iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen 科大讯飞扫描笔
This post is a review of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Reading Pen – a handheld dictionary pen, which can read any printed Chinese or English text. It’s specifically designed to be kid friendly, accurate, and allows the user to effectively read and/or translate between the two languages.
Technology just keeps getting better! I used to wonder why there wasn’t a simple hand-held device which can read any Chinese text in the same way that Google Translate can. I now know several devices and apps which can do this, and FlyTek Alpha Egg is certainly a standout.
This post covers:
What is the iFlyTek Alpha Dictionary Pen?
The two main stream dictionary pens currently on the market are NetEase Youdao Dictionary and iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen. Let me start by saying the Alpha Egg pen can do everything the much heralded Youdao pen can do, but better. Moreover, it’s claimed to be current Number 1 bestselling dictionary pen in China right now.
This clever pen will can scan any Chinese written text (from an individual character to a full paragraph), and then it will:
- read it out in Chinese
- read it out in English (in a very fluent and sensible translation)
- show the pinyin
- provide dictionary definition of individual words in the sentence/paragraph.
Previously, we’ve used other devices which ‘translate’ text between languages – such as Google Translate camera function, Pleco OCR, and Youdao. Each of these do work, but in some cases not well enough to enjoy the reading experience or be certain 100% of the nitty gritty details. A dictionary pen is undoubtedly the best way to do this, but not all of them are designed for use by children. Unlike Youdao, the Alpha Egg is specifically designed for younger users.
This pen literally is an answer to all the flaws which we’d noted about the Yaodao Dictionary Pen, in an earlier review. Previously I’d called Yaodao pen as the ‘holy grail’ gadget for translating Chinese-English text ……. For children, iFlyTek now wins this prize, since it’s designed to be much more kid friendly and robust, and easier for an inpatient child to use accurately.
Why does our family use Chinese Dictionary Pens?
Some family background: all my daughters study Mandarin at school as their “mother tongue”, but we have no Chinese speaking adults in our house. For me, as a monolingual mother raising bilingual children, this means I cannot understand the homework, or help with weekly tingxie (Chinese spelling) revision, or even bedtime reading. Having a dictionary pen in the house gives me some sanity!
We use our dictionary pens for two main purposes:
- To assist my children to read independent: when reading a book by themselves, the Dictionary Pen helps them to understand a particular words or phrases they don’t know. Rather than needing to me madly look it up for them on Pleco or Google Translate (or calling our neighbour!), this pen lets the child do it themselves instantly and effortlessly. They simply need to gently swipe and they get the pronunciation and explanation to appear (a great help for a busy parent, or a parent who doesn’t read the language). This really encourages the kids with their independent wider reading. It’s primarily for Chinese, although I noticed my youngest has started to use this for her English too. They tend to read books where they know 90 – 95% of the words, and use the dictionary pen to fill in the unknown characters (for Chinese, it’s much harder to guess the missing character than in English, when a word can often be deciphered phonetically given the surrounding context).
- For non-Chinese speaking adult to understand printed Chinese: a Dictionary pen is also a good tool for a non-Chinese reading adult. For example, if there’s ever a whole page of Chinese text which I’ve wanted to translate, it’s not a good feeling doing this with Google Translate as it’s time-consuming, and still produces a sub optimal result. Dictionary pens such as iFlyTek Alpha Egg will work instantly and give translations of whole paragraphs which actually do make sense.
Pros of iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen
- Designed with children as key user: sleek and cute shape, with easily graspable pen barrel, and big buttons
- One-swipe, fast translation: recognizing words and sentence automatically. It instantly translates at about 15 characters per second (which is faster than Youdao Pen, as we’ve raced ours together, and iFlyTek has less of an awkward pause after scanning)
- User friendly: clear voice (both male & female) that are easy to understand, with adjustable volume, comfortable to hold, multidirectional scanning for left or right handers, and very portable.
- High quality translation: the translation is miles better than Google Translate, and noticeably better than Youdao too. I thought Youdao was good, but based on feedback from several Chinese speaking friends, Alpha Egg does an even better job, especially on more intangible phrases such as a idioms or colloquialisms.
- Not too fragile: it’s an optical reader, so it’s never going to be a toy which can be thrown around. But the design is robust and good for small hands to hold, and it feels sturdy enough to handover to my toddler.
- Many options on touch screen: provides Chinese audio, English audio, written English, and Pinyin translations, and also option for voice recording, and translating spoken voice inputs too (which makes for a fun game of testing pronunciations!).
- Works on nearly all written text less than 1.5cm wide: Support standard fonts in textbooks, children’s Chinese picture books, newspapers and magazines, restaurant menus, etc. It will even read very neat handwriting(another incentive for a child to write neatly!).
- Includes stroke order: the screen will illustrate stroke order
- It can read Hanyu Pinyin and recognises Traditional Chinese characters also
- Reading speed can be adjusted: when we first tried out this pen, my daughter’s comment was that is read too fast. Then, we realised there is a ‘slow down’ option, which is a thoughtful feature for a younger user to help them really understand the phrasing/intonation.
- Oxford dictionary: contains 9th Edition Oxford dictionary, Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, and 20 key reference books, which can be used for looking up definitions of words and facts. Searching for any word explanation and translation is a cinch, either with a text scan or voice command.
