Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries for Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, November 2005
Published by: Lingvosoft
Requires: Pocket PC 2002, 2003 or Windows Mobile Second Edition (SE), 5.5MB free system storage space, 6.5MB available working memory
MSRP: $49.95

In my review of the Talking Dictionaries for Windows, I stressed the somewhat broader Windows feature set over the Palm OS version. PDAs are almost ubiquitous these days, so it makes sense to cram yours full of as many useful tools as possible. A house carpenter without a materials calculator on his PDA just isn't using the device as fully as he should. Realtors without a mortgage calculator on their PDAs also aren't using the devices as fully as they should. There are similar examples in every field of endeavor and for every different PDA platform. Even the formerly software-deprived RIM Blackberry now boasts buckets of utilities, productivity and game software all of which are as close as the nearest download site. PDAs are meant to be used for everything—that's the message. For Pocket PC based PDAs, for anyone who travels to different countries (or anyone on vacation someplace other than home), for business travelers who need word translation, and for anyone dealing with foreign language documents, access to translation software for your device is also only as far away as the nearest download site.

I installed the English<->Spanish, English<->French and English<->German Talking Dictionaries on a rather speedy Audiovox PPC-6600 running Windows Mobile Pocket PC 2003 Phone Edition OS, and the English<->Russian Talking Dictionary on an older Compaq iPaq 3950. Owners of older PDAs like the iPaq 3950 should note that this software ran perfectly on the older PDA. Searches which were done using the Query tool built into the software took up to 10 seconds on the iPaq, compared to 3 seconds or so on the Audiovox, but regular look-ups using the word entry field at the top of the user interface (UI) are almost instantaneous.

The Word Grabber feature in Talking Dictionaries places a small icon on the PPC desktop and allows it to float into most other programs as well. Highlight any word in any interface, document, web page or e-mail then tap the little Word Grabber icon to launch Talking Dictionary and translate the word. Negotiating a heavy deal via e-mail? Suspect that the scattering of Russian (or whatever) is better off being understood than ignored? Use Word Grabber on the fly and find out for sure. There are a thousand uses for Word Grabber. It's a two-way street as well, because the copy icon built into all versions of Talking Dictionaries lets you grab words from the source or translation word list to paste into other programs as well. For adding zest, deeper value and just better understanding to documents and e-mail communications, many people will find these features indispensible.

Lingvosoft has done a creditable job of maintaining UI consistency across platforms. The Palm OS version of the Talking Dictionaries is the simplest of all, but still provides all of the main features up front. The Windows version is more robust. But the Pocket PC version takes full advantage of its more versatile operating system and is also more robust than the Palm OS version. Access to additional Lingvosoft products (Flash Cards and Phrase Book) is available in the Related Software item in the Tools menu. Once again, Lingvosoft has done a good job of integrating access in each product to the rest of its related product line.

The power of any translation database resides in its size and accuracy. For this I offer a tip of the hat to Lingvosoft. The databases are positively huge, in some cases exceeding even the word list of the superb Beiks BDicty translation dictionaries for PPC (heretofore, among the largest and most accurate available). In three weeks of regular use and endless poking around, I did not find any errors, misspellings or notable word omissions.

Cons: Text-to-Speech (TTS) lets down the software a bit. While the translation databases are very large and correspondingly comprehensive, phonetically and lingually complex languages—Russian, for example—truly tax TTS beyond its technical enunciation limits. While Latin-based languages (English, French, Spanish, German, etc.) and phonet Japanese can be read along with TTS to refine your pronunciation, Cyrillic Russian and Simplified Chinese are another matter. I speak a little Russian and I can tell you that without significant prior knowledge of both the spoken and written language, TTS will not help you pronounce most Russian words properly. While about half the TTS Russian and Chinese can generally be heard with some degree of clarity, if you have little or no understanding of Russian or Chinese in the first place, the fidelity of TTS is simply not up to the task of making you confident enough to repeat any of the pronunciations of many common words out loud. Take it a step further and look up something exotic like "zymotic diseases", tap the Russian translation, then tap the TTS icon—the result is indecipherable. The same goes for Simplified Chinese. Aside from the TTS beef, the software works flawlessly, and the foregoing text lookup of "zymotic diseases" is perfectly translated.

Pros: One thing I've noted during the course of reviewing language translation software is that the prices for this sort of product have dropped significantly over the years. Robust translation databases similar or identical in size to those provided by Lingvosoft cost well over three hundred dollars not too many years ago. At fifty dollars, the Talking Dictionaries for Pocket PC look like bargains to me. The software works fast on almost any PPC PDA and remains easy to use. Comprehensive databases cover an enormous range of common language, conversational phrases, technical language and common colloquialisms. If Lingvosoft adds individual language definition dictionaries to its product line, the company will be able to offer the perfect combination: translations and definitions in one program, complete with Word Grabber (which really is a very handy little feature). Well-designed, useful software. Recommended.

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