Otter vs Live Transcribe for iOS

Can You Read Me Now?

I love voice transcription. As a member of the deaf community, being able to read what people say in real-time has positively impacted me professionally, socially, and emotionally. Not only do I have access to this technology right in my pocket … I have choices! The way people communicate is very personal, so having choices gives many of us with hearing loss a feeling of control over something that can often feel very much out of our control.

My wife and I have three teens, and all of us are loyal iPhone users. Consequently, that means Google’s well-regarded Live Transcribe was not an option for me. Instead, I’m constantly on the lookout for the next best thing that doesn’t require me going rogue and getting a Google device (thereby giving up access to a charger in nearly every room of our home).

When I read last week that another developer launched “Live Transcribe for iOS” (hooray for more choices!), I immediately downloaded the app to check it out and compare it to my usual transcription tools. It took me some time to make sense of how this app differed from Google’s Live Transcribe (available only on Android) app with the same name or yet another app similarly named “Transcribe Live”. In my role as the Director of Sales for Redux, an innovative service for completely drying hearing aids in minutes, I’ve come to appreciate shared knowledge within the hearing care community so here is my personal experience with the new Live Transcribe for iOS versus my current go-to service, Otter.

How I tested and compared the apps

  • I used both services just as I would in my normal day (I’m deaf with limited speech recognition thanks to an auditory brainstem implant).
  • I intentionally avoided researching each app’s capabilities in advance, allowing me to see how intuitive each app was to navigate.
  • The two apps were used during a Zoom call on my laptop, a live one-on-one outdoor conversation across the driveway with my neighbor, and a live five-person dinner table conversation with my family.

Otter overview

Otter is an artificially-intelligent voice-recognition app that has been around for a few years now. As of April, 2020 Otter has transcribed 750 million minutes of conversation, so they’ve proven their functionality to users. According to TechCrunch, Otter also has secured $23 million in private equity, so they’ve also proven their functionality to investors.

Otter app

Otter Pros

  • Free for 600 min/month ($100/year gets you close to unlimited service)
  • It “hears” well in many environments
  • Easy to share with others on the call
  • Easy to access past call transcripts
  • On a video call, I can open free Otter on half my screen and free Zoom on the other
  • Accessible on my iPhone or PC

Otter Cons

  • Requires a cell or Wi-Fi connection to work
  • In person, it’s difficult for another hard of hearing person to see or benefit from my screen
  • The font is tiny and not easily editable on my phone.
  • I don’t like paying for things I don’t need, the paid service offers many things I don’t need

Live Transcribe for iOS

Launched in May, 2020, Live Transcribe for iOS is one of the newest entrants in the speech-to-text market. “While Google’s Live Transcribe was a terrific speech-to-text service on Android platforms, the equivalent did not exist on iOS platforms”, developer Rob Norback notes. Norback started this project to communicate with his hard of hearing grandfather and that personal motivation comes through in the app functionality and “personality”.

Live Transcribe for iOS

Live Transcribe for iOS Pros

  • No Wi-Fi or cellular connection needed
  • Available and easy to use on my iPhone
  • Quickly change font and background
  • The flip function is terrific for allowing another reader to see what is being said
  • Auto-start function is convenient
  • $50/year for unlimited service

Live Transcribe for iOS Cons

  • The mic does not pick up sound well over distance
  • No free option beyond the 7-day trial (they do offer a separate free app with less functionality)
  • I can’t use it on my PC.
  • Doesn’t appear to save past conversations

Selecting a winner

Selecting a “winner” here was easy … it’s the user. Both options can significantly improve communication, which one is better depends on the individual.

Otter continues to be the best fit for me because of the way I rely on it to support my phone and video calls with clients. I use it several hours a day so paying for more minutes is one of the best $100 I spend on anything all year. If I were a marketing guy for Otter, I’d suggest calling it a business tool.

The best compliment I can give Live Transcribe for iOS is that it really does feel like it was designed by someone with hearing loss who wanted a better way to communicate with someone else who has hearing loss. It impressed me with how intuitive and user-friendly it was to use. A few reviewers have complained that Live Transcribe for iOS isn’t free, but I recommend trying it for a week at no cost before deciding its value.

The great news

If Live Transcribe for iOS or Otter aren’t the right fit for you, there are other apps in the sea. I cheered for choices before and that is exactly why. When I first looked for a reliable app, my challenge was that I couldn’t find a single one that met any of my needs. Now, just one year later, my challenge is choosing one from so many that meet almost all my needs.