The Definitive Roundup of All Pocket PC Dictionaries Part I – WordNet-based English Dictionaries

Please note that this roundup contains a LOT of tips and tricks never published elsewhere. That is, if you already own a WordNet-based application and don't want to switch, you still want to read the roundup because you may learn a LOT of new tricks and tips (for example, using some of the features present in your application, updating it etc.)

WordNet is a well-known (please do read this Wiki entry to see what WordNet is all about and how it compares to other dictionary databases if you don’t know what it’s about) project is getting better and better and, now, in 2006, really high-quality, useful and pleasing dictionaries can be constructed based on it.

For example, while the MobileTechReview Palm OS dictionary roundup, in 2003, still found the value of WordNet-based dictionaries questionable, times have indeed changed. Now, WordNet-based dictionaries can be very useful, particularly when you compare the wealth of information stored in them to, say, the Pocket Oxford Dictionary of English (the dictionary most alternate Pocket PC dictionaries are based on). The latter, now, is clearly worse than the WordNet database - not only because of the links between the words, but also because of the vast differences in the vocabulary size and the size of the description of each word.

Also, WordNet is far better than most other, publicly available, free word dictionaries. For example, one of the often-used databases, OPTED, is a public domain version of Webster's 1913 Unabridged English dictionary. That is, about 100 years old – this, unfortunately, also means it’s pretty outdated. Wiktionary isn’t the best either (yet?). Its main strength lies (as opposed to WordNet) in not English-language explanations of English words and expressions, but in multilingual links and translations. That is, it’s of little use for someone that only needs English explanations.

Note that it’s up to you whether you find WordNet useful and better than, say, the excellent American Heritage(R) Dictionary of the English Language (which also has a Pocket PC version). Most people do, but there may be exceptions. If you don’t, don’t read this roundup further but wait for the next parts – in here, I will only review Pocket PC dictionaries solely based on WordNet and will only review dictionaries based on other databases in further parts of the series. This article is only the first in a series of a roundup of all (notable) Pocket PC dictionaries (including both English and bilingual ones). (Actually, I’ve already written most of the other roundups too but wanted to separate strictly WordNet-based dictionaries into a separate article to keep the complexity and the “information overloading factor†down.)

On the Pocket PC, there are ten notable WordNet implementations (or front-ends – again, they all use the same database and, therefore, there are only differences only in the user interface, its capabilities and additional features). In this roundup, I review and compare them all.

Please note that it’s in the comparison chart that most of the (comparative) feature information and screenshots (there are some 200 of them!) can be found. In the following list of the reviewed applications, I’ll be pretty terse. Check out the comparison cart (and the explanation for it) for really extended information.

UPDATE (08/29/2006): Part II of this series can be found here.

The official desktop Windows WordNet client

Anyone who used the official, free desktop Windows WordNet client knows how bad it is. It lacks even the most basic wildcard searching capabilities (it only supports substring searches) and doesn’t even provide links with related words. Are the Pocket PC, WordNet-based implementations any better, you may (rightfully) ask.

Fortunately, even the worst Pocket PC implementation is much better in almost every respect (links, advanced searching capabilities).

Incidentally, there is also a Web interface to the WordNet database, assuming you just want to run some Web-based lookups.

(Some additional screenshots of the desktop client using the definition of “charmâ€: Definition of word "charm" in the Windows (official) client; Related nouns; Related verbs; Noun hypernyms. It’s worth comparing these screenshots to those I’ve provided with every Pocket PC-based WordNet front-end to see how those applications render the same information.)

AbsoluteWord / RoadLingua WordNet 4.0.7

I had high expectations before starting to use this client. The developer is well-known for some of their quality (“UltraLinguaâ€) databases also used by, for example, Paragon in one of their German dictionaries also available on the Pocket PC.

Unfortunately, this title was really disappointing. It not only lacks advanced functionalities, but also completely gets rid of even the basic inter-word connections (except for synonyms). In this respect, it’s clearly worse than anything else on the market. It’s a very bad buy for the price, I would say. Certainly not recommended.

A quick note on installation: if you download the CAB file (instead of the desktop-based installer EXE), you’ll also need to separately download the RoadLingua viewer available here.

WordBook 3.6 b50612 by TranCreative

As opposed to the AbsoluteWord / RoadLingua WordNet, this application turned out to be one of the best WordNet front-ends. It has really powerful add-on capabilities, which really make using the WordNet database fun. It’s, in my opinion, only Lexisgoo that is better, feature-wise.

Note that the same developer has been developing Magic Button, probably the best, highly recommended, free (!!!!) task manager for the Pocket PC.

