as an app aimed at facilitating conversations, though its user interface is a bit clunky.

Available on: Android
Cost: Free
Mistakes during our test: 2

The Android Live Transcribe app is not created by the same developer as the iOS Live Transcribe app, but like the iOS version it offers the option to type text as well, and no account is needed to use it.

It starts recording as soon as it hears a voice and seems pretty good at prioritising the speaker closest to the phone over people further away. There’s not much punctuation, though, apart from the full stop at the end of the sentence.

There were some additional features that we liked using.

  • The app indicates when music is playing or other sound effects, such as laughter, are happening in the background.
  • It has the option to hide swear words by replacing them with asterisks, which is useful when using the app with younger children.

Kirsty (18), who is moderately deaf, says:
“I like it because it’s free and really simple to use. I usually use this app at school where subtitles can’t be provided or when my teachers recommend podcasts. The only drawback is, it has to be quite close to the audio source to pick up the sound.”

Verdict: A useful app to facilitate conversations. It’s a pity it doesn’t work offline.

Final decision

After some discussion, the team agreed that the best way to find a good app is to try a few different ones to see which works best for you. Though some apps were more accurate than others, some would be more useful in different situations. So why not use more than one and get the best of everything?