We have a wonderful gadget to support Chinese reading, which is our Netease 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2.0 that I first reviewed in Spring 2020.
This posts compares the differences between the four key models of this portable pen: ( 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2.0 vs 3.0, vs Pro vs International Version) which can all translate from simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and English, from individual words to entire sentences.
If you want to look at a specific review of the Youdao 3.0 version, please see this other post.
What are the key features of all 有道 Youdao Pens?
Refer to my earlier post for a detailed review of Youdao pen and how we used it. In short, 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen enables my daughter to independently read books (in either Chinese and English, but mainly Chinese) and read unfamiliar words with the pen. The pen also works as a great translation tool for me – as it will translate entire paragraphs from Chinese into English, with a much more accurate / fluent translation than Google Translate or Pleco has enabled.
Key features of Youdao Dictionary Reading Pen:
- Translates Chinese text into English (both simplified and traditional, although simplified is best supported)
- Translates English text into Chinese
- Gives a definition of the scanned text, and breaks it down into words / phrases, with a definition of each character / word, using the touch screen
- Shows Pinyin
- Translates spoken Chinese / English into written and audio
- Works for multiple font shapes, including neat handwriting
- Had left handed and right handed usage modes
How do the different models of Youdao pen stack up?
The original Standard Version Youdao pen is a bestselling translation pen in China. Keeping up with the versions is a bit like iPhone series ….. they’re each subtly different, and the latest models all get a high price tag. It’s good to know what you need, and ensure you don’t overpay.
Current versions are:
- 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2 (Standard Version)
- 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2 (International Version)
- 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2.0 Pro
- 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 (Standard version)
Note – when I wrote this post, there was no 3.0 International Version (aka English version), but soon after posting this, I’ve heard it may have just been released! These things keep changing faster than iPhone models!
Key difference between 有道 Youdao versions:
“Pro” Youdao pen will translate into Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Comes at a significantly increased price tag.
“International Version” Youdao pen will have English instructions and English user interface
“Version 3” Youdao pen comes with some more user-friendly features for kids (larger colour screen, and ability to narrate some specific books smoothly). It also includes SPANISH along with Chinese and English.
Additional Benefits of 有道 Youdao 2.0 International Model
- English Manual: First and foremost, the English user manual lets you actually understand every feature of the pen, and also how to troubleshoot when things go wrong. I didn’t think I’d missed this, but now having read the full instruction manual, I realise we’ve not been making full use of all our pen’s features (such as the Chinese AI voice commands).
- English User Interface: I didn’t think it would make a big difference, since we use a lot of gadgets at home without any English options, but after actually using the English UI, I see it makes it infinitely more accessible for non-Chinese speaking parents. and children alike. It takes the hassle / fear out of needing to upgrade the operating system, or swapping into the night mode, and not knowing how to get back out of it again. Functions such as changing from left-handed to right-handed modes, or updating the wifi settings are much easier with the English UI.
Additional features of 有道 Youdao 2.0 Pro Models
Key Benefits of additional features on Pro version
- Additional languages: Chinese, Korean, and English, and it does this as CH-JP and CH-KR, which is a really interesting feature for a linguist.
- Additional dictionaries: it’s possible to look up words in different dictionary versions and compare them (certainly well beyond our family’s usage case, but a very cool feature!)
There’s soon to be a 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 Pro launched!
Additional features on 有道 Youdao 3.0
- Smoother reading: The pen reads a little more smoothly (but my children like the slower version on 2.0), for some selected books, in a more natural / human voice, so nicer to listen to….. however, this isn’t for all books, I think this is a trap as it could become a crutch. One reason I like Le Le Pen is that is reads very slowly, and thus the child only uses it when they really need to know a particular word. So, that’s why I tend to prefer the Youdao 2.0 pen, as slower speed it helpful for a learner to really learn.
