How To: The 5 Best Apps for Transcribing Lectures & Converting Speech to Text on Your iPhone

The 5 Best Apps for Transcribing Lectures & Converting Speech to Text on Your iPhone

The transcribing app can be an invaluable tool, especially if you're a student or are in a profession that relies on audio journals or interviews. These apps can convert important recordings like lectures and meetings into text for you to carefully read through to better comprehend.

With the abundance of transcribing apps available for iPhones, however, choosing one that'll meet all your school and work needs has the potential to break your wallet. With this in mind, we've tested dozens of these apps and found the five best transcribing apps for iOS.

Table of Contents

Comparison Chart

Image by Amboy Manalo/Gadget Hacks

Key Comparison Points

  • Price: The price of the app itself.
  • Fees/In-App Purchases: While having to pay for a transcriber app's services isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's important to distinguish between apps that offer enhanced features — like transcriptions done by actual people — that justify their cost and apps that will basically give you more of the same.
  • Account Required: For security purposes, most transcribing apps require you to create an account, though some apps give you the option to sign in using either your Google, Facebook, or Office365 accounts for added convenience.
  • Free Trial: Some paid transcriber apps will let you try out their services for free on some sort of time-based trial. Trials are a great way to check how good these apps are in terms of overall service, so you can have a more informed decision on whether they're worth your time and money.
  • Speech-to-Text: This element covers the various ways transcriber apps can record audio, from direct dictation, to conversion of audio and video files. Naturally, the more options an app has, the better.
  • Transcription Method: Transcriber apps on the whole basically rely on two methods of transcribing your recordings — either via human-based transcriptions where you have a person manually transcribe your recordings, or AI-based transcriptions.
  • Turnaround Time: The amount of time it takes for your to receive your transcribed recording. Besides overall accuracy, fast turnaround times are also ideal — no one wants to wait days to receive their transcripts.
  • Share Options: There are times where you'll need to transfer a copy of your transcripts and recordings to another location or share with a colleague. Though almost all transcriber apps allow for this as far as transcripts go, some have the added ability to share your audio files alongside your transcripts.
  • Save Options: Transcriber apps usually store your audio recordings and transcripts within the app itself, though some provide further options such as automatically sending copies of your transcripts to your email account.
  • Transcription Accuracy: This element is perhaps the most important feature of transcription apps. We evaluated these apps by having them transcribe the same recording under the same circumstances, then we scored them based on the percentage of words they got right.
  • Punctuation: While often taken for granted, punctuation within a transcript significantly aids in readability. Without punctuation, your transcript becomes one gigantic sentence, which can leave you more confused.
  • Import Sound Files: There'll be times where you'll need to transcribe a video or audio recording done outside the Voice Memo app that a colleague shared with you, and having a transcribing app that's capable of converting it from an MP3 or other sound file to a text document will come in handy.
  • Calendar Support: Though not a big feature in the grand scheme of things, a transcribing app that features calendar support gives you an awesome way of reminding yourself of events and tasks that may require you keep your recorder handy.
  • 3D Touch Support: When used in conjunction with a supported transcriber app, this iPhone feature gives you added accessibility and lets you instantly record audio on the fly.
  • Siri Integration: Apple's virtual assistant has become an asset in terms of hands-free use, and when fully supported, can open your transcriber app by voice to start recording an important lecture or meeting.

How We Chose These Apps

Before we started on the task of comparing transcribing apps, we first laid out some ground rules to better determine each apps' strengths and weaknesses. Because a majority of transcribing apps offer a fee-based payment system for the services they provide, we had to sort out which apps provided you the most bang for the buck in terms of pricing and overall speech-to-text accuracy.

To determine transcription accuracy in particular, we devised a test based off a speech that was exactly 100 words long. The speech was then dictated in high quality on a separate device, in two separate recordings — one done in a normal tone of voice, with the other recording featuring a heavy accent. The first 50 words of both recordings were then dictated at a normal pace, with the latter half being spoken at a faster speed.

From there, we opened each app on our test iPhone and played the recordings from three feet away for the apps to record and transcribe. We then calculated a score based on how many words were missed or erroneously transcribed, and determined the average score gathered from the numbers for each test. So, without further ado, here's our list for the best transcribing apps for iOS.

App 1: TranscribeMe

TranscribeMe is a great all around speech-to-text app that's sure to meet all your transcribing needs. This app can fit into almost any budget, regardless of whether you're a student with limited finances or a high-powered lawyer who needs the most accurate transcriptions possible. The app is free to download, and gives you the most variety in terms of transcription services.

For payment and security purposes, the app requires you to create an account in order to use its transcription services. Thankfully, TranscribeMe gives you the ability to log in using either your Facebook or Google account, which means one less password to try to remember.