MDict 2.1.3 by Octopus Studio

This free, not well-known but really worthy dictionary is pretty good, as long as you don’t need to look up the additional WordNet relationships (that is, there are no hyponyms / hypernyms / antonyms), wildcard searching, studying support, pronunciation or non-open-class words (the latter two can be found in alternate, free dictionary databases, easily desployable and usable under MDict). It supports additional databases (not as well as SlovoEd), of which there are quite a few (all public domain-based: OPTED, Moby Thesaurus etc.) The multiple database support, albeit not as sophisticated as that of SlovoEd, is a definite plus with the application. In addition, it’s the only application to have a desktop-based dictionary converter/creator tool, “Mdx file builderâ€, if you want to create your own dictionaries.

It has pretty good (similar to Lexisgoo and WordBook), text selection & icon-based word lookup capabilities usable in other applications. They are much better than those of most other applications.

Note that if you have more than one dictionary database files and want to avoid adding them one-by-one in Library / Open Library, you can just add them with Library / Add All Library File to List.

I really recommend this title because of the availability of multiple dictionary databases (which you can create yourself too), the speed and the easiness of word lookup from other applications. All this if you don’t need the additional relationship information stored in the WordNet database or wildcard lookup, that is.

Compared to the other free title, WordNetCE, this title certainly excels at speed, the size of the database and multiple database support. It, however, doesn’t have any kind of wildcard search capabilities (one of the main strengths of WordNetCE) and doesn’t display the WordNet relationship (which is a real letdown). If you don’t need these, however, go for it – you won’t regret your choice.

Lexisgoo English Dictionary by PPCLink

This dictionary, feature-wise, is clearly the best WordNet front-end. It’s a real pleasure to use.

Note that the other, just (in July) released dictionaries of PPCLink include the Concise Oxford Duden German Dictionary and the Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary, which will be reviewed in a later part of this series.

PocketGenius 3.0 by Maction Technologies, Inc.

This (unfortunately, except for some capabilities like full in-text searching, pretty mediocre) dictionary engine has a LOT of additional, mostly Chinese- (and, to a lesser degree, Japanese-) centric dictionary databases available here (Chinese!) (Babelfish "translation" here).

Of them, some English-English dictionaries (including a WordNet 1.x-based, and, therefore, really outdated compared to WordNet 2.0, which all the other tested apps / databases are based on) can be found in the Dictionaries section. Note that, in order to make downloading English dictionaries easier (Babelfished pages don’t offer downloading capabilities), you will want to go to the original page and look for dictionaries that have the icon next to them. As far as downloading the WordNet dictionary is concerned, go here and click the icon.

As has already been pointed out, the dictionary engine is pretty mediocre and only recommended for Chinese (Japanese) speakers. English-only folks or people looking for English to/from other non-oriental language dictionaries should look elsewhere – there are much cheaper and better alternates. The (very few) English dictionaries that can be useful for non-Chinese speakers are pretty outdated (particularly the WordNet-based one).

Note that it’s because of the uselessly old WordNet version that I’ve disqualified this product in the Verdict (while, of course, I’ve included all the necessary information in the comparison chart.)

TomeRaider3 3.2.00

TomeRaider (please read this review of the latest version; in there, I’ve thoroughly compared it to other dictionaries in general) is a pretty good, albeit, in some respects, incapable and buggy book reader engine.

Unfortunately, its WordNet database is one of the databases that lack extended relationship information. Because of this (and a lot of other reasons, which the advantages – for example, the full in-text searching capabilities – of the engine can’t really outweigh), I don’t really recommend this engine either for strictly WordNet-based work (note that this has nothing to do with Wikipedia reading; for that, it’s TomeRaider3 that I recommend the most).

SlovoEd 2005 by Paragon

Along with the Merriam-Webster Collegiate talking dictionary with extended thesaurus (which is, as you may have guessed, based on the Merriam-Webster Collegiate database), Paragon, well-known for their language extenders and dictionaries, also offers a WordNet-based dictionary. The former costs $49.95 with the 10 000-word speech module, the latter $29.95. By leaving out the speech module you can save $10. (Note that the speech-less WordNet dictionary is promised to contain the 14 665-entry Acronym dictionary by Hein van Steenis (which can also be purchased separately for $5.95). I, however, couldn’t find this module in the trial version (the lack of it may be an oversight on the part of Paragon).)

