Phones - Do they need a stylus?


Hi, I'm looking to buy a new phone to run Plecodict. The most time-saving feature I think would be the facility to type in a character without knowing the pinyin. I've seen friends do this on a PDA with a stylus, but how does it work on the current phones with touchscreens? Do you use a stylus anyway? With my chubby fingertips I wouldn't fancy my chances of drawing an intricate character clearly on a small screen.

I was thinking about getting the Sony Xperia, which seems to have a good press. It's quite pricey though and I probably wouldn't use most of the other features. Does anyone else have a recommendation for a slightly cheaper model that's good for Pleco?

If anyone has relevant views on the pros and cons of Windows Mobile, that would be great too. In particular, how does it work with regular Chinese input? Do you need an IME, or the equivalent? How similar are they to XP language pack IMEs?

Many thanks.


I've wondered the same thing. I can't imagine my fat fingers drawing anything but the simplest characters successfully without using a 3" screen's entire area or more, but I've never tried it so I can't say it won't work.

My bigger concern is I want to also use Pleco as a mini-interpreter so when my 79 year old Chinese father-in-law uses a word I don't understand I can hand him the device and he can quickly draw the character with the stylus. I'm almost certain he wouldn't be successful using his finger, and getting it wrong a few times would just frustrate him to the point of not using it. So, for him I think a stylus is mandatory. The same goes for any Chinese person I might want to ask a question on the street. If I can't understand them I want them to be able to write the word so I can look it up. Maybe this is an odd application but it's really important to me, so for now I think I'll stick to Windows Mobile resistive screens which all support stylus input.


The short answer is yes it does need a stylus to do what you can with Pleco...

Long answer, the x1 (SE xperia) is awesome, I have not regretted getting it and I cannot believe the readability of the screen, even with the characters half the size of my other phone its crystal clear and I can read them easily... It handles Pleco 2 like a dream as well... you will soon come to love the other features too... my other phone is a TyTN II and its very good but the xperia kicks its rear easily... with the touchscreen you need the stylus to be able to write accurately I believe... I wouldnt be sure of my fat fingers being able to draw the characters accurately enough...


Staff member
Every WM phone (as far as I know) comes with a stylus, so as long as you get one of those you should be able to draw characters with that pretty much like you'd draw them on paper - the lack of a stylus is mainly an issue on capacitive-touchscreen devices like iPhone and the Palm Pre. We haven't been able to try out handwriting recognition on the Pre yet, but on iPhone at least, with the full width of the screen to use to draw in characters and the much-more-accurate-than-the-built-in-recognizer Hanwang engine behind it handwriting recognition actually seems to work pretty darn well.

Personally, I get decent accuracy even with the built-in recognizer on iPhone since I have rather long / narrow fingers, but really the only part of handwriting input where touch accuracy comes into play is in the initial contact point / where each stroke starts; once your finger's on the screen, the iPhone software does a very good job of tracking its movement / tracing out a smooth line (even if there's a very large contact area). So as long as you can hit the screen accurately enough to use the keyboard, you should be able to hit stroke locations accurately enough to draw Chinese characters on it.

There are also styluses available for capacitive-screen phones, so thph2006 could bring one of those along when visiting his father-in-law - since the iPhone's UI is designed around finger input, using a stylus can be a bit awkward in some places, but whipping it out to draw the occasional character should work fine.
I've also been wondering about my ability to render complex characters with my finger. I have an urgent need to decide - dropped my trusty Treo on the floor a few days ago, and this time I really killed it. So now I'm wondering if I should upgrade to iPhone or buy another Treo or some other device. I'm not necessarily fond of the Treo other than that I know how to use it very well. I dread the transition to something else, but if I'm going to do it, seems like iPhone is the most modern to go to.


Staff member
It's very different - I suspect that some people will love writing characters that way and others will hate it. Same goes for the iPhone version interface in general, actually, there are some features we're taking out due to issues translating their design to iPhone and others we're taking out because they're not very heavily-used and we want to make the software cleaner / more user-friendly, and between those feature removals and the more general compromises in handwriting accuracy / character selection detail / etc there'll probably be a sizable contingent who decide the other advantages of iPhone over Palm / WM aren't enough to offset the lost functionality in Pleco.