In addition to in-app dictation support, TranscribeMe gives you the ability to import audio recordings done within the Voice Memos app, along with other audio files for speech-to-text conversion. Unfortunately, the "Import Recording" function wasn't functioning during our testing, and had to mark it as such on the chart. As such, this aspect will be updated as soon as we verify its functionality.

In terms of service, TranscribeMe gives you a variety of transcription methods to suit almost any budget. Unlike other apps on this list, the app lets you choose between AI or human-based transcriptions, depending on your needs. Unfortunately, the app doesn't offer any free trials for their service, which means you'll have to pay for transcriptions off the bat.

While opting for AI-based transcriptions somewhat offsets the lack of free trials with a cost of $0.10 a minute, more precise, human-based conversions can vary depending on what service you choose, along with other options — like faster turnaround time — requested. A standard transcript for a recording that's set to be delivered within one business day will set you back around $2.50 a minute.

Of course, you can bring the rates down by either choosing a cheaper service like "First Draft" that only passes through one layer of transcription, setting the turnaround time to a longer time frame, or a combination of both. Bear in mind that in doing so, your transcriptions will take longer to receive.

In terms of transcription accuracy, TranscribeMe does extremely well. Human transcriptions are very accurate, averaging out at nearly a hundred percent. AI-based "Machine Express" transcriptions are a little hit or miss, and although it did extremely well when converting a recording with a normal accent, it didn't fare as well and resulted in glaring errors when transcribing speech featuring a heavy accent.

(1) Normal Accent, (2) Heavy Accent

Unfortunately, TranscribeMe is not without its downsides, chief among these being the price for its services. While using its AI-based Machine Express option will cost you a reasonable $6.00 per hour, human-based transcriptions can start at around $75 an hour and run up to $240 an hour for the premium Verbatim option. Also bear in mind that turnaround time is calculated in business days, so weekends don't count.

Clearly, TranscribeMe's premium services are more geared towards companies and professionals who need the absolute best and can afford it. Even still, the app's Machine Express option does a great job in accurately transcribing recordings, making it a solid choice for individuals with tighter wallets.

App 2: Rev Voice Recorder

Rev Voice Recorder is a great alternative for those seeking professional transcription services at a slightly lower price compared to TranscribeMe's premium transcription services. Like all the other apps on this list, Rev Voice Recorder is free to download from the iOS App Store.

Unlike TranscribeMe, Rev Voice Recorder offers a free trial to try out its services. Basically, your first transcription of up to 10 minutes is free of charge. Keep in mind that this free offer is only for the first transcription, so even if your first transcript is only three minutes long, the trial period will instantly end, and you'll be charged for the second transcription.

Rev relies on a dedicated team of people for its transcription service to guarantee accuracy, and it shows. The app boasted the highest overall accuracy in our testing, and precisely transcribed both recordings done with normal and heavy accents to land it an overall score of 99%. Unlike its AI-based counterparts, the transcriptions came complete with punctuation marks to make reading a lot more digestible.

Recording done with a heavy accent.

This reliance on premium, human-based transcriptions naturally comes with a price, however, as Rev Voice Recorder can be costly for transcriptions of long audio recordings. Though nowhere near the costs associated with TranscribeMe's premium services, a transcript of an hour-long recording using the app's services will cost around $60, making this app less than ideal for students with tight budgets.

Besides that, Rev Voice recorder requires you to create an in-app account for security and payment purposes. This can be problematic, as it gives you yet another account containing sensitive financial information, along with associated login credentials to have to keep track of.

That said, Rev Voice Recorder is still a great alternative to TranscribeMe, and ultimately costs less to use whenever you're in need of accurate human-based transcription. It also beats out its counterpart in terms of turnaround times, which Rev Voice Recorder guarantees will arrive within 12 hours of submission — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

App 3: Voice Recorder

Voice Recorder is a simple app that — while free — requires you to purchase the full version to unlock its transcribing feature. And while its purchase price of $4.99 may seem steep at first glance, its long term value becomes instantly apparent when compared to other apps that will charge you roughly the same price just to transcribe a two or three minute audio recording.

Voice Recorder is the only app in this list that doesn't require you to create an account in order to use its services, which earns it high marks for instant access. On top of that, the app is incredibly easy to interact with, and features a nifty voice recording page that's skinned in the likeness of a vintage cassette tape recorder.

From there, you can easily record, save, and transcribe in a few taps. Text-to-speech conversion happens in real time — tapping the transcribe button instantly transcribes your recording into text right before your eyes.

Image by Amboy Manalo/Gadget Hacks

Voice Recorder is also the only transcriber app on this list that features 3D Touch support for added accessibility, and lets you instantly start a voice recording without having to open the app. This handy feature makes this transcribing app ideal for students and professionals that need to quickly record important tasks such as interviews, journal entries, or observations while on the go.

For all the positives that Voice Recorder brings to the table, however, its not without its weaknesses. Besides the general lack of punctuation marks that can make reading extended transcripts a chore, the app scored at the low end of the spectrum with regards to transcription accuracy.

