Advantages over the native Japanese version
The normal English version of Windows Mobile is not capable of working with Japanese. Making it capable is quite a trick. Search the internet, and you'll find many schemes for doing so. Two simply involving buying and installing some software--unfortunately, the software doesn't work well. The other schemes involve hacking the operating system itself--performing brain surgery on your PDA or SmartPhone, in essence. The difficulty is that every device's implementation of the OS is different--what works on an iPaq doesn't work on a Dell or a Loox, and what works on a Dell Axim X30 doesn't work on a Dell Axim X50. If you look at the online discussions of the various methods, what you typically see is one person saying, "Eureka! I've done it, and here's how," then a bunch of people saying it didn't work for them--and some of them post their fixes to the first guy's methods, and then more people say, "Gee, that fix doesn't work for me, either"--and occasionally someone chimes in to say that he tried it and it turned his PDA into a $600 paperweight. In the end, I had to combine tips and tricks from three different online guides before I got something that worked, and even then it was too buggy to be useful, so I had to learn to do more brain surgery on my own so I could find and fix the bugs. If you want to try this on your own, please see this note before asking me for help.
Now, I'm able to do the conversion to create a stable, reliable, easy-to-use Dell Axim X50V with full Japanese capabilities.
The information below is particular to the modified English OS. Most of how to use the Axim is the same for both the modified English and native Japanese systems, so please also see the general instructions on how to use the system. Of course, you can also consult the instruction manual for anything not covered there.
Before I get into the particulars of how to use it, I have to give thanks to an anonymous genius who posts under the name Bagoj. Bagoj figured out how to take the Japanese IME of the Japanese version of Windows Mobile OS and make it run in the English version. He even added lookup options that the current Japanese WM lacks. While his system needs a lot of tweaking to run properly on the Axim, what I've done is indeed tweaking and the credit for actually creating the system belongs to Bagoj. Also, thanks are due to many posters at Aximsite and Brighthand who got me started on putting together a Japanese display system that actually works.
The font usually included contains all 6355 kanji in the JIS X 0208 standard set and all 5801 in the JIS X 0212 supplemental set and takes up about 8MB. The JIS X 0208 set contains all kanji defined be the Japanese government as being in current use (including the 1945 Joyo kanji); the JIS X 0212 set contains older characters retired by the government since the war and often replaced by simpler variants. You might still find these characters in various resources, online, or in software you may install at some point in the future. However, the EPWING format allows only JIS X 0208 characters (other characters are represented by images). If you want to save memory space, an older font including only the JIS X 0208 kanji is available and takes up only 4MB of memory; if you'd prefer to have that font installed instead of the standard, let me know when you order your PDA.
Because the IME (Input Method Editor--i.e., how you enter text) was taken from the Japanese version of WM, it's almost exactly the same. Bagoj made a few nice tweaks. As in a normal WM machine, the IME is called up from the icon and arrow in the bottom right corner of the screen. The icon represents the last input method used--tap it and that same input method pops up again.
Letter Recognizer (looks familiar, huh?)
If you want to use a different input method, tap the upward-pointing triangle next to the icon to call up the Input Method Menu (right).
Whichever input method you choose, you'll find a small input pallet at the bottom of the screen. You can drag it wherever on your screen you like (if you put on the bottom right, you can still tap the top parts of the icons partly covered by the pallet). Toggle the green ball icon (I have no idea what it's supposed to represent--a hand spade and a bonsai tree?) to change between the regular and Japanese-input. When the ball is dark green, as above left, it's the regular input and any English text you enter will be directly entered at the cursor point. Tap the green ball icon and it'll become light green; at this point, the input method will work just like the IME on your regular computer. As in your computer's IME, you have the choice of entering
(Full-width is the normal format for all Japanese, half-width is normal for Western languages--don't worry about these; hiragana and full-width katakana are all you'll ever need to use.)
I have to be honest and admit that I haven't figured out what the "Roma" button does. I expected that it might toggle the keyboard between romaji entry (the system described above, which is the system taught in Japanese schools and which most Japanese use everyday) and kana entry (a different keyboard system that I've never seen a Japanese person use), but it doesn't seem to do that--this might be a function that simply doesn't work with the Axim. It does make some weird changes the way the keyboard works, though. I just ignore this function. If you find unexpected things popping up as you type, perhaps you accidentally hit this button; tap it again to turn it off and things will be back to normal.
The hand and index finger icon brings up IME options. Most people won't bother with these, but if you want to change your user dictionary (say, to share with a friend), this is where you'd do it. (This area also sometimes brings up one of the bugs of the system--see the next paragraph).
The book icon brings up the user dictionary. If there's a word you find yourself entering frequently and the IME doesn't seem to be able to find the right kanji, you can customize your dictionary to solve the problem. Enter the reading of the word in hiragana in the top line and the kanji in the second line. In the third line, you can choose the part of speech from the pull down menu, but this isn't really necessary (the default is 名詞 [noun] and most things you'd enter are nouns and proper nouns anyway; if you enter something as a verb or adjective, it'll also detect when you enter a conjugated version of the word--but to be honest I've never bothered to change this setting). Tap the left "(R)" button to save your entry and 閉じる to close the window. Tap the 単語の削除 tab to delete entries from the user dictionary.
