An Authentic Taste of Japan Hidden Away

I usually don’t get into food or restaurant reviews on this blog, but I really wanted to showcase this particular Japanese restaurant. I’m admittedly a huge fan of Japanese food, and this place bills itself as “Japanese home cooking” (日本家庭料理). I’ve always been more of a fan of a good home cooked meal, something local, something warm and authentic. 藏王日本家庭料理 (Zangwang Japanese Home Cooking) hits all of these points for me.

My personal favorite dish overall is the braised pork and onion, which is served with a shredded cabbage salad that is happily topped with a decent dollop  of Japanese mayo.

zangwang_porkonion

They have a lot of other great selections of food, including chicken karaage (から揚げ; fried chicken), grilled fish, steak, beef and potatoes, and more. The side dishes that come with the set are always different, so you’re guaranteed to get something new each time. Their main dishes are always well seasoned, and of the many times that I’ve been there, I haven’t been disappointed by my meal.

The main dishes are all great, but Zangwang offers something else that is worth the trip: Oden. So, I also wholeheartedly recommend trying the Oden (おでん) if you can. The boss has his own special house wasabi mustard that goes perfectly with it. The soup is also good, too! One of my favorite items is the hanpen (はんぺん ・ 半ぺん) which is basically a soft white fish cake. Sorry to say, 7-11 can’t compete with this!

zangwang_oden
Wasabi mustard on the side, delicious white fish cake (hanpen) on the top.

The atmosphere is nice and quiet, often the boss is shooting the breeze the many Japanese customer that come in. The boss himself is Japanese, and speaks very little Mandarin. The staff can, though, so don’t worry about ordering! They also have a selection of sake and beer to compliment the meal, too.

Expect to spend around 200NT+ on each set. For two people, including Oden, the bill could run you around 500NTD for the meal, but I would argue it’s worth it.

Transportation

As I mentioned before, this place is really out of the way. Nestled in a suburb of Taoyuan County, the best way to get out here from Taipei is by bus, taking either 國光 or 亞通客運, getting off at EVA (長榮) and walking back. Inconvenient as it is, if you’ve ever in the mood for really good Japanese home-cooking, I definitely recommend taking a trip out here. You won’t be disappointed!

Address and Hours

藏王日本家庭料理
桃園縣蘆竹鄉南順六街29號1樓
1F No. 29 Nanshun 6th St., Luzhu Township, Taoyuan County
週一至週六下午四點到晚上十一點;週日公休
Monday to Saturday, 4pm-11pm; Closed Sundays.

[Book Review] Reading and Writing Chinese

Tuttle Publishing graciously supplied this book for me to take a look at and review. Below are my thoughts.

Reading and Writing Chinese, 3rd Editionreading_and_writingChinese
By: William McNaughton, Revised by Jiageng Fan
(2013, Tuttle Publishing)

I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to Chinese characters–and I’m a huge fan of Chinese character books. I love having a handy reference book by my side just to learn a little bit more about characters as I come across them. So let’s take a look at what this book on the Chinese writing system has to offer!

Structure

The first pages in the front and the back provide a chart of Chinese radicals. The authors very nicely provide both Simplified (in the front) and Traditional (in the back) radical charts. At the back is also an alphabetical (Pinyin) index, as well as a stroke index, where you look up a character based on how many total strokes it has in total. The book contains 1,725 Chinese characters with their definitions, derivations, pronunciations, and some examples of how to use them.

The preface spends much time devoted to the Hanyu Shuiping Cihui Yu Hanzi Dengji Dagang (oddly lacking the Chinese characters for the name, hereafter abbreviated to HSCHDD), which is, at any rate, tied to the HSK. It explains the kind of study plan put forth by the HSCHDD, and spends quite some time in the explanation. A possible study plan is introduced, based on character frequency, and the characters that make up phrases.