So if you're on the fence, my best recommendation would be that you get a cheap junky sub-$100 used handheld for now and wait to see what the finished iPhone version looks like before making your decision.


Will you be posting at some point a YouTube video to show us how the iPhone Pleco looks with handwriting recognition using fingers?
Just to put in my two cents worth...I was extremely leery about using my fingers to write intricate, complex characters on the iPhone as I had been accustomed to writing characters using the stylus on my iPAQ for a good two years. However, after moving back to China and using my iPhone every day to send dozens of text messages using the built in handwriting recognizer, I can definitely say without a doubt that using my finger on the capacitive screen to write characters is much quicker than with my iPAQ (at least for me). Furthermore, even with my short, stubby fingers I can very quickly whip, should I say swipe :wink: ,out characters like 戴 or 巍. While the characters may not look as nice using this method as opposed to with the stylus, the speed with which I can write them and still have them recognized accurately is absolutely amazing.

That said, the bulit in handwriting recognizer does a pathetic job of predicting what the next characters should be. A couple of examples: Typing 明 comes up with 星,年,显and基, but does not include 天 or 白in the selection. Typing 家 comes up with 庭,居,电and用for the next possible selections but does not have 人,or 里 and so on...

I can't wait to get Pleco on my iPhone :D


Staff member
Can't say I've had much luck with the built-in recognizer myself - maybe my handwriting's too scrawled / cursive-y - but fullscreen handwriting works great for me as I've said here before. Do you find the built-in recognizer faster than the built-in Pinyin keyboard or do you just prefer handwriting in general? For Pleco's purposes there's not much need to add word-completion or Pinyin input capabilities, but if we can improve on those things enough I suppose we could always consider adding our own (copy-and-paste-friendly) built-in text editor in a later iPhone release. (though probably only after the flashcard-equipped release)
Actually, I am extremely impressed with the ability of the built-in handwriting recognizer to accurately recognize speedily written, scrawled, highly cursive characters. (See my attached screenshots). As for handwriting input, I prefer it because it helps me to remember the characters better. When using my computer to type Chinese I use Google Pinyin IME which is amazingly fast (yeah, it was stolen from sogu) but its drawback is that it causes me to be able to recognize (from sight) more characters than I can personally think of on-the-spot how to write using free-recall. What I don't like about the iPhone's built-in handwriting recognizer is the small space to write in (at this point in time, it really should be full screen) and it's very poor character prediction for the next character that you would want to write/use. The built-in pinyin IME is so terrible in my opinion and equally has poor character prediction, that I have downloaded a few other pinyin IMEs to my jailbroken device (obviously, I cannot remember the characters for every Chinese word I know and therefore I also need to use pinyin IME sometimes). The two I use the most frequently are icosta pinyin and WeFit. While these IMEs are not perfect either, they have much better predictive functions, especially WeFit which does extremely well in this area, than the built-in pinyin IME. The main problem with WeFit however, is that they squeezed the size of the QWERTY even more and hence I often hit the space bar when typing letters from the bottom row, which causes the currently predicted character(s) to be inputted and then I have to delete them and restart my pinyin string.

Following are the screenshots:

I wrote the sentences: 我想去你那里。 and 他家在哪儿? (I didn't include a screenshot of every character I wrote) as well as the three loan characters: 心 好 and 戴

Notice the ability of the built-in handwriting recognizer to recognize every character even though I obviously wrote them hastily and sloppily. While the character does not always come up as the first choice, they do come up in the list. Amazing!



Staff member
Interesting. With the murmurings from Apple about full-fledged background app support on iPhone, perhaps eventually (say in iPhone OS 4.0) it'll be possible to create a Chinese IME that works without jailbreaking, which would make it much more lucrative / get some much bigger / more refined products in that area, but in the meantime it certainly might be worth our while to develop the technology for better Pinyin input within Pleco - a Pinyin / character prediction algorithm could help in a lot of other places too. (we could also try to do more to exploit the character-memorization-helping potential of the handwriting recognizer, though I'm not entirely sure how yet)