An essential part of any Chinese learner’s toolbox is a pop-up dictionary for reading Chinese online. The two that immediately spring to mind are Perapera, the long standing Firefox plugin, and Zhongwen, one of the earliest of this kind of plugin for Google Chrome. Unfortunately, though, neither of these add-ons are available for mobile devices, the only similar option being the Pleco Pasteboard reader, which while good, means leaving the browser. Soba Talking Chinese Pop-up Dictionary aims to fill this gap by not only working on the desktop version of Firefox, but also the mobile version.
Due to it being targeted toward mobile devices, Soba works a little bit differently than Perapera or Zhongwen. To view a definition you need to click on a word, rather than hovering over it. Then to close the definition pop-up you click the close button, or click away somewhere else. This can be a bit tedious on the desktop, but on mobile it works fine.
Soba for Firefox mobile was tested on my Galaxy Nexus, and worked perfectly. Clicking a word showed the definition and the audio pronunciation played back without error, the speaker being a mainland Chinese male. Audio pronunciation is definitely a bonus, and a feature that is lacking from Perapera and Zhongwen. Soba splits the definition for the character clicked and the word it may be contained in among two pop-up bubbles, above and below the clicked area.
Soba also allows you to get definitions for Chinese characters contained in links. Under normal circumstances clicking a link would take you to the destination page, but Soba instead shows the definition bubble containing a ‘Follow’ button, should you want to visit the link. The allows you to happily click about the page, without worrying about accidentally following a link.
Soba doesn’t have any settings, so it’s either installed and enabled, or you uninstall it. Since characters have to be clicked to view the definition this means Soba doesn’t get in the way, but could apply some overhead to running the browser and possibly slow it down.
While using it on Firefox mobile I noticed that when pinching and zooming the pop-up bubble stayed the same size. This meant that when zoomed right in I had to pan about to view the definition, which may have appeared offscreen.
I also noticed that on pages with a large amount of Chinese characters, such as Engadget Chinese, the plugin refused to work at all. With this being a version 1 release I hope this issue will be addressed with a future update.
Overall, I can’t say that I’ll switch to Soba on the desktop, I’m so used to Perapera, which is lightning fast and doesn’t require a character to be clicked to view the definition. I also sometimes use the multi-character word highlighting when hovering over Chinese words in Perapera to quickly scan a paragraph of Chinese. On mobile, however, I’ll definitely leave it installed.
Soba Talking Chinese Pop-up Dictionary is currently at version 1.0. To install visit the add-on page on desktop or mobile Firefox.