Samsung Galaxy Note for Japanese Dictionaries

skip to Recommended Apps or How to set it up

The Galaxy Note series are fantastic Japanese dictionary platforms, far better than any other Androids (with the possible exception of the upcoming LG G3 Stylus, which, as the name implies...). Because the Galaxy Note has a screen technology different from anything else on the market, it can handle both finger gestures (for convenience) and fine-tipped stylus input (for precise writing). As important as the hardware, there's now an excellent handwriting recognition app. This works as a regular input method and can directly input text in any app.

One other useful note: The specs for the original Galaxy Note say it can use up to a 32 GB microSDHC card. It can actually also use the new microSDXC cards, which go up to 128 GB.  The later models should have no problem with these larger cards, too.

If you don't need all the other, non-dictionary features of the Note, or if you're happy carrying a reasonably-sized smartphone and a separate dictionary, you're still better off getting a JLT Axim--it's a fifth to half the price, depending on whether you get the Note from a carrier or contract free, it's much smaller and easier to carry around (a cheap case can make it practically indestructible), and it's actually still a slightly better dictionary than the Note.

But if you don't mind the size and want to have one device that does everything, the Note looks pretty slick! Obviously, the fact that I'm recommending something that directly competes with the product I'm selling tells you how good I think the Note is. I'm hoping enough people will want something less expensive or smaller or want that last few percentage points of perfection in a Japanese dictionary and buy one from me. I'm also hoping that anyone who buys a Note to use as a dictionary will buy my JLT version of Eijiro (it's the biggest Japanese-English and English-Japanese dictionary made, and the JLT version adds yomigana to make it far easier to use for non-Japanese) and download the free JLT dictionaries to make their Note dictionaries even better.  

Many other dictionaries are also available.

Useful Apps

The core apps for a great dictionary system on your Note are EBPocket for Android, which you use to access the dictionaries, and Swype, which includes excellent Japanese handwriting recognition, which is essential for inputting kanji you don't know.  One note for clarity: the JLT dictionaries are not apps; they are documents in a particular format called EPWING.  EBPocket is a dictionary app which uses EPWING format dictionaries.  The combination of EPWING format dictionaries and the EBPocket app is, in my opinion, the best dictionary set-up for Japanese.  It's not perfect, but it works well even with huge dictionaries that would crash other apps and gives you the powerful search options you need to get the most out of huge dictionaries like Eijiro.  Beyond that, there are a huge number of dictionaries out there in EPWING format, and EBPocket lets you use a lot of dictionaries together, multiplying their power.  You can search in many dictionaries at once or one a time, and you can look up a word that comes up in one dictionary in other dictionaries without switching apps.  Swype simply works better than any other Japanese handwriting recognition system for Android and on top of that it's dirt cheap.  See the set-up section below for links to these apps.

As with any Android or Apple, there are a host of apps that can help you learn or function in the language.  There are myriad kanji and vocabulary flashcard and other study apps, and things to suit almost every need and interest.  There are a lot of different features and interfaces and which app is best for any purpose usually comes down to individual taste, so I'm not going to list every app out there, just a few I think users might find especially useful.  

Google Translate: It's probably already built into your Note, but if not it's in the play store.  Yes, in terms of translating natural Japanese sentences or anything longer into English, it's a not really something you should rely on (but still better than any Japanese translation program I've seen, and the speech translation can be truly entertaining), but it has one new trick that could be extremely useful: Word Lens (Japanese OCR lookup) .  Point the camera at some printed Japanese text and the app will show you what they mean (sadly, unlike iPhone apps designed exclusively for Japanese and English, it won't show you how kanji compounds are pronounced); as with any Japanese translation system, doing it word by word and putting them together yourself rather than letting it loose on whole sentences at a time will give more reliable results.  I recommend setting it up to work offline so it's not constantly sending photos and video back and forth between your phone and Google's servers, eating a lot of your bandwidth allotment (and it's probably also faster offline).  Don't expect it to work for handwritten Japanese, on damaged or dirty signs, in poor lighting, with unusual fonts, etc., but in the right circumstances it works well.   All but one of the other Android apps claiming to do this get terrible reviews, so this is the one to try.  For hardcore Android geeks, there's a more customizable app designed for reading manga that has a few extra features and is reported to work well, though it doesn't work with the live camera (big convenience issue for using it out in the wild, not so much if you're studying pages of text at a time) and you'll need to know what you're doing to set it up.