- Advanced AI voice command, and recognition of child voice too: it’s possible to ask the pen trivia questions (like “how many planets are in the solar system?”) and the pen will answer it, with a large library of facts from 20 reference books. This works in Chinese only.
Cons of iFlyTek Alpha Dictionary Dictionary Pen
- The operating system language is Chinese: Instructions and set up are fully in Chinese, as are all menus on the pen itself (it’s reasonably intuitive if you play around for a bit). In comparison, it’s now possible to get the Youdao 2.0 pen which both English instructions and English operating system.
- It will read only printed text which is less than 1.5 cm wide: this rules out some popular children’s books, like Sage 500 Books or Elephant & Piggie which have oversized fonts in them. (In comparison, a tool like Luka Hero can read large size text).
- It doesn’t work very well on phone or tablet screens: to get it to work best, the screen needs to be set on a VERY bright level.
- For an adult, the pen might be a bit clunky to hold: like a chunky crayon, but it really gets the job done well.
Model: TYP03 Alpha Egg (by iFlyTek)
Battery: USB rechargeable; 8 hours of continuous use; charges in about 2 – 3 hours
Connectivity: 2.4gHz WiFi (support offline use too)
Screen: 1.4-inch square color RGB LCD screen
Voice Mode: Real voice (American accent, Male & Female voices)
Orientation: Left & Right-handed
Languages: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, English
User interface: Mandarin
Most of the information online about this pen is written in Chinese, but there’s a page of FAQs in English available here along with some videos.
How does iFlyTek Alpha Egg compare to Yaodao and other Chinese reading pens?
We have various Chinese reading pens in our household – both my daughters, and myself, for different purposes. We read in Simplified Chinese, and generally have books with no pinyin. Different reading pens and curriculums suit different learning stages, ages, family situations, and intended learning outcomes.
This iFlyTek Alpha Egg pen addresses several of the concerns that we had identified with our heavily used Youdao dictionary pen. In particular the improvements are:
- Screen size: The iFlytek standard screen is bigger than the standard Youdao 2.0 screen. It’s the same size as the Youdao 3.0 screen, but at a cheaper price point.
- Voice: I think it’s helpful to hear a variety of different voices and genders, which this pen allows. In comparison, Youdao only has a female voice.
- Translation accuracy: This is ever so slightly better than Youdao. It’s hard for me to always know, as a non-Chinese speaker. But, I feel the translations tend to make more sense from Alpha Egg, especially on more intangible phrases such as a idioms or colloquialisms. This has been corroborated by Chinese speaking friends. It’s translations – especially specific things like idioms or name of Emperors, dynasties, or biblical texts etc etc – which it does a slightly better effort at than Youdao (and infinitely better than Google Translate or Pleco).
- Pointing accuracy: Alpha Egg is more likely to get is right the first time, versus Youdao, when sometimes I’ve watched my daughter needing to make multiple attempts to scan the same character. It seems less fiddly, and easier to swipe at any angle, from either hand.
- Speed: iFlyTek is instant. With Youdao, there’s the slightest gap, which can become frustrating when repeating something a few times over.
- Ergonomics: The iFlytek is highly conducive for small hands, with its large sized pen shape, well protected optical lens. It’s not as fiddly for a child to use as Youdao, and comes with its own silicone protective cover.
- Stroke order and Hanyu Pinyin: additional handy features which Youdao doesn’t have
The main (only?) drawback of iFlytek Alpha Egg versus Youdao is that it doesn’t have an English operating system, whereas there is an International Youdao 2.0 version or Youdao Version 3 which comes with full English User Interface and Instructions manual.
I have written a more detailed head-to-head comparison between features of the iFlytek Alpha Egg and Youdao in a comparison post here.
It’s also worth noting thought Alpha Egg and Youdau are each only a dictionary pens, so they have no accompanying materials – it’s literally just for translating. They will read/translate any printed text, but it’s not an enjoyable way to narrate entire books. It’s really there for translating characters or paragraphs, to assist an advanced Chinese learner (or their illiterate parents!), and you’ll never need a Chinese dictionary again.
We have quite a few other reading pens (they are extremely helpful). If you’re looking for an option for young children to gain audio exposure in a fun literary context, our other reading pens (like Le Le Chinese, Habbi Habbi Reading Wand, etc) would be more relevant than Alpha Egg Dictionary pen, as they seamlessly narrate specific books and have beautiful audio. Or even better still, a Luka Reading Companion which can narrate nearly 100,000 picture books!
I’ve written a more detailed post comparing key features of other Chinese reading robots and pens which our family has here.
Where to buy?
The pen has just been launched in Singapore by Sagesaurus: https://www.sagesaurus.com . Whatsapp customer service at +6584820542
Each pen comes with a complimentary silicone cover, 1 year warranty, and free local delivery service. International shipping services can be arranged.
PROMO CODE FOR ALPHA EGG: My blog readers can get a $5 discount code using <lahlah5off> at checkout from Sagesaurus.
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!
Note: This is an authentic, honest, and unaffiliated review (as are all reviews on my blog). The iFlyTek Alpha Egg pen was loaned to us to beta test from Sagesaurus.
I have no affiliation with iFlyTek or any of the importers into Singapore. 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.