For many people, Google Docs does everything sufficiently well without charge that they don’t need to consider paid alternatives. The bad old days of needing to buy a copy of Microsoft Word to type things up are truly a thing of the past.
But Microsoft may just have a trick up its sleeve to convince people to give a paid option a spin: automatic transcription within the web version of Word.
While you can activate voice typing within Google Docs, it’s not a great experience and it’s something a lot less appealing than the offering Microsoft has come up with. While Google just lets you type with your voice, Microsoft’s option works with either uploaded files (of up to 200MB) or live, if you want to capture the contents of a Skype call. It will also attempt to separate out each speaker, and let you play back audio via timestamp if you want to check the AI hasn’t made a mistake.
And it will make mistakes. I’ve tried a whole host of AI transcription services as part of my work, and while they do make a thoroughly tedious process more bearable, it’s not a magic bullet and invariably requires corrections along the way. If you want flawless transcription, you’ve either got to do it yourself, or pay another human to do it for you.
But – and it’s a big but – paying for human transcription is expensive because it’s so time consuming. Rev.com, for example, starts at $1.25 per minute of audio transcribed. By contrast, Microsoft’s AI solution – flawed as it invariably is – lets you upload up to five hours’ worth of audio each month, and it’s all included in a monthly $6.99 Microsoft 365 subscription. Better still, there’s no limit to the amount of live transcription you can do each month at the time of writing.
That means it fares well against similar AI-only offerings like Otter.ai, which charges $9.99 per month if you want to upload files (though it does let you do 600 minutes of live transcription free of charge.)
In any case, for now this is a big upper hand that Microsoft Word has over Google Docs. But given Google already has clever AI transcription software for its Pixel phones, it wouldn’t be wholly surprising if the company wasn’t planning something similar itself.