Advantages of the SlovoEd engine

SlovoEd’s main strength lies in the engine’s ability to use several dictionaries at the same time – in a much more sophisticated way than, say, BEIK's BDicty (another engine that supports several databases used by the same engine). Under the same engine (that is, a single executable file), you can have any number of databases. This approach is vastly superior to that of, say, LingvoSoft. The latter uses separate executables for all the different databases. This not only takes up more storage (the executable .EXE file, as the different database instances don’t share them, needs to be had multiple times in the storage) and adds a lot of icons (if you install a handful of dictionaries on your PDA), but also makes it impossible to implement any kind of interaction between these dictionary databases.

In handling several databases at once is the definite, unmatched advantage of the SlovoEd engine no other database engine provides. If you install more than one database of the same language (pair), you will have access to all the information in them at the same time, unlike with any other applications with more than one databases.

For example, sticking with English, you can deploy (if you are ready to pay for them both) both the WordNet and the Merriam-Webster database on your PDA (along with other languages, if you like). Then, the Dictionary Direction menu in the main menu will be something similar to this. Here, English - English (3/3) means, after clicking the Details button (or if you just go to if English is active) that there are two official dictionaries and your user dictionary. You can freely (de)activate any of them and/or move up/down the priority list (if you prefer one of them to be presented results from first) in this dialog.

Real-world examples showing the strength of this all

First, the number of searchable items is increased if you activate more than one dictionary. For example, the Webster dictionary contains these words starting with ‘slow’, while the WordNet dictionary these (second page). As can be seen, there are a lot of words in both dictionaries that aren’t present in the other: for example, slowcoach, slower, slowest in WordNet and slow-footed in Webster. If you don’t activate both dictionaries at the same time, you won’t be able to search for the words not accessible in the currently active one. However, if you do activate both of them (as is the default if you install them both), all words from both dictionary databases will be visible and searchable as can be seen in here. Yes, slow-footed (only contained by Webster) and slower/est (only contained by WordNet) are all here.

Upon a search for a word that is present in both dictionary databases, you can easily switch between the results contained by both of them – separately. You only need to use the and icons to switch between them like in here and here (where the results for ‘slow’ is shown for both dictionaries). (Note that the icons will be grayed out when not accessible.) This is much easier than with other dictionaries – even with ones that support using more than one database in the same executable. For example, check out the BDicty section on how complicated it is in there to get the descriptions out of more than one database at a time.

As you’ll see in later parts, scrutinizing multilingual dictionaries, this will be a definite advantage with other languages too. For example, German, Russian and some other languages have more than one SlovoEd-compliant database. You can maximize your effectiveness by accessing them all at the same time. (An example of German: words around ‘abberufen’. With the two dictionaries (UltraLingua and Arsenal) available, the full list is like this; with Arsenal only this and with UltraLingua this. As can clearly be seen, access to multiple databases at the same time is a definite advantage.

Also, it’s the only engine that allows for adding individual, searchable records (not to be mistaken for simple notes). User-added records are treated and displayed the same way as “official†ones – that is, you can even search for them.

Finally, another real strength of the application is the (English-only) sound engine, which isn’t a synthesized one but contains human speech. This also means excellent quality and no pronunciation problems (unlike with all synthesized speech). It isn’t particularly cheap and “only’ contains 5/10/20 000 words (depending on the version you purchase) but is much-much better than any synthesizer-based engine.

… and the cons…

Unfortunately, the SlovoEd engine also has some drawbacks compared to Lexisgoo and WordBook, the two best WordNet-only dictionary apps. For example, it contains no pronunciation information (in the WordNet database; the Webster database does have it but it must be purchased separately and uses non-IPA pronunciation notation), it contains no non-open-class words, no anagrams, no user notes, its study support is much weaker than that of Lexisgoo / WordBook (and doesn’t support the real VGA mode, not even in the latest version, unlike all the other WordNet apps.)

Version differences

The WordNet version comes with release 5 of SlovoEd 2005. Much as I haven’t spotted any differences between it and the latest, release 9 of SlovoEd 2005, you may still want to upgrade it to the latest version. Note that, under operating systems prior to WM5, you will get the “not a valid Windows CE setup file†message upon trying to install the CAB file. In this cases, you can just extract the 0SlovoEd.001 file from the CAB file, rename it to SlovoEd.exe and just overwrite the old version on your Pocket PC with it (it’s in \Program Files\SlovoEd by default; you can safely relocate it to anywhere else, as has also been pointed out in the comparison chart).

Unlike with, say, BDicty, the new engine can’t be downloaded from the developer’s site. You can either get it directly from my database back-end or by downloading for example the English-Estonian, English-Hungarian or English-Russian talking Gold (this contains “MultiLex†engine, which is exactly the same as SlovoEd 2005, except for being 2 hours newer and having some different bytes in the EXE file) dictionaries, starting them but canceling the installation right before the programs are installed on your PDA and getting the CAB file from c:\Program Files\Microsoft ActiveSync\SlovoEd\ SlovoEdPPC.ARM.CAB - or, by just installing the engine itself and nothing else: just untick the non-engine checkboxes in the desktop installer as can be seen for example in here.

