Pocketalk Plus Voice Translator Review: A Multilingual Wonder

As we begin cautiously flirting with the idea of ​​traveling again – at least in areas where Covid-19 cases are not on the rise– the fantasy of a young man turns to thoughts of visiting foreign lands where he does not speak a word of the native language. My recent review of Ambassador Interpreter revealed an option for getting by where you don’t have a lingua franca, but its requirement that every speaker wear a special Bluetooth headset makes it a little inconvenient, especially if you’re just trying to find out what’s in the soup.

The Pocketalk Plus is about the size of a phone.

Photo: Pocketalk

The Pocketalk Plus offers the same concept of real-time, voice-based two-way translation, but in a simplified package. Instead of headphones and a telephone intermediary, each person speaks directly into a device the size of a small cell phone. In fact, for all intents and purposes, the Pocketalk Plus is a cell phone, just one with a very singular purpose.

The rectangular device – 5 inches by 2.5 inches and 4.4 ounces in weight – offers a color touchscreen, volume controls on the side and an “action” button on the bottom of its plastic casing. The system includes Wi-Fi and a global cellular radio that allows it to connect to the Internet in over 130 countries. This is essential because the Pocketalk relies on the cloud to perform its translations; it has no intelligence of its own. Also, it is important to note that the included SIM card is only valid for two years after activation. There’s also a camera on the back that you can use to take a photo of text and get a printed translation. Charging is done via a USB-C port.

Using the device for conversations is simple: select two languages ​​and hold the button to speak. Release the button and the system quickly converts what you said into the other language, displaying the translation both as text on the screen and reading it aloud. When the other side is ready to respond, simply tap an icon on the screen to reverse the direction of the translation and repeat the process. It makes for a somewhat hesitant conversation, but with a bit of practice it becomes quite natural. In any case, it is better to try to point fingers and pantomime to try to convey information.

The self-contained nature of the system makes it much easier to use than the Ambassador, although I found the Pocketalk to be confusing at times as to who was speaking, reversing the direction of the translation or, say, translating Spanish into Spanish, even when the interface indicates otherwise. There’s also a beta feature that’s supposed to let you translate between two languages ​​without having to press the button, but it clearly wasn’t ready for prime time and sometimes didn’t work at all during my testing. The unresponsive touchscreen (800 x 480 pixels) and low-resolution camera are both dated, and although the unit claims 192 hours of battery life, I could only manage about 100 of them. two-thirds.

The good news is that Pocketalk Plus works well when things are going well and supports an incredible number of languages ​​- currently 61 audio and text, and 21 text only, including surprising choices like Marathi, Sundanese, and English. Esperanto. Via software updates, this number continues to increase, along with other upgrades. If you’re packing for a trip to two or more foreign countries, this seems like a no-brainer to include in your bag.

It can translate spoken conversations, as well as photographs of text.

Photo: Pocketalk

That is, of course, unless you’re just using a mobile app on your phone to get the job done. A growing number of apps can do limited voice-to-voice translation, but they will cost you an annual subscription of around $40 per year. Additionally, you will need to arrange for international cellular service to use them. None of the available apps seem to have the breadth of language support offered by Pocketalk, but they’re probably fine for, say, two weeks in traditional Asia.

Considering the alternatives, the $299 price for Pocketalk Plus is asking a lot – and after two years you’ll have to add another $50 a year to renew its SIM card. It’s a tough economic proposition, especially as app-based translators improve, though the convenience, simplicity, and breadth of language of the Pocketalk device are certainly big pluses.

I guess talking isn’t cheap after all.