After discussing the study plan, the author then dives into a bit more detail about the writing system, noting radicals and the six kinds of Chinese characters: pictures, symbols, sound-loans, sound-meaning compounds, meaning-meaning compounds, and reclassified compounds. Pinyin pronunciation is also introduced, as well as tones. However, the tone chart offered can be a bit confusing for non-music majors, and perhaps too specialized for the average student:

tonesformusicmajors

The core of the book is divided into two sections: “Basic Characters” and “Remaining Characters”.

Basic Characters

The “Basic Characters” section contains much more detailed entries, showing the number of strokes, stroke order, Pinyin, basic definition, mnemonic, sample phrases and the character in traditional Chinese. In total, 1,067 Basic Characters are introduced.

A typical "Basic Characters" character entry.
A typical “Basic Characters” entry.

A typical “Basic Characters” character entry.

Remaining Characters

There’s a little under sixty pages containing the 658 “Remaining Characters” following right behind the “Basic Characters”.

remainingcharactersentry
A typical “Remaining Characters” entry.

Like the ” Basic Characters” section, the “Remaining Characters” entries also provide the simplified, Pinyin, related phrases, and the traditional Chinese. However, the mnemonic stories are gone, which is unfortunate, but perhaps the student at this point will be able to create their own mnemonics without the guide of the authors.

In Conclusion

This book is very academic in prose and does not shy away from getting into Chinese-word classes, phonetic series and the like. That being said, it’s an interesting read to learn a little bit more about the characters than most books offer. The rest of the book is primarily filled with Chinese character entries, so there isn’t much discussion beyond some introductions to tones, Pinyin and a little bit about the Chinese character writing system.

Although I’ve never considered this type of book a study-guide, and instead tend to look at it more as a reference, the study plan introduced in the book is quite useful. A middle to intermediate student would appreciate the study plan put forth by the authors.

I really love how this book puts an emphasize on mnemonics, bringing this Chinese character learning method to the mainstream. It’s really nice seeing more books embracing this method. The bottom line: this book effectively combines the mnemonics of Heisig and Remember the Hanzi with the practicality of HSK and character frequency studies. It makes a great reference book for any student.

[Book Review] Chinese For Beginners

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Tuttle Publishing graciously supplied this book for me to take a look at and review. Below are my thoughts on the book.

Mastering Conversation Chinese: Chinese for Beginners
By: Yi Ren and Xiayuan Liang
(2012, Tuttle Publishing)

There’s quite a large number of Chinese textbooks on the market nowadays, so finding the perfect one is a challenge to any student. Mastering Conversation Chinese: Chinese for Beginners claims to held the student immerse in real-life scenarios, while speeding up their learning and avoiding common mistakes. Let’s take a look to see how this book stacks up!

Tone

The first thing you’ll notice about this book is the tone the author takes. Rather than coming off as an authority in the Chinese language, the author becomes more of a guide along the journey–something I very much agree with, if the title of this blog is any indication. This is definitely a nice tone for a beginner’s book to take, to ease the learner into the language.

Introduction to Pinyin

The author spends a few pages getting the student prepped up on Pinyin, which is used throughout the textbook. The author introduces the initials, finals, and tones, all with accompanying audio. The audio is quite clear and should help the reader to practice their pronunciation fairly well. The tones graph is a variation on the ones we usually find in Chinese textbooks, which avoids some of the overly drawn out tone marker lines. Instead, this book shows them all along a single line, using the top and bottom edges of the tone marks to show how they might compare with each other.

照片

Like it or hate it, it’s definitely an interesting take on the tone charts and putting them all along the same line may be quite beneficial to some students.

Overall, the introduction is a nice, clear and simple introduction to pinyin that doesn’t get too caught up on over explaining it.

Structure

Each chapter is divided into 15 sections–which sounds like a lot but it’s well proportioned to not be too cumbersome for the early learner. There’s a brief introduction to the chapter, with a small background story, and then it’s right into the lessons. There are two dialogs and two sets of new words that go with each dialog. After each dialog and the new words, there’s a “Notes” section that the author describes a little bit more details as well as some of the nuances of the new words being used. Following that are three to four “Useful Sentences” that expand on the content of the lessons by showing new sentence patterns you can use. There’s an “Extend Your Vocabulary” section, with a few more phrases related to the lessons. The “Practice and Review” section is different in each chapter, usually having exercises such as switching out different vocabulary, circling the right answer, translating English sentence into pinyin, connecting English phrases to the corresponding pinyin, etc. By now you may be seeing one of the major issues I take with this book, which I will go into more below.

