"e-books"? Been using 'em for years!
Jul 24, 2001 (Updated Nov 23, 2001)
Review by henry_thoreau
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Pronounces words clearly. Keyboard easy to manipulate. AC adapter jack included.
Cons:Other Franklin models (described below) are superior in many respects, including portability.
The Bottom Line: With 120,000 words, the Epinions-listed model is adequate for average citizens. But its relative lack of portability makes it less desirable than other Franklin dictionaries, especially the SCD-770.
E-book readers are finally coming into their own. Recent models couple high-capacity with web-connectivity; moreover, the catalog of excellent e-titles is burgeoning. The primary question for many of us is, do we take the proverbial plunge, or should we wait till the products are even better, cheaper, and more standardized? This review is not intended to resolve that problematic issue. I myself am keeping an ardent eye on developments in that quarter; I’m especially intrigued by the relatively wee, highly portable units, including Franklin’s “eBookMan” models, which can be had for about $200 to $300.
Recommend this product?
It’s worth pointing out, however, that useful, miniaturized, affordable “electronic book readers” have been around for years. Since the mid-1990s I’ve owned various “e-book” titles in the form of domino-sized “book cards” for my several Franklin BOOKMAN® pocket dictionaries whose “expansion slots” accept such tiny media. I continue to use and enjoy these teeny contraptions and cards, and, limited though they are, they just might continue to serve some folks’ very basic needs more aptly than many newer, costlier, more multifaceted products. For example, my f(r)iend Dickey, ten years my senior, is a soul so troglodytic and crotchety he vows never to peruse any book not in paper-and-ink. Yet even those of his ilk have crept so far toward modernity as to avail themselves of pocket calculators—which, outwardly, very much resemble Franklin’s diminutive dictionaries. Surely, then, it would require mere baby-steps for these fuddy-duddies to replace, at least, their unwieldy hardcover dictionaries with the electronic counterparts—if only I can enlighten them. Hence, this review.
As is so often the (frustrating) case with our beloved Epinions' site, the particular product listed here is a sibling of the Franklin model(s) I happen to own and favor. However, in this instance I do feel qualified to comment on the listed model, for, not only have I given it a hands-on investigation at my local Office Max, but it’s also so utterly comparable to at least three of the Franklin units I’ve long been using that the differences seem less significant than the similarities. In fact, the outward dimensions, indeed the very case, of this “Franklin Merriam-Webster Speaking Dictionary & Thesaurus” (Franklin BOOKMAN MWS-1840) is essentially identical to my Franklin talking Spanish dictionary (Franklin BOOKMAN BES-1840); in point of fact, both units were released around the same time in 1999. Thus, I’m thoroughly acquainted with the look-and-feel of the external housing, the keyboard’s tactile response, and the LCD display’s readability. And as for the internal English dictionary features, I own three Franklin models that are, respectively, a step down from, on a level with, and a step up from the one listed here. Finally, I’ve researched Franklin’s printed literature, not to mention their web site, and I have a good notion of the specifications of, and the distinctions between, their currently available models.
In all, I own three Franklin electronic dictionaries (five, if you include a couple for foreign languages). For anyone contemplating their first purchase of such a device--or even one of the leading-edge, web-connective e-book readers--it might prove instructive to review the general evolution of Franklin’s pint-sized dictionaries since the early 1990’s. Concurrently, I will convey impressions of the units’ durability and utility after years of frequent use.
Note: Color photos of the current versions of each model discussed below--along with further information--can be viewed at Franklin’s web site (franklin.com). To skip to my discussion of the Epinions-listed unit, see section #4 below.
