Hanping Chinese Popup

This app has changed the way I read Chinese on my phone.

If you’re using an Android phone and learning Chinese you’ve no doubt heard of Hanping Chinese Dictionary. Well, I’ve been beta testing their new app, Hanping Chinese Popup, for the last few weeks and it’s changed the way I read and study Chinese on my phone.

Hanping Chinese Popup lets you view dictionary definitions of Chinese anywhere on your screen. All you need to do is position the cursor/handle to the bottom left of a character and the definition for the detected word will appear at the top (or bottom) of the screen.

Optical character recognition (OCR) isn’t new, we’ve had this kind of functionality for a while now in apps like Hanping Chinese Camera and with Pleco’s OCR feature. What makes Hanping Chinese Popup special is that you don’t need to leave the app you are in to view the definitions. The text doesn’t even have to be selectable, like on a website, it can grabbed right out of images, too.

Taking away that extra step of leaving your current app to go into the dictionary app makes studying Chinese more enjoyable and less frustrating. It’s this frustration that would often deter me from bothering to read Chinese, but now viewing definitions for Chinese words doesn’t disrupt the flow of reading.

Here’s a few ways that I’ve found it particularly useful during my testing:

Apps Without Selectable Text

Some apps, like the Chinese language version of Bloomberg Businessweek 商業週刊中文版, don’t allow the text to be selected. This means I’d have to take a screenshot and import it into an app with OCR. Using Popup I can view the definitions without leaving the app.

Reading a headline in the Bloomberg Businessweek app with Hanping Chinese Popup
Reading a headline in the Bloomberg Businessweek app with Hanping Chinese Popup

Playing Games with Chinese Text

I love playing retro games like Zelda and, as I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s possible to play Chinese conversions (漢化版) of these games.

I’ve been using Popup to look up words I don’t know as I play. Obviously this isn’t going to work for fast paced games, but for adventure or RPG games it’s perfect.

Princess Zelda is safe in the hands of Link and Hanping Chinese Popup
Princess Zelda is safe in the hands of Link and Hanping Chinese Popup

The detection rate was pretty good considering the size of the characters and how some have been ‘modified’ to fit down to these pixelated sizes.

Reading Scanned Books

The availability of ebooks in Taiwan is very limited. Even if a book is available in digital form, it’s usually part of a proprietary app and the text is not selectable. This means that over the years I’ve bought quite a few dead-tree books. I’ve read most of them to varying degrees, but recently I’ve been taking my favourite books and scanning them into the computer to make PDFs.

Reading the Chinese translated of Rework by 37 Signals
Reading the Chinese translated of Rework by 37 Signals

Rather than go to the extra step of using OCR on the scans and then having to check the results for mistakes, I can make PDFs directly from the scanned images and the use Popup to read them. It’s worked quite well and made me consider buying an Android tablet just for a more comfortable reading size – right now I am using my 5.5 inch Zenfone 2 in landscape mode to read.

The one potential downside is that Popup doesn’t support vertical text, yet, though I am told it is planned for a future update.

I’ve been really impressed with the word detection of the app – There were some instances when I had to tweak the position of the handle a bit to get the detection right. Also, when playing the game if the background was busy there was some mis-detection, but this is to be expected. On high quality source material, like the scanned books, the detection rate was very good – even with my pencil scrawled notes and circles around characters. Overall highly recommended if you’re learning Chinese and using an Android phone, this has become one of my essential apps.

The app requires one of the Hanping Chinese Dictionary apps to be installed (Free or Pro) or Hanping Cantonese Dictionary.

Hanping Chinese Popup is available (for Android 5.0 Lollipop and up) in the Google Play Store for $9.99.