The chapters also include less formal sections, including “Chinese Cultural Tips”, “For Your Enjoyment”, “Suggestions”, “Did You Know?” and some concluding remarks on the chapter. This leads to two of the most unique aspects of this book:

The Weaving in of Classical Chinese Poetry

What really made me sit down and put time into looking over this textbook was the inclusion of Classical Chinese poetry. Just flipping through, the first page I came across was my favorite Li Bai poem “Thoughts for a Quiet Night”. While I take some issue with the way the poems themselves were translated (not by the author), I still find their inclusion rather welcoming. It’s more of a personal opinion, as my early Chinese textbook also included Chinese poetry, but I think it’s a very nice addition to any textbook. It’s a great way to work in a major aspect of Chinese culture, literature, and history.

Chinese Cultural Tips

Each chapter has a section entitled “Chinese Cultural Tips”, which provide a nugget of Chinese cultural knowledge that is in some way related to the text itself. I’m actually a big fan of this, because it teaches the culture along with the language and in a relevant way. Many textbooks opt for longer grammatical explanations or exercises, but adding the cultural tips makes this book a more unique choice, especially for beginners. This is especially good for individual learners who may not otherwise get these little cultural tips in their own learning.

CD

The book also comes with an audio CD, with files that directly match the Pinyin exercises and the dialogs. For the most part, the CD has pretty good coverage of the materials in the textbook. The CD also contains a PDF file that can be printed, containing two appendices. The first appendix has a chart with the 23 initial sounds of mandarin, including how they lay based on whether they are unaspirated, aspirated, nasal, voiceless fricative or voiced fricative. There’s a second chart that lists out the 35 final sounds in Mandarin, and whether they are simple, compound or nasal finals. The second appendix is kind of fun, with three Chinese folk songs, which are another unique addition that could otherwise go unnoticed if you don’t explore the CD. A rather large misstep here is that the audio for these folk songs is not included, however the reader may be able to find them on YouTube instead.

As for the audio files themselves, they are all recorded clearly and without any background noise to detract from the audio. The dialogs, however, are read out very matter-of-factly and don’t have the forced conversation and sometimes awkward intonation of most textbooks. This does make it easier to practice, although it also makes the dialogs more robotic and potentially more boring. Here, clarity and ease of practice is taken at the expense of personality, which may be beneficial for some students, but it also causes some of the intonation and nuances of the spoken language to be lost.

One nice addition is that the poems in chapter also have audio files as well, and are recited slowly and clearly so you can practice along with them.

Minor Drawbacks

If there are some issues to be taken with this book, it’s in the over-reliance on pinyin. Although it’s used above all vocabulary and sentences, and many of the text and exercise sections still have the Chinese characters in them, I can’t help but feel that it begins to take on more the role of a crutch than a scaffolding that can be later removed. For example, a lot of the word bubbles being spoken by characters have pinyin above and English below, or oftentimes just pinyin alone. The absence of Chinese characters here is a little odd.

bc_comic

On large side affect of the over emphasis on Pinyin is there is next to no introduction on Chinese characters themselves. No introduction to the two writing systems (when a picture on the back cover and in the text use traditional characters while the book only uses simplified–a very minor detail that would normally go unnoticed, but it’s worth pointing out). And there’s no introducing how to write the characters, such as proper stroke order, or even potentially directing the reader to a place they can learn more about writing. This becomes even more apparent when you look at the “Practice and Review” exercises in the chapters. Often you are tasked with writing sentences… Using Pinyin, or, translate sentences… Using Pinyin. So, again, characters themselves take a backseat and the author does not explain their reasoning for doing so. I imagine it’s because this book so focused on “conversational Chinese”, but it unfortunately leaves out a huge chunk of Chinese culture–and a part of daily life in China in general.

