Of course, we’ve all experienced at least one Google Translate fail before. My most memorable was when trying to translate instructions into Arabic for house painters, and couldn’t work out why they were laughing. Later, a friend who can understand Arabic pointed out that, with a couple of key grammar issues, my request to repaint a section of the bathroom had devolved into something quite inappropriate.
So, to test the new features, my wife and I went out into the City of Melbourne to see what we could understand, and what hidden hot pot restaurants we could now enjoy. While I rely purely on English, and can only read a very little Spanish and Italian, she is fluent in both Portuguese and French, as well as English, making her an excellent travel buddy and the primary tester.
In the past I’ve mostly used the instant camera translation in China and Germany to great fail. But, with the text moving around a lot less, the instant translations really are a lot more readable.
As for the translations, the English was largely on point, which you’d expect given the long time Google’s had to work on it. However many times the Chinese to Portuguese translations were off, unless the bag of sponges really was “fish liquid” in disguise. But, overall, you mostly got the gist. When we took the photo to scan the image, the results were significantly more accurate.
The autodetect was also a bit hit and miss going around several Asian supermarkets. I’m ashamed to not be able to recognise a lot of languages on sight, so in some ways it’s heartening that an app which specialises in recognising languages couldn’t either. Again, though, once the photo was taken to scan, the app could pretty much nail it.
In the end, instant camera translation is still more of a novelty than something that can be completely relied upon, unless the text is in plain font and on a neat white background. Just taking the photo to scan it will give you the results you crave, in a way that’s easier to read, but the instant translation is more useful, particularly on menus, to keep the text coupled with the photos.
Even though it’s not perfect, it’s still kind of hard to fully criticise a technology that seems so magical. This is Harry Potter/Douglas Adams stuff, and it’s one hell of a cynic who can look at that at sneer that it’s not good enough, even if it is a long way from perfect.