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

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

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 and Android devices, 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 available for both Android and 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.
  • Free Trial/Allowance: 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.
  • Supported Languages: For people taking linguistics classes, it would be ideal if your transcription app worked with more than one language. Most apps on this list, however, are English-only.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Edit Transcript: Once the transcript is completed, whether or not you can manually edit words the AI or human transcriber misinterpreted.
  • Voice Learning: If the app can learn a specific speaker's voice to improve accuracy in the transcription.
  • Denote Speakers: Whether or not the app will let you differentiate between multiple speakers in a transcript by adding a notation with each speaker's name.
  • Search Through Text: Whether or not the app will allow you to search through the final text transcript.
  • Dark Mode: If you're studying late at night, you'll really appreciate a transcribing app with an available dark mode to keep those blinding white backgrounds at bay.
  • 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.
  • Widgets: For faster access, some apps support Today View widgets on iOS.
  • Record Using Bluetooth Device: Whether or not you can record audio from an external Bluetooth device such as a microphone.

How We Chose These Apps

Before we started on the task of comparing transcribing apps, we first laid out some ground rules. 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 phones 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. The top five apps in these tests made the initial cut, then we ranked them based on features in the chart above.

App 1: Otter

Otter beat out all the other apps on this list by a wide margin, largely thanks to the great balance it achieves between free and premium content. While its transcription options aren't as wide ranging as other services out there, the app more than makes up for it with the sheer amount of features it brings to the table.

For starters, Otter provides the most generous free allowance of all the apps on this list by giving you 600 minutes to use every month. Unused minutes do not roll over into the next month, but having an allotment of 10 hours to freely use every 30 days makes Otter the perfect companion app for students and professionals alike.

Of course, you can also opt to subscribe to the service, which gives you the option of either paying $19.99 monthly or $99.99 annually depending on your needs. Doing so increases your total minutes from 600 to 6,000 while unlocking numerous features such as Dropbox integration and bulk export.

You don't need to pay for the service to take advantage of most features, however. This is in addition to the fact that Otter comes with the most features out of any apps on this list. These include native dark mode support for easier nighttime viewing, the ability to import recordings outside the app for transcription, calendar integration, and more.

To make the app even more versatile, you can train Otter to recognize your voice for even more accurate transcriptions, thanks to its "Record voiceprint" functionality. This feature is especially important for the app, as unlike other apps like TranscribeMe, Otter solely relies on AI to transcribe speech to text. That said, the service actually performed extremely well and scored an impressive 99% overall on tests performed using normal and heavy accents.

For added accessibility, Otter is also features full 3D Touch support so you can start a voice recording or perform a quick search without having to open the app. And thanks to full Siri integration, you can initiate a recording hands free via Siri, though the option isn't available on Android using Google Assistant.

Besides the lack of AI integration and the option for human-based transcriptions, Otter's transcription service only supports English. As such, you'll need to use another app like TranscribeMe if you need to transcribe in another language like Spanish of French.

In all, Otter's intuitive and feature-packed UI completely overshadows the few limitations it has and makes it an ideal app for both professionals and students that need to quickly record and transcribe. So if you're in the market for an app to reliably convert speeches and voice notes to text, Otter should be on top of your list.

App 2: 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.

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 3: Temi

Temi is the third app on this list, and like TranscribeMe, the app is free to download and charges a time-based fee to use its services. Temi, however, deviates from its competitors' formulas in some key aspects.

To start, Temi charges a flat fee of $0.10 a minute for text-to-speech conversions to keep its services streamlined, which equates to $6.00 an hour. This puts the app on par with TranscribeMe's Machine Express service, but with some notable features not available to its counterpart.

Unlike other apps on this list, Temi highlights text it might not have transcribed accurately, making it easy to spot any potential errors which you can then correct thanks to the app's built-in editing feature. This is essential, as Temi offers no human-based transcription services, opting instead to rely solely on AI to handle all transcriptions.

That being said, Temi did very well on our tests and transcribed recordings of both normal and heavy accents with 98% accuracy with very minor errors. Beyond that, turnaround time for transcriptions averaged out at around five minutes. While not as fast as other apps on this list, overall accuracy of the conversions more than made up for the slightly longer timeframe.

Though it lacks many features like the ability to import audio files from outside the app, calendar support, and assistant integration, Temi's easy to understand UI and streamlined pricing more than compensate for any shortcomings it has. And thanks to its free trial, you can give the app a try right now to see if its services suit your needs.

App 4: Voicea

Voicea features an intuitive UI that lets you hit the ground running with regards to recording audio and generating transcriptions. Formerly known as Voicera, the app has since changed up the way it does things alongside the rebrand.

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

Voicea did well in transcription accuracy when compared to most transcriber apps, though it ranked the lowest out of all the apps on this list at 96%. Another weakness we found was the app's sole reliance on dictation and its inability 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.

Despite its limitations, however, Voicea is still an awesome transcribing app that's more than capable of handling your speech-to-text needs. And thanks to its monthly allowance, fast transcription times, and built in calendar support, this app is ideal for students who rely on schedules and reminders to stay up to date with events and tasks like recording upcoming lectures.

App 5: 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 both the Google Play and iOS App Stores.

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 with perfectly placed punctuation marks to make reading a lot more digestible.

(1) Normal accent. (2) 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.

This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on using your smartphone to boost productivity. Check out the whole Productivity series.

Just updated your iPhone? You'll find new features for Podcasts, News, Books, and TV, as well as important security improvements and fresh wallpapers. Find out what's new and changed on your iPhone with the iOS 17.5 update.

Cover image and screenshots by Amboy Manalo/Gadget Hacks

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