In Conclusion

In the end, for the price, I would recommend this book to someone that is interesting in getting going speaking Chinese and learning a little bit about the culture along the way. The addition of poetry in the lessons is a large selling point, because it shows the author does put in effort to really share important parts of Chinese culture with the student, which is something many textbooks lack. However, this is not a book that is for someone who wants the entire learning package. It lacks explanation on Chinese characters, and could do with less reliance on pinyin. Beginner students will likely find the book helpful, as well as anyone that may be looking for a way to brush up on their pronunciation.

It’s a fantastic place to start, however, and offers a less intimidating barrier to Chinese than other textbooks. It’s something individual learners can benefit from, so I do recommend checking out the book, especially as Amazon does provide a “See inside!” for this book as well.

You can find a copy of the book over at Amazon. For more from the publisher, head to their official website at www.tuttlepublishing.com.

「萌典」Free ChineseChinese Dictionary (iOS/Android)

moedictSince I first wrote this post there have been two updates to the app I’ve updated the post accordingly. (3/6/2013)

By chance I came across a new dictionary app for iOS and Android devices called 「萌典」(you can also find it by the English name “MoeDict”). It’s sourced from the Revised Chinese Dictionary put out by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education(教育部「重編國語辭典修訂本」)so it has official support. Let’s take a look at this brand new dictionary! Pictures are below the break at the end of the post.

What’s Good

Overall, it’s a very nice looking app. It’s bright, not too cluttered, and presents plenty of useful information. It’s retina-screen friendly if you’re in the need for that. Each entry has the pronunciation in both Zhuyin and Hanyu Pinyin, as well as the radical and number of strokes. The dictionary entries have some example sentences, much of which is pulled from classical literature or other historical documents. I like that because it provides some interesting historical and ancient context, which is helpful in some of my own research.

I really like just how simple it is. There’s no excess of information, no excess of graphics. Just a button for information and another button to clear/go back (admittedly this button’s use can be a bit unclear; sometimes it goes back, sometimes it clears the search bar). You get the information you need and that’s it. Slick!

Another great feature is the ability to click on and look-up words within the definitions themselves. While this is limited to selecting either single characters or phrases, it is still a quick way to get a better understanding of the entries themselves. To clarify, you can’t click and drag the cursor like in many other apps to select single or multiple characters to copy. And, while it does have a copy feature within the dictionary entries, it only copies the link to the internal dictionary and not the character itself. However, you can copy the character from the top of the entry; just not from the definitions themselves.

One thing that surprised me the most was the ability to use the dictionary online and offline, without needing any large downloads. I was quite impressed with that.

In a recent update, they’ve also added some new search features:

  • Like most searches, you can add an asterisk or two periods between two characters to search for related phrases:見*萌 見..萌(will return 見微知萌)
  • In addition, you can also search with a space after or before the character to search for phrases with that character either at the beginning or end of the phrase: 見<space> or <space>見

What’s Not So Good

Now the downsides. First of all, there’s no audio pronunciation for the entries. However, with great resources like MDBG, Skritter, and Pleco, you can easily find the audio elsewhere. Also, if you’re using a pure Chinese dictionary, you’ll likely be at the level where you won’t be needing the audio anyway. And, as this was meant for native speakers, so it isn’t surprising that it lacks audio.

Secondly, and this one is a little more annoying, is that the app seems slow. I ran it both on my iPhone and iPad (both fairly new devices, purchased within the past year). On both devices it was a bit slow. It would take a few seconds for some presses to work. I found myself hitting things more than once, thinking it hadn’t registered my press, when I just needed to wait. This, while frustrating, is a minor issue and likely to be worked out in a future update.

Indeed this has been fixed! The app moves a lot faster now, I’m quite impressed. The updates came fairly quick, too.

Conclusion

As this is still a fairly new app (released February 19th, 2013) there’s plenty of time and room for some of the little glitches to be worked out. That said, it’s a fantastic dictionary. It works offline, is universal for both iPad and iPhone, and has an Android version as well. While it lacks some of the more powerful features of, say, Pleco, it does provide a nice free alternative to their Xiandai Hanyu Guifan Cidian(現代漢語規範詞典).

