Jan 29th, 2011 by Q
At the end of of 2009 Canon released the Wordtank S502, a compact and inexpensive dictionary with stripped down content and functionality. It looked at first glance almost like a graphic calculator and I didn’t pay it any mind. Then in August 2010 Canon and Sharp simultaneously released a pair of similarly shaped inexpensive dictionaries. Canon released the Wordtanks S503, a Chinese model, and the S504, a Korean model. Sharp released the PW-AC10 Brain, a general Japanese-English model shaped like a Blackberry, and the PW-AC20 – nearly identical but with added content geared at Japanese students studying for the TOEIC. All of these can be had for a little over $100 outside of Japan at smartimports.net and I now think they warrant a closer look.
First, the Canon Wordtanks. The Wordtank S502 is the least expensive Wordtank released in years. We haven’t seen prices like this for a Wordtank since the days of the IDF-3000, released back in 2000. The Wordtank S502 is a bare bones model with a nice color screen and simple design containing only the essentials: the Genius English to Japanese dictionary, the Wisdom Japanese to English dictionary, the Gakken Japanese dictionary, Gakken Kanji dictionary, and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s English dictionary. For the price, this is fantastic. Like most Wordtanks, it includes an abbreviated English manual and the menus can be switched to English, making it less intimidating to first-time Japanese dictionary users. For non-specialists or technical translators, this is most likely more than enough for everyday use. There’s no handwritten kanji input, but before that function became available we had no trouble searching for kanji using a combination of radical, number of strokes, reading, and the reading of any component. The history, bookmark, multi-dictionary search, and jump functions all remain as useful as ever. It’s a very solid dictionary.
What you lose with the S502 (and S503/S504 as well) is the kanji compound listings. With most dictionaries these days you can search for a single kanji and then see a list of kanji compounds (熟語） using that kanji. This is nowhere to be found. The kanji dictionary only deals with individual characters. Also, there is no help with stroke order of kanji to be found here.
The Sharp PW-AC10 Brain is smaller and easier to use with one hand than the Canon Wordtanks. (With the Wordtank S500 series it is more comfortable to hold the dictionary and one hand and operate it with the other unless you have quite large hands.) So ergonomically it wins over the Wordtanks. It features a pair of Genius Japanese/English dictionaries, the Kanjigen Kanji Dictionary, the Kojien Japanese dictionary, a katakana dictionary, and no English dictionary.
The Kanjigen Kanji Dictionary is vastly superior to the Gakken Kanji Dictionary included in the Wordtank S500 series. Not only does it contain twice as many individual kanji, it also has stroke order diagrams for the most common 2,136 kanji and 861 kanji used in personal names, AND 48,000 kanji compounds. So for example, when you look up the kanji 博 (haku) and press the 切替 button, a list of 34 kanji compound words beginning with 博 appears, each linking to their definition. The Wordtanks S502, S503, and S504 have only 6,355 kanji in the Gakken dictionary with no stroke order or compound listings. There is one manner in which the kanji dictionary in the Wordtanks beats out the Kanjigen of the Sharp Brain- live search results. As you enter in your search conditions (radical, number of strokes, component reading, etc) you see a live list of possible candidates listed on the bottom of the screen. With the Sharp you don’t see any search results until you’ve entered the conditions and pressed search.
The downside of the Sharp PW-AC10 Brain is that newcomers to Japanese dictionaries will find no English instructions or help of any sort in how to use it. It really is not complicated to use, but if you’ve never used a Japanese electronic dictionary and you’re not quite well-versed in kanji just yet, it would be rather intimidating. Also, there is no history function or log of words you’ve recently looked up like Wordtanks contain. (I am thinking of making a brief manual for the Sharp PW-AC10 Brain to make available since it would be pretty quick and easy to make- just look at the quick reference for the Canon Wordtank S502 and switch the information to match the Sharp Brain.)
To briefly summarize each of these color compact models:
Canon Wordtank S500: The main keyboard is hiragana, though numbers and roman alphabet are also written above the keys. Contains only the bare minimum in English/Japanese dictionaries- the Gakken, inferior to the Wisdom and Genius series found in most models. The cheapest of the series- available for less than $100, but not really recommended.
Canon Wordtank S501E/S501J: The S501E has an English keyboard and the S501J has hiragana, though both allow input through either method. The S501 series has a pair of Wisdom Japanese/English dictionaries, the Super Daijirin Japanese dictionary, and the Gakken Kanji dictionary. Some other texts of limited use to foreign students are included such as the ‘Mypedia’ Japanese encyclopedia, an English to Japanese dictionary of computer terms, and a text on wedding and funeral manners. All in all a good deal for the price! (Around $100 even outside of Japan.)
Canon Wordtank S502 (picture above): Similar to the S501, but switches out the Wisdom English to Japanese dictionary for a Genius English to Japanese (with 255,00 entries) while retaining the Wisdom Japanese to English text. Also adds the Oxford English Learner’s English dictionary. Also a great choice for students not looking to spend an arm and a leg on a dictionary.
Canon Wordtank S503: The Chinese model. A great deal for anyone studying Chinese in addition to Japanese. It not only includes Japanese/Chinese texts, but includes the Oxford English/Chinese dictionary as well as a Chinese to Chinese dictionary. All this while retaining the pair of Wisdom Japanese/English dictionaries found in the S501. This seems to be the real gem of this series for anyone also needing Chinese content. All these texts for a little over $100 is great.
Canon Wordtank S504: The Korean model. Similar to the S503, but with four Korean/Japanese texts and no Korea/English content. A great option for anyone studying Korean or rather for Korean people studying Japanese. Also a steal at a little over $100.
Sharp Brain PW-AC10 (pictured above): A very well-designed color compact model shaped much like a Blackberry. Contains a pair of Genius Japanese/English dictionaries that are slightly more complete and easier to use than the Wisdom texts found in the S500 and S503/S504. (I will give examples of this in a separate article.) The included Kanjigen Kanji dictionary includes 48,000 kanji compound words (熟語) as well as stroke-order diagrams for about 3,000 kanji. No English manual or menus like those in the Wordtank series, however. Slightly more expensive than these Wordtanks, but in the same price range. Highly recommended for those with a little higher Japanese language ability that aren’t intimidated by the lack of English documentation. A great language tool at a very affordable price.
Sharp Brain PW-AC20: Similar to the PW-AC10, but with the addition of English audio content and tools for studying the TOEIC exam. Not recommended for non-Japanese. The PW-AC10 is more appropriate and cheaper.