Wed, Aug 06, 2008 - Page 14 News List

[TECHNOLOGY REVIEW] XCome Dictionary and Dr Eye Han Easy

By Jonathan Biddle  /  Contributing Reporter

Organizing Chinese characters into a dictionary format is not easy. Radicals, stroke counts, phonetic sounds and of course the definitions themselves all compete for the right to bring order, and the unlucky recipient looking for a word or definition may need to be prepared to traipse between books looking for a satisfactory result. As a result, portable electronic dictionaries have become enormously popular and the available range is huge.

However, most are useless for people learning Chinese as a foreign language, since they are tuned for local learners. Luckily, the industry is increasingly taking note of this growing niche, and this article takes a look at two dictionary products that work as learning or reference aids.

XCome Dictionary

Pre-installed on Asus Eee PC

NT$9,500 to NT$20,000, depending on configuration

Well-specified dedicated portable

electronic dictionaries are not cheap. Instant Technology’s (快譯通) MD6700 runs in at just under NT$10,000, and for more or less the same price Asus will sell you its Eee PC. “That computer with the funny name” is a full-fledged PC that wirelessly connects to the Internet,

communicates with people with its

integrated Web-cam and mic, and

provides you with professional-grade Microsoft-style software. Into this mix comes XCome’s dictionary, which in Taiwan ships ready to solve your

Chinese and English language problems.

XCome was invited by Asus to create dictionary and language reference software that comes pre-installed on all Linux versions of the Eee PC. As a study aid, it fits pretty well into the armory, sized as it is like a hefty paperback book. The 7-inch screen is small on the basic version and the keyboard a little pokey for those with sausage fingers, but that is what you get when you buy a small computer. Crucially, the unpainted plastic on the cheaper versions and tough solid-state disk drive encourage you to take it anywhere and treat it like a schoolbook.

Opening the dictionary program is simple, though it is unexpectedly located in the “Work” tab of the operating system menu, rather than “Learn.” The user interface is clear, and looking up a word is as straightforward as typing it into the search box. One of the software’s best features is the ability to do “instant lookup” when working in other programs — including while instant messaging, browsing the Internet or working in the included Sun OpenOffice — a suite of free software that aims to challenge Microsoft Office. As you move your mouse over a word, a mini-definition pops up, and you can then jump into the full dictionary to explore more.

The dictionary works with both traditional and simplified Chinese characters, and in most cases the English definition includes a “speak” function, where the word is read out loud, although unfortunately the same luxury is not afforded to the Chinese definition. The product is clearly more suited to learners of English, rather than of Chinese, although it is hard to blame XCome, as Asus specifies which dictionaries should be included and it would be an easy step to improve this.

This impression is reinforced when attempting to type in Chinese. The EeePC software allows typing of traditional characters in Zhuyin Fuhao (注音符號, or Bopomofo), but sadly restricts Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼音) input to simplified characters.

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