- Single tap feature: with a tap, the pen will read a group of characters. And, for specific books, the pen will read whole phrases just with a single tap, rather than pulling the pen across all the text (for specifically linked books by Scholastic). This makes it more like a Luka in functionality, rather than a simple a dictionary pen. For me, I’m a little uncertain about this use, as my daughter generally just uses the pen for an individual characters, as I wouldn’t want whole sentence narrated by default ordinarily. However, as for learning Chinese, a specific character can be VERY different to the meaning of the combined characters around it, an a child may not be aware. So, I’m intrigued by this feature (and hoping I know someone soon who owns the 3.0 Pen so I can really give it a try). For now, the old-fashioned slide over the text has worked just fine with our 2.0.
- Screen size: slightly larger, colour screen (which also means battery lasts less)
- Child lock: which stops a child from reading a full paragraph with the pen…. Although it’s never been an issue at our place, it’s a thoughtful feature.
- Pronunciation correction feature: for English only ….. it’s designed for Chinese learners to practice speaking English words, and then performance is rated. Again, this makes it a little like Luka (although Luka is just so much cuter and fun, in our view).
- Spanish: all the same features for Chinese, but in a whole new language!
Cons of all 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pens
All the pens have the same cons as the original 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen. These include:
- Text size: Only works on text less than 1.3 cm in size (so excludes some children’s picture books and readers)
- Voice: Only has a female voice, and I do think it’s helpful to hear a variety of different voices and genders.
- Translation accuracy: It’s really pretty good. But sometimes, just sometimes, the translations – especially specific things like idioms or name of Emperors, dynasties etc – can be incorrect, but it is SO much better than Google Translate or Pleco. One place we’ve really noticed this is when my daughter tries hopelessly to read her Chinese bible, and we get some crew/alarming translations. I’m hopeful that in future updates it will become even more seamless.
- Pointing accuracy: sometimes I’ve watched my daughter needing to make multiple attempts to scan the same character. Whilst it’s fast, there still is a bit of a gap (versus other pens we’ve tried), which can become frustrating when repeating something a few times over.
- Ergonomics: The pen isn’t conducive for small hands, and optical reader can be fragile (not a toddler toy!). It’s actually really good, but it’s just not “perfect”. Maybe what I’m looking for isn’t possible! I certainly wouldn’t be using this pen with a preschooler.
- Fiddly to use: It takes a little bit of practice, especially for a child.
- Lack of protective case: The pen by default doesn’t come with a protective case – this costs extra. It’s like an iPhone, but the cases cannot be as readily bought from random vendors. Buy it at the same time if you can!
I’m still hopeful someone will come up with a pen which is *perfect* but Youdao is a nice second runner. [Post script May 2021: Yes, there is a new pen on the market which makes up for most of the downsides of the Youdao Pen. It’s called the iFlyTek Alpha Egg, and it’s currently the leading selling dictionary pen in China. Check out how we reviewed it! It’s certainly our preferred option for kids!]
Where do buy Youdao Dictionary Pen in Singapore?
in Singapore, these pens are now plentiful on Carousell, Lazada and Shopee, and most offer a 1 year local warranty. Find the best price, and go with that! Take note on the specific version you are buying though as some will have only a Chinese user interface, and others will offer English. Then some will come with written instructions in English, and others will not.
If you buy from @888flypig on Carousell, you can quote “lahlahbanana” for a further discount. There are many many authorised retailers in Singapore – one of which also includes Elite Linguistic Network (note – no affiliation, and my pen didn’t come from there either, but they dropped me a note after I made this blog post, again if you quote “LAHLAHBANANA” they will give you a 5% discount too.).
There are many authorised retailers in Singapore – one of which includes Elite Linguistic Network, who offer a local warranty of 1 year, during which a 1-1 exchange is offered for factory defects (note – no affiliation, and my pen didn’t come from there either, but they dropped me a note after I made this blog post).
Note, the cheapest options to get this pen will likely have all the interface and manual in Chinese, and it’s possible to get it all working as a non-Chinese speaker (because we certainly use ours effortlessly, without asking anyone how to get it working….. setting up the wifi and downloading the latest firmware was the toughest part).
For those OUTSIDE of Singapore, the pen can be bought from: Global: Taobao or Amazon
US: Jojo Learning
UK & Europe: Deziremi Bookstore, and special note that my blog readers in UK have a £12.00 discount if you use code YOUDAOLAH at checkout/
FAQs on 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pens
Which option do we prefer?
