The Fingerist by EVENNO (Trinity Inc)

A short while ago I caught sight of this accessory at an Apple themed event in Tokyo.  I couldn’t believe someone hasn’t done this before.  An iPhone add-on that turns your geek-phone into a real musical instrument!

Fingerist - 4

I finally got my hands on one and have had a great time testing it out over the last few days.  Sure there are lots of apps that simulate every musical instrument on the planet, but I always felt the experience was somewhat lacking.  Now I know what was needed.

The Fingerist is made by Japan based Trinity inc, and was developed in cooperation with local Apple fans and musicians to create a totally new musical instrument.  Basically an Apple dock connected to a speaker, the Fingerist turns any iPhone or iPod Touch into a something truly unique.

How it works

The Fingerist is about the size of a Ukulele and requires three AA batteries to operate.  Once you have put in the batteries, simply slide your iPhone or iPod Touch onto the dock and push it into the small recess in the middle of the Fingerist.  There is a small latch that will hold the iPhone in and a spring to keep it from wobbling around loose.  Then turn on the volume, start up any musical instrument app and you are ready to go.  I tried Pocket Guitar and Frontier’s Guitar app and had a blast plinking away.  The built in 3 watt speaker offers clear sound that will fill a small room, and there is even a standard quarter inch output plug for larger amplifiers.

Fingerist - 6

Build and Quality

I have to admit, I was just a small bit let down when I actually held the Fingerist for the first time.  While it looked at first glance like the casing was made with real wood, close inspection reveals that it is made almost entirely of high end plastic.  It’s actually very good quality and I had to look closely to tell, but the wooden parts are molded plastic with a special coating.  It actually feels very good and makes the whole thing lighter than I was expecting, but I still would have preferred solid wood.  On the whole however, I have to say the build quality is excellent.  The speaker is great and provides great sound and the whole thing has a very nice solid feel.  The use of the Apple dock interface means no loose wires.

Packaging

I was really impressed with the packaging for the Fingerist.  First of all, it didn’t come in a box.  It actually comes in a very nice soft case.  Not only does it reduce wasteful packaging, but it also saves you from having to buy a carrying case.  Great idea!

Fingerist - 1

Inside the case there is the Fingerist, a guitar style strap, and three silicon cases.  These are used to protect your iPhone/iPod and create a custom fit so it will blend into the front face without a gap.  I was very surprised to see that in addition to an iPhone 3G/3Gs and iPod Touch case, there was also a case for the unreleased iPhone 4!

Fingerist - 2

Price and Availability

The Fingerist was shown off at CES and promised a March release.  It seems that some problems with manufacturing has delayed the launch, but it is now available in Japan for 14,800 yen.  It should be available soon in the United States for a $150.00.  Pretty reasonable price for a fun and unique accessory.

Here’s a video of the Fingerist in action.

In the year or so since I last reviewed iPhone apps for Japanese language learners, there’s been an explosion in the number and variety available. Look in the iTunes App store today and you’ll find a wealth of vocabulary builders, apps to teach you how to write in hiragana and katakana, kanji flashcard programs, pronunciation guides and powerful dictionaries.

I asked a few Japanese language teachers and Japanese language learners for their recommendation. The result was a list far too long to cover in a single article, so I’ll be breaking them down into several groups, starting off today with Japanese-English dictionaries.

Whilst not the sexiest of apps, dictionaries can (literally) be lifesavers for non-Japanese in Japan – don’t leave the house without one! Whilst there are a huge number of English-Japanese dictionaries in the App Store, for a long time now there have been two clear leaders, Kotoba! and Japanese, and it’s these two that I’m focusing on here.

Kotoba!

Free: iTunes | Website (currently no iPad version).

This app has progressed a great deal in the past year, with a range of new features having been added to turn it into a force to be reckoned with.

The main database was created with files from the JMdict project (which in turn was based on Jim Breen’s EDICT), resulting in it containing over 130,000 Japanese / English entries. Version 2 saw the addition of example sentences, and a more recent update an astonishing 6,500 stroke order diagrams added. Aside from the English translations, there’s also partial support for French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian – accounting for another 100,000 translations.

There are several ways to look up a character, making it almost impossible to not find what you’re looking for. The search function accepts romaji, kana or kanji input – and kanji input can of course be done using your finger to trace the character (go to your iPhone’s keyboard settings panel to enable the Simplified Chinese Handwriting keyboard).

If you don’t know the reading of the kanji there are also a number of pre-defined lists to work from, including the SKIP index (used in the popular Kanji Learner’s Dictionary), Radicals and JLPT levels.

A note on JLPT levels: in most Japanese language learning apps you’ll find that the JLPT lists have yet to be updated from the old four levels to the new five levels (N1~N5). There’s a simple reason for this: the organisation behind the test is refusing to make the new kanji lists public, thus at this stage any attempt to classify them by the new levels would have to be based on guesswork.

Having found the character or word you’re looking for you’ll be presented with a wealth of information, including the reading, meanings, all verb conjugations, kanji compounds and a staggering number of example sentences. You can add individual words or entire sentences to personalised lists, copy them to the iPhone clipboard or append them to the clipboard – meaning that if you’re wanting to paste a string of kanji into an email you don’t have to go back-and-forth between the dictionary and your mail app between kanji. Cross-reference numbers are also provided for about 19 other kanji lists including Heisig, Nelson and Halpern.

