How to use Google’s free transcription tools

By | August 14, 2020
How to use Google’s free transcription tools

If you’re in an essential videoconferencing session and you’re getting an info dump you know you won’t recall, having a transcript of that session can be very helpful. Video and audio recordings are all fine, but a text version of your meeting can be much easier to scan if you are searching for one particular bit of data within the conversation value of an hour.

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There are a variety of third-party applications out there that provide AI transcription for captured audio, including Rev and for example. They also offer additional features, such as the ability to simultaneously listen to the audio and watch for locations that need correction or directly integrate with other applications such as Zoom. These are however fee subscription services. If free is what you’re looking for, then a few workarounds can help — although they have some limitations.


Even Google Docs’ long-standing users may not be aware of its voice typing tool, which converts speech into text. If you have trouble typing or just find speaking faster or easier than typing, this may be very handy. It can also be used as a transcription tool for any recording of video or audio which you may have. You can also run it to transcribe the conversation as it happens, during a live videoconference.

To use voice typing as a transcription tool:

  • Open a new Google Doc
  • Select Tools > Voice typing
  • If the language you’re using is not shown, click on the link above the microphone icon and choose your language
  • When you’re ready to start recording, click on the microphone icon. It will turn bright red and begin transcribing. Note: be careful to click on the microphone icon after you start the audio you want to transcribe. Why? I’ll explain.

You can not leave the Google Docs page after you have started the transcription feature or the app will automatically shut down. For example, if you are transcribing a Zoom meeting and you take a moment to click on your email, after that point you will lose everything before you go back to your document and click the microphone again.

The resulting transcription is, however — well, to be generous, less than ideal. If people talk clearly, the transcription feature in Google Docs does a fair job, but any mumbles, aside, or less-than-clear speech can be lost. Furthermore, forget about commas, intervals, and other niceties — if you want a fully grammatically correct text, you’ll have to fill in those later.

There is, however, an alternative.


Google’s Live Transcribe is an Android app that transcribes audio live to the screen of your phone as it ‘hears’ it. The software is incredibly simple: you install it, load it and it starts transcribing immediately. Live Transcribe was originally developed as an accessibility resource for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and will save a transcription for three days. If you want to keep the text longer then you just copy it and paste it into a document.

I ran each time I played a YouTube video of The Verge’s Dieter Bohn offering his take on the Pixel 4A to test these transcription apps. As you can see from the screenshots below, while neither will take any prizes for accuracy, Live Transcribe handled the audio feed reasonably better than Docs had done. (Though I have to confess that I found the frequent “pixel for a” mentions very amusing from both apps.)

(Incidentally, I also tried to get a transcription using Gmail’s voice-to-text mode on my mobile phone, but the app kept strangling around 20 seconds in.)

Judgment? When you just sometimes need a transcript of a conference and don’t mind several errors and just a few frames, commas, and the like, then either could work for you, but I’d lean toward Live Transcribe. Alternatively, check out the transcription services offered by third parties. They might not be safe but they are more specific, which may well be worth it.

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