I first saw Word Lens for iOS on TechCrunch back in 2010 and instantly fell in love with the concept - just point the camera at foreign words, and all of them get translated in front of your very eyes, live. Amazing, isn't it? If you haven't seen this promo video yet, watch it first:

Every month since, I searched the Play Store for Word Lens, hoping its developers brought it to our favorite OS, but found nothing. Eventually, during my trip to Spain, I started using CamDictionary, which did a decent job but was too cumbersome to use and lacked many words in the dictionary.

One thing CamDictionary couldn't do was exactly why I wanted Word Lens so badly - translate all words my camera was capturing, live. It could either translate a word I pointed to with my finger or snap a photo and analyze it. Reading restaurant menus with CamDictionary was a little easier but still a big pain. I was not happy and routinely spent 25 minutes just examining menus before getting frustrated and ordering an omelet.

Word Lens For Android

Last month without any fanfare, Quest Visual, the company behind Word Lens, released the Android version, which I finally discovered today thanks to Reddit. A few short moments later it was downloading to my EVO LTE.

There are two versions - the free Lite one and a $4.99 paid one which comes with one language pack. Now, I'm not really sure what Quest Visual was thinking when they released two separate apps and marked the paid one as having an "introductory price" of $4.99. Both versions have in-app purchases for language packs, each one costing $4.99, and the free one comes with no packs pre-installed. So getting the Lite version and buying one language pack is the same as buying a paid version. Why, Quest Visual, why would you then have two versions that end up with the exact same end result? Sigh.

I am not going to discuss whether pricing per language is set at a fair amount - you will be the judge of that. To me, being able to read a menu without getting frustrated already makes the $5 a worthy investment. At the moment, Italian, Spanish, and French are the only language packs available. I hope more are coming.

Update: According to Quest Visual's blog, the language packs are actually on sale at $4.99 until July 22nd. I am not sure what they'll cost after the introductory sale, but that explains the strange "introductory price" wording. It still, however, doesn't explain why there are two versions.

Some of you might say: "It doesn't use Google Translate? @#%^ that!" Yes, Word Lens uses offline language packs, but it does it for a few reasons:

  • There's no need for a data connection, which a huge plus especially while traveling.
  • Translations happen live - this is not a dictionary. Your data connection would likely not be able to keep up, and even if it could, it still wouldn't be this fast.
  • The Google Translate API is no longer free.


Moving on to the most important question of all - does it work? The first time you fire it up, you will likely get a seizure even if you're not epileptic. The app tries to translate what it sees on the screen at the rate of what seems to be five times a second, which causes all kinds of flashing of letters and whole words and completely shocks your visual organs.

Thankfully, there's a Pause button which lets you capture what you're seeing live and look at it in peace. The Pause button also seems to produce more accurate translations and makes all the recognized words become clickable (see below).

However, once you realize how complex the technology is, realize that the app is very new to Android and will undoubtedly receive numerous improvements, and, more importantly, figure out how to use it correctly, Word Lens does not disappoint.

I tested Word Lens on book titles, legible words printed on my monitor screen, and a printout of a Spanish restaurant menu. I don't know about you, but I was impressed. Really impressed.

IMAG0146 wm_Screenshot_2012-07-06-10-12-59 wm_Screenshot_2012-07-06-11-11-29

In Pause mode, words become clickable

And now a random restaurant menu:

IMAG0147 wm_Screenshot_2012-07-06-10-58-45 wm_Screenshot_2012-07-06-10-18-44

Left: real menu, middle: live mode, right: paused mode with clickable words

Here's the full menu if you want to try it out yourself:


The beauty of an app like Word Lens is it is really fast to use since it uses the camera and updates the image live. It also completely replaces words it sees instead of just adding overlays, all while trying to match the same font, color, background, and text size.

Yes, it's not perfect and may not work on every font out there, but can you read this fast in a foreign language without knowing a word of it? I sure can't. Remember: even voice recognition (especially live) is far from 100% accurate and fails with accents, background noise, and other factors. Live image recognition is very hard as well, and Word Lens, in my opinion, does an excellent job.


