Pleco Dictionary or iPhone or HTC Touch?

My Dopod smart phone, which I love, is ready for the junk heap, and I’m looking for a substitute. The feature I use by far the most, after SMS and the phone itself, is the acclaimed Pleco dictionary, which along with standard E-to-C/C-to-E dictionary functions lets me quickly draw and recognize any Chinese characters I see. Once you have it you never want to be without it.

Like everybody else, I also want Apple’s iPhone. I always carry the Dopod and my iPod, and if I got an iPhone I’d have less to lug around. Just to complicate things, my company will soon be getting me a Blackberry (without a phone), so that means I’ll have three appliances to carry – unless I get an iPhone, which I can use as both phone and iPod.

But what about my Pleco dictionary? If I don’t have a smartphone or a PDA, I lose my dictionary. Impossible dilemma, I suppose. I’m thinking my best choice is to get the slick new HTC Touch phone (also made by Dopod), which will give me an iPhone-like experience along with the smart functions I need. Yes, I’ll have to lug around three devices, but I can’t think of a better solution.

The problem is, I can’t find the HTC Touch in China with an English-language interface so right now I’m in a holding pattern, hoping that any moment now I’ll be able to track one down. I saw this phone in Taipei and it is truly sensational, not to mention sleek, lightweight and beautiful. Does anyone know where I can get it in Beijing? Any other suggestions? I have to make a decision this week.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

I bought an HTC Touch at Nurenjie in Beijing a few weeks ago. Got the guys to install English, then I installed Chinese support on my own. It’s working well. E-mail me and I’ll give you the guy’s name.

I wrote about it here: http://www.cnet.com/8301-13908_1-9849409-59.html?tag=head

Will follow up one day with how Pleco’s working, but all’s well, with the exception of Win Mobile 6 not getting along perfectly with it. Pleco promises this will be fixed in Pleco 2.

Graham Webster
http://cnet.com/sinobyte

January 26, 2008 @ 2:20 pm | Comment

Richard, I’m using a Treo 680, which does all that stuff, including (most importantly) the Treo. I have heard rumors that Pleco will develop a version for the iPhone soon (though I wonder how the touch portion of it will work for the character recognition).

Anyway, I like my Treo just fine, the email function works well, though it doesn’t download automatically like a Crackberry. It’s not an iPod though. And I recommend a bluetooth headset – makes the phone part of it a much more pleasant experience.

January 26, 2008 @ 2:21 pm | Comment

I would recommend that you go to Taipei, get the phone, and also take some to chill out and get beyond this “American falling- China rising” dichotomy. I am a flaming-ass liberal and not a supporter of how the current US president has presided over his supposed kingdom, but… I don’t mean to be overly critical, but after reading this blog for nearly 4 and a half years or so, I think that your new enthusiasm for the muddled system in Beijing has muddled your priorities in some senses. I really hope that you can go out and walk the streets and meet with some real people who are facing the challenges of the present “reform process” and are not worrying about iPhones. Really, donate your PR skills to Human Rights in China or the China Democracy Party, we (I admit involvement in both) could really use some publicity.

January 26, 2008 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

Graham, thanks so much!! I’ve been to 10 phone stores so far and no luck.

Kevin, I post any stories about social injustice and CCP evil as I see them. I know all about the bad system here. I’m sorry I am not as outraged as I was the first time I lived here, but there is only one reason for this – I find things are much better than they were and believe the country is heading toward serious reforms in all areas except the usual one, freedom of speech when it comes to political issues, democracy, falun gong – anything that threatens the Party’s power. When it comes to the abuse of the poor and the disenfranchised, it’s the same old sick country it always was, whether under Chiang Kai Shek or the first emperor. Outrageous, sick, evil. And I say so all the time. But do I have to be miserable here? Must I feel guilty all the time for enjoying my life and experiences and the people I meet here? (And trust me, I do spend a lot of time feeling very, very guilty as I see right across the street the plight of the poor and the weak.) Sorry, but with all its oozing warts, I like a lot of aspects about China, none of them related to the government. Anyway, which phone do you think I should buy?

Lisa, what the Treo doesn’t offer is the touch experience of an iPhone or HTC Touch. That’s the most important thing for me – if I’m going to dish out big money for a phone, I want one I love, and when I saw the iPhone and HTC I knew that was they type I wanted.

As to the Blackberry, there is no way out: my client insisted I have one. It’s already been bought and I’ll have it next week. I’m not happy about it.

January 26, 2008 @ 6:28 pm | Comment

Richard, do you use your phone for Chinese as well as English SMS? I’ve heard Chinese texting can be difficult on the iPhone. The HTC Touch might be a good compromise if this sort of thing will take your enjoyment out of the iPhone.

January 27, 2008 @ 12:32 am | Comment

I still use pinyin for texting in Chinese so it’s not a big issue. I think all in all, the HTC is my best bet for now. If I can find the store in Sanlitun referenced above, I’ll try to buy it tomorrow.

January 27, 2008 @ 2:03 am | Comment

Richard, sorry I can’t give pda advice as I’m using an aging Dopod myself. But thanks awfully much for the Pleco dictionary link. Astoundingly, I’d never heard of it and have been suffering with a similar tool, badly executed, by HNHSoft. I gotta check compatibility, but it’s hard not to salivate at the thought of having DeFrancis’s dictionary on hand at all times.

January 27, 2008 @ 2:08 am | Comment

syz, the Pleco is the best thing evah. You will not be disappointed.

