How Voice Typing Is the New Best Feature of Google Docs

Matthew Hughes 26-02-2016

Voice recognition used to be horribly inaccurate. It only worked for a handful of people a handful of the times. But now it’s actually rather good, thanks to the combined efforts of Nuance, Microsoft, Apple, and Google, who have thrown countless resources at actually improving it.


Of all those companies, few have matched the commitment to voice recognition of Google, who has made it a fundamental lynchpin of its mobile and services strategy.

One of Google’s earliest forays was the short-lived GOOG-411 (or Google Voice Local Search). It launched in 2008 and allowed people to search for business phone numbers using their voice. Voice recognition technology has also been a centre piece of Android, and with the launch of JellyBean What Are The Biggest Improvements In Android 4.2 and 4.3? If you're stuck on 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or 4.1 Jelly Bean, should you upgrade? Read More it finally became available offline.

Earlier this week, Google finally introduced voice recognition into Google Docs.

Users can literally dictate their documents (much like I am doing with this article) without the need to install any additional software or plug-ins. It’s a significant leap forward for the online office suite, but is it any good?

Getting Started

Before we start diving into its features, I want to touch on how you get Google Voice Typing. If you have a Google account, you already have this. Just open Google Docs, and open a new or existing document. Then, a window will pop up that will ask if you would like to try voice dictation. Click Try It.



Next you have to give Google Docs permission to use your microphone. That’s just a matter of clicking Allow to a pop-up window.


Then, you have to select the language you want to use with Google Voice Typing. The range of languages and dialects on offer range from English and Spanish, to Afrikaans and Arabic.


Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.14.12

Then, just click the microphone icon and start to talk.

How Accurate Is It?

One of the biggest hurdles to voice recognition hitting the mainstream, is that often it’s not accurate enough. It used to be a given that if you see use voice recognition, you will have to spend a good few hours editing and correcting your text. So how does Google’s offering fare in this respect?

Pretty favorably, actually. For the most part, Google Voice Typing understood what I said, even though I’ve got a regional English accent (we’ll talk about accents later).



I was especially impressed with the way Google’s voice recognition handled background noise. As I wrote this article, a Yorkshire Terrier was barking in my living room, and my window was partially open. I live on a busy road where cars drive past constantly. But despite that, Google was able to filter that out and focus on just what I was saying.

The biggest problem was Google Voice Typing often struggled with punctuation. I would say “comma”, “period” and “full stop”, and it would interpret that as me wanting to write “comma”, “period”, and “full stop”. This was frustrating for two reasons.



Firstly, because it would taunt me, by first using the correct punctuation, before immediately reverting to the spelled-out version of the word. There was no way to stop this, and I would have to manually edit the document to fix it.

But, perhaps worse, I couldn’t prevent it from happening. There’s no dictionary where you could override spellings. It just happens, and you have to deal with it.

I don’t want to understate how frustrating this is. It’s seriously annoying. But it’s also something I’m confident will be improved upon as more and more people use this feature, and as Google commits more resources to improving its voice recognition.

Besides that particular annoyance, I was pretty pleased with the accuracy of Google’s voice recognition.

How It Handles Accents

I was amazed by how many languages and dialects Google Voice Typing supports. In English alone, it supports the New Zealand, Australian, Indian, South African, American, and British dialects, to name just a few. The problem is there isn’t really an American accent, much like there isn’t a British accent. Rather, there are a range of accents and dialects that differ from place to place.

It’s a truism that the UK has an accent for each post-code. The MakeUseOf Team boasts a range of different accents among the British staff. Christian Cawley speaks with a broad Middlesbrough accent. Rob Nightingale, who hails from Southport, has a more Northern drawl. While Mark O’Neil has a Scottish twang.

I live in Liverpool, so I have a Scouse accent that slightly drifts into the Atlantic, largely thanks to my American fiancee and the time I spent living in Switzerland.

And it’s fair to say that voice recognition programs often struggle to understand regional English dialects. When Siri came out, for example, its inability to understand Scottish users became a running joke.

But Google’s offering was exceptional. Believe me when I say you won’t have to practice speaking with a different accent What Apps & Websites Will Help Improve My Accent When Speaking Another Language? I really want to make my pronunciation match that of a native speaker. Are there any apps or websites that can help me? Read More . I’ve spoken to a handful of friends who also have regional English accents, and they’ve had similarly positive experiences with it. While I admit that’s a small and completely unscientific sample, it’s certainly promising.

