Word 365 gets voice transcription but with some weird restrictions [Update]

Microsoft 365 is getting a handy new Word feature today: voice transcription. With this, you can either upload a recording to Word or record something new within the app itself and have Word automatically transcribe it for you. The implementation within Word sounds like it's fleshed out and quite capable, but there are some big restrictions you should be aware of before you dive feet first into the world of Microsoft 365 transcription.

In its announcement today, Microsoft painted a rather impressive picture of Word's new transcription capabilities. To start using it, all you need to do is click the "Dictate" button, which is now a drop down menu. There'll you see the new Transcribe option, and once you select it, you'll be given the choice of either uploading a recording or recording something new.

Whichever you choose, Transcribe feature will be able to tell the difference between speakers and will identify them with timestamps throughout the transcription. When you've got the complete transcription, you can either play back the whole recording using your freshly-created text to follow along, or you can begin playback from one of those timestamps. You can also edit the transcript and then transfer either the whole thing or individual quotes into a Word doc.

With all that in mind, it sounds like an very capable transcription feature, where here's where we bump up against its limitations. Though Transcribe is available to all Microsoft 365 subscribers via Word for the web and is supported in either Microsoft Edge or Chrome (it's coming to Office Mobile by the end of the year), it only supports English for now and there's a five hour monthly limit for uploaded recordings. What's more, there's a file size limit of 200MB.

So, as neat at it is, it won't be long before those who have a ton of transcribing to do will begin bumping up against that five hour limit. Microsoft gives no indication of why that limit is in place, but we're guessing it has something to do with capacity on Microsoft's end.

In any case, in addition to this new transcription feature, Microsoft is also padding out Dictate with a voice commands feature today. When dictating something in Word, you can now issue voice commands like "bold last sentence," or tell it to insert symbols like the "percent sign." You can also pause dictation if you get interrupted or even add comments to another person's document using Dictate. A full list of voice commands for Dictate is available over on Microsoft's support site.

Update: Microsoft has updated the article announcing Transcribe to clarify the limitations of the feature. "With Transcribe you are completely unlimited in how much you can record and transcribe within Word for the Web," the article now says. "Currently, there is a five hour limit per month for uploaded recordings and each uploaded recording is limited to 200mb."

So, if you're planning to do a significant amount of transcription, just be sure to do most of your recording within Word, as there's no limit as far as that's concerned. Furthermore, Microsoft has clarified that while English is the only currently supported language, it is working on adding more languages in the future.