Pleco Chinese Dictionary for iOS and Android Version 3.0

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On 5 February 2013, Pleco announced a new version of their Chinese Dictionary software. After 2 years in development, the long-awaited version 3.0 the Pleco Chinese iOS app is finally here. An updated instruction manual with a transition guide and lots of screenshots is available here.

Major features in 3.0 include:

  • Totally redesigned user interface, with a more modern sidebar-based navigation and far fewer annoying / unnecessary toolbars. Lots of smaller refinements too, like draggable scrollbars, and of course it’s now all been fully optimized for iOS 7.
  • Totally redesigned typography, with lovely new English (Adobe Source Sans Pro) and Chinese (VMType 信黑体) fonts and a more consistent look for all dictionaries. We also now support the option to choose an alternate Chinese font and offer three of them as add-ons, along with a free add-on font to cover rare (Unicode Extension B/C/D) characters.
  • Vastly improved search: faster (multithreaded), merges results from all dictionaries together (so no more flipping between them to make sure you’ve caught all the results), frequency-sorted, and much more intelligent about full-text (partial words, variant spellings – ‘color’ will now also get you ‘colour’ and vice versa).
  • Vastly improved definition screen: dictionaries all appear in a single scrolling list so you don’t have to flip between them, the former 字 button features have all been merged into the main definition screen now, there’s a new-and-improved character component breakdown database (which has the added benefit of being free) and other new functions like lists of word breakdowns, an experimental thesaurus (download the database for that in Add-ons). And best of all, a pan-dictionary example sentence search – works for English and Chinese, aggregates every example sentence containing a particular word (even if it’s not the primary headword) and presents them to you in a single scrolling box.
  • Audio, most notably text-to-speech: example sentences now have buttons next to them to hear their audio; by default this uses iOS’ built-in text-to-speech system but since that’s not very clear or pleasant-sounding we also have a nicer one available as a paid add-on. Text-to-speech also works in the document reader and will read along in a document for you showing you the definition for each word as it goes.
  • Cantonese support: options for Cantonese search (in Jyutping), display (Jyutping or Yale), and audio (system TTS or a new Cantonese audio module); basic Cantonese transliterations are included in our built-in PLC dictionary, another one is available as a paid add-on and lots more stuff on this front is coming soon.
  • Much better iPad optimization, most screens are now either appropriately minimized popups or have been expanded to iPad-friendly two-panel mode.
  • History now has iCloud sync (with the ability to view a merged history list from all of your devices) and keeps track of words looked up in the document reader.
  • Rewritten low-level database engine to greatly reduce our app’s virtual address space usage – we were never very heavy on RAM, but we used to use a lot of address space loading data files, and now we don’t; this should vastly improve our app’s stability.
  • Document reader has just about every new feature people have ever asked for: pagination, full-text search, document-specific font settings, support for direct tap-lookups in a bunch of new formats (PDF/DOC/EPUB most notably), a hugely improved Web Reader engine (much faster / more reliable), a Web Reader “reading mode,” clipboard history, recently viewed document history and the ability to have several documents open at once.
  • File manager now supports Dropbox, though this is incomplete and about to get a lot better thanks to a Dropbox policy change (one that lets us access your entire Dropbox instead of just a single app folder).
  • Settings have been overhauled to be maybe not quite so terribly confusing as before – we actually got rid of more than half of the old settings and restructured them to make a bit more sense.
  • User dictionaries now support full-text search (enable in Settings / Manage Dictionaries).
  • OCR now has an optional crosshairs mode (little buggy but fun to play with and downright freaky with clear text on a really fast device), support for PDFs in still image mode, keeps track of recently viewed images and attempts to return you to your last place in them. (lots more OCR stuff coming in 2014)
  • Flashcards now have iCloud sync (though a bit experimental / buggy since iCloud itself is), some improved options for card creation (easy access to Card Info from the duplicate prompt and an “Update Text” option in Import), an option to easily install a premade list of HSK cards, and the much-requested “new cards per day” option; again, this is an area that will see a lot more improvements in 2014. We’ve also made the basic import / export / backup / organization features available even without purchasing the flashcard module, useful for (among other things) getting your flashcards off of a malfunctioning iPhone before reinstalling Pleco.

As far as an overall philosophy, aside from ‘make it look nice’ and ‘make it work well,’ something we’re starting to pay particular attention to is the idea of moving beyond individual dictionaries; we no longer want Pleco to be a dictionary viewer but rather an aggregator of reference data. So the moves towards merging dictionaries are a first step towards ultimately merging the data they contain in a more in-depth way too – we’ll preserve each dictionary’s distinct features, there wouldn’t be much point to offering them if they didn’t, but we’d like to do a better job of combining data where appropriate (stuff like links to variant characters / other characters with the same pronunciation, for example), and we’d like that philosophy to permeate some other parts of Pleco where it’s currently lacking (like flashcards). This may also include incorporating more data from other sorts of reference works and databases, some perhaps even that we develop ourselves, and using that data in more ways than we already do (all sorts of interesting things you can do analyzing a dozen different definitions for the same word).

New Dictionaries

6 in this release:

  • Oxford Chinese Dictionary (the big one), with full traditional character support (merged from the new traditional version) – $19.95
  • 汉语大词典 (the really big one) – this one’s ‘early access’ as we’re still cleaning up the jianti conversion and adding in data from the new ‘Supplement’ volume – $59.95
  • 廣州話方言詞典 from Commercial Press – popular monolingual Cantonese topolect dict, horrible Guangdong romanization changed to delightful Jyutping/Yale, first of 4+ licensed Cantonese dicts we’re working on, ‘early access’ due to some minor Cantonese app bugs which should be fixed in 3.0.1 – $19.95
  • 多功能成语词典 from Sinolingua (Chinese-Chinese) – $19.95
  • KEY Chinese-English dictionary, 280k entries based on the one from the PC app – $19.95
  • 中山 C-E/E-C Medical Dictionary (from FLTRP) – also ‘early access’ – $59.95

Key Features

OCR

Look up unknown Chinese words ‘live’ using your device’s camera, or tap-lookup words in a still image.

Handwriting

Look up words by drawing them on the screen; very accurate and tolerant of stroke order mistakes.

Dictionaries

Huge and growing collection of licensed dictionary databases, including titles from Oxford, Longman, FLTRP, and many other major publishers.

Audio

Recordings from two different native speakers for 34,000 words, with text-to-speech (for sentences) and Cantonese support coming soon.

Flashcards

Insanely powerful / customizable system, making it extremely easy to add new flashcards from dictionary entries or import pre-made vocabulary lists.

Document Reader

Look up words in a document simply by tapping on them; currently supports text files and web pages, EPUB / PDF / DOC support coming soon on iOS.

Incredibly Fast

We use a custom-built database engine so fast that it can search and process results from a dozen different dictionaries before you’ve finished lifting your finger off the screen.

Well-Supported

We’ve been in business for over a decade, and we offer free upgrades and free platform transfers whenever possible; we have users who bought the Pocket Oxford Chinese Dictionary from us for Palm Pilot in 2001 and are still able to use that same purchase on their brand-new iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy in 2013 without ever having had to pay an upgrade fee.

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