When the Google Pixel Buds were announced the reaction was along the lines of “Google’s Pixel Buds translation will change the world“. But, the first thing I thought was “I wonder how it compares to what’s already out there”.
I’m a native English speaker, that doesn’t have the best nack for languages. I also live in Taiwan which is a Chinese speaking country and I run a German-language website. There is no one more ready for a real-life Bable fish than me.
Before we head into the Pixel Bud Alternatives, let’s take a quick look at the device that’s turning heads. If you already know all about it, feel free to skip ahead and start with Travis.
Google Pixel Buds
The Pixel Buds are neck buds, not truly wireless earbuds.
To start a translation, you hold your finger down to the earbud and say “help me speak French,” and speak a phrase. When you lift your finger, the Translate app speaks and displays your translation. Then the person you’re speaking to holds a button down on your phone and says their reply, which you hear in your ear.
I’m a little dubious that this is any more convenient than just passing your phone back and forth and doing everything there, but it’s nice that only one set of translations is done over the phone’s speaker. A fairly natural voice does the translation, which is a step up from what we currently hear through Google Translate. This isn’t real time, but it’s very fast.
Google says they should last about five hours on a charge; the case can charge them four times.
We found a new offline translator at StartUp LaunchPad at the Global Sourcing Fair, this is a Hong Kong Conference which showcases brand new startups that are looking for distributors. It happens twice a year and Mobile Geeks has made a habit of attending since it gives a sneak peek at the technology trends that are coming out of China to the rest of the world.
Le Trans is about the size of a bar of soap and will translate 29 languages, which is a lot of combinations! They’re mostly using Google’s translation library but have added in a few others as well. You use an App to select which languages are being translated and it does not work offline, meaning it’s not a great solution if you’re traveling.
LeTrans will be launching on Kickstarter in December with a shipping date for sometime in 2018. I did get to go hands-on but the sample wasn’t working, so I’m reserving judgment on this until we have working samples and a price point.
Travis the Translator
Travis launched on Indegogo back in April and raised 1.13M in funding, Travis can translate 80 languages, 20 of which work offline. It’s not a headset like the Pixel Bud it’s a MiFi like pod that has a built-in speaker and a headphone jack, so you can plug in your own.
Travis works for up to 12 hours, uses AI to become more intelligent working to understand your accent better and provide more accurate translations taking context into account. As you see in the video above you can just place the Travis between you and carry on a normal coversation. You have to wait for the translation to be read out, but it’s very fast and natural.
Travis doesn’t provide a full list of what translation engines they’re using but claims the best translation engine for each language is different which is why they are using so many solutions. This makes Travis more interesting than Pixel Bud which as far as we know just uses Google Translate.
You can pick up Travis for $169+shipping through their Indiegogo campaign but the price will rise to $229 when they go on sale. Travis is meant to ship towards the end of November to current backers and be ready for market in the winter of 2017.
For a full list of all 80 languages please visit their website.
Pilot Translating Earpiece
Pilot fits into your ear offers live translation of 15 languages and will stream music, take calls, deliver notifications or act as your phone’s personal assistant. You can share the earpiece with the person you’re having the conversation with so you can both have a translation device. I have strong feelings against sharing my earbuds with a stranger, so it’s a good thing that you can use the Pilot app on the phone to listen and translate.
Currently Pilot is not available offline, but they’re planning on adding it later. You’re also dependent on using the app for translation and the app will be available for Free in November so you can download it to find out if it’s any good.
Pre-orders of the Pilot Translating Earpieces start at $249 ($299 when it goes on sale) and come with free access to Latin/romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, along with English). However, if you want to add more languages Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, German, Greek, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Turkish, etc will cost you more.
ili Wearable Translator
Ili can be worn around your neck or simply held in your hand and pointed at people’s faces like in the video above. Ili as tall and thick as your phone but much thinner. It doesn’t offer instant translation and has 0.2 seconds delay.
Ili isn’t a universal translator, it’s travel-focused, so this is the context of the content it has available. Due to its limited size and the fact that it’s offline it essentially holds a translation dictionary.
That said, there is quite a lot encompassed in the travel, “ili is here to help you when it comes to dining, shopping, finding transportation, and much more” according to the company. If you believe their YouTube channel this is quite a lot of scenarios.
The biggest issue/disappointment is that Ili is one way. One language to another, not back again. Forget having a conversation, ili claims that its goal is to help you be understood by others. Understanding what’s being said to you will have to wait for another version.
Ili has support for 3 languages from English, meaning English to Spanish, Mandarin or Japanese and 2 languages from Chinese.
Bragi Dash Pro
Bragi Dash Pro is currently available and we’ve reviewed it, we can’t say we were impressed with the performance, but we’re hopeful it’ll improve.
All you need to do to have a conversation with someone who speaks another language is throw Dash Pro earbuds in, and you’ll instantly be able to understand someone who’s speaking in one of up to 40 foreign languages.
The problem is that there’s no compelling reason to use the Dash Pro for translation unless both people in the conversation are using the earbuds. You can’t hand one earbud off to the other person so they can also benefit from the translator. If the other person doesn’t have their own pair of headphones, you still have to hold your phone out so that the person you’re talking to has a microphone to talk into and a speaker to hear your own words translated into their language. Otherwise, they’d have to talk directly into your ear, and they wouldn’t get your voice translated back into their language. At that point, it’s far easier for you to both speak into — and hear translations from — the same device.
The earbuds act as an accessory for an app called iTranslate, which already claims 5 million monthly active users and is one of the more high-rated translation apps in both the Apple Store and on Google Play.
So far we think that Travis offers the most interesting solution for a live translation device, we’re in touch with the company and hope to have a full review for you soon.