Saturday, July 3, 2010

Android and Japanese, half a year on

So its been almost half a year since I purchased my HTC Tattoo (you'll remember thats an Android phone, I'm no ink-junkie!), and I've been getting a good amount of use out of it.

I often translate my way through a good(?) book on the way to work, on train journeys etc. This usually means I'm crammed into one seat, with very little room to move. Previously I used my "Papyrus" denshi-jisho, which being the size of a medium size book itself left me with even less room. I'd be constantly switching between resting the novel on my lap to look up a word, to resting the Papyrus on my lap to continue reading. Being only on my second Japanese book, you can imagine how I have to look up about 10 words on some pages, meaning a lot of switching, and a fair amount of irritation.

The Tattoo, on the other hand is spectacularly dinky, so I can rest the Tattoo with Aedict on one page while I read the opposite page! Very handy.

In my last blog post about Aedict I was a bit critical of the kanjipad, which requires you to write using the correct stroke order. Certainly, I would love a Tegaki style input that fits closer to my very messy way of writing kanji. However there is a nice feature of Aedict that I didn't discover until they released the new version: When looking up a kanji you can now view its stroke order. Of course, you need to first find the kanji, but as I said previously, the skip lookup and radical lookup will help you here. So, I am starting to learn the stroke order of some of the radicals, which is a great help!

I also criticized the sorting of results.. But after using Aedict for a few months, it turns out that this is not really much of an obstacle to looking up words.

Aedict's new layout is very nice too, showing you the most recently viewed results, which is pretty useful. Aedict has also been able to deinflect verbs for a while now, which has on occasion saved me a fair amount of confusion.

More than anything Aedict's lookup speed is its greatest strength. When emailing my wife and need to use a technical word (lately a lot of words about pregnancy!) its actually quicker for me to whip out my phone and search using Aedict, than it is to open a new tab, load up wwwjdic and look up a word online! Its that which impresses me the most about Aedict.

I still find looking up kanji a bit of a hassle, and that is the thing that takes the most time (I can still only translate maybe 2 pages of my book per bus ride, the same as with my Papyrus). I attribute this mainly to the kanjipad (and I guess, my slow pace at learning the stroke orders)

As well as Aedict, I've sampled a few Japanese IMEs. I have to say, none of them are perfect. Simeji tended to mistake where I was pressing (possibly due to the Tattoo's smaller screen resolution, but they should support it since it is in the market, so your guess is as good as mine), and OpenWnn Plus (which I recommended last time) had a tendency to crash. I now use OpenWnn/Flick support, which is basically the same as OpenWnn, but it doesn't crash on my Tattoo! However, when typing English, I still prefer the HTC's default input method, since you can generally just bash the keypad in the general region of the letter you're aiming for and carry on. No way can I type even half as quickly in English using any of the Japanese input methods.

I've seen some Japanese/Chinese handwriting development occuring, which I'm very excited about. Perhaps that will be useful in looking up kanji in the future? I hope it works with the HTC Tattoo!

I will also give a special mention to AnkiDroid, a simple flashcard program for Android. It works using the same deck specs as Anki. This is great for me, since I already used Anki on my desktop, and now I can sync my anki deck to my phone from the internet, allowing me to memorize such words as 破水 in preperation for heading out to Japan for my the birth of my first child! I'm using a beta at the moment to get hold of the sync feature, but I've read that synchronisation is soon to come out into the stable releases (that said, I have never had any bugs or errors of any kind while using this beta, and I have a lot of confidence in their dev team who are very responsive).

Overall, the HTC Tattoo is a great device for Japanese, I'm spectacularly pleased with it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

HTC tattoo and Japanese

I know its been a while, but I think this warrants a blogpost:

I've been dragging around a battered old Nokia for the last 5 or 6 years, and decided it was time to change. However, being the "I just want a phone to do what a phone needs to do" kind of person, I looked for a new phone with 3 things in mind. 1) I want a phone to make phone calls (duh) 2) I may as well replace my walkman with a phone, and save pocket-space 3) Perhaps I can get a phone that will replace my denshi-jisho (electronic dictionary).
Long story short, I bought the HTC tattoo. After a bit of research, I found this blog-post: He introduced Aedict, which uses the almighty edict by Jim Breen, which is a brilliant dictionary.

I was a bit concerned, however, about some issues I'd heard about the tattoo's small screen resolution. Would it be enough for reading the Japanese fonts? Would it be enough for inputting Japanese fonts?

Well, I've well and truly laid those anxieties to rest. The tattoo works superbly with Aedict.

Here is my review of Aedict:

Aedict's kanjipad allows for writing in a character by hand (using your finger as a pen) which is very nice for complicated kanji. However - this will require you to know the stroke order of the kanji. Now, I was taught the stroke order at school, but I was never tested on it, and thus never learned it. I'm guessing most Japanese courses are the same in this respect, so perhaps the kanjipad is going to be of only relatively limited use for most users of Aedict.

Considering my last point, the presence of a radical lookup system is a life-saver, and Aedict really excels here. The tattoo's touch screen makes scrolling through the radical list quick and easy. As with linux's gjiten, you can tell Aedict how many strokes there are in the character you want to look up, and you can also specify how much error (i.e. how many strokes more or less than your guess, useful if your not exactly sure).

Searching in English is very easy, as you'd expect. However, the quality of the results is not spectacular. As with the online edict, you get a lot of slightly odd expressions appear, and it is difficult to find the most appropriate word. That said, the "Priority" words (those words among the most common 20000 or so) do appear at the top of the list.

Searching in Japanese is also easy. You can type in romaji, but I used openwnn because it is a little more intuitive for me (if you've ever used a Japanese mobile phone, you'll probably find the same). Again, you can get a large volume of results for some searches, which can be a pain.

Still, despite the large volumes of results that Aedict produces, it presents them all on one page, so scrolling through dozens of results isn't as difficult on the tattoo as on edict.

You can also get a kana table.. which looks pretty but has pretty much no function. I think this would have been better used as an input method for those people who dont want to install an IME like openwnn. However, since I do use openwnn I'll leave it at that.

One thing I was fairly impressed with was the "skip lookup" which I overlooked at first because I assumed it was a setting, not a lookup method (whooops). Basically, you answer 1 or 2 simple questions about the character, and it brings up a list of most likely candidates... I was highly sceptical at first, but it turned out to be a real time saver for some very complicated characters.

Overall, I'm very pleased with Aedict. It has allowed me to dispense with my chunky "Papyrus" dictionary, making translating on the bus much easier, and while each lookup method has its own failings, my complaints with one method are usually covered by another. Nonetheless, a more gaijin-friendly handwriting recognition (I'm thinking tegaki-python here) and better sorting of relevant results would be grand.