Otter.ai Review: Is It Worth It?

In my in-depth Otter.ai review, I’m taking the plunge into this super-smart transcriber platform. How does it work, and who gets the most benefit from it?

Here’s everything you need to know, including what we think about the value of both the free and paid versions of Otter.ai’s software, based on extensive testing. We tested Otter.AI via the web browser and desktop app, with a variety of documents and audio files.

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What is Otter.ai?

Otter.ai review

Otter.ai (also known as the app Otter Voice Meeting Notes) is automatic transcription service. It's available as an app for Android and iOS and also via a web browser.

These days, it’s easy to take audio recordings of any meeting, class, or brainstorming session without the help of an assistant or secretary – you just turn on a recording app on your phone and let it’s speech recognition do the rest!

Otter.ai’s, however, offers text transcripts for you to use, and makes those transcripts intelligent, versatile, and even customizable thanks to the platform’s rigorous AI.

Our Testing Criteria

For this Otter.ai review. we tested the service in two different ways. Firstly, we downloaded the mobile app to an iPhone 11. Using a set of Apple AirPods, we dictated the following text from an Irish Tines news article.

The interim analysis by a committee of the European Medicines Agency FMEA determines that serious side effects of rare blood clots are likely to occur in one out of 100,000 vaccinated people, comma, the regulator said in the statement

Secondly, we downloaded an edited and mastered MP3 file of a recent podcast interview. We uploaded the MP3 file to the web-browser of Otter.ai. We also sent the same file to a human transcriptionist.

Who is Otter.ai Made For?

The Otter.ai dashboard

Two primary groups: Business professionals in meetings, and those involved in lectures or classes. If you are a writer working alone or someone only interested in dictation, you won’t really get as much use of this app. It has an edge use case for podcasters and other writers that I'll cover in a moment.

But if you are meeting with a client to discuss content, or attending a lecture or class, then Otter.ai may be a useful app for your arsenal – in part, as I’ll explain below, because it’s so easy to use.

Final Rating on Quality: 4 Out of 5 Stars

Otter’s transcribing service has a basic core, but the intelligent real-time transcription feature is very well-done, and extra options like editing, sharing, and highlighting give you everything you could need when saving a conversation.

Features

Otter.ai is all about transcribing: Sure, the app can record audio, but you can do that effortlessly with your smartphone. The real feature here is Otter’s Ambient Voice Intelligence, a machine learning system that was specifically created to recognize the human voice and translate it into text in real-time.

In other words, it’s an AI that takes complete notes for you.

Accuracy

This transcription service is fairly accurate – my tests showed it working very reliably for the average conversation – and the AI continues to learn and improve over time. However, it functions better in smaller spaces with fewer distractions.

Larger, echoing auditoriums or lecture halls (especially with competing noise from other voices, AC, etc.) poses a challenge to the AI, which is only as good as what the mic on your phone can pick up. You can use the service with a Bluetooth mic or even your Apple AirPods, but the same issues will still generally apply.

Transcribing with Otter.aI: Test 1

For our first test, it transcribed a paragraph of spoken text in real-time with near 100% accuracy. I was able to export the audio file and text to Dropbox and also share it via my device. I was extremely impressed and plan to use Otter.ai as a Dragon Anywhere alternative for short-form dictations. I also liked that I playback my audio recording while reviewing said text.

Here, I tested Otter.ai on my Apple iPhone 11

Transcribing With Otter.AI: Test 2

Unfortunately, Otter.AI was less useful for our second test (transcribing an edited podcast interview).

It produced a transcript of a podcast episode that required significant editing before becoming publishable. Although I could edit this myself or hire an assistant to clean the transcript up, it’s more efficient to pay a human transcriptionist or use a service like Rev.

That said, if you need a quick transcript of an interview to reference key sections, you may find this an affordable alternative to pay a human a dollar per minute, per recording. It's also a handy tool for note-taking, as you can link text to audio. This assumes you're not quoting people directly in some future work.

My Otter.ai transcribed interviewed, I've highlighted some errors

Transcribing With Otter.AI: Test 2

Unfortunately, Otter.AI was less useful for our second test (transcribing an edited podcast interview).

It produced a transcript of a podcast episode that required significant editing before becoming publishable. Although I could edit this myself or hire an assistant to clean the transcript up, it’s more efficient to pay a human transcriptionist or use a service like Rev.

That said, if you need a quick transcript of an interview to reference key sections, you may find this an affordable alternative to pay a human a dollar per minute, per recording. It's also a handy tool for note-taking, as you can link text to audio. This assumes you're not quoting people directly in some future work.

Otter.AI also supports transcribing video files and meetings via Zoom, with the same clean-up required.

Transcribing with Otter: AI Test 3

My final test of Otter.ai involved dictating articles like this one. I opened up my web browser, logged into the app, and dictated paragraphs, and sections for a series of articles.

I used a set of Apple AirPods, and I relied on bullet-point outline to dictate. Then, I copied and pasted the text directly into my writing app of choice, in this case, WordPress.

Writing like this, Otter.ai is much faster and easier than typing, although some of the text required editing and cleanup, particularly for punctuation. It only took me a few minutes, and it was still faster than typing out of these already first drafts by hand.

What's more, as I'm a Mac user, Otter.AI is probably the best solution for dictation unless you're prepared to use Dragon Anywhere via your iPhone.