If you take a good look at the screenshot above, you'll notice one of the "eccentricities" of the Japanesified English OS. The user dictionary and option (last paragraph) windows are too wide to fit on the screen. To close either of these windows just use your stylus to drag the title bar for the windows to the left, until the close ("X") button is visible. This isn't a major hassle because I don't add to the dictionary that often and I never access that options window, but it does illustrate one of the foibles of a customized OS.
Block Recognizer and Letter Recognizer are the standard input methods from the English OS. It is possible to enter Japanese using these methods, but because of the way they work you're pretty much limited to entering kana. They really work best with English characters.
The Keyboard is also part of the standard English OS, but you can also use it to input Japanese. Even if you've never used a computer IME to enter Japanese text, using the keyboard is easy. If you've used a computer in Japan, using the keyboard to enter Japanese will be pretty much instinctive to you--it's exactly the same. Tap the icon next to the green ball until it says "あ" to choose hiragana entry. Tap the letter "k" and a "k" appears at the cursor. Now, tap "a" and the "k" turns into a "か" ("ka" = "か"). Tap "sho" and "しょ" pops up (complete with the small ょ). Tap out "gakkou" and you get "がっこう" (the double consonant triggers the small っ). Now, if you want to convert the kana you've entered into kanji (or katakana, or whatever), tap the spacebar. The most likely kanji for that string of kana will appear. If it's right, tap the "enter" button; if not, tap the spacebar again and a list of candidate kanji will appear--tap the one you want. Here's an example--tap it to see the full-screen version (the full-screen version was taken with the Japanese OS so the keyboard looks slightly different, but it works exactly the same way).
Obviously, katakana works the same way. A couple of convenience hints. If you enter in hiragana a word that's normally written in katakana then hit the spacebar, the katakana version will appear; I enter "ぴーたー" and hit the spacebar to turn it into "ピーター." Because I can do this, I never need to set the keyboard to katakana--I just leave it set to hiragana all the time, so I never have to mess with choosing the keyboard mode: all I have to do is tap the green ball to switch from English to Japanese and back. Next, as in the example above, the small characters--such as the ょ and っ in しょうがっこう--just appear when you need them, but if for some reason you ever want to enter a small character all by itself, just type an "l" for "little" in front of what you'd normally enter (so "lyo" yields "ょ" and "ltsu" yields "っ").
The animations were made with the Japanese version; using the English version is exactly the same, but the buttons are slightly different, as shown at left:
As you write the character, likely candidates will appear in the left-hand box, with the most likely in the top left. With more complicated characters, the correct character is likely to appear before you finish drawing--just tap it to select it. From the very first time I tried to draw a character here, by the time I finish the correct character is almost always the number one choice, and it's rare for it not to at least be in the top nine. Even when that happens, scroll down and it's almost always there. It's exceedingly rare for the correct character not to be in the list at all. Even if you get the order wrong, miss a stroke or accidentally combine two strokes in one, it'll find what you're trying to draw. The true joy of it is that the more complicated a kanji is, the more you can screw up and still find the right character! It also seems to have a learning curve--it gets used to how you write.
Multibox is quite similar to Character Autocomplete but lets you enter text more fluidly. After you finish a character in either of the two text boxes, after a certain delay, the IME inserts what it thinks is the most likely character at the cursor point. If you start to write another character in the other box, the IME will immediately insert its choice for the first one at the cursor. This makes for fast entry when you think the computer is likely to pick the right characters--but for the same reason it's a pain if the computer has a good chance of guessing wrong. Complex and unknown kanji are best entered with character autocomplete rather than multibox.
The radicals are in the left box, ordered by number of strokes (e.g., this window shows some of the 2-stroke radicals). To go from 2 stroke radicals to 3 stroke radicals you can simply scroll down, but to go further it's easier to tap the radical stroke count to bring up a chooser (left). Kanji with that radical are in the other box. Shown is the display with the standard 8MB font installed; roll over it with your mouse to see it with the 4MB font (the missing characters are replaced with empty spaces and boxes).
Stroke List. This lists all the kanji by total number of strokes. Tap the stroke count to bring up a chooser to jump to a different stroke count (just like with the Radical List above)--it's much simpler than scrolling all the way up or down. Shown is the display with the standard 8MB font installed; roll over it with your mouse to see it with the 4MB font (the missing characters are replaced with empty spaces and boxes).
Overall, the system works quite well. It even offers a couple of advantages over the native Japanese version of Windows Mobile. First, obviously, is that it's not in Japanese (though, again, the Japanese OS is much easier to use than people expect). Also, the Radical and Stroke List input methods above aren't in the Japanese version, and although the handwriting input almost always works, these lists can be a valuable last resort in the fraction of a percent of cases when it doesn't. The modified English version has an easy way to teach the system new words by adding to the user dictionary--not so the native Japanese version.
