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irishpolyglot

Reviewing all premium features of Pleco app for Android on video. What should I test?

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irishpolyglot

Hey everyone! I have access to every single premium feature of Pleco, and will be making a video review demonstrating it all and am looking for your advice!

The app owner very kindly sent me the review copy (at my request) because I have a highly trafficked blog (free exposure), although I'm more interested in sharing it objectively, and won't be using any affiliate links so the video will be for informative purposes only. I have nothing to gain from people buying the app's add-ons, but I do feel that it's a great resource worth sharing with language learners, while clearly mentioning the price of the features. In the couple of days I've had it, it's been a godsend, since I'm physically in Taiwan and started learning the language from scratch just one week ago.

What I'd like to know is what you think I should test to show the app's best features, and maybe even to show its limitations?

I'm using the Android app by the way. The owner tells me that within a week or two, the full version will be ready, which is why I'd like to record this video soon enough. Just keep in mind that I am a beginner in Chinese, although I am in Taiwan, so have access to lots of things to test the app out with! When you are a hungry vegetarian wandering around Taipei, not at all able to look up words based on stroke orders and the like, OCR on menus until I can read it independently really is a game changer.

Also, which of the other add-ons would be most interesting to feature; most of them are dictionaries, although the recorded speech could be useful.

This thread has been helpful http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/30815-pleco-worth-paying-for-basicpro-add-on-bundles/ but any other info people have would be great, thanks!

As a side note, if someone has tips for how to draw in such a way that it recognises it better, I'd be curious. I'm no artist, but I think it's close enough (ignoring stroke order) and sometimes it has trouble, showing me characters that are a way off. I'm sure something like this has been discussed; maybe I need to space my characters or draw them more straight or something?

Thanks for any tips and I hope you like the video!

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irishpolyglot

This video (reviewing Google's own apps with regards language learning and travel) should make it clearer what style the video will be in.

I won't just be pointing the camera at my phone looking at text, since I think there are plenty of videos showing that already. I think some real world examples are more interesting!

P.S. I own a Samsung Galaxy S II now.

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imron
but I think it's close enough (ignoring stroke order)

There's your problem right there. The majority of handwriting recognition works based on stroke order rather than what the final image looks like, because it's orders magnitude more simple to recognise that way.

See also this thread.

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irishpolyglot

Drats. Well as a workaround, at least I can just try to write it differently, going with the basic rule (outlined somwhere in my Heisig book) even if I'll not be right most of the time. Unfortunately, I really cannot invest time right now into properly learning stroke order. This is unfortunate, as that adds an extra complication for the beginner learner, and I need to draw for complicated handwritten style scripts that the OCR can't handle.

I presumed the algorithm was similar to the OCR, which obviously doesn't have stroke order incorporated.

Thanks for the heads up.

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imron
Unfortunately, I really cannot invest time right now into properly learning stroke order.

A couple of hours writing out a handful of characters that each demonstrate one of the different major rules (there's only about 10) is probably all it would take to get the basics down pat and give you the ability to write the vast majority of characters you encounter with the correct stroke order - no point in being penny-wise, pound-foolish. Your teacher should be able to provide you a list and guidance, and, *shameless plug* you can create grids for handwriting practice here *shameless plug*. Plus it's not a major impediment for many beginners, because stroke order is something many of them will learn from the beginning anyway and it's only a few hours effort. (Pleco also includes stroke order diagrams to help out here).

I presumed the algorithm was similar to the OCR

It's actually more accurate to do it based on stroke order, especially once your handwriting gets quicker and characters aren't as well defined.

Anyway, for a review of Pleco, what I'd be interested in seeing is how you think the free version compares to the paid for add-ons for a Chinese learner. I think there are many users of the free version who maybe don't realise what they're missing, especially in terms of dictionary comparisons and flashcards. I'd also be interested in a comparison between it and other like software. I've been using Pleco for years, and it meets my needs well enough that I don't really consider or evaluate anything else in the same space, and I guess I'd like to keep myself informed without actually needing to do any work :D

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Shelley

I think the main diference between the free and paid version is the character handwriting input. I only use the one dictionary that comes with it. I have not felt the need for any others yet. If I find that I can not find characters in this dictionary a lot, then i may invest in onther one.

I used the free one for only a short time before I paid for it. The cost is not prohibtive for the basic package, very reasonable really.

I have often reccomended it to people, if you only have one chinese learning app, this is the one to have.

It covers all you need, pronouciation, meaning, pinyin, writing, listening, flashcards and more.

