As a foreigner in Beijing with less than fluent Mandarin skills, I depend a lot on Chinese English dictionary apps on my smartphone. These apps are great for quickly looking up a word or refreshing my memory on the correct pronunciation. Often they are more than just digital dictionaries and can also help you study Chinese with an integrated flashcard app.
Here is my personal review of 3 Chinese dictionary apps. I included my 2 favorites and another very popular one. I know there are many others. So if you found a particularly useful app that I’m not covering, please share it in your comment.
TrainChinese is a freemium Chinese dictionary and flashcard app. I have to say that this is my favorite app.The free version has a complete dictionary with useful example sentences and audio recordings. TrainChinese has the best, most natural sounding audio I have encountered in dictionaries, both for the words in the dictionary and the full sentences.
You can click on each character for animation to show you the stroke order. You can also add words to flashcards and organize them into lists, even add your own notes to the flashcards. You can also import word lists. The free version includes 2 lists with 100 words each for flashcards. Additional lists can be added through a subscription model, and the added lists will remain yours even after the subscription ends as the flashcards are saved on your device.
TrainChinese is available for iPhone, iPad, Android and PC’s. For the flashcard function you need to set up a free account, which is synced across all your devices, so you can review flashcards at home and on the go. TrainChinese also has free apps to learn Chinese numbers and practice tones (see also 5 Reasons why learning Chinese is not easy for Westerners).
The HanPing Chinese dictionary app is only available for Android (sorry, iPhone users). The HanPing dictionary offers a host of dictionary features including the ability to paste text from the clipboard into the dictionary search function. This can come in very handy. I use it when I receive text messages in Chinese characters. (I have to admit I don’t recognize very many characters, plus they are tiny in the text message window on my phone.) You can also manually enter long Chinese text into the search box and get instant conversion to Pinyin as well as a vocab list.
I actually use the HanPing Pro version for $6.95, which has a Mandarin audio function and handwritten character recognition. The Hanping dictionaries integrate with a separate HanPing Camera app ($9.95) to scan characters, but I have not used that yet, so I can’t comment on how well it works.
I’m including Pleco in my review because it is a very popular Chinese English dictionary app and so many people use it. It is available for Apple and Android devices. I tried it out myself but it didn’t win me over like the other two above did.
The free dictionary itself is very comprehensive. Other useful features are available but each is a paid add-on, which can add up quickly: audio pronunciation ($9.99), flashcards ($14.99), handwriting ($14.99), stroke order diagrams ($9.99), character recognition module using the phone camera ($14.99). The Pleco Basic Bundle costs $49.99. I think this is a lot of money for features that are free/freemium (basic levels free plus premium content) or much cheaper in other really good apps.
As I said, this is my personal opinion, based on using different apps over the last 2 years in China. (For full disclosure, if you buy any services from TrainChinese.com through the links on this site, I will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. I really do like their product and use it almost every day, otherwise I would not recommend it here.)
Please share any great Chinese dictionary apps that you are using!