Overall, there’s some minor annoyances and weird interface choices, but it’s a lovely free dictionary that will work well for you.

Related Links:

Online version:http://www.moedict.tw/
Android App:https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.audreyt.dict.moe
iPad and iPhone App:https://itunes.apple.com/app/meng-dian/id599429224

Images below

Continue reading “「萌典」Free ChineseChinese Dictionary (iOS/Android)”

Skrittering Away in Japanese

Quite happy to say that the next installment of Skritter‘s iOS presence is here! The Japanese app is finally available in the app store. You can read more in their official announcement post. Now let’s take a look and see if the Japanese app stacks up to the Chinese app.

Welcome screen

After seeing the above welcome screen, I knew  was in for a treat. The app definitely feels polished, and the syncing issues I mentioned before have been taken care of (in the Chinese app as well). I could actually look at that scene all day just to relax, but then I’d never get any Skrittering done!

Gettin’ your study on

The study interface is, more or less, the exact same as the Chinese version. For kana-only entries, from what I have observed thus far, you will get cards providing the English definition and asking for the phrase, or you will get the Japanese phrase and have to provide the English translation. At the very least, it isn’t limited to kanji-only and seems it can also be used for kana-based entries, though to what extent I am still not clear.

Add as you go

Another feature that I love–while, perhaps, not entirely refined yet–is the ability to add to lists on the fly from within the app. I find this extremely useful in the Chinese app, and am happy to see it just as useful in the Japanese one as well. I’ve been able to add words from Japanese restaurants I’ve gone to in Taiwan, and be fully prepared to read the kanji on the next visit. I’ve also used it was (currently) my primary source of Japanese. It’s been very handy, and surprisingly helpful when reading through books or articles. Still, grammar and example sentences you’ll have to look for elsewhere.

The app itself is gorgeous and suffers from very few bugs. It’s definitely recommended if you’re a Skritter user already, though if you’re not yet, definitely take advantage of the trial period to see if it is for you.

If anything, the Japanese portion of Skritter may seem to suffer from a lack of attention; that is, it seems to pale in comparison to the Chinese portion. Not surprising, as Skritter was initially envisioned for Chinese. However, the one great thing about Skritter is that it is also community run–so, if you think Skritter is perfect for learning kanji, though feel the Japanese is lacking, can use more content, etc., then there’s also the opportunity to add content yourself and share it with others. (I’m a big proponent of community based learning if you can’t tell :P).

Anyway, if you’re learning Japanese, give it a shot!

[Review] Chinese Reader for Mac OSX (Beta 0.3.1)

I came across Chinese Reader for Mac OSX over at the forums on Skritter. This is a very promising application, and while it is only in beta, it still feels quite polished and enjoyable to use. I love the connectivity with Skritter, where you can directly add vocabulary as well as import known vocabulary. Great way to review while reading any kind of texts. It automatically highlights words that aren’t in your dictionary, which makes it easier to pick out what you don’t know (and see what you know!) and add it to your dictionary if you know it, or to Skritter to practice it.

Nice clean interface makes reading easy too.

As you can see, it also provides a pop-up dictionary, which is based on the latest version of the CC-CEDICT. In addition, you can add vocabulary from other sources as well. It supports both traditional and simplified, thankfully, so you can add input in from a variety of sources. There’s also a “book”-like interface which is quite nifty, too (this may also be a good time to think back to Haodoo and import those Harry Potter books!).

Take a moment to enjoy the classics–such as this Yahoo! news article.

Anyway, the developer seems really open to any ideas you may have about it, as well as any questions, which makes this project all the more fun to watch as it develops.

This is also a great way to recall back to my “reading as an SRS” method that I briefly touched upon in this post:

The text, then, acts like an SRS system for itself. That is, the text, as you read, will automatically reinforce the words that you’ve already looked up at the start. As long as you have a good idea of what they mean, you’ll see a wide range of uses for it in context.