Again, as has been pointed out, I couldn’t find any differences between version 5 and 9. However, you may run into significantly older engines, for example if you install other languages. For example, in some German dictionaries directly linked from Handango, I’ve found the 3.5-year-old version 3.0.1 engine, which is really-really outdated and should be avoided. In these cases, you will really want to update. (Paragon’s not updating the engine in their products is a bit problematic!)

Verdict

If you plan to purchase both the Merriam-Webster and the WordNet database OR you want an excellent (non-synthesized) speech engine, you will want to check out the SlovoEd version first. Access to several databases at the same time, the killer feature, is really worth the higher price (and the lack of goodies like anagram support).

If you, on the other hand, only plan to utilize the WordNet database and don’t care about the speech, you may want to give a try to “real†WordNet-only dictionary applications first (Lexisgoo or WordBook). Their additional features (anagrams, pronunciation info etc.) may appeal to you better.

Lextionary 2.4 by Revolutionary Software Front

I had very high expectations of this application – after all, it has been developed by the author of PalmGB, a WinCE / Pocket PC port of Marat Fayzullin's well-known Virtual GameBoy emulator, which, back in the WinCE times, was the best Nintendo GameBoy (Color) emulator.

Unfortunately, after thoroughly testing and comparing it to the alternatives, I was pretty dissatisfied with Lextionary. It’s clearly less powerful (and less colorful – this is what one notices at once) than most of the other alternatives.

Note that the same developer has also been developing Lexipedia, a Wikipedia port currently with 550,000 articles and reflecting the August 2005 state of the Wikipedia database. Also, they have a Pocket PC port of the Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. I’ll compare both of them to the alternates in my forthcoming lexicon / database roundup.

BDicty English Pro (part of English Heritage Bundle for Pocket PC) by BEIKS

Unfortunately, BDicty too eliminates almost all the additional relation information present in the underlying database. This means there are absolutely no relations between words. The engine itself isn’t pretty sophisticated either. There are no additional goodies like study support, wildcard search, anagram support or favorites.

The only real nicety I could find was the easy switching to the other, installed dictionaries. For example, if you purchase the English Heritage Bundle (right now, the only way to acquire the WordNet-based English Dictionary Pro), you not only get the WordNet-based English Pro dictionary, but also the English Gold dictionary and a thesaurus.

Note that, as with Paragon’s excellent dictionaries, the executable (the 3.5+ years old version 5.0) bundled with the dictionaries is a bit outdated (for example, it has messed-up icons on VGA devices). You may want to manually update it to version 5.5 if you don’t need the features no longer working in the latter version. (See below.) The new, 5.5 version can be downloaded from HERE (direct link of the CAB file here) and freely installed on top of an already-installed 5.0 version.

However much the BDicty engine (as opposed to Paragon’s SlovoEd 2005, which is the best in this respect (too)) can’t display the words available in all the installed dictionaries at once in the word list (this means you will need to switch between all your dictionaries if looking for a word not contained in one of them, but is listed in another), when you switch between the installed dictionaries, the current word (if it exists in the newly-activated dictionary) will still be highlighted. This is a nice feature of the engine (and pretty similar to the even better approach of SlovoEd 2005.)

An example of this is as follows. The WordNet-based English Pro displays the definition of ‘charm’ this way. If you switch to the English Gold dictionary, it will already have the input field filled in; then, you’ll only need to quickly switch to something else (for exaple, “goodlyâ€) and, then, back in order for the definition to be seen.

The same is the case with switching to the Thesaurus: the word will be filled in. A quick down/up and the definition will be seen. Again, it’s still a far cry away from Paragon’s approach but is still better what the other, multiple dictionary-capable engines do (or better, don't do).

Note that this feature, for some reason, is missing from the newer, 5.5 engine, while still present in 5.0. Also, in 5.0, Edit/Paste (even with Ctl-V) to the definition search input field works, in 5.5, no longer does. The same stands for quick word highlight: in 5.0, you can quickly highlight a word by double-clicking it (and an entire paragraph by triple-clicking); in 5.5, this is no longer the case. This must be a bug in version 5.5.

All in all, the BDicty engine isn’t really the best when compared to almost all the other reviewed engines. However, taking into account that you can get three dictionaries for $24, you may want to consider getting it.

(Note that, as there are several other (for example, bilingual) dictionaries for BDicty, I’ll also elaborate on it in later parts of this review series and compare to the bilingual alternates.)

