Pleco for iPhone is out!

Pleco for iPhone (beta)

After reviewing the beta version, interviewing Michael Love on the app, and commenting on beta testing progress, I’d be remiss not to note that the Pleco Chinese Dictionary iPhone app is out. And the really great news is that the basic app is free!

A quick intro from the Pleco product information page:

> Go to to instantly download the free basic version of Pleco for iPhone / iPod Touch; you can add on more advanced features / dictionaries from right inside of the app, but the basic version is an excellent little dictionary in its own right (and includes the same wonderful search engine as our more advanced software).

If you own an iPhone and you’re studying Chinese, get this app!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. The free version is not half-bad, but it’s nice to have the Guifan dictinoary — and I’m looking forward to the custom dictionary options that’ll supposedly in future versions.

  2. Not bad, but still not as good as DianHua, which includes study tools like lists and flashcards. Though from the website it seems Pleco is working on offering the flashcard feature in 2010…

  3. Downloaded and installed. Still not immediately obvious how I should use it. Beyond being a dictionary, I must be missing something that everyone else seems to “just get”.

    Do you know of any simple “how-tos” for pleco? How does it fit into the learning process?

  4. It’s apps like these that are pushing me in the direction of an iPhone as opposed to an Android run phone.
    (now if only it had a real keyboard…and didn’t use iTunes…)

  5. Ahh… The expectations were very high and now I know how it feels to hit the ground hard…

    The rendering is way too slow, ㄅㄆㄇㄈ input is unusable (the native one is many orders better, what about checking that one for inspiration?), speaking of which, the bopomofo pronunciation is often plain wrong (obviously a wrong conversion algorithm issue), character set switch (in settings) doesn’t seem to work, radical look-up shows both simplified and traditional radicals at once etc etc. Makes me feel the authors haven’t even tested it once!

    Maybe the direction is set, but this version is seriously a beta, if not alpha 🙁

  6. Bill – there’s a tutorial at which might help you get started.

    Hans – we were shocked to discover that BoPoMoFo display issue, actually, none of our 40-50 beta-testers (at least 5 or 6 of whom were from Taiwan) seem to have picked up on it nor did we. It’ll be fixed in a bug-fix update very soon, though. The input system for it is just temporary – better than nothing, and you can always use it to enter characters in the meantime. Character set bug should also be fixed very soon.

    The radical lookup in our software has always worked that way – cutting out one set of radicals would only make the list a little shorter, and people often encounter characters in one set when they’re normally working in another.

    As far as the slow rendering, where are you experiencing that? We optimized the heck out of our text rendering algorithm and it feels much faster than anything else we’ve seen.

  7. Looks decent…..but the free version is not as useful as the “DianHua” dictionary (my standard on the iPhone). Maybe the paid version is better, but I don’t know if I am willing to bet hard earned cash on it (my experience has been that most of these dictionaries aren’t as good as DianHua no matter what the cost). Look forward to hearing what others have to say about using it, and comparing the paid version of Pleco to DianHua

  8. Aside from flashcards (which are coming soon), how do you find it less useful than DianHua? What could we do to improve it? Have you downloaded the free CC-CEDICT add-on yet? (that’d give you the same exact database DianHua uses)

  9. The number of entries is not as complete as DianHua. I can find things in dian hua that I can’t find in pleco. For example, looking up “mold” returns 13 entires in Dian Hua and 0 in Pleco. I have not downloaded any add-ons yet as it required registering and sending my personal info and iphone serial number (I believe that is what UDID is), which I didn’t want to do without trying it first and deciding that I liked it (I have already tried about 40 different dictionaries for the iphone, most of which are crap… seem to be DianHua and HNHSoft……but neither are ideal).

  10. Thanks for the link Michael. Will have a read now.

  11. Andrew Strauss – well if you do register and download the CC-CEDICT add-on that should give you all of the entries in DianHua. But of course if you’re not comfortable with that I certainly understand. The UDID is actually slightly different from a serial number, but it is a unique identifier, that’s true.

  12. Thanks for that info……I will consider this…..It looks like your platform is better than DianHua…..the included dictionary was just not as complete (I consider this to be more important than how flashy a platform is). If a free download would improve this, I would very much consider registering (and ultimately purchasing), but will probably wait for a few more reviews / comparisons.

    At the end of the day, having so many dictionaries available is confusing. I don’t want to have to browse through 7 different sets of results each time I want to look up a word, and I can’t tell from your site which dictionary is the best (free / paid). There probably isn’t 1 “best” dictionary, as this could be different for each user, but I see no way of evaluating this without putting in significant time / investment and going over each option 1 by 1. Part of the reason I liked DianHua is that it was easy. It worked out of the box without having to extensively research different dictionaries / install add-ons. Your platform seems to provide more options / flexibility in the long run, but I am not sure how one evaluates the plethora of different dictionaries you offer. Do you have a comparison table / reviews of these different dictionaries? I have found that the # of entries really isn’t a good way of evaluating the quality / usefulness of a dictionary.

