In this day and age, you can define “torture” however you want to, and for a long time, we considered the practice of inputting Chinese characters on a Mac to fulfill our definition. OS X has a built-in simplified Chinese input that does the job, but doesn’t really hold a candle to any of the Windows XP input methods—and when Sogou came out with their input method, and Google copied it, we considered that battle to be over.
A few months back, we started browsing Chinese Apple sites, because, like all geeks, we wanted to pimp our Macbooks without having to spend money doing so. There we came across two Chinese input methods—one called FIT (Fun Input Toy), and the other called QIM (and we don’t know what that stands for).
We tried both, and what follows is a personal and thus very unscientific rundown. For us, the real issue is speed—and the only way these things can be fast is if they, like Google and Sogou’s input methods, have dictionaries that include common proper nouns, phrases, and slang. And though it’s a tall order, being able to string together a whole sentence is another great feature that Google and Sogou sometimes can handle.
First off, FIT is completely free to download and use. And while it is much better and smoother than OS X’s native input method, it still has some limitations in terms of vocabulary and stringing together sentences. For example, if you type in w’j’b’ you get, as one of your choices, Wen Jiabao. However, if you type in h’j’t’, you don’t get Hu Jintao as one of the choices. M’z’d will get you Mao Zedong, but typing in z’e’l’ will not get you Zhou Enlai, and even typing ‘zhou en lai’ won’t get you that. Of course, typing l’y’c’ will get you Li Yuchun, the Super Voice Girls champ and pop idol. However, FIT isn’t that great for longer or more complicated sentences. Any sentence involving over eight characters will probably involve you having to stop and choose and piecing together the sentence that way, rather than getting it right (or even 90% right) in one fell swoop.
On the other hand, QIM is shareware and thus you have some kind of 10,000 hanzi limit before the demo expires—supposedly you can keep using it, but will not have access to advanced features. Priced at around $20 US, we think it’s a bit expensive, but then again, we’re former shoplifters, so take that last bit with a grain of salt.
However, QIM has two distinct advantages—a Sogou dictionary and QIT. QIT is another package, and kinda big—120mb or so—and adds to QIT an intelligent sentence construction function. Thus you can type in whole sentences, and QIT, we have to say, gets it right, again, barring sentences that somewhat complex.
We first tested QIM and QIT out by typing c’n’m’, hoping to get the sentence/phrase ‘cao ni ma’ (f*ck your mother). This was the result:
As you can see, the right choice is #3, the first two referring to ‘hymen’ (chu nv mo) and ‘newbs’ (cai niao men), respectively.
However, the more sentences we tried, the more we began to feel as if QIT has an insuperable advantage over FIT. For example, we tried the sentence wo’xiang’ming’tian’yong’dao’zi’zi’sha, which roughly means ‘I would like to kill myself with a knife tomorrow.’ Here is what you get with FIT:
Many of the characters are wrong—a native speaker would likely not follow the intended meaning of the sentence at all. However, try that very same sentence with QIM, and you get:
… which is completely correct.
The Sogou-dictionary helps a lot, too. It even contains some commonly used Shanghainese slang, as you can see here:
So on the whole, we have to side with QIM and QIT over FIT. We don’t know what’s going when the demo/free trial period is over—for $20, we’d expect the input method to read our mind and perhaps suggest a couple of synonyms from the thesaurus to make us look smarter when we are IMing girls.
One last note: From the FIT page we also found out that some folks have been working on Chinese input for iPhones, which do not natively support Chinese inputs. You can check out the fruits of their labor here.