This post is a detailed comparison of iFlytek Alpha Egg versus the Youdao Dictionary pen. Let me say that they are both excellent options, and the race is clearly on between dictionary pen manufacturers in China.
This post compares:
- Pen Design & Ease of Use
- Scanning ability
- Accuracy of text scanning
- Accuracy of voice recording
- Accuracy of translation
- Speed of translation
- Differentiating features
- Price comparison
The changing face of dictionary pens over the years reminds me somewhat of Snow White and the Magic Mirror. For years I’ve been asking what is the best Chinese reading pen out there, and I’ve been on an epic quest to find one:
Me: “Mirror mirror, on the wall, who’s the best dictionary pen of them all?”
Magic Mirror: “Youdao oh Queen is best by far,
No more googling needed, just believe Lah Lah”
Me: “Mirror mirror, on the wall, who’s the best dictionary pen of them all?”
Magic Mirror: “Youdao oh Queen is better than most,
but Alpha Egg pips it to the post”
Yes, in 2020 I called Youdao the holy grail of dictionary pens. In 2021, I never thought I’d say this, but iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen is better (for my kids) than our much loved Youdao. It won’t be better for everyone, so here’s a head-to-head comparison of key functionality, so you can assess which one suits your family needs the best.
Pen Design & Ease of Use
Youdao Dictionary Pen: it’s sleek and light wait (0.12 lbs), and fits nicely into a handbag. It’s an adult design. The buttons are slimline and not obvious. It looks business-like and elegant, especially with its shiny mirror material. The operating system is simple to navigate (especially if you have the English UI version), and connecting to wifi is seamless.
iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen: the pan barrel is fat like an oversize crayon or piece of chalk, designed to comfortably fit the grasp of a pre-primary to middle school student. The main button is circular in the middle of the pen barrel, and there are no extra buttons. It looks robust, and has a silicone cover which means it’s not slippery to grip even when little hands are sweaty. The operating system is equally simple to navigate (although there is no English option), and connecting to wifi is a cinch.
Youdao Dictionary Pen: touchscreen is long and wide, fitting most of the pen’s body. This means it can fit in a large paragraph, with full translation (which is something I need to do a lot as a non-Chinese reading adult, but wouldn’t expect a child would need to do!).
iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen: touchscreen is square shaped, and can show stroke order of characters, which is a big win. The difficultly comes that because the screen is small, it requires a lot of scrolling to translate entire paragraphs (however, for a child, this is good, as it will encourage them not to use the pen as a crutch to translate whole slabs of writing).
YouDao and iFlytek can each scan English and Chinese printed text, in both Traditional and Simplified, and from left-to-right, and right-to-left. But there are some differences.
Youdao Dictionary pen: when the pen scans, the sentence will show up, with a translation, and then details of each word will appear, including phrases, pronunciation, tenses, etc. It’s helpful to have this in English too, if you have the International Youdao version which has an English operating system. It will not scan/recognise pinyin text.
iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen: when the pen scans, the sentence will show up, with a translation, and then details of each word will appear, including phrases, pronunciation, tenses, etc. It’s content rich like Youdao, but a little clumsy trying to look up so much content on a tiny screen. iFlyTek Alpha Egg does have the added bonus of being able to scan pinyin. This would be helpful for a P1 / P2 child in Singapore, where pinyin is a regular part of the syllabus.
Accuracy of text scanning
Both dictionary pens use OCR text recognition technology, and can effortless scan various fonts (italic, bold, comic, neat handwriting) across a variety of formats (textbooks, workbooks, magazines etc). Alpha Egg will also do more flourished and cursive fonts, where Youdao struggles with this.
The key differentiation is that Alpha pen seems to do better on a quick tap translation of one character than Youdao (and my children are lazy, and like to just quickly tap). This is a good feature. Additionally, if scanning multiple lines, Alpha Egg tends to get it more correct.
Accuracy of voice recording feature
Both pens have the option of taking audio input, and translation this also (we don’t use this function much, but we tried it for the purpose of this review). We discovered that if both pens are held close to the person speaking (say within 20cm of the mouth), both pens perform about the same.
However, if the pen is being used to translate a conversation between two people, and is therefore the pen is held in the middle of the two people (eg >50cm away from the mouth), the Alpha Egg will still work, but we realise the Youdao becomes quite error prone. We’re guessing the microphone in Youdao is not quite as good, as least in the standard version we have.
