Besta TA-3000 Electronic Chinese-English Dictionary (Review)

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This post was originally published in 2008
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

Updated (17/09/08)

While attempting to read a Chinese sentence, if I come across characters that I haven’t seen before, I usually can’t understand the meaning of the sentence. Sometimes I can guess, but that has often resulted in some hilariously wrong translations. My desire to read Chinese improved with my ability, and this problem became more intrusive the more I tried to read – like it fed itself. To solve this problem I bought a Chinese-English electronic dictionary while I was in Shanghai. We went to “Cybercity”, which is on 徐家汇路 (xú jiā huì). Cybercity is my favourite place in all of Shanghai. After perusing the selection, I decided to buy the Besta TA-3000, which looks more like a PDA than a dictionary.

Before buying the Besta, I had purchased a cheaper model. I thought I was being really clever – an all Chinese menu would help me learn more Chinese, right? Wrong. With the first dictionary, instead of looking up words I didn’t know I’d just skip over them. I didn’t want to spend 5 minutes fumbling through the menu, followed by the realisation that as I didn’t know the pinyin, I couldn’t look up the damn word anyway! A few weeks after buying it, I realised that my “cleverness” had resulted in a reduction in my desire to learn new characters, which was no good at all.

As soon as I started using the Besta TA-3000 (sounds like a term from The Terminator, right?), I found things were different. To search for a word using a standard dictionary, one must know the pinyin, and enter it using the keyboard. There are two problems with this: the keyboard is usually too small for fat fingers like mine, and more often than not I don’t know the pinyin of the word in question. The Besta dictionary avoids “sausage finger” issues by utilising a touch-screen interface. It circumnavigates the pinyin problem by allowing the user to write characters directly into the search box! It even recognizes “human” writing, by which I mean it doesn’t require one to write the character precisely to recognize the character. And if it’s unsure, it shows the user a list of “guesses” to choose from:


This method of searching is completely hassle-free, and exceedingly useful.

After entering the characters and pressing the Search button, the user is taken to the following screen:

The device has a few built-in dictionaries, and it searches each one for a given search term. If it finds the term in a dictionary, a link to the entry will be displayed here, in the results page. Select an entry and part of it will be displayed in the bottom-half of the screen. Double-tapping an entry will load the full text. Another great feature of this dictionary is that if one comes across an unknown character or term within the entry (happens often), one may simply select the word/term and look it up!

On top of all of this: the dictionary is capable of displaying any character’s stroke order as well. To do this, simple select the character and press the “Str.” button that should appear. This will display a page like that shown below:


The first time I tried this I got quite a shock: as soon as it opens, the animation begins, which is accompanied by a voice that counts out the strokes. Prior to testing this feature, I was playing with some settings and must have turned the volume right up. I was on the bus at the time, and got some pretty funny looks. When practicing characters, I do find myself forgetting the stroke order often. This feature reminds me of the correct order, and gives me a chance to practise it before going back to writing it out again and again in my little math book.

This dictionary comes with a boatload of other features, but what really matters is how well it performs at its main task: being a dictionary. After using it for over four months, I can honestly say that it performs this task well – it is an excellent dictionary. It is easy to use and packed with really helpful dictionary-related features. The main ones I’ve talked about above, but there are more:

* Search for all sentences containing the target word/s, which is great for those words you’ve learned but don’t know how to use
* Input search terms using Pinyin, Smart Pinyin, English Keyboard (on-screen), and of course: Chinese Handwriting!
* Four different languages (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, English – for the menus)
* Downloadable updates

Out of the box dictionaries (user may select which to search – default is all):

* Oxford Advanced Learner’s
* English-Chinese
* Chinese-English (for some reason these are listed as different dictionaries)
* Contemporary Chinese
* Cambridge Encyclopedia (unfortunately all Chinese)
* Neology
* Terminological Dictionaries (I found a lot of terms here, very useful)
* Graded Dictionary
* DIY Dictionary (apparently one may make custom diciontionaries – I haven’t tried this)

So there you have it: the Besta TA-3000 is the Chinese Language Learner’s best friend! I know mine has been tremendously helpful – unlike other electronic dictionaries that I have tried, which can be troublesome and irritating to use, the Besta has always performed brilliantly, and been a pleasure to use. The only thing I’d change about it is its name: “The Besta TA-3000” sounds a bit … ‘80’s sci-fi?

Great dictionary, puzzling name.

Update:

The dictionary’s menu can be changed to English easily.

First, press the “back” button repeatedly, until nothing happens with further presses. This means you’re at the main menu.

I’ve highlighted the position of the back button in the image on the right.

Now just follow the slideshow below to change the language. I haven’t been able to find any English documentation for this dictionary, so until I do, I’m afraid this is the most help I can give. I think with the menu in English, a manual is not as necessary, though it’d be nice! If anyone knows of any English documentation for this dictionary, please let me know!


The dictionary’s software may be updated also, which improves the interface and stability. I will post instructions on how to do that when I get some time, hopefully later this week.

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