It’s worth taking a look into, and if you do, let me know what you think as well!

 

Skritter for iOS is here!!

You guys may or may not have any clue about how exciting this is for me, but in the past I have shown my love for Skritter. Now, the iOS version is finally available and I’m super excited to share this with everyone.

Main screen in the app.

The thing is, it’s surprisingly fun and simple to use. It’s actually very game-like in the mechanics, that, often, you forget that you’re really going through reviews. As such, I was backed up in reviews since May–having over 2,000 due–that just going through on the desktop version with my Wacom tablet was tiring, cumbersome, and quite frankly, I pretty much stopped using Skritter.

Within 2 days of using this app my 2,000+ reviews were squashed.

Not to mention it is beautiful, too.

The interface is very intuitive, and it corrects any mistakes immediately. Hand drawing the tone line is also really great because you associate the tone with the character and with the hand movement. Quite effective. I have also found that now I’ll remember the shape of the tone line with the character.

Oops! Wrong tone!

It’s also a breeze to add new characters on the fly:

I use this for when I’m reading through an article and come across words I’d like to study later, just put them in and on the train ride home I’m all set to review them. Speaking of reviews, there is also direct access to your progress and other stats within the app, so you can always see how you’re doing.

Of course there is a price involved, and Skritter is a subscription service. The iOS app is free, though, so there’s no extra charge there. It’s about $10 US a month for the subscription. It’s the only subscription service I use right now, if that is any sign of how important I think it is. ChinesePod (which can integrate with Skritter by the way) never really appealed to me. The niche Skritter has is very unique to me, as writing Chinese has always been what got me into Chinese to begin with. $10/month is, to me, a fantastic value. Plus I have noticed leaps of improvements in my reading and speaking and tones are also heavily tested. I’ll touch more on this later in a future entry on “Tools for Graduate School in a Foreign Language”. But, for now, let me just say it is been an incredible asset to my studies. Oh! And Japanese is, though not strong, a part of Skritter too which has been a nice way to practice for me as well–at no extra charge. So, when that app is released I will probably be even more excited.

One of my gripes, though, is sometimes you will be going on a streak, then find that the app holds up as it counts down reviews. (For example it may be at 600, then count down to 540 or so while you wait, hanging at the last review card you did). It’s a minor issue that only bothers me when I’m prepped to review on the train to school, otherwise everything else considered I can pretty much ignore it.

In addition, sometimes on start-up you’ll get a Syncing dialog and have to wait for it to finish syncing to continue. Afterward, you often have to wait for the word lists to build. While all very fast, it might catch the user off guard. At any rate, I plan ahead for them now by starting the app a few seconds before I intent to review (such as before going out the door).

Of course, I also wouldn’t mind if it had Zhuyin (bopomofo) support, but I can get by without it. There may be an option for direct Chinese<–>Chinese definitions, but I haven’t found it (or tried) but that would also be immensely useful for me.

Overall, they did an amazing job with the app. It’s very obvious they put in the time and effort with it, and I can say that you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful app, runs fine on my iPhone 3GS, with next to no crashing or lag. If you’re a Skritter user, go get it. Now.

(Actually a buddy of mine ran out to get a new iPod touch just for the app!)

That all said, go check it out. Download it, play with it, you know, have some fun. See what you think. I’d be happy to offer any other answers to questions you may have on it. It is quite ironic, as initially I had been very skeptical of Skritter, but now it is a deeply integrated part of my study process.

Skritter: My Favorite Chinese Study Buddy

As my free trial runs low, I thought I would introduce Skritter as my new favorite SRS study tool for Chinese!

Skritter is a subscription-based SRS service that can be used to study both Japanese and Chinese. It focuses on handwriting input (so having a tablet would be a good idea, though using a mouse is alright, though tiring), while also looking at pronunciation and meaning as well. So, let’s take a look!

(I love using images to show clear examples of how things look, so the rest of the post will be after the break below)

The main study window.

