Pleco Pasteboard Reader – Easily Read Chinese on your Mobile Device

There are so many tools for learning and reading Chinese on a desktop computer or laptop that language learners are spoilt for choice, though when it comes to mobile devices the choices are fewer by far. There’s no PeraPera or similar plugin for mobile Firefox or Chrome, meaning that if you want to read Chinese online with handy definition pop-ups you’re out of luck. Luckily, that’s where Pleco (iOS, Android) steps in.

Hidden in the sub-menus of Pleco is an option called Reader. Reader (Pasteboard Reader on iOS) grabs and displays the contents of the clipboard adding pop-up definitions to any Chinese that it finds. This becomes even more useful when used with the multifunction features of newer mobile devices such as those in iOS and Android, which make it easy to quickly switch between an app like a newsreader or web browser into Pleco Reader.

Apple iPad and iPhone

To access Pasteboard Reader on an iPad launch Pleco, then click on the menu button at the bottom right (the one that looks similar to a WiFi signal icon). From the menu that appears along to bottom choose the second option, Read+Help.

Launch Pleco and choose Read+Help from the Menu

Pleco Menu

There are only two options on the next page, we want the first one, Pasteboard Reader. If you had anything on your clipboard then it’ll appear here, but the text on this page can’t be manually edited, only the contents of your iPad’s clipboard can be displayed.

To use Pleco Reader and multitasking gestures on the iPad, here’s what I do:

Launch Pleco and go to the Pasteboard Reader as described above. Now press the home button and open the app that you will be reading Chinese in. In my case it’s usually the browser or Reeder (the cool iOS RSS reader). Once you come across some Chinese you want to read with select it, as you would normally do to select text, and choose ‘copy’.

Copy Some Chinese Text

Copy Chinese Text

Using the 4-finger multitasking gesture that’s built into iOS you can now swipe to the left and into Pleco Pasteboard Reader. Pasteboard will automatically import the text and display it for you, just click any word to see the definition.

The most important thing on the iPad is to remember first to launch and prepare Pleco, then go back to the homescreen and launch the app you’ll be reading Chinese in. That way Pleco will the next app to the right in the multi-tasking scheme of things.

Click a Word to View Definition

Pleco Reader Pop-up Definition

As far as I know the 4-finger gestures are iPad only, and so will not work on the iPhone. In that case, if you are using an iPhone or iPod Touch with iOS 4 or higher, you can double-press the home button to bring up the multi-tasking bar and then select Pleco. For older devices you can press the home button to return to the home screen and then launch Pleco from there.

Android Devices

To access Pleco Reader on Android devices launch Pleco, then press the menu button (or the 3 vertical dots on Android 4 and above) and choose Reader from the top right of the buttons. Again, as with Pleco on iOS, if you have anything on your clipboard it will be shown here.

Launch Pleco and Open Reader from the Menu

Pleco Menu Android

Press the home button on your phone and launch the app that you’ll be reading Chinese in. Find some Chinese text, selecting and copying it as you normally would. Then press the multitasking button to bring up the list of open apps – This feature is only available in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above, on Google Nexus devices it’s the bottom right button that looks like two rectangles behind each other, on Samsung Devices it’s a long press of the home button, and other devices may differ. (If you don’t have an Android 4.0+ device, then you can simply press home and launch Pleco from the home screen or app drawer)

Copy Text and Multitask Back to Pleco

Android Multitasking Menu

Choose Pleco from the multitasking menu, and as Reader was already open the text you just copied will automatically appear. Now you can click on any word to see the definition and pronunciation.

Click a Word to View Definition

Android Pleco Pop-up Definition


Pasteboard Reader is a basic feature of Pleco, it’s hidden behind multiple clicks in some cases and there aren’t many (if any) options to customise the look of it. This means you’re stuck with the bog-standard Chinese font and while you can adjust the colours, that’s about all you can do. It’d be amazing to see a Chinese Reader like this that had some beautiful formatting similar to Evernote Clearly or Readability, but in the meantime this under-developed Pleco feature will do.

5 responses to “Pleco Pasteboard Reader – Easily Read Chinese on your Mobile Device

  1. I use Pleco on Android and I turn on the notification bar support (Settings -> General -> Startup Actions -> Show status bar launcher). This makes sure Pleco Reader is always easy to access once I have some Chinese in the clipboard —always just a swipe and a screen touch away.

  2. Thanks for posting this!

    Two small notes:

    1) More attractive looks are definitely coming, the key piece of that has actually been sourcing a better-looking Chinese font – you can get an idea of the direction we’re going with that at:

    We’re waiting for them to finish fleshing out its simplified character support (expected by late January) but soon after that we should have vastly better looking Chinese typography in both platform versions of Pleco. Though in the meantime on Android at least there’s our custom font option which can make things look a little nicer.

    Other parts of the UI will certainly keep improving too – probably going to offer an option to replace the “bubble” with a permanent palette at the bottom of the screen, for example (right now there’s one to anchor the bubble to the bottom of the screen, but it remains modal so you can’t scroll the text while it’s open), and we’ve already got EPUB and PDF support working experimentally on iOS.

    2) On Android the pasteboard reader also works with the Share command, even from a web page – just “Share” the page with Pleco Reader and it’ll load it / parse it / pull up the text. (sadly this isn’t quite so easy to automate on iOS yet, though we’re hoping iOS 7 will finally bring robust inter-app data exchange)

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