If you want to give Word Lens a go, use the widgets below.

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Artem Russakovskii
Artem is a die-hard Android fan, passionate tech blogger, obsessive-compulsive editor, bug hunting programmer, and the founder of Android Police.
Most of the time, you will find Artem either hacking away at code or thinking of the next 15 blog posts.

  • Josh

    This would be great for Project Glass.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      That is a brilliant idea.

      • Josh

        I think its a pretty obvious idea, to tell the truth.... I hope similar functionality is built into Project Glass via Google Translate.

        • Josh

          To clarify: I definitely appreciate the complement! But obvious and brilliant are not mutually exclusive. An attitude to the contrary is what turned the current patent system into a mockery of what it was originally intended to be.

  • Zak Taccardi

    My family friend's son wrote this app. Pretty cool shit, although I'd never use it. USA FOREVER

    • http://www.facebook.com/peoii Jamie Harrell

      It's kinda sad that you say you'd never use it in a country where more and more things are becoming bilingual (rightly so), and was founded as (and still is) a melting pot. Plus, never travel outside the states? Has many more valid reasons than I think you're thinking of.

      Great app, will definitely be checking it out, especially if they get more languages on board quickly.

      • Zak Taccardi

        I was just being obnoxious. I just don't have a practical use for it currently. I'm an American speaking English who lives in America. But if/when I traveled overseas, I'd pick this app up in a heartbeat

  • Jacob Smalley

    I have heard Google Goggles does something similar, but have not had a chance to try it yet. However, Google Goggles likely goes over a data network, but it is "free" other than data connection..

  • http://twitter.com/havens1515 Randroid

    As someone who has had epilepsy literally my whole life (Yes, I had a seizure the day I was born,) I'm here to tell you that only 3% of people with epilepsy are triggered by flashing lights. Yes, it can cause certain people to have seizures, but that does NOT mean that every person with epilepsy will have a seizure when exposed to a flashing light.

    You can read more about it here if you would like:

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      It was more of a joke really. A punchline for the title.

      • http://twitter.com/havens1515 Randroid

        I understand what it was, but it also perpetuates a stereotype. I kinda just want to educate people about the truth of the situation, since this stereotype is something I have been a victim of my whole life.

        A lot of people think that anyone who has epilepsy is going to drop and have a seizure if they see blinking lights. I just want to make people understand that that is not true.

  • http://twitter.com/rohanXm Rohan Mathur

    You can beat the Windows Phone Challenge with this BTW, one of the things is to translate the card faster than the other person.

  • http://twitter.com/MrYuzhai *Certified_geek™

    if only this had chinese language support.. >.<

    • Ribbed for her pleasure.

      If it only had chinese and japanese..

    • Daniel McDermott

      At least we got Pleco, which has other features besides OCR as well.

  • http://twitter.com/PCSievers P.C. Sievers

    That is really awesome. Technology is truly amazing.

  • Robert Jakiel

    Pretty neat but the translation is currently useless. The words jump around and change making it nearly unreadable. Hopefully the devs get a fix in soon,

    • darrenf

      You have to tap on the screen to focus on the text you want to translate -- it doesn't auto-focus. Once it's in focus it works like in the video and it's freakin awesome!

  • IceBeam

    There is a demo version to show you how it recognizes words. Wouldn't want to pay for that.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      The demo version is there for free, but it doesn't translate. Instead, to demo it reverses or flips the words it recognizes.

  • Lou

    I might buy when they have a Japanese pack released.

  • Abhisshek Das

    Great Product rating on Play Store 3.2 for paid version , 2.2 for free version ^_^

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Haters gonna hate.

      • Abhisshek Das

        but they are hating it , what do you think is the actual reason

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          The expectations are too high, they want it to work 100% and not flicker as much (the latter I can get on board with actually). But it's still amazing for what it does compared to what we had before.