But better than being able to share entries via the iPhone clipboard is the export feature. Simply go to your chosen list and send it via email as text or a CSV file.

Overall, revisiting Kotoba! after a year of not using it, I was pretty blown away by how comprehensive it is – although at times I must admit that I felt a little overwhelmed and lost in all the options – what other app do you know that has over 40 options to toggle in the settings panel?!


Japanese!

$15.99: iTunes | codefromtokyo Website (iPad version available soon as a free update)

This was one of those apps that I loved right from the start. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend, prior to even owning a iPhone to run it on. I’ve used it consistently since, and it remains one of my favourite (and most expensive) apps. It was definitely worth it.

With over 150,000 Japanese entries and about 12,000 kanji, it’s a truly comprehensive dictionary. There are many similarities with Kotoba!, including word lookup by romaji/ kana / kanji / handwriting, kanji lists, multiple example sentences, personal vocabulary lists and cross-references for other kanji resources.

However, it has a number of other features that set it apart from the Kotoba!, and make it feel like more than just an interface for the JMdict database.

Firstly, the search function activates as soon as you start typing, with suggestions appearing below. When you tap on the word you’re looking for, along with translations and example sentences you’ll find popular compounds and conjugations – no need to dig deeper into the sub-menus.

Also, should you enter a long phrase into the search box, the search engine will try to break it down into individual elements (see image below). Numbers can also be transcribed – just enter the digits and out comes the kanji & reading.

Similar Kanji are another feature, helping avoid confusion with lookalike characters, whilst the recent addition of furigana (little hiragana characters above the kanji) show you the readings of individual characters in search results.

Adding words to your personal lists just takes two taps- you also have the ability to apply self-defined color labels.

Integration of Spaced Reptiton flashcards

The killer feature for this app, and the one that really sets it apart from Kotoba!, is the integrated Spaced Repetition flashcard function. This can be used with any word list within the app – not just those that you create yourself. Pre-loaded lists include JLPT (pre-2010 for reasons explained above), expressions, proverbs, interjections, nouns, verbs, adjectives, particles, a huge array of subject categories such as Art, Chemistry, Food etc …and many more.

What this means for the student then is that there’s no need to export your lists to import to a similar SRS such as Anki – although should you wish to you can share lists as text-emails for import – let’s hope that CSV exports are on the cards for a future update.

Another feature that makes this app stand out from the crowd in the ability to import vocabulary lists – provided they are in the same format as when exported – just copy and paste from the email app into a new list.

A nice little touch is the ability to change the color of the app; personally I’ve gone for purple now.

A video demo of the app can be found at www.codefromtokyo.com/japanese

Summary

So there we have it – two powerful dictionary apps for Japanese language learners. Considering the price tag (free), Kotoba! is an incredible resource, and for those who just need a dictionary and are not actively studying Japanese, it makes sense to choose it over Japanese.

For serious students of Japanese however, the integrated SRS makes Japanese a better choice. It has some really handy extra features, and I find it to be a more ‘beautiful’, iPhone-esque app – little things like that instant search function, the smoother kanji stroke animations, the text styles used.

Whilst some may think the price tag a little high, it compares well with many other major dictionary apps, and in my view is well worth the investment.

Code from Tokyo is also due to release an iPad version soon – look forward to seeing that in the app store.

NTT DoCoMo has its HT-03A and SoftBank its HTC Desire. KDDI doesn’t seem to want to be left behind.

Well, sorta, since they’re announcing a phone for …October.

A Smartbook, err, a Notebook, err, a Smartphone.

The Sharp IS01 Communicator is a unusual phone for nowadays standards, reminding me of Psions and Nokia Communicators of the past, with a full QWERTY keyboard notebook-like design.

The CDMA handset will be powered by Android 1.6. Yes, 1.6, not the current 2.1 featured in the Desire. The data will get througn EVDO Rev A for 3G and 802.11g Wifi is added to the mix. Users will have to do with 4GB of internal storage, but microSDHC should give some more room if necessary.

Sharp touts that the handset can be used with thumbs only, but has thrown both a trackball and multi-touch.

960 x 480 room for TV love

More interestingly, it’s the first Android device to natively support 1Seg TV, the mobile audio/video/data broadcasting service –basically TV on your phone, regularly found on keitais in Japan (and on the iPhone, thanks to a SoftBank-specific device).

Popular social networking mixi will have an app installed, as for Twitter & Sekai camera. Quick image editing for blogging is also mentioned by the manufacturer, as to clearly hint at whom it targets this device.

Dedicated Application Market

KDDI has concurrently announced the linking of its app market au one Market to the Google Android market, adding its own billing platform in the mix.

It also hinted at a later version of an Android smartphone with touchless payment.

We’re going to watch out for this one for a review, but, again, the announcement comes very early.

No pricing is yet known.

Oh, it also comes in light blue.

Images by Sharp and Impress

With over 150,000 apps now available via the iTunes App Store, original and potentially life-changing offerings are increasingly few and far between.

However, this week a new Tokyo-based developer appeared on the scene, showcasing three new apps at TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR event, held Tuesday at Super Deluxe.

Due to technologistical restrictions, it’s only today that the Professor has been able to publish these videos in the public realm.

Professor Appleton, now based in Japan, has been researching mobile technologies since the 1940s, and his offerings clearly demonstrate the deep understanding he has of the needs of mobile users today.

App 1: Where’s my iPhone Gone?

App 2: Mother Translates Live

App 3: Future Twitter