NHK Accent Dictionary (NHK 日本語発音アクセント辞典): It's meant to give guidance to the perfect NHK Tokyo accent for aspiring Japanese announcers, but it can be useful for beginning Japanese learners outside of Japan who need to work on pronunciation but don't have regular exposure to native speakers or for very advanced learners who want to absolutely perfect their pronunciation.  I don't think it's worth the money for people who can already pronounce all the kana syllables properly or have regular exposure to native speakers (unless, again, they're so fluent they want to sound better than the natives around them).  It's available for about US$30/3100 yen in the Play store.  NHK used to put out an EPWING version on CD, but it's out of print now and quite expensive, so unless you've got US$200 or so to burn on a used copy (or don't mind looking for less licit sources, but I don't recommend that option), you're best off sticking with the Android app.

ATOK Japanese keyboard: This is optional.  For Japanese words you know and for all English, the fastest way to enter text is by keyboard. If you don't like Swype or the built-in Android Japanese keyboard for that, ATOK is your best bet.  It works just like the keyboard on your regular computer. But at around 1500 yen it's not cheap, so do give Swype and the Android keyboard a chance before splurging on this.  It's available on Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.

Setting up your Galaxy Note as a Japanese dictionary:

  1. Unless you get the Japanese version of the Note, you'll have to change the system font to a more Japanese-friendly one due to the font problem described below--it really can make reading and looking up Japanese quite difficult sometimes. Samsung gives you an option to do this in the settings menu, or you can use iFont (I haven't tried iFont so I can't make any promises about it).
  2. Buy and install the Swype app (even if you get the Japanese version of the Note, which includes a different handwriting app, you should get Swype--it's much better). 
  3. Buy and install EBPocket Pro for Android .
  4. Download the JLT dictionaries, unzip them, and copy the dictionary folders to the root of your microSD card (i.e., the most basic level of the card, not inside any other folder on the card).
  5. Add dictionaries (you can choose the easy way or the hard way; you don't need to do both).
  6. Optional but useful.  If you want to change the order dictionaries are shown in the Dictionary menu, go the Dictionary menu, hold your finger on any dictioanry until a pop-up message appears, and tap Group Edit.  Then tap a dictionary (a blue dot will appear next to it), then tap the up/down arrows at the bottom of the window to move it to where in the order you'd like it to be.  You can also tap Del to delete a dictionary from the menu.  You can tap Add to add an additional dictionary without completely reloading all of them, as we did in Step 5, but that's a little more complicated.  Tap Complete when you're done making changes (though if you don't do anything for a while it'll decide you're done and shut down the Edit Group menu on its own).

The font problem
Unless you bought your 'Droid from a Japanese phone company, the built in fonts are biased toward Chinese, and some characters, although technically the same, look much different than they do in Japanese font.  That means that however you enter a character, keyboard or handwriting, even if the system finds the correct character, it won't look like the one you were trying to enter and you might not recognize it. The 曜 [you] in 曜日[youbi] is a good example

In standard Japanese the top right part is ヨヨ (looks like two katakana yo characters), but in Chinese it looks almost like the character for feather or wing, 羽 [hane]. A lot of Japanese characters actually do have parts that are supposed to look like 羽 instead of ヨヨ, so 曜 written that way looks like it quite plausibly could be a completely different kanji--for quite a while I thought it wasn't finding the right kanji. To fix this, you have to change the system font (it's not enough to change the font in a particular app).  You'll probably have to do a bit of trial and error to find a font that looks decent on your tablet or phone. 曜 is a good test--if it comes out looking Japanese in a font, then it's likely the font will show the proper Japanese versions of all the other kanji, too.