Accuracy of Chinese-English translation
Both these pens do great! They do massively better than Google Translate could ever achieve, due to their neural networks, which tap into large databased of Chinese dictionaries and written use cases.
Alpha Egg is perhaps ever so slightly better than Youdao. It’s hard for me to always know, as a non-Chinese speaker. But, I feel on the whole that 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. We’ve noticed this mainly with especially specific things like name of Emperors, dynasties, or biblical texts etc.
Speed of translation
Alpha Egg is split seconds faster in its response time, and then faster in reading out the full sentence / paragraph. Alpha Egg takes less than 1 second to recognize, and reads about 60 words in one minute. Youdao seems to take about 1 – 2 seconds, and then does about 40 words.
In a race, Alpha Egg will always win. Overall, the reading effect of longer paragraph is better with iFlytek and faster, and the speech synthesis feels smoother and less robotic, especially for the English. However, my kids do fancy the slower pace of Youdao.
Other differentiating features
- Idioms / Tang poems and other ancient texts: This is where Alpha Egg wins out, but this a function which will only really be helpful if guided by a Chinese-speaking parent, or a very advanced learner. For example, if you ask the Alpha Egg dictionary pen to (in Chinese) to explain a specific Tang Poem to you, it will list where it comes from, the author’s history, and a detailed explanation of the meaning. In contract, Youdao dictionary pen will display just the verses of the poem. iFlyTek has a specific kid-friendly fun feature where if you even simply say “Tang Poem” to the dictionary pen, the Alpha Egg dictionary pen will show a random Tang poem, and start telling you about it.
- AI voice questions: Both pens can accept simple voice commands, and answer them based on big data (eg children can ask questions about animals, geography, history, nature, astronomy, etc). iFlyTek seems to have a bigger repertoire of answers, and is more comparable to Luka Hero in this regard. Youdao is weaker, and more often replies with “the question is beyond the scope of my knowledge”.
- Stroke order: The Alpha Egg dictionary pen can show dynamic stroke order demonstration, when asked “how to write character XYZ“. Youdao has nothing like this.
- Oral assessment: The Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen also has a pronunciation and evaluation feature (for English only, not Chinese) function that the regular Youdao Dictionary Pen does not have (although Youdao 3.0 pen has introduced this too). For us, this feature is unnecessary, as we’re not learning to speak English. Apparently Alpha Eggs uses the same AI engine algorithm as the Mainland Chinese high school oral examinations for spoken English.
- Voice used: Youdao enables a choice between British or American English, with only a female voice. It reads relatively slowly. For iFlyTek Alpha Egg, the words are recorded in a variety of male and female voices, with only option for English being an American accent.
- Offline usage: both offer this option
This clearly differs by region and importer.
Currently, NetEase Youdao Electronic Dictionary Pen 2.0 is priced in Singapore about SG$180. In comparison, iFlytek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen is priced about SG$160.
PROMO CODE FOR ALPHA EGG: If in Singapore, buy from Sagesaurus and my blog readers can get a $5 discount code using <lahlah5off> at checkout.
Which one should I buy?
For me, both these Chinese-English dictionary pens are excellent options, and they are similar enough that I’d choose the cheapest price option and be done with it. I do think every house with Chinese learners should own one of these dictionary pens. But, a few considerations on which one:
1) If this is specifically for a child, the iFlyTek Alpha Egg is more robust and easier for a child to hold. It also will show character stroke order, and read pinyin, which can be useful in a primary school context.
2) If you are a Chinese speaking parent, iFlyTek Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen has many more functions too. We’re unable to explore them all, as I don’t read Chinese.
3) If you’re a family where Chinese is not read by the parents, then having a good optical reading pen is even more important, to allow your child to do reading by themselves, and to enable you to translate whatever they’re reading! So you really should buy a dictionary pen. However, unless you’re confident in using a device which is fully designed in Chinese (or you have a good friend who can assist), you may be better off buying a Youdao with English operating interface. Alpha Egg is not too hard once you get the hang of it, but I know from experience with recommending other products on this blog that there are certain families where if a product doesn’t have any English interface, they really struggle.
Which Chinese learning gadgets do you love?
I’m an engineer and geek, and I love gadgets which can help my children to learn Chinese. I’ve written other reviews of gadgets like how Youdao Pen 2.0 compares to 3.0, and how our Luka Hero and Luka Mini compare to original Luka Reading Robot, and how Chinese literacy apps like iHuman Shizi compare to Wukong Literacy.
I would love to hear from you on the gadgets you love, and swap notes. 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, unsponsored 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.