Wondering what that sign says, but you don't speak the lingo? You might want to figure it out – signs convey important information. Maybe it says "keep off the grass," but it could also say "high risk of electric shock." Word Lens can help with that by doing live translation of text using optical character recognition and the camera. It's neat, and the newest version adds support for tablets.

2013-12-06 07.27.03

This app actually makes a lot of sense for tablets, which are often WiFi-only. Word Lens works entirely offline, but it's surprisingly good at figuring out what words are in the viewfinder. Translations are usually good enough that you can get the gist of a street sign or menu. Don't expect to read a book with it, though.

2013-12-06 07.25.27 2013-12-06 07.30.05

Word Lens got a UI update a while back, but for whatever reason, the screenshots were never updated. The Nexus 7 screens in this post are from the current interface. The $4.99 price gets you one language pack, with the rest available via in-app purchases. The app can go between English and Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese.

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • hardday

    I'll wait for Japanese/Korean/Chinese alphabet support. ;)

  • Adrian Meredith

    I can has pacemaker?

  • Francois Roy

    This is one of those magic apps that makes people rub their eyes in disbelief.
    Really good stuff.

  • RajivSK

    The tech is really cool but I don't understand why they don't just use google translate for their translations... Well I guess it's just a matter of time before Goggles makes them irrelevant.

    • Leonardo Farage Freitas

      cause it hopes to work offline. Google Translate works online, and the user has to specifically set offline languages. Also, can a third-app send a text to google translate and receive it back?

      • RajivSK

        There is an API for google translate and while the user does have to set the offline languages manually, that's also true for Word Lens. Not only do you have to set them, you have to pay for each separately and still get sub par translations.

        • Leonardo Farage Freitas

          I guess the reason they don't use Google Translate is for selling they translation packages then.

          But didn't Google Goggles used to do this? Does Goggles still exist?

          • RajivSK

            Yes, that's what I thought. Selling language packs feels a bit like a money grab though..

            Goggles still exists and can translate written text for you, just not in real time and it doesn't project it back onto the picture. I think Word Lens does this really well. They should just stick to their unique qualities though and stop developing a translation engine in parallel to Googles, which is one of the best, and is available.

          • Leonardo Farage Freitas

            I agree with you. The projecting back to the picture is made after the translation, so I would think the translation engine used wouldn't interfere with it.

  • Serge Cebrian

    that translation just makes no sense...