1. The Franklin LM-6000 (now called the LM-6000B)
Since 1991 I’ve owned a succession of Franklin electronic “pocket” dictionaries. Actually, my first, the black-plastic LM-6000, being about five inches square and nearly one inch thick, wouldn’t quite fit in anything less than a coat pocket. It really was more “desktop” than “pocket” dictionary. Still, it was a breakthrough in several respects, including its (then) unprecedentedly high number of word entries: about 106,000. By contrast, unabridged English dictionaries comprise over half a million words, although most folk’s abridged hardcover dictionaries have around 160,000 entries, and paperback editions generally have much less than half of that. Thus, the LM-6000 was fairly impressive for a highly portable, electronic lexicon. It also seemed solidly built, with hard-plastic keys instead of the more recently designed models’ soft, rubbery ones. Even after being accidentally dropped five feet onto a lightly carpeted floor, my unit continued to function, albeit with very modest distortion at one edge of its rather large (nearly 5 inches wide and 2 inches deep) 8-line LCD display. [Note: in more recent years, my unit’s LCD “bleeding” has gradually increased. Moral: keep a firm grip on these devices!]
Unlike more recently designed Franklin dictionaries, the LM-6000 included, along with the usual assortment of word games, a unique adaptation of the popular Tetris; called “Letris,” the Franklin version sported falling letters which the player frantically maneuvered to spell words--something like a kinetic version of Scrabble.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about the LM-6000 in 1991 was that it audibly pronounced words for you! True, the voice sounded rather mechanical, but it was (just) sufficiently articulate for the purpose.
The unit took 4 AAA batteries; there was also an AC adapter jack.
Note: Franklin continues to market this venerable device as the LM-6000B. The number of words has been increased to 130,000. Otherwise, it appears to be a clone of the 1991 original. Even the price has remained the same (alas): $179.95.
Note too: Franklin likewise continues to list a $450 version dubbed the LM-6000SE whose display and keyboard are specially adapted for visually impaired readers. However, as I write this, Franklin’s site (Franklin.com) indicates it’s “temporarily out of stock.”
2. The Franklin BOOKMAN MWD-440 (now called the MWD-400)
In early 1996 I bought this spiffy little charcoal-plastic unit at K-Mart for under $40. Measuring 4.75 inches wide, 3 inches deep, and a mere half inch thick with its hinged cover shut, this early BOOKMAN “Dictionary & Thesaurus” was merely adequate for its ostensible purpose (if memory serves, it had only about 60,000 words in its dictionary), but it featured a single book-card slot (on its bottom) into which any of several dozen optional book cards could be inserted. The unit’s compactness made it perfect even for rather tight pockets; unfortunately, its smallish LCD display only allowed four lines of scrollable text.
Instead of the commonly available AAA batteries that Franklin’s other models employ, the MWD-440 takes two CR2032 lithium batteries for which you may need to visit an electronics store such as Radio Shack. There is no AC adapter jack.
In '96 this unit intrigued me because I was working a crushingly boring (temporary) telephone-answering job in a typical business-office cubicle. Management, very considerately, had already deleted all such employee distractions as Windows Solitaire from their office computers. Now, while I couldn’t have gotten away (indefinitely!) smuggling in a Game Boy and suchlike handheld contraband, a small Franklin “Dictionary & Thesaurus” appeared perfectly utilitarian and respectable to management. Little did they suspect there was a book-card slot on the underside of the unit--allowing me to indulge in the occasional, surreptitious game of trivia, poker, hangman, etc.
Additionally, there were such loftier book cards as The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia and my favorite, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Although I’d never been particularly enamored of my hardcover edition of Bartlett's, the BOOKMAN version was something else again. With its computerized search capability, it really made for diverting reading. I could enter any word or phrase and instantly be shown all instances of its occurrence in the book. If, for example, I entered the word “profusion,” I was taken to the following entry by French writer Andre Malraux’ 1933 work La Condition Humaine:
“The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown down here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that from our very prison we should draw, from our very selves, images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.”
To an inveterate bookworm imprisoned in an office cell, being able to peruse such fodder on company time felt altogether perversely satisfying.
I continue to carry this unit on those occasions when its tiny size is most preferable, as when hiking or fishing. It’s proven very durable and continues to function flawlessly.
