Youdao Dictionary Pen 3 Review

This post is a detailed review of the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3, their latest version, which has three languages in one.

In 2020 I stumbled upon a wonderful gadget to support Chinese reading, which is our original 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen, that I first reviewed in Spring 2020, and called the ‘Holy Grail’ of reading pens. To this day, we still have that very same pen, and use it regularly. It works just great. We now how a Version 3.0 of the pen in our collection too.

When the Youdao team reached out to me offering for us to try the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3, do you know why I was instantly interested?  Because the latest Youdao Dictionary Pen 3 contains Spanish too, and our family has started learning Spanish (as well as Mandarin). Their email came at a time when I was wracking my brain thinking of how to do something meaningful to raise funds for the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, and this seemed like a great way. So keep reading to find out more on this.

This is not a paid or sponsored review.  However, Youdao did generously give our family the Dictionary Pen to try, and shortly I’ll be hosting a giveaway of some Youdao goodies through my IG, so you can share in their generosity too!

What is the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3?

Like its forerunners, the main purpose of the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 is to translate individual words or entire sentences between languages, and it provides a dictionary feature too.  The difference with Version 3.0 is this pen has three languages in one – Chinese (Simplified & Traditional), Spanish, and English.

Refer to my earlier post for a detailed review of the earlier Youdao pen and how we use it. In short, with a dictionary pen like this, it’s possible to independently read books (in Chinese, Spanish, or English) and get the pronunciation, meaning, or translation of unfamiliar words simply by scanning it with the pen. 

What’s in the box?

There’s a manual (in English) and a USB charging cable.  To first activate the pen you need Wi-Fi, but once activated, you can turn off the Wi-Fi again.

Youdao Dictionary Pen 3 box and pen
Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 (International Version)

The design is nice and sleek, not too heavy (though heavier than the Youdao 2.0 version), and perfect to go into a handbag.  It’s sturdy with a glass touch screen.   The screen is very responsive and a pleasure to use.

I feel much more comfortable using a screen protector on the pen and an outer casing to protect it.  Both of these accessories are available for purchase with the Youdao pen.

Technical Specifications of Youdao 3.0

Battery: 1000mAh; USB rechargable;  6 hours of continuous offline use; 4 hours of continuous online use

Weight: 0.4lbs

Screen: 2.97-inch color full colour LCD screen

Voice Mode: Real voice (English or American options)

Key Features of the Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0

The best features of the pen are:

  • Fast, high quality translation of text:  converts Chinese text into English (both simplified and traditional, although Simplified is best supported), and Spanish text into English, and vice versa.  It will translate entire paragraphs, with a much more accurate/fluent translation than Google Translate or Pleco.  This is achieved because it’s based on massive contents of millions of Chinese phrases, vocabulary, idioms, etc in a neural network (aka machine learning) in a variety of contexts.
  • Translation of text to speech:  turns scanned text (English, Spanish or Chinese) into audio
  • High quality translation:  the translation is miles better than Google Translate.  This as the first thing I noticed, and also the first thing which two of my Chinese speaking friends commented on when I showed them.  It’s based on massive contents of millions of Chinese phrases, vocabulary, idioms, etc to make it as fluent as possible in a variety of contexts.
  • Dictionary definitions in CH, EN, or Spanish:  It 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.  It’s possible to look up words in different dictionary versions and compare them too. The dictionary definitions also include built-in English dictionaries, so you can get the English definitions of English words (a helpful feature for a looking up unknown words).
  • Works on different fonts and handwriting:  the pen will scan correctly on multiple font shapes, including very neat and small handwriting
  • Works in offline mode:  There’s a slight difference in voices used when Wi-Fi is off as it becomes more robotic (I assume the smoother voice is related to engaging AI neural networks).
  • Other user friendly features: Left-handed and right-handed usage modes.  Clear voice that is easy to understand, with adjustable volume. For Chinese, it can show Pinyin.  It can also connect to Bluetooth if you want to hear the audio through a headset or phone instead.