The main differnce i have found between Pleco and other apps is the lack of all the features of Pleco. they all have some but not all of the features in one app.

I am using the PPC version.

My only complaint, and I know why it is this way, (but I still like to grumble about it) it is not available for android 2.1 and it is only available on the android market, which is not available to everyone for various reasons.

This aside, it is a brilliant app.

Shelley

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giraffe

The killer Pleco feature for me is the tight integration between the flashcards and the dictionary and reader. It's effortless to get a new word into the flashcard stack.

I haven't used the handwriting input feature very much. Recently I started working with Skritter which seems much more useful for learning characters - and may eventually replace Pleco as my only flashcard tool (it's a pain having two big sets of flashcards on the go in different apps).

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mikelove
My only complaint, and I know why it is this way, (but I still like to grumble about it) it is not available for android 2.1 and it is only available on the android market, which is not available to everyone for various reasons.

You're correct about Android 2.1 - it's only 8.5% of the active user base according to Google and falling fast, and if we support it now we're stuck releasing updates on it for at least a good year or so (by which point it'll probably be more like 2%), so I'm comfortable with that decision.

However, our app is certainly available outside of Android Market, in fact at the moment it's ONLY available outside of Android Market (though that'll change with the finished version) - you can download the free basic version's APK directly from our website, and buy paid add-ons through our online store regardless of what sort of non-Google-approved firmware / SIM card you've got.

I haven't used the handwriting input feature very much. Recently I started working with Skritter which seems much more useful for learning characters - and may eventually replace Pleco as my only flashcard tool (it's a pain having two big sets of flashcards on the go in different apps).

Could you possibly elaborate on this a bit? We're always looking for ways to improve, but we also have a very good relationship with Skritter - in fact we're discussing ways we might do some data exchange between our apps - so if we can't make our system better then perhaps we can at least make it easier for you to use it alongside theirs :-)

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Iriya

Please don't use YouTube for obvious reasons.

Anyway, yeah, Pleco's android version is very close to final, and I tried it recently.

Personally, I don't really see anything special about it. OCR is virtually worthless, as it has already been said, once you know the basic stroke order, you can just write a character by hand in your favorite IME, any character, it's faster and way more accurate (a human can recognize way more shapes and styles of writing than a machine). I really don't understand why did they spend so much time on such a useless feature. I guess, it's for the tourists, not language learners.

Flashcards are nice, but Anki is better.

All that is left are the licensed dictionaries, the only really important ones are ABC C-E, 21st Century E-C and 现代汉语规范词典 C-C. They're nice.

As for me, I recently bought GoldenDict, it's a front-end for various dictionary formats, including StarDict and Lingoes which are very popular in China. Now I have a huge database of various Chinese dictionaries in my pocket, including many famous ones. Pleco can't possibly compare to this. Yes, many dictionaries I'm using are unlicensed, but so what? Life's not supposed to be fair. And I'll be damned if I'm going to stop using them in exchange for a few terribly overpriced licensed ones. If Pleco's dictionaries were at least half their current price, then I might consider buying them, but for now I think it's way too overpriced. Especially when taking into consideration the fact that the program is aimed at students.

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mikelove
Personally, I don't really see anything special about it. OCR is virtually worthless, as it has already been said, once you know the basic stroke order, you can just write a character by hand in your favorite IME, any character, it's faster and way more accurate (a human can recognize way more shapes and styles of writing than a machine). I really don't understand why did they spend so much time on such a useless feature. I guess, it's for the tourists, not language learners.

It's our best-selling feature, actually - I've sometimes wondered myself whether we should have ever gone down that path (especially given how long it's taken to debug on Android), but now it's one of the things we're known for and a big enough source of revenue that it would be tough to give up. I think you're ignoring some of its benefits for language learners, though - automated flashcard creation, for example, and reading entire pages of text that you've taken a picture of. There's a lot more to it than just pointing at signs.

Flashcards are nice, but Anki is better.

Could you explain this? What does Anki do that we don't, other than online sync?

As for me, I recently bought GoldenDict, it's a front-end for various dictionary formats, including StarDict and Lingoes which are very popular in China. Now I have a huge database of various Chinese dictionaries in my pocket, including many famous ones. Pleco can't possibly compare to this. Yes, many dictionaries I'm using are unlicensed, but so what? Life's not supposed to be fair. And I'll be damned if I'm going to stop using them in exchange for a few terribly overpriced licensed ones. If Pleco's dictionaries were at least half their current price, then I might consider buying them, but for now I think it's way too overpriced. Especially when taking into consideration the fact that the program is aimed at students.

