1 Nov 2007

Casio Ex-word XD-SW6500

I am a patient man, but one thing that always drives me crazy is using a Japanese kanji dictionary: the radical index. There are two things I don't like about radicals. First that they are frequently illogical, irrational and inconsistent, and second that they are stupid. For some kanji the radical is actually a straight horizontal line hidden in the middle of the symbol. For others the radical is obviously the three strokes on the left but in fact you need to know those three strokes are shorthand for water which is under the five stroke radical index. Okay water is easy to recognize, but others are not. (See http://www.saiga-jp.com/kanji_dictionary.html for a search function that solves this latter problem, but it is still not enough to make me like radicals.)

Rant over, on to the review. I wanted an electronic pocket dictionary; I had seen friends using them and they no longer seemed to be gimmicks. There were three items on my wishlist: 1. Under 20,000 yen; 2. Able to write the kanji, instead of using radicals (see above); 3. including the Green Goddess dictionary (otherwise known as Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary: 新和英大辞典 第5版 ― 並装), which I have been told my numerous professional translators is the best.

I went for the Casio Ex-word XD-SW6500, which at 31,500 yen only satisfied one of my three criteria (NOTE: it is 29,800 yen at Amazon JP: カシオ計算機 電子辞書 Ex-word XD-SW6500 XD-SW6500 I should've checked first!!). But it was worth 15% points at Bic Camera, so really I was only 7000 yen over budget. The Green Goddess dictionary is only built-in on top-end models costing over 45,000 yen.

But what decided me on this model was that it can be easily expanded, either with SD card, or with a dictionary on CD and feed the data in over USB cable. So even though it did not come with the dictionary I wanted, I can add it later for 10,000 yen; I have not done so yet. (The downside there is that I can either buy an Ex-word CD version (EX-WORDデータプラス 研究社新和英大辞典), or a Windows CD version (13,500 yen: 研究社 新和英大辞典 第5版): if I want to use it on both Ex-word and PC I have to buy it twice! Also note that the Epwing CD is different from the logavista CD! The Epwing format seems to be more open and can be used on linux too, apparently; it is however a few thousand yen more expensive.)

The kanji handwriting recognition is good (though not available in all dictionaries which is a little annoying). Even if I'm confident I'll guess the pronunciation in my first 3 attempts, drawing it is still quicker than typing it in, and it has proven very accurate so far. It is also not fussy about stroke order, or how long you pause between strokes. And when it gets it wrong you tap the teisei button and get shown its other guesses.

I have some minor criticisms of the handwriting recognition. If I'm inputting say a three character word, and it was only the first character I wanted to draw and I know how to pronounce the last two characters I still have to draw the last two characters. Well I can type the last two characters in as hiragana but mixed kanji/hiragana words are not found. Another problem is when inputting say a two character word and it guesses the second character wrongly. When I tap teisei it shows the two character word with no way to choose an alternative for just the second character. So I have to delete the second character and draw it again, taking more care.

What else can I say? The user interface is easy to learn, but you will need to be able to read at least basic Japanese, and there is no English manual. The dictionaries seem reasonable so far. They boast 100 content items, most of which I have no interest in (this product is aimed at a Japanese person). The speech is another feature of no value to me (it speaks the English, not the Japanese); however there are phrase books for Spanish, German, French, Italian, Chinese and Korean and these also have speech, which I did find useful. It takes two AAA batteries, and they have not run out yet so I cannot comment on battery life except to say it seems fine so far. There is a backlight.

In summary, I think this product is expensive, but very useful.

P.S. If anyone has bought the Ex-word Green Goddess CD please let me know how you are getting on. How well does it integrate? Does it become the default wa-ei dictionary, or is it harder to access?