Beyond Transcription

In addition to transcription services, Otter.ai also allows you to snap photos, which will appear in-line in the transcription notes when you are done.

There are also a variety of options to teach the AI unique words it wouldn’t otherwise know (industry lingo, acronyms, etc.), generate keywords from a discussion (that one has limited usefulness), highlight what the AI detects as important moments, and search through files. However, almost all these features are locked behind the business pricing tiers.

Compatibility

Otter is designed to work via iOS on your iPhone/iPad or an Android app – or with its web app. While the note-taking app has limited compatibility with other platforms like Google, Zoom, and Microsoft, most users will be sticking with the primary version from the app store.

Conversations can be exported in a variety of files including PDF or caption files that you can use for YouTube captioning, etc.

Security

If Otter is picking up everything we’re saying, security is an important aspect of the service! Otter.ai does not share data with any third parties, but it does randomly select raw audio to teach its AI how to understand the human voice better.

You need to explicitly agree to allow Otter.ai to collect and use these snippets. Audio is encrypted automatically in the app.

Transcriptions work great when they are organized by voice and easily summarized.
Otter.ai does not share data with any third parties

Final Rating on Ease of Use: 4 Out of 5 Stars

Otter.ai’s transcriptions are a simple experience, but editing and search functions are easy to use, and the layout helps greatly with both accuracy (like identifying different speakers) and readability. The user interface allows the app’s AI to shine at what it does best, while basic tutorials are enough to learn how to manage the audio files.

Interface and UI

Otter.ai operates out of a basic hub (this will look a little different based on what app you’re using) with a home screen, a section for all your Conversations, and a section for Shared Conversations. You can create groups for yourself to organize conversations as needed, too.

The transcription files themselves are quite clear, and a lot of effort has been made into making them readable. Different voices are assigned “Speaker 1,” “Speaker 2” etc., and you can add contact names for the “voiceprint” if you know who each speaker is.

You can also edit or share each conversation as needed, but otherwise, Otter.ai doesn’t offer many tools. This is actually to its advantage – the app is designed for easy use without a learning curve or a bunch of new options to master.

Collaboration and Brainstorming

In addition to sharing conversations with collaborators, the transcription software also gives you the ability to generate an automatic summary with keywords or word clouds as desired. This can be useful when examining brainstorming sessions, note-taking or focus group conversations. However, like many Otter.ai features, it’s also locked behind a paywall.

Resources and Support

Otter.ai has a help center with a basic starter guide for all features on the app and a tutorial video for those who prefer a faster summary. This should be enough to get started and answer any questions you have, but Otter.ai doesn’t offer much support beyond that unless you are an enterprise customer.

Otter.ai Review
Otter.ai operates out of a basic hub with a home screen, a section for all your Conversations, and a section for Shared Conversations

Final Rating on Value for Money: 5 Out of 5 Stars

Now it’s time to talk about pricing. Fortunately, the base plan for Otter.ai is free for transcription with the ability to edit and insert comments, as well as teach the AI up to five unique words, with a 600-minute monthly limit on what you can transcribe, and a 40-minute limit for any single conversation.

This is a great deal for students, freelancers and those in similar situations, but business professionals may need more.

The Pro tier costs $8.33 per month and extends the limitations high enough that they are no longer a concern, with added options for advanced searching and more playback speed choices for audio. The Business tier, at $20 per month, adds a wealth of options for team organization, Zoom compatibility, time code options, and more.

In short, Otter.AI serves as an affordable into dictation.

Why You Can Trust Us

I’ve written and published dozens of articles for newspapers, magazines, and online publications including Forbes and Lifehacker. I'm also a best-selling non-fiction author and a trained journalist.

Speech to text software forms a key part of my writing workflow for non-fiction. I regularly outline articles and use speech to text and dictation services. I’ve reviewed many of these extensively.

The Final Word

Otter.ai is a great alternative to industry-standard dictation tools like Dragon Anywhere. It's also much faster and easier than typing and a good choice for Mac users. However, if you depend on 100% accuracy or want to quote people verbatim, your needs are better served by a human transcriptionist, unless you're happy to edit transcriptions.

Look for other useful business writing tools? Check our Grammarly Business review.

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Author

  • Tyler has been published on Huffington Post and Motely Fool. His article and blogs experience includes working for The Content Standard, Mad Mobile, Digital Landing, and Apass Education, among many others.

Is Otter.AI Worth It?

You probably already have an idea if an AI transcriber would be a good fit for your life. Classes, meetings, freelancer client discussions, brainstorming sessions – all these situations can benefit from a smart text file storing the conversation. If that’s what you’re looking for, Otter.ai is worth trying out, especially since it has a free tier. Businesses, however, may have to pay more to get the full options they need. Just don't expect 100% accuracy.

Pros

  • AI transcription with real-time conversation notes
  • Free version available for students and casual users
  • Simple UI doesn’t require in-depth learning phase
  • Searching, keywords, timestamps, sharing, and edit are all supported
  • Works great on a mobile
  • Ideal for Mac users

Cons

  • Not much use if you don’t need text transcriptions
  • Minutes per conversation and per month are quite limited without paying
  • AI is accurate but can struggle with noise interference and similar issues
  • Some editing and cleanup required for longer recordings
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