Pros: Deepest language database of all apps; Android version includes handwriting recognition and augmented reality; For 24 languages, translations are spoken back in surprisingly natural voice
Cons: On Android devices, augmented reality didn't always work well with printed text; Dictation and spoken translations don't work for all included languages in the app's database
Verdict: Word Lens does a reasonably accurate job of translating printed words in real time via your smartphone's camera. We just wish there were more language options.
This magiclike, augmented reality translation app has improved by leaps and bounds since its release in December 2010. Word Lens fires up your smartphone camera so you can point it at anything in front of you -- foreign signs and menus, for instance -- and have the app process its translation on the fly. It then spits back the translation onto the live camera's picture, even mimicking the same font and size as the original image.
Recently, the app made its way to the Android platform, added even more language packs to its mix and has made each cheaper to purchase. Now you can translate between English and Italian, French or Spanish for $4.99 per language pack. (The app itself comes free, with a trial for augmenting reality with "Reverse Words.")
During testing, our smartphone camera automatically activated. The app has a simple and intuitive interface; we touched the bar along the top edge of the screen to switch to the language pair we wanted (English to Spanish). We tilted our device so that the words shown on our screen were aligned, left to right, when we held our smartphone upright. Logging onto Laptop Magazine online, we pointed our iPhone camera at the page and Word Lens magically altered the picture on our screen. The website logo read "ordenador portátil" in big bold letters.
Tapping on a button in the lower left cluster of icons let us lock and unlock screen rotation. We used the zoom and flash light buttons on our iPhone to improve translation quality -- the zoom icon helped in bringing small words up close when the camera had difficulty focusing, while the flash light button activated our smartphone's built-in flash, handy for low-light conditions.
The bottom edge of the app features several shortcut functions. The world map selects language packs; pause/play can stop and start video up your device's camera for the augmented reality function ; the Info button brings up a tutorial; and the dictionary can look up words. When we paused the video, we held down the Eye icon to check the original image without translations, and compared it with the translations Word Lens came up with.
We like that the Word Lens app works offline. And while the translations themselves depended on how well our smartphone recognized individual characters (the app doesn't work on handwriting or stylized fonts), Word Lens was reasonably accurate most of the time. Plus there's nothing that comes close to the novelty of seeing foreign words suddenly become clear right before your eyes.
Though purchasing language packs can become pricey, Word Lens is still the best augmented reality translation app for your smartphone. The app is reasonably accurate, works without a network connection, and has great novelty value. We just wish there were more language options.