WordNetCE 2.7 by Troy Simpson

It’s pretty similar to the desktop version (and makes use of its (uncompressed) database). However, fortunately, it has some additional searching goodies (for example Widcard/regex and Anagram/Scrabble search).

Note that it requires the Compact Framework 1 SP3 (which also means it’s also PPC2k/PPC2k2 compatible). SP3 is also available, as individual CAB files, here.

For a free program, WordNetCE is pretty OK (my personal favorite is, however, as far as free WordNet implementations are concerned, MDict - please see the section on it for more info and a comparison to WordNetCE ). It, feature- and speed-wise, is not comparable to the best commercial solutions (most importantly WordBook and Lexisgoo), though.

Comparison chart

Due to the space constraints, I had to put it in my Web server back-end as a stand-alone, full-sized HTML table. It’s available here. Don’t forget to click it – AGAIN, it’s there that you will find most of the comparative information and screenshots!

Comparison chart explanation and comments

Trial restrictions?: in general, all the trial versions are pretty usable except for Lextionary, which is almost useless in trial mode (it does random lookups) and BDicty, which only lets for browsing words starting with A and B.

Requirements: none of the dictionaries have any special requirement except for the Compact Framework (CF) 1-based, free WordNetCE. It’s very important that you install Service Pack 3 (SP3) if you have an older, WM2003 or WM2003SE device shipped with an earlier Compact Framework version. The SP3 CAB files are available for download here (for PPC2k MIPS, PPC2k2 ARM and WM2003+ ARM.)

Memory?: how much storage they consume and whether they can be entirely installed onto storage cards. Note that apps with resident modules (for example, Lexisgoo, which has a module started from \Windows\Startup – that is, right at booting) will need to store some dozens of kilobytes in the main storage (RAM with op. systems prior to WM5).

Compatibility group: in here, I’ve tested the compatibility with VGA devices in both standard (SE) and native VGA mode. I also tested landscape compliance. I’ve conducted tests on three different Pocket PC’s: a WM2003SE Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox 720, a WM5 QVGA HTC Wizard and a WM5 VGA Dell Axim x51v with ROM version A12. As can be seen, only SlovoEd is close to useless in native VGA mode and two (lower-end) applications need to be forced to VGA in SE VGA.

WordNet feature support group: in this group, I elaborate on whether all the inter-word relationships are implemented and available in the specific WordNet implementation.

All relations displayed?: a generic catch-up test – a summary of the next two rows.

Synonyms / antonyms (latter tested with “goodâ€): does the given app support synonyms and antonyms. All of them do, except for AbsoluteWord WordNet, MDict and BDicty, which painfully lack antonyms.

Wider (hypernyms) / narrower (hyponym) definition links? : The WordNet database is excellent in that it also has hypernym and hyponym relationships. In here, I’ve elaborated on the particular clients’ supporting this. As can clearly be seen, it’s again only AbsoluteWord WordNet , MDict and BDicty that don’t support them at all.

Example of Charm: example screenshots of the applications showing the definition of the word ‘charm’ so that you can see how the (same) information is presented by the individual front-ends.

Additional features group: here, I’ve collected additional features that really can enhance the usability of a given WordNet front-end.

Easy to further search in the answer text?: many times, you’ll want to make further searches for words in the descriptions. If you “only†want to search links (all WordNet clients support this, as opposed to the desktop Windows client, which has no links), it’s a no-brainer. Things, however, get complicated if you want to search for words not linked. Then, you’ll need an app that provides the easiest possible way for this. Some applications (here, WordNetCE and SlovoEd) let the user just (with SlovoEd, double-) click a word and, then, run a search on that (this is the easiest way but, in cases, may be problematic, for example, if you want to search for a two-word expression or you want to copy something to the clipboard for future use). Some applications (WordBook, Lexisgoo) display a context menu after you make any selection with the, among other things, lookup option. BDicty requires the user to highlight the text to be looked up (this works with a double-tap in the 5.0 engine version) and, then, a separate icon clicked. Finally, Lextionary , MDict and AbsoluteWord WordNet require the user to select, copy the given word(s) to the clipboard and paste it back to the input field – the most tiresome approach.

Lookup history?: more advanced applications store the history of past lookups, preferably persistently, over restarts too. In here, I've elaborated on the persistence and the "can the list be accessed freely, or only in a serial manner" issues.

Favorites?: WordBook and Lexisgoo also offer favorites (links that you would like to keep in one place). Of the two, Lexisgoo has a really nice, structured (just like the folders in any (decent) Web browser’s favorites system) and time-constrained (“I only need the favorites I’ve added todayâ€) way of storing favorites. WordBook’s approach isn’t this sophisticated, but at least it still exists, unlike with all the other dictionary front-ends.

