First things first – this is not a dictionary in the traditional sense of the word. Not a single entry here comes with a definition or any usage guidelines, just a list of the equivalent words in five other languages. What we have here is more of a word bank, and sadly not a hugely in-depth one at that.
Starting off you get to choose from one of three input methods – handwriting, keyboard or camera. The first two are as intuitive and accurate as you’d expect, and the list of possible words is updated after each character is entered, so if your spelling isn’t as good as it should be you can still track down the word you’re after. What’s useful is that it suggests words from any of the six languages – English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese – as you type, so if you’re not sure what language you’re reading it’ll be able to let you know.
If you want to check out Japanese words, you can do so using the regular Western keyboard: the syllables you type are automatically converted to Hiragana or Katakana. Want to spell “konnichiwa” but don’t know the symbols? Type it in English using the Hiragana option and it comes up in Japanese, very useful for those of us who are a little rusty on their script. Of course, if you want to translate Kanji you’re going to need the Handwriting feature and a steady hand, although it was very accurate at translating most of the Kanji we threw at it.
It’s only when you move onto the camera mode that you start to lose faith with the word detection. Essentially you take a photo of a word, highlight it with the stylus and wait for the DSi to tell you what word you’ve photographed. When you’re snapping black fonts on a white background you’ll find very few problems, but move onto words where the contrast isn’t as high and the camera struggles, throwing up garbled suggestions left, right and centre.
Further problems come from the fact you can only highlight words to translate with a rectangle. If any letters on the line above hang down over the word you want to translate, it registers them as part of the word and throws them into its translation calculations. It would have been much better to give a lasso function rather than a rectangle, letting you chop out the irrelevant and unwanted bits. It’s not a huge problem – you can change any incorrect characters manually after it’s registered the word, but it does mean it takes far too long to translate a word from a photograph. Making it take even longer is the fact the word has to be a certain size on-screen, and as the DSi lacks a macro photography mode you’re left with blurry close-ups of words you’ll struggle to translate.
Even if you do manage to take a decent photograph, the chances of the word being in the dictionary aren’t as high as you’d hope. The manual states there’s 15,000 commonly-used words in this package, but as that covers all six languages you soon realise the problem: we found there’s no entry for “sorry”, for example. With the lack of definition it's also hard to discern the subtleties in the other languages - "demand" comes back with four different verb entries but no clues to the differences between them.
A decent-quality pocket translator needs to offer a great deal more than 15,000 words to prove itself useful, and although the ability to translate between six different languages is useful on the surface, unless you’re quite the European traveller you’re likely only to need two or three languages on tap at any one time. Two-thirds of the interface work well, but there just aren’t enough words in this package to make it a worthwhile purchase, even at the newly-reduced price tag.