Note: the MWD-440 has been superseded by the virtually identical BOOKMAN MWD-400 “Vestpocket” dictionary selling for $34.95. The newer version’s dictionary has been enlarged to 80,000 words. And, of course, it still allows you to plug optional book cards into its single slot.
Note too: A similar, slightly larger “pocket” version, the MWD-1440, is available for $59.95. It has 100,000 words and a 5-line LCD display; it likewise is powered by two CR2032 lithium batteries. It’s also currently listed at Epinions as the “Franklin Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus.”
3. The Franklin BOOKMAN SCD-770 (currently available from Franklin)
Late in 1996 Franklin released the tastefully styled, black-plastic SCD-770, otherwise known as the Speaking Merriam-Webster Collegiate® Dictionary. This unit continues to be my primary “e-book” (until I settle, perhaps, on one of the latest Franklin “eBookMan” models). Not only does its dictionary pronounce words quite distinctly (although still somewhat “mechanically”), but it also was the first truly large-capacity pocket dictionary, with about 250,000 primary entries, about 90,000 more words than many large hardcover "college" dictionaries. The definitions are virtually as thorough as what you’d find in an analogous printed edition; etymological notes are included; only the pronunciation symbols are absent; obviously, it’s easier just to let the machine speak the pronunciations anyway.
And its eight-line LCD display is considerably larger and displays twice as many lines of text as that of the BOOKMAN MWD-400. Like the MWD-400, the SCD-770 includes a hinged, protective cover.
What’s more, under its base reside not one but two book card slots. This made it possible for me to smuggle still more entertainment into my erstwhile office cubicle every day. What’s more, now that I’m semi-retired, I continue to enjoy this unit whenever I take a leisurely afternoon break at my favorite coffee shop. Unlike the average book, this unit fits easily in a pants pocket. Accordingly, it’s also easy to take along for a visit to the park, a hike in the forest, or an outing to my favorite fishing hole.
The unit requires 2 AAA batteries; unfortunately, there is no AC adapter jack. On the other hand, with occasional use it can run for many weeks (or several months) on one pair of batteries.
Other than the lack of AC-power connectivity, there’s not much to criticize about this product. The two tiny black pieces of rubber that constitute the front feet eventually will come unglued and get lost; but, since the unit continues to sit well on any flat surface anyway, this is pretty much a non-issue. If you have extremely large thumbs (I don’t), you may find the little keys are a bit too close together. About the only real complaint I myself have is that when I have two book cards plugged into the dual slots underneath, occasionally one of them is not detected when I turn on the unit. Generally, simply turning the unit off then pressing or reinserting the “missing” card does the trick. Of course, the price of $179.95 seems excessive, especially nowadays when one can have a “real” e-book for hardly any more money. But back in ‘96 this seemed a worthwhile splurge to me, and I’ve never regretted buying it; after five years of use, it’s proven suitably durable and trustworthy. I expect to go right on enjoying it for many years to come.
4. The Franklin BOOKMAN MWS-1840 (currently available from Franklin)
This two-tone-blue unit is the one listed here at Epinions as the “Franklin Merriam-Webster Speaking Dictionary & Thesaurus.” Franklin released it in 1999. It lists for $119.95.
The MWS-1840 measures 5.75 inches wide, 4.5 inches deep, and tapers to a thickness of about one inch. This bulkier configuration—like that of the LM-6000 from 1991--means it’s more a “desktop” than a “pocket” dictionary; indeed, the lack of any protective cover or lid drives the point home.
I should add that even a “desktop” unit can get rather grimy sans a protective cover (if you've ever left a remote-control handset's upper surface exposed to the air for several years, you know what I mean). Therefore, I consider this unit's lack of any cover a shortcoming; some users, I suppose, may prefer not having to fuss with a cover.
If you want to carry it with you, you can still (barely) squeeze it into a pants pocket (or purse). If you do so, I’d suggest you place it in a small plastic bag to protect the LCD display from scratches.
