Battle of the dictionaries – electronic vs paper vs application vs online

In a recent language class, I found myself lacking a pocket dictionary, and I have considered several options in the last few months. I haven’t come to a conclusion yet, but I have thought about the following:

Paper dictionaries – The traditional dictionary is still in widespread use, and, if you can find a comprehensive pocket-sized one, can be great for use in lessons and to keep close at hand. The downsides of these are size, and the fact that updating requires buying a whole new dictionary. Some dictionaries (for example, Chinese to English) may also take some getting used to before you know how to look things up quickly.

Electronic dictionaries – These are dedicated dictionary and translation devices, and benefit from convenient size, compatible keyboards, and long-lasting batteries (especially compared to a mobile phone or laptop). These are not usually updated as often as online dictionaries. For a generation that expects their electronic devices to do everything at once, I imagine electronic dictionaries will become obsolete in the near future.

Dictionary applications – For smartphones and other handheld devices, there are a wide range of dictionary applications available for download. Some of them include both keyboard and touch screen inputs, the latter being very convenient for character-based scripts (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Korean). Most applications have different functions, so look for one that suits your needs. The only real downside of these is that smart devices often have limited battery life, so you may not have the information available when you need it.

Online dictionaries – Online dictionaries are plentiful and usually tell you what you want to know. There are also online translation services available. If you use these on the go, though, you will need a laptop, netbook, smart phone or internet-capable handheld device (e.g. iPod Touch, Nintendo DS), and an internet plan or wireless network. The speed and convenience depend on your connection and device, and it can be time consuming to actually look up entries rather than have a dedicated dictionary application. Best for up-to-date and colloquial information, and best for use on desktop or laptop computers.

I am leaning towards an application, but I do have a soft spot for traditional dictionaries. Do you have any recommendations for a portable dictionary?