Best Electronic Dictionaries

Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for Best electronic dictionaries

In the age of the smartphone, electronic dictionaries may seem like an obsolete relic from a bygone technological era, but nothing could be further from the truth. These handy machines provide easy access to a dictionary, thesaurus, and more. They’re simple to use for young and old and can be used offline at any time. Try that when you’re traveling or stuck in a network dead zone.

Whether you’re in the market for a tool to help with homework or crossword puzzles or you just want a quick way to find a definition, the correct spelling, or the pronunciation of a word, an electronic dictionary has you covered. Much like smartphones, however, electronic dictionaries are packed with features and specifications that vary greatly from model to model.

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If your electronic dictionary includes a crossword puzzle solver, you can use it to find words of various lengths that you have some letters for.

Key considerations

Design

These devices are designed to be held easily in the hand, and as such are fairly compact, making them easy to fit into a pocket and take with you. The size does vary a bit, though. If you have larger hands, you might want to choose a slightly larger option, because more compact ones may be difficult to use.

Plastic housings are standard here, but the case should be rugged enough to withstand the occasional mishap that plagues items like these. (How often do you drop your phone?) The housing may also have a cover to protect the keyboard. If it does, be sure that any hinges or clasps are durable and hold the lid securely closed.

Power

Most of these are powered by batteries, though some also have ports for an AC adapter. AAA batteries are common, while some use slightly more exotic ones, such as CR-2032 batteries.  With any electronic dictionary you consider, you should not only know how it’s powered but also whether you need to supply your own batteries upon purchase. It’s also helpful to know how long you can use the device before having to swap out the batteries for fresh ones. Some of these devices are known to drain batteries fairly quickly.

Contents

Most of these devices also include other content and functions, making them more of a complete reference source than just a dictionary. Any device you purchase should be set up so you can easily and smoothly switch between its various functions. Note that some of these are geared toward adults, while others offer fewer words and features and a simpler interface better suited to younger users. Know which one you’re buying.

Encyclopedia: While generally fairly limited, an encyclopedia can provide you with the ability to research a variety of topics even when you don’t have an Internet connection. Check the number of entries in the encyclopedia before deciding if this is something you need.

Thesaurus: This is a standard feature on most electronic dictionaries. With a thesaurus, you gain easy access to both synonyms and antonyms for many of the words in the dictionary.

Translation: This isn’t as common, but some electronic dictionaries can also translate commonly used words or phrases. If you want a device with this capability, be sure it supports the languages you want to use with it. A text-to-speech ability is also helpful to have here.

Other: Some manufacturers load other content and functions onto their electronic dictionaries. Depending on the device, some common functions you may find include a calculator, currency or measurement converter, quotation dictionary, anagram solver, world clock, spelling games, and name/address organizer. A crossword solver is also a function that’s available on most of these.

If your electronic dictionary’s LCD screen isn’t backlit, it may be difficult to use in low-light situations.

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Features

Entries

One of the primary ways that these devices differ from each other is in the number of words they contain in the dictionary database. We’ve seen electronic dictionaries with 60,000 words up to almost 300,000, so there is quite a range from model to model. A device with fewer words may be more geared toward homework and younger users. You also want to compare the entries for other content, such as an encyclopedia or thesaurus.

Spellchecker

Standard in electronic dictionaries, a spellchecker can help you to find words that you’re unsure of by offering suggestions as you type.

Text-to-speech

Text-to-speech, or voice, is pretty rare in devices of this type, but it does exist. You’ll be more likely to find voice capabilities in a device that includes a translation function. If this is a feature you desire, verify that the voice is clear and easy to understand.

Components

Screen: The right LCD screen is one that’s easy to read in all light conditions and large enough that even those with poor eyesight can use the device. Check the number of lines in the display and whether you’re able to adjust the font size on the screen.

Keyboard: Most electronic dictionaries use some minimal form of a QWERTY keyboard for input. The keys should be large enough so you can easily type. If you have larger hands, this is one area where you’ll want to pay particular attention to.

Electronic dictionary prices

Inexpensive: Electronic dictionaries start at around $20. At this price, you’ll largely find kids’ models or those with limited words or features.

Mid-range: The average here is around $100. At this price, you can find devices with a large word database and a variety of features.

Expensive: Electronic dictionaries can cost $300 or more for top-end models. These devices offer extensive word databases and a large number of functions, in addition to some with text-to-speech capabilities.

Other: An ongoing cost is batteries, which can be an issue for some of these devices. An electronic dictionary with a variety of additional features and modes, such as a built-in encyclopedia or a large LCD screen is useful to have, but the trade-off is that you may find yourself going through batteries more frequently. Also check with the manufacturer to find out what, if any, warranty is offered with the device you’re considering.

An Autocomplete feature offers suggestions for words as you’re typing them.

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Tips

  • Know what you’re buying. Some of these devices are less a dictionary and more a spellchecker that doesn’t include definitions.
  • Pick a Scrabble-friendly model. Love to play Scrabble? Search for a dictionary with an anagram solver, which offers real word suggestions for a jumble of letters that you enter.
  • Make sure the device has the features you need. If your dictionary comes with a voice feature, be sure that it also includes some way to plug earbuds or headphones into it. If you’d like the ability to upgrade your device, search for one that includes a card slot. This will give you access to additional games, added features, and reference books. And while some of these devices work with AC adapters, they don’t necessarily ship with one. If this is an important accessory for you, be sure that your dictionary includes an adapter or that you can easily order one.
  • Choose an electronic dictionary to help with schoolwork. Most of these devices offer some form of “confusables” feature, which alerts you if one word sounds like and/or is confused with another. And some electronic dictionaries allow you to create your own customizable word lists, which can help with word study.
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Because of memory limitations, some electronic dictionaries that include a translation feature may include several languages but only allow you to load and use one language on the device at a time.

FAQ

Q. Can these devices be used online?

A. These largely do not have any online element built into them and are completely self-contained reference devices.

Q. Are word games an important feature that I should consider with these?

A. Don’t discount the word games! Most of these devices incorporate several different types of word games, such as Hangman and Word Builder. They can not only be entertaining and help you to kill time but also help build your vocabulary and improve your spelling.

Q. In addition to definitions, what other information about a word do these dictionaries tell you?

A. While this varies depending on the device, other information that these dictionaries can provide includes parts of speech, the word’s use in a sentence, phonetics (how the word sounds), and even the word’s etymology/origin.

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