With its 120,000 words, this model’s lexicon is clearly somewhat better than that of the BOOKMAN MWD-400; roughly comparable to the LM-6000B; but not even close to the BOOKMAN SCD-770, which continues to be Franklin’s flagship “pocket” dictionary. To put it another way, the MWS-1840’s dictionary is perhaps satisfactory for middling college graduates but insufficient for advanced readers who would be much better served by the BOOKMAN SCD-770 with 250,000 words.
It features just one book-card slot, despite being considerably larger than the BOOKMAN SCD-770, which has two slots.
Further, the 8-line LCD display measures 1 inch high by 3 and 3/8 inches long; while that’s “taller” than the 4-line, ¾-inch screen of the BOOKMAN MWD-400, it’s not nearly as large as that of the 8-line BOOKMAN SCD-770's display: 1.5 inches high by 4.5 inches wide. Making matters still worse, this 1999 unit’s LCD panel is offset deeply beneath the plastic window, making it hard to read the topmost and bottommost lines of text unless you’re looking at it straight on. Neither of the other, previously released BOOKMAN units have such a hard-to-read display. Why Franklin’s designers would take such an annoying step backward is beyond me.
Finally, whereas the BOOKMAN SCD-770 takes only two AAA batteries, the MWS-1840 requires four. It does, however, include an AC adapter jack, unlike the SCD-770.
The audible pronunciation sounds pretty clear and articulate; overall, I consider it slightly better than that of the reasonably articulate SCD-770. Of course, marginally clearer pronunciation does little good if the word you want to hear isn’t included in the unit’s 120,000-word vocabulary (recall that the SCD-770’s vocabulary comprises 250,000 words).
Some users may feel this unit’s more widely spaced keys constitute a major advantage over the prior models. Accordingly, individuals with very large thumbs will possibly prefer this unit.
Regarding this model's “active” features, there are some minor stylistic differences with the displayed information, but nothing constituting an unarguable improvement over the BOOKMAN SCD-770.
Bottom line: If the audible pronunciation feature is paramount to you; if you don’t require a vocabulary any more extensive than that of a modest hardcover dictionary; and if compactness is of secondary importance, this $119.95 unit should satisfy you. Other consumers would be happier spending $34.95 for the mute, “vest-pocket” MWD-400 which is much easier to transport and has, at least, somewhat more words than many paperback dictionaries. Still others (including me) would prefer to splurge on the $179.95 SCD-770 which has more than twice as many words, pronounces reasonably well, has the largest LCD display, is compact enough for easy transport, and features two slots for optional book cards.
All of the above-mentioned Franklin dictionaries are worthwhile, entertaining little gizmos, whether used as lexicographic aids or mere toys. The built-in book slot(s) really are handy if you can find a truly useful book card from Franklin’s own pathetically spare library. Though I’ve derived much satisfaction from my favored BOOKMAN SCD-770, and while I know I’ll continue to use it indefinitely, it’s quite arguably obsolete technology. Anyone could surely get more bang for the buck with one of the aforementioned higher-capacity, web-connective, multifaceted e-book readers now on the market from Franklin and others. Those newer units are capable of holding many books, and the availability of compatible titles is so vastly superior there’s no real comparison. Nevertheless, if you want a device that can fit into a shirt or pants pocket, and if all you need is a very good dictionary, thesaurus, and maybe a few supplementary reference titles such as Bartlett’s Quotations, then you’ll surely appreciate the Franklin BOOKMAN SCD-770. Those who want even more compactness--and/or can't bear the SCD-770's hefty cost--should consider the MWD-400 or MWD-1440. You can further investigate these and other products at Franklin.com. Alternatively, Franklin's customer service phone number is 1-800-266-5626.
With a BOOKMAN pocket dictionary and my trusty Bartlett's card (not to mention several diverting, built-in word games), I no longer feel compelled to thumb through back issues of People and Good Housekeeping whenever I'm stuck in a leisurely doctor's waiting room.
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