  13. Yeah, we weighed whether to include CC-CEDICT in the built-in set too, but decided not to since making it a separate download makes it easier to keep up-to-date. (plus the initial download is smaller if we only include one dictionary)

    There are some sample screenshots from each dictionary on our website (tap on dictionary names at the bottom of the left-hand navigation bar), and you can view the front matter from each of them in our instruction manual – if you register you can also download demo versions of them.

    Our software automatically scans through all installed dictionaries when you enter a word, and automatically jumps to a different one if it can’t find a word in your current dictionary.

  14. Michael Love – wow, I wasn’t even expecting a reply here for my scream into a dark. I’m happy there’s such a good response even though I didn’t put it into any official bugzilla (is there any?)

    As for the speed problems, I’m using the 1st gen iPod Touch, that might be an issue too. I have been trying it a little bit more and it might actually be some database loading delays more than rendering ones. I can mostly see those when scrolling quickly through the list or using the fast forward bottom slider (does it have a name?) in the initial “whole dictionary at once” mode.

  15. Thanks, but the few entries from the links on your website are not useful for determining which dictionary is the best / most useful (all dictionaries will have entries for “family”, “quick”, and “机器” that are somewhat decent). And the “front matter” is even more useless (opened 1 of them and it was 30 pages I don’t have the time to wade through…..and might not be useful if I did).

    It looks like there are 7 paid add-on dictionaries, 5 free add-on dictionaries, and the included dictionary….for a total of 13 options. 2 of the free ones are German, which makes them an easy elimination, but that still leaves 11 options which I can’t make heads / tails of. A comparison table or objective reviews would be helpful in determining what I want. I just don’t have the time to download trial versions of 11 dictionaries and evaluate them 1 by 1.

  16. Fair points. Putting up a comparative review is a little tricky, since going into individual dictionaries’ negative points isn’t likely to go down well with the companies we licensed them from. And we haven’t found a good objective third-party review of them all yet. So normally when people write to ask about this we make individual recommendations based on their Chinese level / amount they’re looking to spend / etc.

  17. Michael…..many sites have impartial user reviews (both positive and negative), I don’t think the companies you license from would have a problem with impartial user reviews if they were honest (even if they were negative). If they did, I would encourage you to not do business with them. Software should not be sold by hiding its flaws and censoring bad reviews, but by accurately presenting the user with something of as much value as possible, and if the product gets poor reviews, improve the product instead of censoring reviews.

    A chart with recommendations based on “Chinese level / amount they’re looking to spend / etc.” would be VERY helpful. It could include comparisons on number of entries / price / pinyin inclusion / size on disk(an indication of length of each entry – 100,000 entries that take up 30mb is more desirable to me than 150,000 entries that take up 10mb) / average user review (users could rate on 1-5 or 1-10, similar to itunes) / etc.

  18. Oh impartial user reviews would be fine, but nobody seems to have written one of those yet (though there are a few partial ones on our discussion forums) – we certainly wouldn’t work with anyone who didn’t allow those. It just doesn’t seem appropriate for there to be an official, Pleco-authored review of each dictionary, which seemed to be what you were getting at. (nobody would trust our objectivity in that case anyway)

    A review system in our download catalog is an interesting idea, actually – it’d take a little work to implement, but if iTunes can do it then so can we. Having one on our website would also make sense, though since the add-on catalog is where most people are making their purchase decisions the star ratings function would probably be best located there. In the meantime I’ll make a note that a basic comparison table at least is something we ought to add in the next site update.

    Thanks very much for the feedback – even if you don’t end up buying our software we really appreciate the input. (we get surprisingly few negative comments / reviews, which for the most part is a good thing but does leave us short on feedback in some areas)

  19. No problem…..glad I could help. You seem very receptive to constructive criticism and ideas for making a better product….which is a VERY good thing. Can’t wait to see it evolve.

  20. As a long time user of the Pleco family of products I can recommend them without reservation.

    Yes, there are free dictionaries out there. 一分錢,一分貨. They are nothing like the Pleco product. Even if you buy it just for the fast and accurate handwriting recognition it will be money well spent. The other great thing is the support you get. As you can see from the discussion here, Michael Love is very open to any comments on how to improve the product, and usually quite prompt in implementing changes.

    For me, this is THE indispensable electronic dictionary to have. 普利科是十分棒!

  21. Why Pleco over some other electronic dictionary? For me it’s simple. The Chinese-Chinese Guifan dictionary.

  22. It’s really quite impressive to see Michael Love fielding all these comments here. I forgot to give him a heads up about my post this time (sorry, Michael!), and yet, he showed up really fast to answer all the questions.

  23. To the ones who are still hesitating about using Pleco : have you tried the handwriting recognition add-on ? :

    “You can try out the handwriting recognizer for free by going to “Add-ons,” tapping on “Fullscreen Handwriting Recognizer” under “Paid,” then tapping on “Try Handwritng Now” – you won’t be able to actually look up characters in the dictionary this way, but you can try drawing them and see how accurately the system recognizes what you draw.”

