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Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Have you ever been in a foreign country and tried to find your way around, order from a menu, or read a map in a language that you don’t understand? Language barriers can be incredibly frustrating, but we found a new app designed to go head-to-head with iOS’s Word Lens that can help you next time you’re in that kind of situation.

CamTranslator is a new app from IntSig that is designed to help break the communication barrier between languages using your phone’s camera. It includes a massive collection of over 50 languages that will translate both ways, two different modes of translation, and a few other quaint features. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you’re looking at a sign that’s written in Chinese and want to know what it says. Grab your phone, open up CamTranslator, and tap the screen when the word you want to translate is in the center. Easy enough, right?

CamTranslator offers two different ways to grab the images used for translation - real-time translations or picture translations.

Just as it sounds, real-time translations happen on the fly - all you have to do is point the camera at the word you want to translate and tap the screen. It’s not as easy as it sounds though - you have to hold the camera perfectly still and be at an appropriate distance. If you’re too close, it will only read part of the word; too far away, and it won’t read anything.

The same goes for picture translations, which can be a little bit less frustrating if you take the pic from a good distance the first time. Once you snap the pic, it will open in a different interface, but it’s still quite similar to the real-time translator. You don’t have to be as meticulous once you’ve grabbed the image, so this mode is much easier to use. It’s a simple tap and translate.

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In order to gauge how well this app actually works, I tested it using three different types of text on both real-time and picture translations - packages, handwritten, and printed manuscript. Tonight happened to be grocery night, so while we were picking up ingredients for homemade sushi, I pulled out my phone and tried to translate some of the Japanese images on the packaging.

Product Packaging Analysis

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Real-time Translator - After trying several different packages, I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t going to work. I decided to try translating English to Spanish, but the closest that I got to an accurate detection was “grade” detected as “grape”. I assume it’s because of the almost-reflective surface of most packaging.

Picture Translator - After not getting any real results from the real-time translator, I snapped a picture to see if I could have better luck with the picture translator. Just like I expected, it was tedious and didn’t detect any of the symbols correctly.

A bit disappointing, I know. Once we got home, I decided I would see how well it could handle handwritten notes. Not only did I write a few, but I had my fiancee write some for the purpose of diversity.

Handwriting Analysis

Real-time Translator- No matter what I did, there was no way it was going to detect any sort of word in the handwritten notes. I think I have very nice handwriting, too.

Picture Translator - Just like with the real-time translator, it wouldn’t detect anything, only returning and “Unrecognized” error. So much for that.

To be fair, I thought I would give this app one last chance to redeem itself - the published word. So I grabbed a book, opened to a random page and went to work.

Printed Page Analysis

Real-time Translator - This is where CamTranslator really shows what it’s made of. It detected every last word that I checked in mere seconds and translated them almost immediately. It was still a little bit difficult to get the right angle and focus, but overall it was pretty painless.

Picture Translator - This was even better than the real-time translator. The picture came our crystal clear and every tapped word translated within seconds.

Other Features

Now that the primary function of the app has been put to the test, let’s talk about some of its other features. It’s not really packing a whole lot more under the hood, but for the sake of completeness, I will mention them here.

Vocabulary - You can save as many words as you like in your “vocabulary” for quick and easy reference. It saves the native word, translated word, and the date and time. It would have been nice if it included the original and translated languages, but that may be asking too much.

Detailed Translations - This gives a little bit more in-depth explanation of the translation, including alternate dictionary translations, Google translations, and usage examples. The examples may help in some situations, but the complexity of example sentences would leave me more confused about proper usage if I didn’t have prior knowledge of the word. At least we know their intent was good.

Share - About as basic as it gets - it shares both the native and translated words through social networks, e-mail, or any of the other various mediums in which you may share content.

“Other Apps” - A plug to the creators' other apps in the Market.

Bugs

If you’ve noticed the severe lack of my own screenshots in this article, it’s not because I didn’t try. One weird quirk that I ran into was that it would NOT let me take any screenshots while within the app. I tried several different screenshot applications just to make sure that it wasn’t my go-to screenshot app causing problems.

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If you “home” out of CamTranslator while in picture translator mode, it goes crazy. When you re-open the app, it will attempt to open the previously loaded picture, but it will never get past the “loading” screen. I was unable to back out of the app, close it, or even kill it with a task manager (before you judge, I only keep one on hand for instances like this. I do not condone the use of task killers). The only way to completely kill the app was to restart my phone.

Conclusion

CamTranslator has potential to be good, but at this point I just can’t recommend it. I see it as more of a novelty that you may play with for a couple of hours, but it offers very little practical, real world use.

Download

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Keith

    Does it need a data connection? If so, most people don't pay for data in a foreign country with outrageous roaming charges.

  • Jordan Lewis

    Great review. The description of what this app was supposed to do made me want it badly. But of course, your review of how this works realistically counteracted that desire. Basically it seems like this app is nothing new - just Google Goggles repackaged for "reading text" (badly).

  • Thomas Crown

    For iPhone, there is an app that does this just great.
    http://www.camtranslate.com/

  • chris

    iPhone/iOS had a year head-start on Android.

    That's probably why it's beating the c**p out of Android.

    Oh wait...

    Android FTW, you mindless Jobs followers.

  • nurso

    Does this app works on htc wildfire ?a

  • Michael

    I agree.

    You're too polite, but I'll say it. The app sucks ass and needs huge work if it's going to ever be taken seriously.

    They really should have launched this as a pre Alpha. Because if this is v1 - I'm waiting for Word Lens.

  • Alan

    God, I have been waiting ages for WordLens. I've tried this and I can hardly get any use out of it. Really terrible. If wordlens came to Android I would pay plenty.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

    This is just a test comment. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/davecoteproductions Diamond Dave

    I've been working on an Image to Speech translator, take a picture and translate!  It'san app for android that takes a picture, and speaks the text aloud, in any language:)
    I was inspired by a Ted Talk that mentioned that not too long ago, this technology was available for around $10,000.00, for the visually impaired. Technology has come so far that I am able to write this app and release it for $1 on Google Play:)
    Also, gives option of Speech or Text, in case you don't want your phone to speak (ie: in a university lecture:)
    I hope it is used as a tool for the visually impaired, but it's also GREAT for traveling! Imagine you are in a country and don't understand the language, you can take a picture of a menu at a restaurant, and the items are read back to you in English!
    Check it out:  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.davecote.seesaytranslate