I love traveling overseas, but no matter how often I do it, I still dread those moments where I’m trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand English or the tiny bits of a couple of other languages I try as a last resort. So I was quite enthusiastic about taking Langogo’s Genesis pocket translator ($299) along on a recent multi-country trip.
The Genesis supports an impressive list of over 100 languages, although not all of them offer full functionality. It provides several different translation modes, once you choose a pair of languages from its list. The primary mode is simply pressing the microphone button and speaking in one of the two languages you’ve chosen. As the Genesis recognizes what you’ve said, it displays it on the screen. It then sends what it thinks you said to the cloud, and displays the translation at the same time it says it for you (for languages where speech-to-text is supported). You can speak in either language, as the recognition system will typically know which one and translate to the other. However, there were times where it got confused, as there are often words in both languages that sound similar or mean different things, so it’d be nice to have an option to force it to look for one language or the other.
The Genesis also has a mode where it will simply translate whatever it hears. This is useful if you want to carry on a conversation and have multiple people speaking. It has a reasonably good built-in microphone that works with a few people around a small table. For a conference room setting, it’d need support for an external microphone. In either mode, it keeps a transcript of your session that you can mail to yourself, making it an interesting option for recording meetings. One experiment I haven’t tried yet is setting it up to record an entire talk given in a foreign language so I could see the transcript of the translated version.
Clever Cloud-Based eSIM Architecture and Hot Spot Feature
Since the device relies on the cloud for translation services, it needs to be connected to the internet to work. It supports Wi-Fi, as you’d expect, but it also comes with a pre-activated eSIM that works in many countries automatically. In my case, it provided perfect connectivity in France, Germany, and Croatia, but not Montenegro and Bosnia. Data is free for the first year, and the company says it will be inexpensive to renew after that.
The Genesis can also serve as a hot spot if you purchase a data plan for it. The company sells plans that you can purchase directly from the device. They aren’t incredibly cheap but are fairly competitive with other eSIM based offerings like Flexiroam. It also has a slot for a SIM card, which you can use with a local SIM card (after you’ve activated it using your phone or another device capable of that).
A translation device, no matter how many features it has, is only as good as the translations it provides. Here the Langogo AI device is the best I’ve experienced. The company says it uses a selection from a variety of back-end translation engines including Google Translate and Baidu Translate. However it does it, the results are excellent.
I tested the device with native speakers of Korean, Chinese, French, Serbian, and Croatian. In all cases, they were very impressed and rated the results — in both directions — as nearly flawless for typical conversation. Attempting to translate sentences from technical papers was more hit or miss, although even the native language speakers sometimes had a hard time figuring out how they would translate some terms in their papers.
Translation’s “Uncanny Valley”
Getting translations right is only the first part of making a really usable translation device. It’s also important that they happen fast enough to work for real-world interactions. It’s here that using the Genesis becomes tricky. Doing cloud-based translation using a selection of language models and engines takes time. It’s only a few seconds, but enough to interrupt the flow of a conversation and cause some discomfort for both you and the person you’re communicating with — at least until they understand what is happening and become adjusted to it. As a result, it is often hard to know whether the awkwardness of using the Genesis makes it the right way to approach an interaction, compared with simply muddling through the old-fashioned way.
Using the Langogo Genesis to Improve Your Language Skills
One nifty use for the device is helping you know when you’re pronouncing words correctly in other languages. Since it always has both translation directions active, you can say a word or phrase in your native language, and then repeat back the translated phrase to see if it recognizes it and comes up with your original version. This is great for practicing common phrases yourself before arriving in a new country, or once there without having to bother your local friends to teach you.
Langogo Genesis Interface: Ideas for Improvement
As impressive as the Genesis is at translating, there is some room for improvement in how you interface with the device. For starters, it’d be valuable for it to support Bluetooth, so that you could use it with earbuds or possibly a headset. It isn’t always desirable to have it blurt out translations — especially if you’re trying to understand what someone else is saying in a public setting.
Longer-term, it’d also be great if they could add a camera to mimic the functionality provided by Google Translate for decoding signs or other text. On a more straightforward note, the menu system is a little clumsy and could stand to be re-organized.
Conclusion: Amazing Tech in a User-friendly Package
Overall, the Langogo Genesis is a really cool device. I found uses for it everywhere I went with it. In addition to its practical uses, it is a great conversation starter if you’re sitting around the breakfast table at a BB where people are speaking in a bunch of languages you don’t understand. That said, it isn’t perfect; the translations take some time and it doesn’t have support for Bluetooth. So, given the price point of $300, I definitely wouldn’t call it a “must-have,” but if you travel a lot and struggle with translation tasks, it would definitely come in handy.
- New Earbuds Let You Speak That Language You Meant to Learn
- Learn a New Language the Easy Way with These 6 Discounted Apps
- Google Fed a Language Algorithm Math Equations. It Learned How to Solve New Ones