If you venture into an exotic pocket of your hometown — perhaps to Chinatown for authentic dim sum — it’s likely that a bilingual patron or employee can help with translations. But if your work takes you to China, things could be quite different. Not being able to ask for directions or haggle with a supplier might spell the difference between a successful trip and a bust. But the solution to this problem is already in your pocket.
A panoply of translation apps for smartphones and tablets have grown savvy enough to break down communication barriers in almost every corner of the world. If you select the right one for you, it may be able to process translations in the cloud, handle vast language databases and even let you point your camera at unfamiliar signs on the street to help you get your bearings. We tested five of the most popular translation apps to see which ones live up to the hype.
Word Lens (Android, iOS)
Though purchasing language packs can become pricey, Word Lens is still the best augmented reality translation app for your smartphone. The 24 languages' translations are spoken back in surprisingly natural voice, making your travels much smoother.
iTranslate (Android, iOS)
Offering landscape mode, translation history, auto-detect input, spoken translations and voice recognition, iTranslate packs a ton of desirable features and uses a highly intuitive interface. To avoid unsightly apps, pay $2.99 instead of opting for the free version.
Google Translate (Android, iOS)
The gold standard of all mobile translation apps, Google Translate offers access to 65 languages. It works exactly like the Google Translate Web tool, shrunk to fit right inside your iPhone or Android device.
We like that for truly multilingual settings, Google Translate included dialect preferences and a detect language mode, translating our input to whatever end language we chose. The Android version adds handwriting recognition for input and augmented reality to translate text you see, whether it’s a road sign or text from a book.
Vocre Review (iOS)
A translation app with person-to-person interactions in mind, Vocre (pronounced voh-cree) offers fast and painless translations using a clever user interface. This $2.99 tool for iPhone and iPad incorporates 23 global languages and works via 3G or Wi-Fi but the downside is that both male and female voices sounded computer-like when speaking our translated phrases aloud.
SayHi Translate (iOS)
“Put an interpreter in your pocket.” That’s the motto of small-but-powerful iOS app SayHi Translate, an automated universal voice translator. Fire it up, tap and speak to translate, and the $.99 app talks back in the language your friend or business partner understands. It doesn't get any simpler than that.