User notes?: making additional notes for records has always been in high demand among dictionary (or, for that matter, e-book reader) users. Unfortunately, only Lexisgoo and BDicty make this possible (with textual notes only – that is, no freehand drawings are possible, unlike with, say, Microsoft Reader). Of the two, Lexisgoo ’s approach is far better because it even keeps a central list of all the added user notes.

Speech synthesis?: SlovoEd has a separately purchasable and installable, high-quality speech pack.

In addition to this, two of the applications (WordBook and Lexisgoo) use the FLITE engine (a free speech synthesis engine by Carnegie Mellon Univ.), making it possible to read both the active word (expression) or any kind of text (with Lexisgoo, even from other applications, if you use “Read†in Lexisee).

Note that this is a synthesis engine. That is, while it’s still much better than a lot of other speech synthesis engine (including the English support in the speech engine of the LingvoSoft dictionaries – more on them later, in the next installments of this series), it’s in no way as good as native speakers’ spoken English (the way for example Paragon offers real speech on the Pocket PC). For example, while it’s able to (correctly) pronounce ‘adobe’ (unlike, say, the LingvoSoft engine), it’ll find for example ‘these’ difficult to pronounce.

Also, as it’s an external library called from the dictionary front-ends, once started, you won’t be able to stop it. This is particularly painful if you, for example, start one than more instance of Flite, reading a looooong text, by double-tapping the speaker icon. Then, two Flite instances will be started. You will only be able to help this by explicitly killing WordBook / Lexisgoo from a task manager. Keep this in mind when you use it.

English grammar tutorial built-in? : Lexisgoo has an excellent grammar summary in its help section. It’s much better than most in-app grammar summaries I’ve seen on the Pocket PC (make sure you check out the provided screenshots to see how cool it is!). As WordNet doesn't even contain a list of irregular verbs, I've also scrutinized whether the given front-end lists them (for example SlovoEd does).

User-added, searchable, new database records as in, say, SlovoEd 2005?: unfortunately, none of the dictionaries (except for, naturally, SlovoEd) allow for adding additional records.

Dynamic scrolling with, preferably, hiding all the entries that are surely not looked for?: it’s preferable to have a dictionary application that, when you enter a new word to look for, dynamically scrolls the available word list to the position of the word. This makes it very easy to see what other words there are starting with the same, already-entered character sequence and, in cases, makes input much faster.

It’s only WordNetCE and Lextionary that don’t support any kind of dynamic scrolling. WordBook, SlovoEd, MDict, BDicty and Lexisgoo do, but they simply scroll down/up the wordlist and don’t restrict the displayed words in any way. It’s only AbsoluteWord WordNet that doesn’t display words that start with different letters than those already entered. This, however, isn’t a showstopper, as far as SlovoEd, MDict, WordBook and Lexisgoo are concerned.

Multiple dictionary database support group: in here, I’ve compared and elaborated on the unique feature of some of the dictionaries (for example, SlovoEd, MDict and BDicty). Please read the mini-reviews of all these three applications for more information on what the four tests mean in this group.

Search group: in here, I’ve elaborated on what kind of searching capabilities the reviewed applications have. It’s (also) in this respect that a dictionary application can be really different from the rest of the WordNet front-ends because this, as with the rest of the user interface, is completely independent on the underlying WordNet database. With, for example, support for regular expression-based search, puzzle-solving capabilities or anagrams, a front-end can really excel and can add a lot of additional functionality.

If you have ever used the desktop Windows client, you know it is pretty bad in this respect – it doesn’t even let for wildcard searches, let alone other, even more sophisticated searching types. In this respect, all the tested applications are considerably better (as was also the case with linking words in the descriptions.)

Best match search support? (Wildcard searches (AKA puzzle helpers)?): Does the application make it possible to do wildcard searches? One of the most important usability areas of this is puzzle solving (see the provided screenshots for some examples!)

Phonetic searches?: while some of the applications also have phonetic search (“it sounds likeâ€) capabilities, I’ve found them pretty useless, compared to the other ‘closest-match’ search capabilities.

Approximate match? Type (intelligent typo-checker / first match)?: in here, I’ve examined how “intelligently†the reviewed apps try to find the best matches for a given word. To do this, I’ve run searches for two deliberately misspelled words (aproved (approved) and propably (probably)) to see whether the applications do any kind of intelligent ‘closest-hit’ searches.

