Language is a beautiful thing. Yet, for some, there are large barriers to speaking with natives in other countries. Google Translate has made some strides in overcoming those obstacles in recent years and has always been useful to me as I learn other languages. It's because it is more than just a simple dictionary. So the news announced today that Translate is becoming more powerful and useful with what Google calls Neural Machine Translation is exciting.
Google Translate has gained a ton of cool new translation features over the years, but you usually have to open the app to use them. That's not the case with the latest update. Now, you can just copy text and have it translated on the spot. It's called Tap to Translate and it's part of the new Translate v5.0 update.
When it first launched last summer, Microsoft Translator had some potential but a lot of catch-up to do with Google's own Translate. No offline mode, no natural conversation mode, no Android Wear app, and many other missing features made me refrain from recommending it when I compared it against Translate. But Microsoft has been updating its app, bridging the gap with each new version, adding all of these features and more like Klingon support and a kickass Android Wear integration. The only major capability that was still missing from Translator's arsenal was image translation and that's finally here.
Version 2.16.82, which is already live in the Play Store (and on APK Mirror) can load images, automatically detect languages, and overlay the translation into the language of your choice on top of each element.
Many of us Android users (and Android Police readers) have been accustomed to using Google Translate to fill our language knowledge gaps, but we often forget the other challenger in the arena: Microsoft Translator. The app was first released last August and when I looked at it back then and compared it to Google's offering, I found it a worthy challenger, but one that lacked a couple of key features.
Some of what Google does these days isn't all that impressive in the grand scheme of things. Yes, tweaking the interface of a mobile operating system is nice, but there is no shortage of companies doing the same thing. But being able to type or read a phrase and have it instantly translated into another language for free? A decade after Google Translate launched, that's still a lot to wrap my head around.
When Microsoft Translator was released a few months ago, I went through an extensive comparison between it and Google Translate and came out impressed by Microsoft's efforts, but not completely swayed. At the time, Translator had a major advantage in its Android Wear support (a gap that Google has since closed) but lacked many other features like offline functionality, camera view, and most importantly the live conversation mode. Well, Translator has now jumped that last hurdle and added natural conversation support in its app.
The mode works for a few select languages already: Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, with more promised to be added in the future.
Are you tired of having to copy text, flip to the Translate app, paste the text, copy the translated text, then paste it back into whatever you're working on? It appears Google has you covered, as long as you're running Android 6.0. Taking advantage of Marshmallow's new contextual selection functionality, it appears that the latest version of the Google Translate app has added the ability to translate words on the fly from text fields that follow the new Text Selection behavior.
It goes without saying that this is incredibly useful. Besides translate, the mind wanders at the possibility of what else could be done with the contextual selection features in Marshmallow.
We've known that it's coming for about a month, and today Google has made good on those expectations. According to a post on the official Android blog, Android Wear will be getting a software update "in the coming weeks" that will enable interactive watch faces. These are essentially tiny apps/widgets built into a watch face design that let you do more than simply tell the time or check the weather. A sufficiently advanced face app could replace several individual Wear apps, or do away with the need to check for updates from a specific app.
Here are some of the examples Google gives in its post.
Microsoft's Translator isn't the first service to attempt to confront Google in the translation game, but it may be one of the first to pose a real challenge to Google Translate. Out of the gate, the app has an Android Wear component, a sorely missed feature in its competitor, and even though Translator does seem quite simplistic and limited, it has most of the basic features covered to warrant a more thorough comparison against Translate.
A different approach
While many of Microsoft's recent apps have adopted Material Design in their interface, Translator is more subtle about it. Both the welcome and the translation screens' blurry background and iconography are modern but not exactly Material.