    I DID try that out, and immediately bought the feature and installed it rightaway. I’ve never seen something that accurate on my iPhone. Bravo !

    As of the dictionaries : I immediately de-activated the built-in Pleco dictionary and am now using CC-CEDICT dictionary instead. But then again, that’s a question of personal feeling, I’ve been using this for ages.

    Thanks for porting PLECO to the iPhone Michael, hope you’ll get the success you deserve, I’ve been reading a lot about the development of Pleco for the iPhone and I know how much dedication and time you’ve invested in this.

  24. The built-in Pleco dictionary (C-E) contains (sometimes) more than the CCDICT and the Addon-ABC, e.g. 意思 (see below). For a learner the basic package is the best choice. The prof. bundle contains the 21st century, but IMHO this is of little value for a learner. You also cannot save the entries of the 21st century dict (not via (+), only via Pasteboard).

    Built-in Pleco dictionary:
    ① meaning; idea : 這個字的意思是什麼? Zhège zì de yìsi shì shénme? What is the meaning of this word? / 我不明白你的意思。 Wǒ bù míngbai nǐ de yìsi. I don’t understand what you mean. / 你這是什麼意思? Nǐ zhè shì shénme yìsi? What do you mean by that? / 文章的中心意思 wénzhāng de zhōngxīn yìsi the central idea of an article
    ② opinion; wish; desire : 我的意思是走著去。 Wǒ de yìsi shì zǒuzhe qù. In my opinion, (or I think) we should walk. / 你是不是有意思跟她見見面? Nǐ shì bù shì yǒu yìsi gēn tā jiàn jiànmiàn? Do you wish to meet her?
    ③ a token of affection, appreciation, gratitude, etc. : 這不過是我的一點兒意思, 請收下吧。 Zhè bùguò shì wǒ de yīdiǎnr yìsi, qǐng shōu xià ba. Please accept this little gift as a token of my appreciation.
    ④ suggestion; hint; trace : 天有點要下雨的意思。 Tiān yǒu diǎn yào xià yǔ de yìsi. It looks like rain.
    ⑤ interest; fun : 他覺得年畫展覽很有意思。 Tā juéde niánhuà zhǎnlǎn hěn yǒu yìsi. He found the exhibition of New Year pictures very interesting. / 打橋牌很有意思。 Dǎ qiáopái hěn yǒu yìsi. Bridge is a lot of fun. / 他這個人沒意思。 Tā zhège rén méi yìsi. He’s dull. / 學校鬧派系, 真沒有意思。 Xuéxiào nào pàixì, zhēn méiyǒu yìsi. All this factionalism in the school is so silly.
    ⑥ (reduplicated) as a mere token : 她要走了, 咱們送她一條絲巾意思意思。 Tā yào zǒu le, zánmen sòng tā yī tiáo sī jīn yìsi yìsi. She’s leaving. Let’s give her a silk kerchief as a token of our friendship.

    idea / opinion / meaning / wish / desire / M: gè [個]

    ABC English-Chinese:

    n. ① meaning; idea 我的∼是說… Wǒ de ∼ shì shuō … I mean to say … ② opinion; wish; desire 你的∼呢? Nǐ de ∼ ne? What’s your opinion? ③ <court.> a token of affection/appreciation/etc. ④ suggestion; hint; trace ⑤ interest; fun 我覺得這個話題沒有∼。 Wǒ juéde zhège huàtí méiyǒu ∼. I don’t think this is an interesting topic.

  25. @imron – the Chinese-Chinese dictionary is great. Ultimately I’d still like to see an even bigger C-C dictionary licensed, but for now the Guifan dictionary still makes this the best tool out there.

  26. I can’t believe I’m considering buying an ipod just for pleco..

    Does this make sense??

  27. This question is addressed to Michael Love-
    I have Pleco 2 on my old reliable palm treo 650. Would I have to pay for the iphone version, or is a platform-switch free?

  28. John – that depends on which dictionaries you have; if you have anything but the Oxford one, those can all be transferred over to iPhone for free, but if you only have Oxford then you unfortunately won’t be able to move that over since we don’t currently offer it on iPhone.

  29. It’s an absolutely amazing product (in addition to everything mentioned here, the document reader is what I was waiting for – imagine Wenlin, but with even better dictionaries, more integrated with the web, and in your pocket!)

    And as you’ve seen, the amount of feedback/communication you receive through blogs, or their forums ( is amazing.

  30. […] That said, every now and then I get something that makes my life better.  Other than he new Pleco Chinese dictionary for the iPhone/iPod Touch I have recently been playing with a new web service called […]

  31. Pleco is an absolutely wonderful application. I was quite surprised to see people championing DianHua, there is no comparison!

    The upgrades policy is really good as well – I bought Pleco a few years ago to use on my old HTC phone, which has since been stolen. I was able to transfer the license onto the iPhone for free. Top stuff!

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