Jul 222012

OK, the last post probably should have been entitled “Pleco’s Reader Tool.” “Readers” (or “annotators”) are useful for students trying to read texts that are significantly above their current level of ability. Once you load in a text, you can get a definition and pinyin for each word/character simply by tapping on it. In this post, we’ll compare Pleco’s Reader with the iOS app HanZi Reader. Although both Readers do essentially the same thing, their implementations and features differ. Once again, the text in the images is an article from the Chinese edition of the New York Times.

HanZi Reader

Looking up a word in HanZi Reader

Text input

Text can be entered in both Readers just by pasting it in; in fact this is the only way to add a new text to HanZi Reader, where you must create a new file, give it a title, specify whether the text is in simplified or traditional characters, and then tap the “Go” button. The annotation can take some time depending on the length of the text.

With Pleco, you don’t have to commit to keeping a text just to read it. You can just paste into the “Pasteboard Reader” and start reading; annotation is immediate (at least for the things I’ve tested, which ranged up to about 2500 characters). You can choose to save the text or not.

If you have copied text in another app, the text will actually load into the Reader as soon as you launch Pleco. You don’t have to choose the Reader tool and then paste.

Pleco also has its own web browser. When you find something that you want to read, you select it, and then tap a button to load it into the Reader. No copying or pasting needed.

As discussed previously, Pleco’s OCR tool can also feed into its Reader.


HanZi Reader only uses CC-CEDICT.

Pleco can use any installed dictionary; it comes with its own and CC-CEDICT can be added free of charge. Other free and paid dictionaries are available. As you can see in the images below, Pleco’s dictionary has a relevant entry for the word 朱笔, while CC-CCEDICT doesn’t. CC-CEDICT has more up-to-date entries, however; you’ll find 奥巴马 there, but not in Pleco’s own dictionary. Having both dictionaries in Pleco is a serious advantage; it will automatically search across the dictionaries and you can switch between your installed dictionaries for any word, by tapping the abbreviation at the lower right of the definition bubble.

Pleco's Reader

Looking up a word in Pleco’s Reader

Definition placement

When you tap a word in HanZi Reader, it displays the information in a separate pane, either at the top or left of the screen (in portrait and landscape orientation, respectively). This has the advantage of not obscuring any of the text, but the disadvantage of requiring you to move your eyes away from the text. The tapped word changes to red, though, so you can reorient yourself easily (see images above and below). The separate pane also allows for a more spacious arrangement of the information that can be much easier to read when the dictionary entries are long.

When you tap a word in Pleco, a bubble pops up displaying the definition and pinyin. By default, this bubble pops up right above or below the word (see image above), but there is an option that anchors the bubble to the bottom of the screen. The bubble is normally the full width of the screen (as in the image above), but there is an option to make it narrower.

Word divisions

Both apps automatically try to divide a text by words/expressions, of course, not by individual characters. So if you tap in 纽约时报, you should get the definition of the whole expression, not just of .

HanZi Reader offers an option to show word boundaries with an outline around each word (see image below), which can be helpful to students.

Pleco does not have this option, but gives you some control over where to place the word boundary. So in Pleco, tapping in 纽约时报 will pop up the definition “New York Times,” but you can manually shift the word boundary to select just 纽约.

Word boundary outlines in HanZi Reader

Word boundary outlines in HanZi Reader

Moving from word to word

HanZi Reader has a “continuous touch” option, whereby you just run your finger along the line of text and the definitions change as your finger slides over each word. It works in any direction that you move.

Pleco has an option for moving from word to word (forward or backward) by tapping the edges of the page (right and left, respectively).

“Page turning”

In HanZi Reader, each screenful is a “page” and you have to turn the pages by tapping forward and backward arrow buttons (swiping or tapping the page edges would feel more natural for iOS).

In Pleco, your text is on one page that scrolls endlessly, but there also buttons for advancing a screenful at a time.

Organizing and bookmarking

Both apps allow you to organize your texts into folders and to set bookmarks, but Pleco lets you organize your bookmarks into folders as well. Hanzi Reader seems to have a single default folder for bookmarks.