While it transcribed the recording done in a normal accent well enough, it faltered when converting the heavy accent test to text, severely bringing its average score to around 90%. This limiting factor ultimately kept Voice Recorder from climbing to the top spot.

In all, while Voice Recorder's price is ultimately a bargain when compared to TranscribeMe and Rev Voice Recorder, its inconsistent transcriptions may be a dealbreaker for those who rely on accurate transcriptions for work or school. Nevertheless, it's still a great option for people who'd like to have a fairly reliable transcribing app at a reasonable, one-time price.

App 4: Transcribe

The fourth app on this list is the aptly-named Transcribe. Like TranscribeMe and Rev Voice Recorder, the app is free to download and charges a time-based fee to use its services. Transcribe, however, deviates from its competitors' formulas in some key aspects.

First off, Transcribe charges a flat fee of $5.00 an hour for its text-to-speech service, and while that might seem expensive at first glance, it's actually cheaper than TranscribeMe's Machine Express $0.10 a minute ($6.00 an hour) transcription service, and Rev Voice Recorder's flat $1.00 a minute ($60.00 an hour) speech-to-text service.

Second, Transcribe offers no human-based transcription services, opting instead to rely solely on AI to handle all transcriptions. Given how cheap the service is compared to its competitors, this was most likely done to keep overall costs down for both the company and its customers.

Of all the rate-based transcriber apps on this list, Transcribe offers the most generous free trial period, giving you a 15-minute credit as soon as you sign in to see if the app is right up your alley. Unlike Rev's offer of transcribing your first recording (up to 10 minutes) for free, Transcribe lets you convert more than one recording — as long as they fall within the 15-minute window.

While it lets you transcribe both audio and video files, Transcribe oddly left out the option of direct in-app dictation, and relies instead on recordings imported from the Voice Memo app. Because of this, any transcriptions done using this app force you to use a separate app for dictation, making it inconvenient.

Like other AI-based transcriber apps on this list, Transcribe suffers from a general lack of punctuation marks that can make reading longer texts a hassle. In addition to that, the app suffered low marks for transcription accuracy. The app averaged out at a less than stellar 90% with regards to accuracy, though it did a much better job transcribing the recording with the normal accent as opposed to its heavy accent counterpart.

(1) Normal accent, (2) Heavy Accent

As bad as those sound, Transcribe has a feature built-in that's proven to be its saving grace. Unlike its competition, Transcribe is the only app on this list that lets you edit your transcripts while simultaneously listening to your recording, and correct any glaring errors for a near-perfect transcription. Because of this, Transcribe is definitely worth a try. And with a 15 minute free trial, what do you have to lose?

App 5: Voicera

Voicera is perhaps the most accessible app on this list, and features an intuitive UI that lets you hit the ground running with regards to recording audio files and transcriptions. And best of all, the transcribing app is completely free to install and use.

Like most of the apps on this list, Voicera requires you to create an account in order to use the app, and lets you use your login credentials from either Google, Office365, Slack, or Salesforce for convenient access. As an added bonus, Voicera is the lone app on the list that features calendar support, giving you a way to remind yourself of any upcoming events like lectures that you want to record and transcribe.

Voicera really shines in terms of transcription accuracy, which is impressive considering it's a free app. The app ranked second overall in our testing, averaging 97% in conversion accuracy, and transcribed recordings of both normal and heavy accents with minimal errors. The only weakness we've found was its glaring lack of punctuation marks, which can be a nightmare for longer transcripts.

(1) Normal accent, (2) Heavy accent.

As handy as Voicera is for recording dictations, the app solely relies on this form of recording audio, and doesn't allow you to import audio files from other apps like Voice Memos. Because of this, the app is less than ideal for moments when you need to transcribe audio files like lectures obtained from a classmate.

Unlike Voice Recorder, transcriptions within Voicera aren't done in real-time, and it takes a little time to transcribe recordings. A 1-minute recording, for instance, can take an average of five minutes, and more so for recordings that are much longer. That said, the app does alert you with a notification when your transcription is complete.

Despite its limitations, however, Voicera is still an awesome transcribing app that's more than capable of handling your speech-to-text needs. And because it's free to use and features built in calendar support, this app is especially ideal for students who rely on schedules and reminders to stay up to date with events and tasks like recording upcoming lectures.

Conclusion

In the end, TranscribeMe won out due to the balance it achieves with transcription accuracy and an abundance of transcription services that make it accessible on almost any budget. That said, it was an extremely close competition, with each app showing strengths that make it a viable option, such as Voicera's accurate AI-based transcriber, Transcribe's text editing feature, and Voice Recorder's accessibility, just to name a few.

Which transcribing app did you end up going with and why? We'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so be sure to post in the comment section below.

Cover image and screenshots by Amboy Manalo/Gadget Hacks

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