Photographs from using the pen on Spanish books

Photographs from using the pen on Chinese books

Key differences between Youdao 3.0 and earlier models

Overall, the most obvious differences are:

  1. Includes Spanish
  2. The screen is colour and 50% bigger
  3. Single touch translation for Chinese (rather than need to drag over words)
  4. Faster, smoother translation
  5. Ability to create a user wordlist for review

In essence, Version 3.0  Youdao pen comes with some slightly more user-friendly features AND includes a whole new language!

Expanding on the unique features of Youdao 3.0. you’ll find it includes:

  • Single tap feature: with a single tap, the pen will read a group of characters (about 3 or 4). Which makes it quicker than previous versions where it was required to scan over the whole character/word.  For learning Chinese, a specific character can be VERY different from the meaning of the combined characters around it, and a child may not be aware, so I like this feature. This feature doesn’t work for Spanish.
  • Screen size: it’s 50% bigger than the 2.0 screen, and in colour (which correspondingly means the battery life is shorter)
  • Word Book:  Has a feature where upon scanning, the phrase can be easily added into a list on the pen, by clicking a star (a bit like the way you can favourite bookmark a page on Chrome).  Good for reviewing unfamiliar words after reading a passage.  This feature also exists on the 2.0, but with the 3.0 the list can also be converted into flashcards and trivia on the pen, to help make a word really stick into active memory recall.
  • Wi-Fi Connectivity:  simple to search for and join any network, in case you’re studying at Starbucks (or the school library).
  • Language change setting:  easy to toggle between Spanish and Chinese from the menu bar
  • Speaking practice:  There is a pronunciation correction whereby you can record yourself pronouncing a word, and it gives you a rating between 1 and 5 stars.  It works in Chinese, English, and Spanish.  It’s a little gimmicky to me. 
  • Smoothness and speed of translation: it certainly has an edge on 2.0.  It’s not too robotic, but there is no adjustment to change speed of translation if it’s too fast (and it is pretty fast).
  • Double tap for pinyin and stroke order (or conjugations for Spanish): intuitive menu design so that when scanning a Chinese character, you can find out more with a screen click. For Spanish, if you scan a verb, it has the verb conjugation according to pronouns and tenses.
Comparison of Youdao pen boxes
3.0 International Version versus 2.0 Standard Version packaging
Comparison of Youdao pens
3.0 International Version versus 2.0 Standard Version pens

Main versions of Youdao pen

Comparison of Youdao Pen Versions
Youdao Reading Pen 3.0 has Chinese, Spanish, and English

The main Youdao pen versions in the market are:

  • 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2 (Standard Version) [reviewed previously]
  • 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2 (International Version) [reviewed previously]
  • 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 2.0 Pro
  • 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 (Standard version)
  • 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 (International version) [THIS REVIEW]
  • 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen 3.0 Pro
Comparison of Youdao Dictionary Pens

Guide to the model names:

International Versions:  have an English user interface and instructions, and the Standard Versions have Chinese operating interface. The English user manual lets you understand the features of the pen, and also how to troubleshoot when things go wrong.  It’s not very detailed, but it’s enough to understand the basics.

Standard Version: has Chinese interface and appears to have slightly more menu options and functions available than the English version (eg some listening games, phonics learning, textbook narrations, etc)

Pro version:  Much more expensive as it includes Japanese and Korean too (and a bunch of extra dictionary versions)

Cons of all 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pens

This Youdao has many of the same cons as the original 有道 Youdao Dictionary Pen, which I’ve mentioned in my previous review.  Here are the key watchouts:

