Oct 282012

Previewing an edited image in ABBYY FineScanner

Previewing an edited image in ABBYY FineScanner

The good folks at ABBYY let me have a copy of their FineScanner app for iOS to review. I was hesitant since it seemed to have nothing to do with Chinese, but there’s at least one way that it might fit into your Chinese learning workflow.

FineScanner, as you might guess, turns your iOS device into a “scanner.” The app lets you take a picture with your device’s camera and then print it via AirPrint or export it (as either a jpg or PDF) to a number of different services, such as e-mail (FineScanner can even remember your own e-mail address for 1-click sending to yourself), Facebook, Evernote, and Box. You can also open the file in other apps that you have accessible through the “Open with …” command. For example, you can create a pdf with FineScanner and open it with an app like GoodReader for annotation.

FineScanner has built-in tools to crop images, convert your scans to greyscale or black-and-white, and adjust the brightness (see first image); this helps get the clearest possible text.

A multipage scan in ABBYY FineScanner

A multipage scan in ABBYY FineScanner

You can take several pictures in a row to make a multipage document. When exporting, you can choose to send the whole document or a single page from it. The second image shows a multipage scan where each page has been cropped separately.

File management within FineScanner is very nice. The app stores all the photos that you take so you can share them again later. You can rename files and add tags. Pages of multipage documents can be copied or moved.

While all this is great and works very well, you’re probably still wondering how this can help specifically with Chinese. The key is FineScanner’s ability to send files to Evernote.

Evernote is a very popular note-taking service with free clients for various platforms (including iOS and Mac), as well as a web interface. I won’t go into too much detail, but one of Evernote’s nice features is the fact that it can search the text of image files that you save in it. So you could use FineScanner to snap pictures of Chinese texts and export them from FineScanner to Evernote. Later you can search your Evernote account for a particular character and it will show all your notes with that character (it will not, however, show you exactly where a Chinese character appears in the image). Nevertheless, this could be good for checking out the context in which vocabulary is used.

Result of searching for a Chinese character in Evernote

Result of searching for a Chinese character in Evernote

You will first need to tell Evernote that you want text recognition enabled for Chinese. Both traditional and simplified character recognition are supported, but you must choose one or the other. Evernote can, however, support both English and Chinese recognition simultaneously. Log into the web interface, go to Settings > Personal Settings, and set the Recognition language(s) that you want.

This indexing of text within image files (and note that this is just indexing, not full OCR) is available to users of Evernote’s free service. Users who upgrade to a premium (paid) account will be able to have PDFs indexed as well. The image shows the result of searching for a Chinese character in Evernote. The two notes have the same name because one is a pdf and one a jpg of the same scan, both sent from FineScanner, and I just didn’t bother to rename either from the default. Unfortunately, Evernote’s recognition of Chinese hasn’t been great in my experience, but I hope that it will get better, especially since Evernote now has a separate service for users in China.

The Evernote iOS app does have the ability to create a new note from a photo, but does not allow for cropping and color/brightness adjustments in the way that FineScanner does.

Setting language recognition in Evernote

Setting language recognition in Evernote

ABBYY FineScanner is a cool tool for anyone who needs to capture text and/or make pdfs on the go. The numerous export options make sure that your scans are not locked into the app, but there could be some improvements. It would be great if the tags applied in FineScanner could appear as tags in Evernote. And I’d like to see even more cloud services available, most notably iCloud and SugarSync (and the return of Google Drive and Dropbox, which were available in an earlier version, but temporarily dropped because of technical problems). Given ABBYY’s experience with OCR (see how ABBYY Textgrabber fared in the iOS Chinese OCR showdown), I look forward to the future development of FineScanner.

ABBYY FineScanner, Evernote for iOS, and Evernote for Mac are available through the App Store and Mac App Store.

Sep 302012
New iOS 6 features for users of Chinese

iOS 6 adds a number of features for Chinese users that are equivalent to features introduced to the Mac with OS 10.7 or 10.8. Siri Siri can now communicate in Chinese. You need to specify the language that you want to use with Siri in Settings > General >Siri. You can choose between Mandarin (mainland or Taiwan) or Cantonese. If you want to go back to English (or another language), you need to change the Settings again. The TUAW website has a list of commands for working with Siri in various languages; Chinese is way at the bottom. Here are some screenshots of me asking Siri about tomorrow’s weather and when my own birthday is. Text-to-speech iOS 6 can now read Chinese to you. Simply select the text that you want read and choose “Speak” from the menu. If you don’t see “Speak” in your menu, you may need to enable … [read more]

Sep 232012
Back to school: Pronunciation

The Laokang apps have gained speaking tests since my original reviews of the Pinyin Test and Tone Test. This actually happened quite a while ago and I apologize to the developer for my slowness in reporting on the added feature. But they are a great way to end our back-to-school series of free or low-cost iOS apps. The speaking test in the Pinyin Test presents you with sets of three syllables, with no tone indications. You record yourself pronouncing each set of syllables with any tones that you want (the test is just of your pronunciation of the syllables). A complete test comprises 26 such sets. The speaking test in the Tone Test presents you with pairs of tones. You can say any two syllables with the given tones. It might be simplest to use “ma” in the way that the listening version of the Tone Test does. A complete … [read more]

Sep 092012
Back to school: iOS dictionaries

Last September, I posted about two free dictionaries that had flashcard functionality (at extra cost): Pleco Chinese Dictionary and trainchinese: Dictionary & Flash cards. In reviewing the state of the iOS Chinese dictionary market, I find that those are still the two that I would recommend to students, so let’s take a closer look at their respective advantages. Both have useful features for learners, such as color-coding by tones and example sentences, but for beginning students, I’d recommend trainchinese over Pleco for a number of reasons: Features that are especially useful to beginners, such as audio and stroke order diagrams, are included at no extra charge. Audio does require an internet connection. English to Chinese search is better. A nifty feature draws your attention to characters with similar shapes to the ones you search for (see image below). App badges remind you to study. It seems easier to use, partly … [read more]