Canon WordTank G55
Canon seem to have the best reputation for denshijisyo. Probably because the menus can be set to English and at one time you could get English manuals. (Now there is only a single sheet get started guide.) There are 3 types. The V series (deluxe) which is aimed at Chinese learners, The G series (general) aimed at English learners, The C series (compact) aimed at high school students and tourists.
I felt that having Chinese features I didn’t need would only confuse me and it wasn’t worth paying the extra for the more advanced features of the V series. (Although the ability to write kanji on the screen was tempting.) The C series was interesting. It is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. And when I was looking Amazon.jp had an end of series C30 for about 8000円. But I felt the extra money for a G series (also a good price at 50% off on Amazon for 23000円) was worth it.
The G55 is about the size of a slim A6 notebook. It fits a jacket pocket and is easy to put in a backpack. It has a good size screen and QWERTY keyboard. Input is similar to on a computer where you use a modified version of Hepburn notation and it is converted to kana on the fly. The device also “knows” when to use kana and when to use English. The main dictionaries for a student of Japanese are the Readers plus English to Japanese, the Japanese to English dictionary, a katakana dictionary and the Kanjigen. There are also Japanese Dictionary and Thesaurus (too advanced for me yet), and Oxford English Dictionary, Thesaurus and Colocations (useful but not the main point here).
The main difficulty with using a dictionary aimed at Japanese people is … it’s written in Japanese! やばい！ So more often than not there are no furigana and The entries aren’t a straightforward word to translated word list. You need to get a feel for what are explanations of a word. Also unfortunately the kanjigen doesn’t give English core meanings. This means you have to look up words in an entry to find out pronunciation and English meaning. This is the Jump feature which is very important to understand. With this feature you can select any word in an entry and look that word up in all the dictionaries on the WordTank. This is essential. Once you have mastered this looking words up starts to get easy. Looking up kanji is slightly harder as it helps if you know the reading. If not you find the character by stroke count and radical. For compounds you find the first character then you can get a list of words starting with that character.
Other useful features are a history of words you have looked up and the ability to add words to a custom list. There are 3 font sizes so you can make characters bigger and easier to read. Many kanji in the kanjigen also have animated stroke order diagrams.
At the time of writing this I have just gotten the WordTank. I expect that it will completely supersede my Clie with PADict as a portable device. I already feel it’s improving my kanji ability by making me read them without furigana and having to remember the characters for the various dictionary types and buttons.
It is now possible to buy Canon Wordtanks in JP Books in London. They might demo one for you as well if you ask. I would imagine the price is high however. (100 円 = £1 conversion is usual)
Also I find I use my computer most of the time rather than my Wordtank. even in Japan when i don’t have my laptop handy I tended to use my Nintendo DS as being more convenient.
I’m sure I’ll go back to the canon again as I become more literate.
I still have dreams of an iPod touch with proper input-output handwriting recognition maybe and a Wi-Fi network everywhere!