Typing isn’t easy or even possible for everyone, so you might prefer to talk. Text-to-speech software, also sometimes called dictation software, makes it possible, by turning what you say into typed text.
Text-to-speech software is different from voice command software, although some apps do both. Voice control is the accessibility feature that lets you open programs, select onscreen options, and control your device using just your voice. MacOS and Windows both have voice control included. It’s called VoiceOver on macOS and Speech Recognition on Windows.
Also, don’t confuse text-to-speech software with transcription software, even though the categories overlap. Transcription software is typically used to transcribe meetings or recordings, sometimes of multiple people, and usually after the fact. Dictation software, on the other hand, is a way to use your voice to type in real time. You speak to your computer or mobile device and immediately see the words on the screen. You can add punctuation by saying the name of the punctuation out loud, for example, “period”, “comma” or “open quote” and “end quote”.
Text-to-speech features or apps should also not be confused with text-to-speech tools, sometimes called screen readers, which read text on the screen aloud.
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Most people don’t need to install any software to dictate text on their computer or phone. That’s because all major operating systems have built-in text-to-speech functionality, and they perform about as well as anything else on the market. Here we show where to find these features on your device and talk about a powerful commercial product with more features, if you need to do more with a text-to-speech tool than the built-in options offer.
Best Text-to-Speech Tool for Windows
Windows Speech, often referred to as voice input, was one of the most accurate tools I tested for this article. Windows 10 and Windows 11 come with Speech, which you can try using the Windows Key-H keyboard shortcut in any text field. A window appears with a microphone icon. Tap the microphone and start talking. The text is displayed more or less in real time.
You can add punctuation manually using commands, or you can try the experimental Auto Punctuation feature. As a writer, I prefer to add punctuation manually – I’m pretty particular about my punctuation – but the automated feature worked quite well and I could imagine it was good enough for some people. Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about using speech recognition and dictation in Windows.
Best Text-to-Speech Tool for Microsoft Office
You can dictate text in Microsoft Office by clicking the prominent Dictate button in all versions of Word, Powerpoint, OneNote, and Outlook. This brings the excellent engine that Microsoft offers to all Windows users, with the automatic punctuation feature, to almost all major operating systems – the web, Android, iOS and macOS versions of Office all include this feature. dictated. That’s great news if you’re using one of these systems and don’t like the built-in text-to-speech engine.
Best Text-to-Speech Tool for macOS
Apple has included dictation in macOS since 2012. To enable the feature, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation, where you can also set a keyboard shortcut. Newer Macs have a dedicated function key (F5) for turning dictation on and off in the top row of the keyboard that looks like a microphone. Speech detection is very accurate and displays in near real time. You can add punctuation with voice commands. Potentially incorrect words are underlined in blue once you’ve finished dictating, and you can right-click or click on them to see other potential options, similar to how spell check works.
Best Text-to-Speech Tool for Apple Mobile Devices
If you’re using the default keyboard on the iPhone and iPad, there’s a microphone icon to the left of the spacebar that you can tap to use dictation. It works almost exactly the same as on macOS. Press this microphone key and the keyboard changes to a live waveform when you speak. Start speaking and your text will appear. You can add punctuation and formatting using voice commands, just like on the Mac. Text recognition is very accurate, the same as on Mac.
Best text-to-speech app for Android
Android’s default keyboard, Gboard, also has a built-in dictation feature. Tap the microphone in the upper right corner of the keyboard and start speaking. It works in any Android app where you can type text, and the recognition is pretty accurate. You can add punctuation with voice commands, like saying “comma” and “period”, like on other systems.
Best Text-to-Speech Tool for Google Docs
Google Docs has a built-in dictation feature called Voice Typing. Google says it only works if you’re using the Chrome browser, but it works in Microsoft Edge and possibly other Chromium-based browsers. Click Tools > Start Voice Typing and a large microphone icon appears, which you can click to start speaking. Punctuation and formatting are handled by voice commands. Recognition works about as well as Gboard, which makes sense: they probably use the exact same engine.
A more powerful text-to-speech app
Dragon by Nuance is one of the finest text-to-speech tools you’ll find. Dragon also lets you operate your computer using voice control, so it does more than translate what you say into typed words. The company creates specific versions of Dragon for legal, healthcare and law enforcement, each emphasizing understanding the complex language common to these professions. If you need a more powerful text-to-speech tool than the default software that comes with modern operating systems, Dragon is worth looking into, but it’s not cheap. The Home version costs $200, and industry-specific versions start at $500. (Note: Nuance was acquired by Microsoft in March 2022.)
(Illustration: Rene Ramos)
The best text-to-speech apps
If you want to learn more about making your technology accessible and productive, check out our overview of the best text-to-speech tools, also known as screen readers.