  • Text size: Only works on text less than 1.3 cm in size (so excludes some children’s picture books and readers).  It’s not a big issue, but something to be mindful of, depending on your intended use for the Youdao. 
  • 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 the translations can still be incorrect (there is a simple button to report this if you do spot it), or just clunky.  Nevertheless, the translation quality is SO much better than Google Translate or Pleco.
  • 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!). I certainly wouldn’t be using this pen with a preschooler (check out Alpha Egg instead for a preschooler).  Remember to buy a protective case when you buy the pen. 
  • Spanish is not as extensive:  Whilst words will translate from Spanish into English definitions quickly, not all words/sentences have spoken audio for pronunciation, and the dictionary appears more limited.  This is certainly a missing feature at the moment.
  • Scans screens, but not consistently:  you need to have the screen brightness turned right up (not night mode) and it works with a few efforts.
  • Pinyin:  doesn’t show pinyin when a sentence is scanned
  • Not really toddler proof or for young kids: If you’re looking for something more suited to a younger audience, check out the Alpha Egg Dictionary Pen, or even Habbi Habbi Reading Wand.

Where to buy Youdao Dictionary Pens in Singapore?

In Singapore, these pens are now plentiful on Lazada and Shopee, and most offer a 1-year local warranty.  My pen came from a local seller called Seagate. If you buy from the official Youdao store and Amazon you can receive a 20% discount with  LAHLAHYD20 coupon code. It will also generate 10% donation to a charity that can provide support to the Ukraine, which will be donated at the end of May 2022 (when this coupon code will be removed).

Do take note of the specific version you are buying though as some will have only a Chinese user interface, and others will offer English. Some versions have written instructions in English, and others will not.

As readers of this blog will know, this blog runs on a non-profit, no-affiliation, sponsorship or commission basis.  But as a ONE-OFF this post contains the above time-limited affiliate link to support the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. This will be removed on May 31st 2022.

If you are buying this pen, do also check out Youdao’s other clever devices for home learning including (all much much cheaper than their dictionary pens!):

  • Pocket Printer: a tiny thermal printer which connects directly to your phone via Bluetooth. Reviewed in my earlier post.
  • Electric Eraser: particularly good for Chinese composition corrections, as it lets you erase a specific area with precision and speed.
  • Electric Pencil Sharpener: it’s seriously sharp
  • Desk Vacuum Cleaner: it’s an indulgence, but great for encouraging a child to not spread their eraser dust all over the floor.

Note regarding the donation to charity: I have chosen a charity which is working directly with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health and other on-the-ground partners to provide urgently needed medical aid, including emergency response packs intended for first responders, oxygen concentrators, critical care medicines, and much more. I haven’t disclosed the name on this blog yet, as I’m waiting for confirmation from the charity’s side that this would be okay. At end of May 2022 when the promo code link expires, I will disclose the total donation $ generated from this link.

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.

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 the latest system software updates, including new words, 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?
Our Youdao 2.0 version 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.

Our Youdao 3.0 lasts for ~6 hours if used continuously, and take less than 3 hours to fully charge.  At about the 6 hour mark, it drops off very fast.

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 myself, for different purposes.  SO this pen works great for us.

Then I know of other families in Singapore with many kids (like the Tan Family) who have three children too, and even though the parents do read Chinese, it’s not practical for her to sit with all the children when they’re reading at the same time. I’ve also read various reviews from others who use these pens in different family backgrounds. 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.  So as you’ll see, it’s quite family-specific.

Comparison again other Chinese Reading Pens

Different reading pens and curriculums suit different learning stages, ages, family situations, and intended learning outcomes. I’ve tried to summarise this in the below diagram.  As a learning tool, Yaodao Dictionary Pen is definitely for older children and adults, who are already very fluent at both reading and speaking, and wanting to advance their language skills.  (It’s also for English-speaking parents who know nothing of the Chinese language and simply just need ongoing translation to get by!!).

Chinese-English Reading Pen comparison
Comparison of Chinese Reading and Dictionary Pens
Comparison of Chinese reading pens

Do refer to my previous posts for more information about other Chinese reading pens which are more suitable for younger children, especially preschoolers– these include:

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