Voice Dictation Speed

Voice recognition programs have traditionally been hamstrung by an inability to keep up with the speed to which the user dictates. Admittedly, I was a little bit concerned that Google’s offering would be no different, especially given that it’s an online service, rather than a program running on my souped-up MacBook Pro.

But I was impressed. Google was able to keep up with my highly-caffeinated rate of speaking, and didn’t act as a bottleneck to my productivity. It was the complete opposite of my experiences with other voice dictation tools.


I don’t know whether that was because I have a fast FTTC (Fiber to the Cabinet) What's the Difference Between FTTC and FTTP? Fiber Internet Explained What is FTTP? What does FTTH mean? Will you get faster internet than with FTTC? Here's what you need to know about fiber internet. Read More home Internet connection, or the fact that Google has a limitless supply of fast servers at its disposal. Either way, I was able to get stuff done.

A Note on Microphones

Built-in microphones tend to be hit-and-miss. In my experience, they are either excellent, like they are on Apple’s laptops, or they aren’t. There’s very seldom any middle ground.

As a general rule, the cheapest laptops Best Laptops Under $300: Everything You Need to Know Finding a good laptop for less than $300 is almost impossible these days, but can be done if you know what to look for. Here's everything you need to know to make a purchase you... Read More will have the worst internal microphones. It’s just one of those features that tend to be overlooked by device manufacturers.

I started dictating this article using the internal microphone on my MacBook Pro. Although Google Docs frequently said it was having trouble hearing me, that didn’t translate to slower or inaccurate dictation. Everything worked just fine.

I also tried Google Voice Typing with an expensive Blue Yeti External Microphone. These are podcast-quality microphones that retail on Amazon for over $100.

Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming on PC and Mac, 3 Condenser Capsules, 4 Pickup Patterns, Headphone Output and Volume Control, Mic Gain Control, Adjustable Stand, Plug & Play - Silver Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming on PC and Mac, 3 Condenser Capsules, 4 Pickup Patterns, Headphone Output and Volume Control, Mic Gain Control, Adjustable Stand, Plug & Play - Silver Buy Now On Amazon $199.00

Admittedly, I didn’t notice any differences when it came to the accuracy or the speed of the dictation. However, the biggest advantage to using this microphone was I was able to insert a pair of AKG headphones and use them as a monitor. This allowed me to be more aware of background noise, and to self-adjust if I was being either too loud or too quiet.

Final Thoughts

Google voice recognition isn’t perfect. But that’s hardly a surprise, as solid voice recognition is a pretty hard feat to pull off. There’s a lot that I felt could be improved.

This mostly centers around how the software deals with punctuation and sentence structure. In an ideal world, Google would automatically insert punctuation based on the rhythm and cadence of your voice, but we’re a long way away from that.

It’s also a pity that this software has yet to make it’s way into Google’s other offerings, like Gmail. Ideally, I’d like the opportunity to download Google Voice Typing as an app, and use it with other pieces of software, like iWork’s Pages Pages 5.0 for Mac Includes Smart Inspector Panel, But Less Features There are plenty of lightweight and easy-to-use text editors for Mac users, but for projects requiring desktop publishing features, Apple's recently overhauled Pages is still a good solution. Read More or the markdown editor IA Writer iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used Be it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. While cell phone... Read More .

But those are two minor annoyances, Google Voice Typing is as good as it gets. For contrast, I wrote this section of the article using the built-in voice recognition of OS X, and it was nowhere near as accurate, nor as fast.

If this doesn’t persuade people to switch to Google Drive, I don’t know what will.

Now over to you! Have you been tempted by Google Drive’s speech recognition? Have you tried it out, yet? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

Related topics: Google Docs, Speech Recognition, Speech to Text.

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  1. Steve Jones
    November 15, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Do you see any prospect of transcription being added to any of these free dictation options (as you get with costly versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking)? I'd love to be able to record into a voice recorder, then stick the MP3 into my laptop and let Google transcribe whilst I go sit on the beach!