Richard, how does the character input work on touch screens? I’m curious.

January 27, 2008 @ 2:26 am | Comment

It comes with a stylus – one would either use that, or very tapered fingernails.

Syz, buy it now – it’s incredible, and it’s a bargain.

January 27, 2008 @ 2:48 am | Comment

Yeah, I might have been a bit overzealous last night and making unnecessary associations. But as for what phone to get, well, I don’t know. My phone came with my cell phone plan for free. So… I’d recommend a free phone. Good price.

January 27, 2008 @ 3:26 am | Comment

Hi Richard, please let us know how much you paid for the HTC. thanks!

Pleco has kept me sane and is one good reason I haven’t packed my bags and given up on Chinese all together!

January 27, 2008 @ 6:36 am | Comment

I’ve spoken to the Pleco people and they’re cautiously confident that they’ll be able to create a version of the dictionary that will work with the iPhone. That said, talks with China Mobile broke down recently, apparently because Apple wants a revenue sharing deal, and China Mobile balked. So no one knows when the iPhone will even be available in China, althought there are unlocked versions available on the market already. I had a Treo 650 and now a 680, and I think it’s the worst phone I’ve ever had. Problems syncing, it freezes on me all the day, and it lacks some basic functions found on cheaper phones. Several of my friends here in Beijing have had similar problems.

January 27, 2008 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

‘same boat’ comment.

I was using a palm TX for Plecodict, but it was stolen a couple of weeks ago, and my mobile phone is on its last legs, so very interested to see the comments here. I certainly hope Richard will tell us how he gets on with the HTC Touch.

Can anyone tell me what it’s like to send text messages in Chinese without a keypad?

Slightly concerned by Paul’s comment on the Treo – I was eying up a 680. The TX was fine for Plecodict, and the Chinese input/hand writing recognition software installed by the Chinese supplier worked well. But I had occasional crashes and plenty of issues syncing to my ibook (even with Missing Sync).

otherlisa, can you add anything on your experience with the 680?

syz, just as otherlisa said. pleco is a must. i was grappling with chinese for two and a half years, and had even wasted money on a dashan special, before i was introduced to it. it was like having the other hand untied.

January 27, 2008 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

Several of my friends here have unlocked iPhones, which you can get for about 4,000 RMB; they unlock it for you and “customize” your sim card to make it work.

January 27, 2008 @ 4:46 pm | Comment

I’d also like to know where you’ll get the HTC Touch. I will be moving to Beijing in 3 weeks and I suspect it will be very nice to have a dictionary at hand at all times.

January 27, 2008 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

Sima, the only problem I’ve had with the 680 is that there was a power issue so that it doesn’t hold a charge long. There is a patch that supposedly corrects this; I downloaded it ages ago and have yet to install it because then I have to go and reinstall and reconfigure everything (BAH!) including PlecoDict and I just haven’t felt like it. Supposedly this has been corrected, so you shouldn’t have that issue, assuming your Treo hasn’t been sitting on a shelf somewhere for 9 months.

As far as using PlecoDict, I’ve had absolutely no problems with it whatsoever. I’d been using it on a Tungsten before then and this works just as well. You can make the text bigger so the smaller window on the 680 isn’t a factor.

January 28, 2008 @ 6:52 am | Comment

Oh, re: using the 680 as a phone – I’ll admit I use my 680 more for emailing than talking, but for when I do talk, I strongly recommend getting a headset. Finding the…what would you call it? Where your caller’s voice comes out…anyway, it’s small and I find it annoying holding the phone up to your head. I got a little Samsung bluetooth that works well.

Sure I have had some crashes and freezes now and again but nothing that strikes me as unreasonable for an electronic device that is doing a lot of different things and takes a lot of abuse.

I am definitely looking forward to a compatible iPhone, but for now, this is a good device, it works internationally and does everything I need it to do.

January 28, 2008 @ 6:56 am | Comment

Many thanks, otherlisa. All useful to know. I think I’ll try and track one down in the next few days.

January 28, 2008 @ 10:12 am | Comment

I had a similar problem. And the office gave me a Treo 680 to use. So I added a huge memory card inside the 680 and use that instead of my iPod. So I get the pleco dict, have the use of the Treo (email on the road), and the music taint too bad. Had to also install ‘volumecare’ software as the treo is not quite loud enough and I bought a nice Shure headphone – so the music is okay. Not as much storage as the ipod but I get 3, 3, 3 functions in 1 (phone, music, pleco). The camera is horrible though and I hate having email everywhere I go ……

January 30, 2008 @ 12:58 pm | Comment

So on this keypad-less smart phone do you write Chinese text messages with a stylus? I guess it wouldn’t be much slower than scrolling and possibly quicker if you’re good at writing :)

Yes keep us updated on this Richard as I’m looking for an upgrade as well and can’t live without Pleco.

January 31, 2008 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

Matt, you use a stylus, or a very tapered fingernail. If all goes according to plan I’ll be buying it in Beijing this Sunday. I’ll have a full report.

January 31, 2008 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

I was at U-Town in Suzhou yesterday, the one next to Walking Street and Ganjiang Lu. They have a BenQ fake iPhone for 1580.00 Yuan. It was not bad and had pinyin, and character capability. You use a stylus, included with the phone. I am headed back there today, I will get further info and post it here.

February 5, 2008 @ 12:53 pm | Comment

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