HPLX.NET REVIEWS Collins Electronic English Dictionary and Thesaurus

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Publisher/Manufacturer: Harper Collins / Distributed by Thaddeus Computing
Contact: http://www.thaddeus.com
Price: $59.95  

About the Product

One thing the palmtop has been missing for a long time is a decent multiple-language dictionary.  If I need to know the meaning of an English word, there's always the good old American Heritage Dictionary, complete with pronunciation and synonyms.  But while I was in a Spanish class, or trying to translate a company memo for the boss, I'd have to rely on a cheap paperback dictionary for the tough words, or (even worse) a $150 Windows translator program.  No longer.

The Collins Series 100 Multilingual Dictionary does quite a job.  It comes with four bilingual dictionaries-- it can match English words to and from French, German, Italian, and Spanish.  I loaded it on my 200LX and started trying out the Spanish dictionary.  As everybody knows, the ultimate test of a multilingual dictionary is whether it can teach you to swear in a different language.  The Collins dictionary is certainly complete in this regard.  If the need ever arises for me to tell curse at somebody while in Spain (or Germany, or France), I'll be ready.

Next up I tried some less colorful verbs and nouns.  The dictionary seemed to handle anything I threw at it-- from common words such as "run," "eat," "blue," "chair," and "speedy" to less common terms like "laser printer" and "computer program" and "bludgeon."  The 27-page manual that comes with the software (which, unfortunately, seems mis mostly concerned with the Windows version) says that each bilingual dictionary includes 75,000 references and 110,000 translations, which seems to be plenty for what I could think of.  The speed of lookup was quite impressive on my double-speed unit: the program was fairly quick to load initially from my flash card, and it found words extremely quickly when I typed them in.  It took about 1.5 seconds from the press of the ENTER key to the display of the information.

The interface is quite nice.  To install the program, you insert the CD-ROM into your desktop computer and run the Windows INSTALL.EXE program.  You must tell it to install the MS-DOS / PC-DOS version during the install.  Once it is done, you can copy the files over to your 200LX from your desktop.  The program itself, COLLINS.EXE, takes about five seconds to load from the DOS prompt.  IMPORTANT NOTE: on the 200LX, be sure you run it with the -m switch for monochrome.  That makes the screen much more readable.

Once the program is loaded, a menu comes up from which you select the dictionary you want: English-French, Frnech, French-English, English-German, German-English, English-Spanish, English-Italian, Spanish-English, or Italian-English.  From that point it is another one or two seconds until the dictionary loads and you can begin looking up words.  Of course, you can switch dictionaries whenever you like.

Typing in a word produces the translation in a windows beneath the entry line, or a list of close guesses if your word was not found.  If your word was found, it will display the various meanings of the word you typed and the translation for that particular meaning.  Additionally, any common phrases involving the word you looked up will be displayed and translated as well.Arrowing down into the definition window will highlight each word in the window, and pressing ENTER will look up that word.  If the word is in a different language, the dictionaries will automatically be switched and you will then look that word up and see its English translation.

For example: in the English-Spanish dictionary, typing "sleep" will bring up a large list of word and phrases.  It is difficult to translate to pure text, but this is basically what you get:



we can sleep:
podemos alojar a
tenemos cabida para

to go to sleep:
quedarse dormido

to have a good night's sleep:
dormir toda la noche

to put to sleep:
(animal: euphamism kill)

to sleep lightly:
tener el sueño ligero

to sleep with:
(euphamism)    <---- Hmm, what could this be a euphamism for?  :)
acostarse con uno

sleep in:
dormir tarde

Quite impressive!  And nearly every word in there can be selected with the arrow keys and looked up.

The dictionary requires about 130K memory to run in, and can be loaded as a TSR if you like.  The TSR takes up a full 130K, however, and won't pop up in graphics mode, so it may not be worth it.  Ideally, you should dedicate a Software Carousel work area to running this program full-time, so you would always have an instant translation at your fingertips.

Of course, the dictionary is not perfect.  Its most glaring deficiency is that there are no additional languages available-- if you need Portuguese or Japanese or Russion, for example, this will be of no use.  Also, there are eight separate dictionary files, one each for English-French, French-English, English-German, etc.  And the dictionaries are fairly large, from 581K to 827K apiece.  You can, of course, delete any files you like, and COLLINS.EXE won't care-- it will simply not show those in the dictionary file options.  Even so, a full install is 5.6MB.  Expect to allocate about 1.5MB per language you want to translate.

Also, this program is set up as a dictionary, not a translation utility.  There is no provision for translating sentences or anything more than words or small phrases.

But these small problems aside, this is an excellent product that will greatly benefit palmtop-toting students, businesspeople, and travelers-- and even people who just have an occasional need to say something in another language.  But hurry, because who knows how much longer Harper Collins will continue to produce this nifty little package?


The Verdict

Great utility.  If you use a paperback dictionary now, for one of the four languages listed, buy this product.

Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 19-Feb-1999