  2. Cliff Farris
    May 19, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Based on these comments, Microsoft's Speech Recognition in Windows 7 and 10 is considerably better, especially with punctuation. Try it.

  3. jessy kendall
    August 25, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    i got commas to work! if i say 'comma' and then whatever the next word is fairly fast, it does the punctuation. if i take too long before saying the next word, it'll just type out the word 'comma.' practice with your timing!

  4. Catherine
    August 21, 2016 at 1:15 am

    I am using this feature with some of my students - is there any way of having it read back to the student so they can check / edit ?

  5. Prashant
    August 5, 2016 at 6:50 am

    This author is right. Apple's software cant even compare to google. Accuracy big issue in mac. However, google does type full words instead of punctuation mark! This must be resolved otherwise the whole thing is useless!

  6. Jeff
    May 26, 2016 at 4:00 am

    The google docs team said that you enable voice dictation from the tools menu. I have looked everywhere I can think of and I can't find a tools menu. I finally got voice dictation working kind of using the android default functionality, but none of the commands seem to be working. For example, when I say "select word", it just adds "select word" to the end of what I am typing. Any thoughts?

  7. Jevens Strachan
    May 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Does Google voice typing save a user's voice file and learn to recognize their speech more accurately as they use it more and more? Or does it just match the user's voice to the pre-programmed voice files that Google upload to the database?

    • Matthew Hughes
      May 18, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      They've got an algorithm. I assume they improve it when they can, and that involves using data from real-world use.

  8. Ladie
    May 2, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Google voice recognition is better than nothing, but honestly it's not as good as Apple's native speech recognition. Unfortunately, Google docs seems to disable the native speech recognition. I've managed to get it to come on once or twice, but most of the time it is suppressed. Google, can you please stop doing this? I prefer my native Apple speech recognition.


    • Matthew Hughes
      May 18, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      It's more than "better than nothing". It's one of the best voice recognition services on the market!

  9. Robert
    April 10, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Is there any way to force it to use British spelling? On Android I used to get British spelling when my input was set to British English, but now that's changed for both Android and Google Docs and I get American spelling whether I like it or not. It makes the dictation capability 100% useless to me.

    • Matthew Hughes
      May 18, 2016 at 6:11 pm

      Just use American spellings. 320 million people can't be wrong!

      JK, no idea. That's really frustrating.

      • Robert
        May 18, 2016 at 7:14 pm

        No I shall not! And I shall also from now on pronounce "colour" the Middle English way: "coloor" with the stress on the second syllable.

  10. Janet
    April 1, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Hi,I was looking for a solution for a friend who had a stroke found your article and I downloaded google docs. However, it is not giving me the option to use the voice typing option. I have a google account, I am using a samsung tablet v3 I think its a gt n8010. Any suggestions as I think this would really help my friend. Many thanks Janet

  11. Arun Nadar
    March 26, 2016 at 8:11 am

    The Punctuation thing is the most annoying thing in google voice typing. Otherwise it's perfect. Also i am not able to find a way to capitalize a particular word. If google could fix that it would be perfect.

    More and more people would start using it i feel if google fixes it soon.

    Hoping google would fix it soon.

  12. sholto
    March 7, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Yep, the punctuation piece is the most annoying. I suspect it is their number one development priority to fix it.

  13. James
    March 4, 2016 at 2:15 am

    As a freelancer writer, this adaptation in Google Docs is a godsend ... it works so well with my crappy ACER built in mic!

  14. Jordan McClements
    March 1, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I can confirm that it also copes very well with a quite broad Northern Irish accent, and I also have problems with punctuation.

  15. Joel
    February 27, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    @Sean - there is! Check the full list of commands, here -

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks Joel!

    • Arun Nadar
      March 26, 2016 at 8:12 am

      It doesn't work the way it should work.

  16. Tom
    February 27, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Fascinating to see this. Will Nuance be another victim of Alphabet?

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      No. I think their consumer-oriented products will suffer though. It's hard to compete with free, especially when free is this good.

      • Steve Jones
        November 15, 2017 at 5:38 pm

        Not strictly free - my Mac cost me over a grand and I need it to open the browser!

  17. Sean
    February 26, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    There needs to be a way to move the cursor and to correct/edit/delete words etc.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 29, 2016 at 9:13 pm

      There is!