However, unlike the native Japanese system, the modified English is not factory spec. While in use the display and text input functions are almost indistinguishable from the native system (they were made out of parts of the native system, after all), the system does have a few rough edges. I've been able to fix all the bugs that could have made the Axim difficult or impractical to use, but it's not quite perfect.
Obviously, there are the too-wide windows for the IME options and user dictionary described above. These are rarely-accessed windows and it's easy enough to drag the title bar of the window to the left until the close button comes into view.
Some IME options for the added input methods are missing (when you pull up the Options window for the added methods, you see a copy of the keyboard options instead). In the Japanese version, you can reconfigure the drawing and display windows in Character Autocomplete and Multibox to be easier for the left-handed, and you can change the delay time in Multibox. Also, Multibox is a little easier to use in the Japanese version because there's a display area where the IME's choices for what you're trying to write are displayed before one of them is chosen automatically.
The Japanese IME pallet is almost always visible, even when the current window does not allow text entry. When you start a program that does allow text entry, sometimes a second copy of the pallet appears; you can't make it go away. I just drag one of the pallets on top of the other, so it looks like there's only one and they don't take up too much screen space. It takes a fraction of a second to fix and it doesn't impede function, but it's still annoying. Also, in some programs the pallet gets bigger, but when you go back to the dictionary program, it shrinks back to normal size.
Sometimes the IME pallet disappears when you switch to landscape mode, although Japanese input is still functional.
When you first turn on Pocket Word, Pocket Notes, or some other programs and attempt to enter Japanese text, there's no input buffer (a little line that shows what you're entering and where you can choose what kanji you want). To bring up the input buffer, tap the book icon in the IME pallet to bring up the user dictionary, then close the user dictionary. Simple and easy to do, but a bit silly that it's necessary. This ISN'T an issue with the dictionary program or with any other programs designed to accept Japanese input.
The input system is incompatible with JWPce (a popular free Japanese word processor for non-Japanese) and most likely any other program that includes its own Japanese input methods. Installing JWPce disables the Japanese input system, requiring a hard reset (complete wipe of the system) and restoration from backup. It's possible that other software incompatibilities will come to light, so before installing any new program, be sure to back up your system so you can restore to your current working state if the new software causes a problem.
The previous version of Supermapple Digital, a great GPS navigation program and Japan map set, wouldn't run from the memory card in the English version of the Axim; while it's possible to run it from the main memory, it eats up a big chunk of main memory and functionality is slightly impaired. I'm not sure if the new version released this July has the same problem--I'll test it out ASAP.
Finally, if main memory is running low or if too many input methods are activated, some input methods may stop working properly, requiring a soft reset. If this happens often, deactivating unused or rarely used input methods fixes the problem. I include a program for activating and deactivating input methods. However, most users never seem to run into this problem, even with all input methods active. I'm now shipping Axims with the multibox, blick recognizer, and letter recognizer methods deactivated by default to prevent the problem from coming up at all.
I expect a lot of people will be asking exactly how I did it. I'm sorry, but the procedure is complicated and getting it wrong is a lot easier than getting it right, especially since people may have their Axims set up in various ways that may conflict with different parts of the procedure--if I don't have the unit in my hands, I can't be sure what will and won't work. If I do give DIY directions, I know from experience that I'll buried under requests for free tech support that I don't have time to offer, and that from time to time I'll get angry emails from people who managed to screw up their systems and blame me. Of course, I happily provide tech support to my customers, but by doing the conversion myself I can be sure that people who buy from me have stable, working, properly configured systems.
You might find a couple of different software packages designed to give an English PPC Japanese capabilities. The two I've found are Effy-Japanese (Eng/Jp) 4.0 by TimeSpacesystem Co. and CE-Star Suite 2.8. Effy doesn't have a handwritten entry option, and it doesn't seem to offer anything that the system described above (or the native Japanese system) doesn't, so I haven't bothered to check it out. Ce-Star does have a handwritten entry system, so I gave it a try. First off, there was a stupid mistake in the installers (at two points, it says "Click the NEXT button" or "Click the START button," but there was no NEXT or START button; customer service told me to just hit Return at those points--this worked in one version of the software but not in the other). Once I got it going, I found the handwritten entry system unusable. With Bagoj's system, described above, I was able to find the right kanji the first time I wrote it almost every time--it was stunningly good. With CE-Star, I'd have to write even simple kanji over and over again--sometimes it found the kanji I wanted on the fifth or sixth try, sometimes it simply never did. Even worse, you can use a virtual keyboard to enter kana, but there's no way to then convert those kana to kanji (a standard feature in every other IME ever made). CE-Star is clearly made for use with Chinese--the Japanese components, no more than an afterthought, are useless (if the installer issue is typical of how careful their developers are, the Chinese system is probably just as bad).