Life has changed. For the better. Because of Microsoft’s new feature. A few days ago the Satya Nadella-led company launched a tool within the web-version of Word, which has all the makings of a hit among professionals as well as students. And it’s a feature that may make the team behind Google Docs feel slightly uncomfortable.
The last few years have been largely spent editing on Google Docs, which is easily sharable and also easy to work on. I have been a Microsoft Office fan since 1992-93, when the productivity suite came on floppy disks and the operating system was moving from Windows 3.0 to Windows 3.1. Somehow the Office suite fell by the wayside in the last few years as Google Docs became a standard among Android users. So when Microsoft decided to add a transcribe and record feature in Word, it was time to return to something familiar while being reminded of Sir Humphrey’s words: “The purpose of minutes is not to record events, it is to protect people.”
Easy to access
To use the feature, one needs to subscribe to Microsoft 365, which till April was known as Office 365. There are a number of subscription levels; the one I use is the annual plan, which comes to Rs 4,199, allowing access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher. Further, access to 1TB of Cloud storage, which is a winning feature.
Once you have a subscription going, which can also be a monthly one for Rs 420, load Word and in the taskbar there is a ‘Dictate’ option that has two further options — ‘Transcribe’ and ‘Record’. Choose a file to upload and hit the transcribe button. There is an option to record conversations within Word for the web and have them automatically transcribed.
Since transcription works using any audio file, you can easily transcribe files that have been recorded using a Dictaphone, recorded phone calls or even from the audio track of a YouTube video.
Since the feature launched, we have managed to transcribe audio recordings of interviews with a representative of a Finnish tech company, a team of techies from the US and members of an e-commerce company in India. In other words, their English pronunciation is varied. By way of accuracy it’s not 100 per cent accurate as diction makes a difference as well as recording quality. Having said that, 70 per cent of what was recorded in the conversation we had with the e-commerce company representatives turned out fine (the recording quality was poor) while the rate was higher with American team and the Finnish techie.
The transcription gets broken down into speakers, which is helpful if it’s a group discussion. One can move the audio tracker to any point in the file and automatically the transcribed part gets highlighted, which makes random verification easy. There is an option to add only a section to the Word document or ‘Add all to document’.
Processing time varies greatly. The big consideration is, of course, the length of the conversation. In case the transcription involves a live recording, that is, the user decides to dictate, things speed up greatly.
The transcription feature is not the only one out there. Check out Otter.ai, which is also decent. The service offers 600 minutes of transcription free of charge every month and is similar to the Word feature. Where Word wins is the quality of transcription and when you want to listen back to parts of a conversation, the audio is clearer.
Should you try it?
Frankly, if it is audio recording transcription you are looking at, ensure that it’s of good quality and there is as little noise as possible in the room. When two or three people start talking together, the transcription doesn’t come out well. And that’s quite obvious. Having said that, if it is a chat you have recorded during a class, chances are the environment would be quiet and the recording clear. In such situations the transcription is almost spot on. The Microsoft offering falters when it comes to proper nouns. But it’s a big step forward and things can really get better. It’s a feature strong enough to make a person switch over from Google Docs to Microsoft 365.
At a glance
It flies because...
1. One-on-one conversations can be transcribed easily.
2. It comes as part of a bigger Microsoft Office package.
3. In-app transcription is quick.
4. The user can move to the exact audio segment of the transcribed file.
It can fly higher...
1. If it supports more than 200MB of MP3, WAV, M4A or MP4 files.
2. If subscribers are given more than five hours of monthly transcription (uploaded audio).
3. If transcribe works beyond Word for the web.
4. If languages beyond English finds support.