If you’re staying in China for a while, it won’t be long before you begin using Chinese-language only services like Baidu Maps, Taobao and maybe even Didi Dache.
Traditionally, with a desktop computer, you can just copy+paste stuff into translators or hover over text with browser plugins, but with phones you often can’t select app-text for copy+pasting and if your hanzi is weak, this makes the apps practically unusable.
Enter screen reading OCR.
The new Optical Character Recognition-enabled screen readers allow smartphones to understand text anywhere it occurs, from webpages, to photos, to apps, to real life signs and even (some) handwriting.
Want to understand taobao? Easy
Want to get in on the fun to be had with Didi Chuxing? Can do that too.
Without further ado – your options.
Preface: If despite the headline you have an Apple device， I’m afraid you’re out of luck here, this feature is currently only available for Android. Stay tuned for a more comprehensive article on translation across platforms.
Pleco’s USD 9.99 OCR add-on initially enabled fairly standard point-and-shoot OCR in addition to still-image scanning. In recent versions, however, Pleco has added new functionality to its OCR offering.
The new feature only requires you to click a button to have Pleco very conveniently scan a resizeable section of your mobile phone screen for characters. I literally use it all the time.
To enable the feature while in the Pleco application, you simply swipe to the right from the left hand side of your screen, and scroll down among the list options to select “Screen reader + OCR”.
The feature works in two different ways.
The first method will screenshot what you’re looking at and analyze it for copyable text enabling you to get 100% accurate definitions for all the text it picks up.
The second method will also screenshot what you’re looking at, but it will use OCR to determine the characters, meaning you can use it for photos, buttons, and apps, where text cannot be copy+pasted. This method may require you to resize the selection window and isn’t always 100% accurate, but in my experience, narrowing down your selection window to fit your text precisely， works about 90% of the time.
Hanping Popup is a new USD 9.99 app by the author of the famous Hanping dictionary. Hanping Popup is pretty cool and useful but I would have to say that it takes a little more effort than the Pleco feature.
When the Hanping Popup app is installed, you get a kind of fish cross-hair that you then need to line up against individual characters occurring on your screen for a popup definition.
It works, but I find it can be a little finicky and doesn’t always pick up the text I’m trying to point it at.
(Top photo from Baidu Images)