“Just Press Record” iOS App Review: The Good. The Bad. The Siri. #amwriting

Dear God, I hate dictation.

I had to do it. I had 15,000 words to go to finish my NaNoWriMo commitment on-time, and two days to produce them. There was no physical way for me to type that fast, even if I was just transcribing from paper and didn’t have to think. So I dug out dictation.

First of all: The Razer Hammerhead BT microphone doesn’t do well for dictation. I love the headset for its sound and its noise isolation. It would be OK for game chat—when I tried recording, I could always understand my recordings. But Siri couldn’t understand me.
Me: Skeuomorphism
Siri's transcription: Skewer more fission
Not good.

My progress when dictating to the screen was to be laughed at. I would do better typing with eight of my ten fingers taped to my palms. Yes, with two index fingers I could type faster than using Mac or iOS native dictation-to-screen with Scrivener, because of all the transcription errors when using my best enunciation. This was true with the Hammerhead mic, with my iPhone mic, and with my MacBook Air’s mic. Further, I had to correct them Right. Freaking. Now. I knew that a week later I’d never remember that “manager” was how Apple/Siri dictation had transcribed “murder.”

I finally found a record/transcribe app for iOS, Just Press Record($4.99 USD on the Apple App Store).

Great recording. Great file export. But its transcription uses Siri. Caveat scriptor. (Writer beware.)

My Summary:

Overall ****
Setup ****
Ease of use ****
Sound *****
Sound file export ***
Transcription *
Transcription file export ****

Just Press Record (JPR) worked reasonably well, both to record, and to transfer the resulting transcription to Scrivener. First, recordings could be saved to iCloud—thus, I could listen to them on any Apple device—Mac, iPhone, iPad. If I had a Windows machine and were willing to sully my OS with iCloud, I could listen to them there, too. So far, so good.

I exported each transcription into the Dropbox folder1 in which I keep my Mac Scrivener Scratch Pad notes. Thus, I had an easy workflow to drop the transcriptions into Mac Scrivener. In this way, I was able to meet my word goal, and win NaNoWriMo.

Ah, if only it were really that easy.

Many transcription apps charge you for human transcription. Some offer digital transcription at their lowest price rung (I saw prices varying from $0.10 to $1.50 USD per minute of recording.) JPR does not charge for transcription.

Of course, it uses Siri.

OMG, those transcriptions are horrid. Typical accuracy is 75%-80%. There are areas where I get 50% accuracy, and I’m being generous. Siri assumes that you’re writing a business report, not a fantasy murder mystery. Its vocabulary is very much centred on the mundane. “Dear heavens!” it thinks. “This woman can’t possibly be using terms like murder, human sacrifice, or eviscerated!” And my words get transformed into something innocuous and business-like, or at least less unfamiliar—to Siri.

If Siri were human I’d strangle it. No jury would ever convict me.

It may be that Siri meets your transcription needs. If so, I heartily recommend Just Press Record, for its ease of getting both your recordings and your transcriptions where you need them. As a simple voice recorder, it’s great. As an interface to Siri—well, it’s Siri. JPR has a good interface, it’s Siri that doesn’t meet my needs. I hope that Apple will continue to improve Siri for things other than phone commands and simple internet queries.

Meanwhile, please excuse me. I have about five hours of “manager” to correct to “murder”, and “shit farm” to correct to “shift form.” At least I have my original recordings thanks to JPR, and can listen to them at 1.5x speed. But that won’t help much in the really crummy passages.

Next time I’ll just lose NaNoWriMo. I’ll finish my 50,000 words faster.

  1. Yes, I could have put them in iCloud if I chose. I loathe iCloud more than many people loathe Dropbox. I use either Dropbox or Google Drive whenever practical. 
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