As we learn Spanish too, the 3.0 naturally is the best choice for our family as it contains both Chinese and Spanish.
Overall for just Chinese, the 2.0 and 3.0 are each great – I would go with the International Version for sure, as having the English Instructions and the operating interface is a huge plus.
For the price point, I’m quite happy with our Model 2.0. We wouldn’t use any of the advanced features on the Pro or Version 3.0. Having the English Instructions in the International Version is a huge plus, so I’ve unashamedly photographed all the manuals from our friend. If I had a choice to buy again, I would choose the English Operating System, but we’re are very used to using the pen without it by now.
Does it do Traditional Chinese?
Yes, it will scan and translate from TC into English. It will do vertically oriented text, and it will do right to left scanning.
However, it doesn’t do it in reverse, in that if you scan English, it will only convert it into SC (not TC). Additionally, it won’t translate Zhuyin, and it gets a bit confused with vertical text if it has Zhuyin directly above it. It’s really not compatible with this.
Will the software/dictionaries become outdated?
No, the pen connects to wifi to ensure latest system software updates, including new wods, voices, etc are included. It’s as simple as clicking “Settings-Upgrade” and keeping the pen connected to the wifi during the upgrade (usually it doesn’t need wifi to function)
How long does the battery last? How long does it take to charge fully?
For our Youdao 2.0 version, it lasts for about 8 full hours of continuous use (which is a really really long time, as likely a child will use it intermittently through reading …. for us, it lasts about 4 weeks!). The battery fully charges in 3 hours.
For Youdao 3.0, it lasts for ~5 hours if used in on-line mode continuously (according to the manufacturer; we’ve not got this pen, so really unsure).
What are the options for pronunciation?
For English, it’s either British or American in a female voice. You can choose this from “Settings-Pronunciation” to set the default automatic pronunciation. For Chinese, it’s mainland Chinese in a female voice.
Will Youdao pen work for our family?
We’re a family where no parents speak any Chinese, and yes we use this pen daily – both my daughter, and my self, for different purposes. We read in Simplified Chinese, and generally have books with no pinyin.
I’ve read various reviews from others who use these pens in different family background. For example, Sunny from Spots of Sunshine is a fluent speaker, teaching her daughter in Traditional Chinese. Her review shows it’s less valuable in such a circumstance. Then again, Aime from Trilingual Texpats is a Taiwanese-American mother who teaches in Traditional Chinese and really likes the Youdao pen’s functionality. Chontelle from Bilingual Kidspot in Australia called it the “ultimate pen” for her children who being educated trilingually, despite not speaking any Chinese herself. I always love reading how others use the same device.
Which Chinese dictionaries and optical readers have you tried?
I would love to hear from you, especially if you have experience with other Chinese reading pens and dictionaries. It’s only through meeting other wonderful parents virtually, that this shared language journey becomes a more valuable one. All comments welcomed!
We own quite a few different reading pens (they are extremely helpful). The pen we have which is most similar to Youdao is the iFlyTek Dictionary Pen. Do refer to my previous posts for more information about other Chinese reading pens which are more suitable for younger children, especially preschoolers and encouraging early Chinese literacy – these include:
- Comparison of our favourite Chinese reading pens and robots for Children
- Detailed Review of Habbi Habbi Reading Wand
- Detailed Review of Luka Reading Companion
- Detailed Review of Luka Hero
- Review of iHuman Graded Readers
- Review of eTutorStar Reading Pen
- Detailed review of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen
Note: This is an authentic, honest, and unaffiliated review (as are all reviews on my blog). Our original pen came from Koala Mandarin in Novena. Refer to details in my original post… it retails at $179, although they said they’ll give you a $10 discount if you mention my blog post, I hope it works for you!
I borrowed the other two Youdao pens from two friends to complete this post – they ordered the newer models from Youdao China, and Lazada respectively. I have no affiliation with Youdao or any of the importers into Singapore, and neither do my friends. This is a fully independent review, and I recommend talking to the distributer/importer/local retailer to be sure of what they’re offering, especially with regards to local warranties.