kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake

Today's post is about how I got pinyin input working on my Android phone (specifically, an HTC Desire Z running Android 2.2.1). This post assumes (i) you're able to drive your phone using the visual interface, (ii) your phone wasn't preconfigured for the Chinese market (if it was, you're unlikely to need this info), and (iii) you have no other input methods installed (if you do, there may be extra options I haven't mentioned on some menus).

I learned how to do this from a video on YouTube. Note: the video has no subtitles, and I've extracted the information below rather than doing a verbatim transcript.

Here are the steps I followed:

  • Go to the marketplace and search for "google pinyin ime" (on my phone this is home->menu->apps->Market->search).
  • Install the one called "Google Pinyin IME (Google Inc.)" (just tap on it and agree to everything — it doesn't cost money aside from any data charges for downloading).
  • Once it's finished installing, go to your settings (on my phone I get there via home->menu->Settings), and then go into the "Language & keyboard" section.
  • Here you should see a checkbox for "Google Pinyin" — switch this on.
  • You should also see a subsection "Google Pinyin settings". Tap on this, and change any settings you like; I switched off both Chinese prediction and English prediction, and switched on Traditional Chinese. You can always come back and play with these later if you're not sure what you want.

The video also explains how to use the input method once you've got it installed. Essentially, when you see a textbox that you'd like to type some Chinese into, tap and hold in the textbox, and when you lift your finger again it should pop up a little menu for "Input method" (I sometimes have to do this a couple of times before it actually works). Tap on this and you'll get a choice between "Touch Input" and "Google Pinyin". The former is the normal input, the latter is pinyin! Tap on the one you want.

Note that switching on pinyin input will change the phone's input method globally, so whenever you go to type text, it will expect pinyin. My phone has two ways of indicating this status. If I have the built-in physical keyboard pulled out, the status bar has a little 中 if I'm in pinyin and a little "En" otherwise. If I have the physical keyboard retracted, the colour of the on-screen keyboard changes; black for pinyin, white for English. To get back to English input, do the same trick of tapping and holding in a textbox, and choose "Touch Input" this time.

When actually typing in pinyin, a bar will appear across the bottom of the screen offering characters that match your pinyin; just above this on the left-hand side will be a small box containing the letters that you've typed. You can type words (e.g. "yuxiang" — don't try adding a space between the syllables, it will do that for you), and if it recognises the word it will offer that as an option. If it doesn't recognise the word, you need to choose the characters individually, but after you've done this once it'll add the word to its dictionary. To choose a character/word from the list of options, either tap on it on the screen, or press the spacebar.

(I should also note that the IME sometimes crashes on me when I'm teaching it a word it doesn't know; I just tap on "Force close" and carry on, and it usually works the second time.)

One final tip; if you're in pinyin input, and you're using the onscreen keyboard, there's a quick way to switch temporarily back to typing English via a key near the bottom left-hand corner of the keyboard. On my phone this key has two "symbols" on it; 拼 on the left and "Abc" on the right. Tapping this key switches between pinyin and English input, though it doesn't switch back to the full "Touch Input" method; the keyboard stays black, and there are missing features such as predictive text. When I'm in full pinyin, the 拼 is large and underlined, and when I'm temporarily in English, the "Abc" is large and underlined.

For another view on this, and information on other phones, take a look at Pinyin Joe's page on Chinese language support on various smartphones.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.


December 2012


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