Editing and exporting

In HanZi Reader, all you can do is copy the text for pasting into another app, which you can also do in Pleco. Editing within Hanzi Reader doesn’t seem to work (for me at least).

In Pleco, you can edit your texts in the Reader or export them via e-mail or to another computer on the same wireless network. This makes it easy to back up, share, or use the texts elsewhere.

Other features

HanZi Reader offers text-to-speech as an in-app purchase; I haven’t tested it, but the sample sounds good (it’s powered by NeoSpeech). Text-to-speech is not available in Pleco, although you can purchase audio files for individual words. Note, however, that the words in Pleco seem to be pronounced syllable by syllable.

Finally, as mentioned in the last post, Pleco’s Reader integrates with its flashcard feature, so it’s very easy to create flashcards as you read. One can debate the pedagogical value of “Readers” generally, but having a way to save and practice vocabulary from a text definitely adds pedagogical value.

Both HanZi Reader and Pleco are available from the App Store. Note that while the Pleco Dictionary is free, the Reader is a paid add-on ($9.95 as of this writing, but less if purchased with an educational discount or as part of a bundle; see the Pleco website for details).

Jul 152012
iOS app to OCR Chinese: Pleco

This post fulfills my promise to discuss the additional features of Pleco Chinese Dictionary following up on its victory in the iOS OCR showdown. Pleco is the grand old man of apps for learning Chinese (see the Pleco website); I first used it on a Palm Tungsten C device in 2003. It took some time to be ported to iOS and, while the appearance is unfortunately too reminiscent of its earlier incarnations, Pleco is still a very powerful tool for students of Chinese. Once the app has OCRed text from an image, tapping “Capture” will open the app’s “Reader” (available as a paid add-on) and display the text reflowed (preserving paragraph breaks, but not the arbitrary line breaks of the printed page). The reflowing is great for continuous prose, but is undesirable for things like poetry or song lyrics. I have not found a way to disable the reflowing and … [read more]

Jul 062012
iOS app: trainchinese Dictionary and Flashcards

Following up on the last post about Skritter, we’ll be looking at another sophisticated flashcard app specifically developed for Chinese, trainchinese: Dictionary & Flash cards. The free app allows use of the dictionary and a free account allows flashcard use for a very small number of new words per week, but this is enough to decide whether you want to upgrade to a paid account. With either a paid or free account, you can also practice your flashcards on the trainchinese website. Study modes The app uses a spaced repetition system to test you less often on words that you know better. There are two basic methods of testing: “honesty” and multiple choice. “Honesty” is the familiar flashcard method where you are responsible for indicating whether or not you knew the correct answer. Multiple choice is self-explanatory. In both modes you can get a hint without penalty. For each method, … [read more]

Jun 242012
iOS app: Skritter

The Chinese-learning community is all aflutter over Skritter. This is the highly anticipated iOS version of the popular web-based tool for learning Chinese, particularly writing hanzi with correct stroke order. Although I haven’t yet talked about the web version here, I jumped on the chance to review the app (thanks to Nick at Skritter for making it available in beta and to Marjolein @CleverClogs for putting us in touch). The app itself is free, but to take full advantage of it, you need to subscribe to the Skritter service. You get a week’s free trial when you create an account, so that should give you a reasonable chance to see if you want to pay for a subscription. The following review assumes a subscriber account. More than just a writing trainer, Skritter for iOS can be set to test you on any combination of the following skills: writing hanzi, knowing … [read more]

Jun 102012
iOS app: StickyStudy: Chinese

StickyStudy: Chinese (HSK/TOP/TOCFL Hanzi Study Flashcards) is an iOS flashcard app that uses a Leitner system with five steps to card mastery. One card side is presented and you indicate whether you got the word correct or not. If you do, the card moves to the next step/Leitner box, and so on until the card is considered mastered. For each card you can also move it immediately to the “mastered” box. Studying When studying you can choose to see any combination of hanzi, pinyin, and English on the “question/front” and “answer/back”. So you can configure it to show just hanzi on the front (to test recognition) or to show pinyin and/or English on the front (to test your ability to recall words and write characters). You can also choose to have audio play automatically or when you tap a button  (seems to work only when you have hanzi visible on the card) . … [read more]