People who pirate dictionaries generally don't have much of a problem with pirating software either, so frankly I don't think StarDict support would be likely to get us a lot of new customers - if anything it might actually hurt sales, if it causes cracked versions of our software to be more widely used and hence widely available.

Prices for licensed dictionaries are almost always very high relative to other types of mobile content, but that's mostly the publishers' doing and not ours - I've had a whole lot of long conversations trying to make the case that if we cut our prices by 50% we'd sell 5x as many copies, but hardly any of them seem to be willing to take that leap right now. I do hope that more experience with e-book distribution will eventually get them to loosen up, but it's tough to convince someone that something that goes for $60 in a bookstore ought to cost $10 on a smartphone.

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OneEye

One of the big differences between Anki and Pleco is the fact that with Anki you can do things like include audio and images, not to mention having multiple fields where you can include as much information as you like on each card. I was working on a deck a while back (which I've put on hold for the forseeable future) that included things like seal script images, references for big dictionaries (康熙字典、漢語大字典、大漢和辞典), 說文解字 glosses, etc. I understand this is pretty specialized stuff. I also had sentence flash cards with audio of a native speaker reading the full sentence.

Not that I expect or need Pleco to do all of these things. I don't even use Anki right now, in fact, because Pleco does everything I need it to. They're two completely different beasts, and for most things, Pleco works just fine for me. For some things though, I do have to break out Anki.

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irishpolyglot

Thanks for the tips everyone!

@Iriya I've been trying to figure out how to upload to video hosting sites that aren't blocked by China, but it's hard. The interfaces on the biggest sites are in Chinese, and I can't read them or get through them with Google Translate efficiently at my current level. If you know of a site in English that works in China, I'd be happy to upload the video there too.

Worst case scenario, I have a professional account for self hosting videos. My license only works on speakfromday1.com for securely hosted videos for members (rather than my blog), but I can create unique public pages there to link to in cases like this for those who can't view Youtube (much the same way I think Mike has done on the Pleco site). When I'm more comfortable reading the language I can upload my videos to sites that are more popular in China.

If anyone has other suggestions, do let me know. However, I will use Youtube as the primary source.

Also, OCR definitely has benefits to language learners, which I'll emphasise in my video. I've been able to do a lot, which the videos uploaded so far by Pleco themselves really do not emphasise, such as pronouncing what I want for lunch correctly thanks to pinyin resulting from reading the menu, and pointing it at my Mandarin explanation books (sadly, the majority of Mandarin material is not Taiwan focused) to convert the simplified into traditional instantly. There are also lazy "tourist" things like simply knowing what a sign says, which you could consider cheating, but I think it helps understanding and gets me deeper into the language.

@imron Even though I specified in this project that learning stroke order was not something I wanted to focus on right now, I'll try to get the gist of how it works with most characters, since that will help me a lot when using the drawing input.

Mike also wrote to me privately and suggested another issue is that I may be connecting different strokes as one, which was true. So I was writing 四 as only three strokes, since I would draw 口 in one go (this is always how I intuitively draw boxes), which makes it more clear why a simple character wasn't being recognised. Hopefully I can improve on working with the app on this, but I will mention it in the video as a limitation, since it makes the drawing feature not useful at all to tourists, who will also be interested in the video, and difficult for beginner learners. This is the only feature I've had trouble with and absolutely everything else about the app so far is something I'll be singing praises of, since it's being an enormous help for me. Mike has explained the technical reasons for this limitation and I agree that a workaround is extremely unlikely for a while.

The plus side of this is that it encourages people to learn stroke order rather than leave the smartphone to do all the work. There are some translation apps and the OCR app "Word lens" that I've seen people unaware of how languages work say that they will make learning the language obsolete, which is of course ludicrous (especially due to the limitations and lies in advertisements of these apps), so I'll be focusing on presenting Pleco as a huge help, especially to language learners, but not equivalent to your own personal interpreter ;)

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imron
The killer Pleco feature for me is the tight integration between the flashcards and the dictionary and reader. It's effortless to get a new word into the flashcard stack.

For me it's the Chinese-Chinese dictionary, followed closely by the tight flashcard integration.