Interestingly, in this question, WordNetCE proved to be the best (and by far the slowest). Lextionary proved to be the second (and very fast). It was orders of magnitude faster than WordNetCE and also listed the well-spelled word in the first position. Unfortunately, the other dictionaries have proved to be far worse in this respect. That is, in this respect Lextionary is the best application (taking the time needed also into account).

Anagrams; tested with ‘listen’: WordNetCE, WordBook and Lexisgoo have anagram capabilities. This add a great deal of fun factor to these three applications – this feature can be used for delighting time-killing. Unfortunately, the other two applications don’t have anything like this.

Full text search (all occurrences of a given word)?: only one of the tested applications, AbsoluteWord WordNet, is able to run (very slow) full text searches in the entire database.

Communication with outside world group: is it easy to highlight a word in another application and look up its meaning in the tested dictionaries? In here, I’ve also elaborated on the copy (from the definition) / paste (to the ‘search this word’ text input field) capabilities.

Icon and/or other means (for example, monitoring the clipboard)? If not, other means of quick, preferably Clipboard-based quick paste upon activation?: Does the given dictionary have an icon you can just tap when you’ve selected (and, possibly, copied to the clipboard) some text? If it does, does it need to user to place the given text to the clipboard (as is the case with AbsoluteWord WordNet and BDicty), or, is just highlighting (selecting) sufficient (as is the case with the, in this respect three best applications, WordBook , MDict and Lexisgoo?) If it doesn’t have an icon (as is the case with WordNetCE and Lextionary - and SlovoEd, but the latter supports auto-invocation when something is double-copied to the clipboard), does it at least support quick, preferably hardware button-based invocation and auto-paste-to-the-input-field capabilities?

Copy/paste: Pasting into the input field?: interestingly, the otherwise best Lexisgoo is the only application that doesn’t support any kind of pasting to there (and BDicty if you use the 5.5 engine, as opposed to 5.0). You will not really feel the lack of it, though: Lexisgoo has other means of searching for text inside the definitions it displays (and its word lookup capabilities from other applications are also excellent).

Copy definition (or parts of it) to clipboard?: all the applications support this operation. That is, you will be able to export them to, say, a mail message if you need it.

Study support group: everything related to studying with the Pocket PC – another usability area the Pocket PC can excel at with, say, randomly generated word lists for each day.

Study?: Here, I’ve elaborated on the means the tested applications have for making self-study easier. As can clearly be seen, the two best applications (Lexisgoo and WordBook) both have excellent study support capabilities, Lexisgoo being the better.

Explicit random word display?: Some applications (also) offer the ability to display a random word (upon request). This can also help people that need a word to study. Nevertheless, it’s much inferior to the great study list configuration capabilities (with the separate dictionary text files of different language exam level) of WordBook and Lexisgoo, let alone the Today plug-in of the latter.

Not in the WordNet DB group: everything belongs here that, originally, isn’t contained by the WordNet database but is still very important in everyday life. Currently, there are three main areas of this kind of information: pronunciation, syllabification information and non-open-class words.

English pronunciation displayed?: all dictionaries except for BDicty, SlovoEd, the free MDict and WordNetCE contain add-on pronunciation information.

There are vast differences in the phonetic alphabet used. Some titles (WordBook, Lexisgoo) strictly use the International Phonetic Alphabet for English, which is the standard for teaching English in all countries where English is taught as a foreign language (this is what ALL dictionaries should do). AbsoluteWord WordNet uses something very similar, but not exactly the same. Finally, Lextionary, unfortunately, uses a completely different phonetic alphabet, which will be a pain to read for anyone that is used to the standard IPA alphabet.

Note that not all words have added pronunciation. For example, the “problematic†‘adobe’ or ‘vehicle’ have but the more standard ‘adobo’ doesn’t. The same stands for words that also have a pair with given pronunciation; for example, the ‘adolesce’ and ‘adolescent’ pair. With them, you’ll need to look up the longer word so that you get the pronunciation of the shorter one. All the dictionaries seem to share the same words with pronunciation (the developers may have used the same add-on word list to import them) – that is, there are no dictionaries with more frequent pronunciation information.

Syllabification?: WordNet, unfortunately, doesn’t contain syllabification information either (which would be pretty important with English) and none of the client have this as add-on information.

Non-open-class words (determiners, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, and particles)? Tested with ‘this’.: As section 3.2 of the WordNet FAQ also states, WordNet only contains "open-class words": nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Thus, excluded words include determiners, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, and particles. Most of the dictionaries (including the Windows desktop and the online one) don’t have them as add-on words. (For example here, some people have also complained of, in this case, Lextionary’s not having simple words like these.) That is, you won’t find for example ‘this’ in them. It’s only Lexisgoo and BDicty that do include these words.