Continue reading “Skritter: My Favorite Chinese Study Buddy”

Recommended Blog: Chinese Through FFIII

I’ve been quite busy prepping for my new semester at school, but in the past few weeks I came across a blog titled “Chinese Through FFIII: it’s more fun than you can imagine“. The blog is just getting started, but already offers up three great entries starting you off in Final Fantasy III for the iPad. As has been mentioned, by switching your device’s language, the language in the game changes too–so BAM, Chinese!

After reading through those entries, I finally decided to pick up the game. I couldn’t be happier, and I highly recommend getting it if you have an iPad and can spare the $17 for the game. This also works on the iPhone versions as well, though I could only afford one, and I just had to go with the iPad version since the game looks awesome on the screen. It also plays really well–no crashes and flows just fine.

At any rate, really, check out that blog. The author painstakingly types up major text for readers, as well as relevant vocabulary, pronunciation, and interesting tidbits throughout. I especially enjoy following the author’s train of thought as they, too, go through the learning process.

Check it out! The first entry starts here.

Outside Perspectives on Pleco-Update 4/7/2011

I’ve gotten some really interesting and insightful comments from people related to my post about the Pleco Chinese dictionary for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. I think the points they make are very worthwhile to read, and are important for anyone interested in some of the Add-ons for Pleco that I either did not try or felt were not worthwhile. I didn’t want those comments to get lost underneath that mammoth post, so I’ve decided to make a whole entry devoted to them. As other comments come in, I’ll likely add them in here as well. Bolding was added by me for emphasis.

The first comes from Shane, who has used the Document Reader and also comments on the “Basic Bundle” of apps that is available:

In my opinion, the built in document reader is fantastic. Helps me to read those text messages that I just can’t quite figure out.

Also, the full-screen handwriting is MUCH better than Apple’s built-in version. It gives you quite a bit more leeway as far as making mistakes while writing (stroke order, missing stroke, etc) or recognizing sloppy cursive writing. The basic bundle is totally worth the $35 or so that it costs.

I did recently see my friend using it, and it looks really nice, especially having the entire phone’s surface to work on. How this works on the iPad, I’m not sure, but I imagine that is also a good experience. After his comment, I’m planning on getting the basic bundle.

Next is a comment from Max:

I wanted to write earlier, but never got around to it. At any rate, I don’t think you’re giving the character OCR enough credit. Writing a character to look it up is fine once in a while, but for example when I read a book I circle all unknown characters and once in a while I sit down and add the 30 or so new ones to my flashcards – in that case it’s quite bothersome and takes a long time to write so much and it’s very easy to just hold my camera over them and instantly see the pinyin so I can write them on my computer.

Judging from the screenshots, you’re holding the camera far too close to the book. I have found that, unintuitively, the software works much better and more reliably when the characters are smaller. Give it a try.

I have tried it, and Max is right—it does work better with the camera further away. After adjusting the little green box to fit in the character you’re focusing on, it picks it up a lot easier and, I’ve also noticed, it’s much easier to hold still (or at least, still enough that it keeps focus on the character). I believe they had a trial version of it available, so it would be nice to give it a shot before you buy it. However, after Max’s comments I’ve been playing around with it a bit more and it’s certainly more convenient sometimes, especially as writing some characters can be a bit tedious if Apple’s handwriting recognition doesn’t catch it (especially for complex characters).

Hopefully with these comments, in addition to the original post, has provided a much more well-rounded view and given you a good idea of varying opinions on the app.

Update:

Another comment from Max, were he offers up some tips for using the OCR to its full advantages:

Oh, also, the OCR works not only for characters but also for words. I usually use a ~4 characters wide box, focus on the word/character and hit the ‘pause’ button in the middle. Then you can just touch the OCR’d character/word and the definition pops up. Very convenient (and by using the pause button you don’t have to try to keep the phone still while reading Smile )

Of course I jumped on the opportunity to give it a shot and it does work pretty beautifully. It helps for searching idioms (the text I chose to look up to see if it’d catch them). So, again, give it a shot, it’s a lot of fun to use, actually, and to show off to your friends if you’re into that sort of thing Smile with tongue out