The other feature I find myself using far more than I ever thought I would is the stroke order diagrams. Which is funny because I probably wouldn't have bought them, but I've been using Pleco since back when many of the add-ons were core features, and thanks to Mike's generous free upgrades for life policy, even across platforms, I have them now on my iPhone version too. It's just nice to have them around to be able to check when you run across a strange or uncommon character and maybe you're 95% sure how to write it but for one or two strokes you're uncertain which one goes first.

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skylee

Please, Benny, remember that you don't draw Chinese characters. You write them.

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gato

The other feature I find myself using far more than I ever thought I would is the stroke order diagrams.

With the stroke order add-on installed, you can also search for characters with common components on the character info page (click "字" and then "chars"). That comes in handy sometimes.

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irishpolyglot
Please, Benny, remember that you don't draw Chinese characters. You write them.

Sorry about that. I wasn't talking about writing Chinese in general, but using the app and the instructions for it use the word "draw":

Fullscreen Handwriting Recognizer - our software is available with a fullscreen Chinese handwriting recognizer, letting you use the entire width of the iPhone's screen to draw characters and clear / backspace / finish entering characters using multitouch (two-finger tap)....

But I'll try to avoid using the word in future.

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imron
but I will mention it in the video as a limitation, ... and difficult for beginner learners.

It's probably even worth qualifying that as absolute beginners or people not interested in learning characters. You were asking in the other thread about the easy things involved with learning Chinese, and well, learning the basic stroke order rules is one them :D

For any beginner serious about learning the language, this limitation of the handwriting feature will stop being an issue long before they stop being a beginner. It's only going to be a problem for those learners not interested in learning characters.

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mikelove

On the "draw" versus "write" issue: the tricky thing is that "write" can also mean "compose some text" in general, even if you're not literally writing it - I'm "writing" this message right now even though I'm doing it on a computer keyboard and there's no pen involved. So the reason we say "draw" in places like this is because it makes it clear that we're talking about the act of making the shape of a character on the screen with your finger, as distinct from using a pinyin IME or a radical table or whatever to input it.

But it does have the unfortunate side-effect of misrepresenting the nature of Chinese characters; I just don't see a good alternative except to just keep saying "handwrite," which would make that particular already-rather-awkward sentence even more so. Or to use some other verb like "sketch," but that's really no better than "draw" except that it's a word other than "draw."

One of the big differences between Anki and Pleco is the fact that with Anki you can do things like include audio and images, not to mention having multiple fields where you can include as much information as you like on each card. I was working on a deck a while back (which I've put on hold for the forseeable future) that included things like seal script images, references for big dictionaries (康熙字典、漢語大字典、大漢和辞典), 說文解字 glosses, etc. I understand this is pretty specialized stuff. I also had sentence flash cards with audio of a native speaker reading the full sentence.

Those are both high-priority items for us, especially now that iCloud has come along and taken away the need to worry about how we'll sync them - merging flashcard statistics is extremely tricky, but checking thousands of attached image / audio files for changes and efficiently handling their uploading / downloading is now something we can do in just a few dozen lines of code. (and I'm optimistic that whatever iCloud equivalent Google announces for Android 5.0 "Baked Alaska" will work similarly)

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character

I find OCR quite a valuable feature. In terms of overall workflow in looking up a word or phrase it can be much faster than handwriting, which can involve guessing the boundaries, writing a character or two, moving the cursor, entering more characters, deleting others, etc. until one has found the likely word or phrase.

I think the mass-recognition part of OCR is also extremely valuable for learners, as there's a lack of ebooks below native level. Being able to pull in printed handouts from one's teacher :wink: and convert them to text or look up words by tapping makes reading much less of a struggle.

Beyond that, I know Pleco's handwriting recognition, dictionaries, and flashcards have been a tremendous help in my learning words and characters.

I look forward to Pleco advancing the state of the art of Chinese learning in the future with a Siri-like voice recognition system to improve speaking/listening. :wink:

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realmayo

I have Pleco, think it is great, I use it as a superb dictionary when I'm away from my computer, have done for years.

I use Wenlin, which I like a lot, as a dictionary when I'm at my computer. There's no desktop Pleco (I think?).

I've never been interested in using Pleco for flashcards because I have Anki. The advantage Pleco has over Anki is that it's very quick to add something you've just looked up into your flashcard deck. So if you only want basic flashcards then I guess Pleco is fine.

Me, I like to add example sentences sometimes, often the sentence where I saw the new word crop up in the first place. I like the flexibility Anki gives me to structure the set-up just how I want it, and how I can export and import words. I like to be able to customise. I don't think Pleco comes close there. Not that I need it too.

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