Verdict

In my opinion, Lexisgoo is the best WordNet implementation on the Pocket PC. Its only problem is the definitely weaker (compared to Lextionary 2.4 or, speed issues aside, WordNetCE 2.7) approximate searching mode. It’s, however, much better than the other applications in everything else. Highly recommended!

Close second is WordBook. Of the two, I would prefer Lexisgoo; your mileage, however, may vary. Compare the two apps to find out which one suits your needs better. (For example, some people at the AximSite forums have gone for WordBook because the low-res Lexisee icon doesn't look good on a VGA device, while the Word Picker icon of WordBook is hi-res and, therefore, looks better. Yes, choosing from between apps can depend on such subtleties.)

SlovoEd is also a worthy application to be considered. It entirely depends on your needs (do you want multiple, parallel database support? A really decent speech engine? If you do, this application is the way to go) whether you should go for it (see the SlovoEd section above for a more thorough comparison.)

The free MDict is also a very nice application assuming you don't need any extra capabilities. Please read the MDict section above for more in-depth comparison and elaboration on the cases when it may prove excellent.

Unfortunately, Lextionary, which is a favorite dictionary of many, feature-wise, didn’t excel at all. The inter-word relationship (this is what WordNet is all about…) support its homepage emphasized is also supported by all the other applications (except for the, in this respect, absolutely poor AbsoluteWord WordNet, MDict and BDicty). This means there is not a single feature in Lextionary that WordBook or Lexisgoo wouldn’t be capable of; except for, maybe, the great “like†matching, in which Lextionary is clearly better than the two latter applications. That is, if you need the best matching capabilities and can’t stand the snail-like speed of WordNetCE, you may want to consider getting Lextionary. Otherwise, I don’t really recommend it: both WordBook and Lexisgoo have much more superior features (and IPA pronunciation).

The free WordNetCE 2.7, while having certain drawbacks, is still better than one of the commercial (and most expensive) alternates (AbsoluteWord / RoadLingua WordNet 4.0.7). That is, if you must use a free application, you need the WordNet relationships (which the other free front-end, MDict, doesn't support) and can’t pay for a much better commercial one, WordNetCE is an acceptable solution.

BDicty is another 'also-run' application. Its only strength is the three separate databases coming in the English Heritage Bundle (thus, driving down the price), the easy switching between them (which is in no way as easy as with SlovoEd) and the support for non-open-class words. Otherwise, it's a pretty mediocre product not really recommended for purchasing - WordBook or Lexisgoo are far better, as far as pure, real WordNet support is concerned (for example, there is absolutely no support for antonyms / hypernyms / hyponyms in BDicty). If you need multiple database support (or, you want to deploy other language modules under BDicty), you may want to consider it, though. (Still, as far as multilingual / multi-database engines are concerned, I'd go with Paragon's SlovoEd 2005 instead.)

The absolute loser of the roundup is AbsoluteWord / RoadLingua WordNet 4.0.7. Except for the ability to (very slowly!) to a full text search (all occurrences of a given word) in the entire database, it is clearly the worst commercial WordNet-based application. I’d say it’s even worse than the free WordNetCE, particularly if you need antonym / hypernym / hyponym information (which AbsoluteWord WordNet painfully lacks). Also, as far as the other free client, MDict is concerned, I'd definitely go for it instead of AbsoluteWord / RoadLingua WordNet.

Acknowledgements

Without Hal Goldstein’s inviting me last (and this) year to be a judge in the Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine Best Software Awards judge board, there would be no dictionary roundup. That is, thank Hal first if you like the roundup(s) :)

Thanks! I have indeed missed that. Will add its review ASAP.

Review of MDict added.

It's exactly the same (under a slightly different name) as the SlovoEd-based English Pro I've reviewed.

Nice to know it's MUCH cheaper over at PocketGear than on the official homepage of Paragon - I'll add this info to the roundup.

Wayne, the Wiki MDict database is working OK on my devices - even on ones with really restricted internal memory.

It's OK - it's just really outdated (late 2003). Just writing an article on all the three Pocket PC-based Wiki solutions.

I have used the WordBook

I have used the WordBook dictionary for several years. I tried the smartphone version on my wife's new Q9c. It appears not to respond to any scroll keys which makes it useless for longer entries.

I have submitted a request to Trancreative for information but have not heard in a week. I get the impression they may not be still around. Do you know if this is true? Do you know if someone else is supporting WordBook?

 

Updated 7/18/2008. Still no response from Trancreative. I went ahead and purchased the Lexisgoo for Motorola Q9c. It works - is great.

 

Robert Tankersley CDP Samsung i760 Motorola Q9c

 

 

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