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A pocket-sized translator for when travel is back on the table

For the best results, face the other person with your phone held at chest height. Alternatively, sit opposite each other with the phone on the table. Either way, you both need to talk down at the microphone on a 30-degree angle.

Between my wife and kids’ Japanese lessons, and my smattering of schoolyard Italian, we gave the Zero translator a good workout. Translations are surprisingly accurate but there’s a reasonably narrow sweet spot for the microphone, beyond which the results become more garbled.

For best results there's a specific sweet spot you'll need to hold your phone in.

For best results there’s a specific sweet spot you’ll need to hold your phone in.

Once you choose your two languages, the app auto-detects who is speaking, but sometimes you get better results if you disable this and let each person tap their side of the screen before speaking. Aussies should take note that TimeKettle’s app is squeamish when it comes to swearing, so you can’t get too colourful with your language.

Thanks to the 4-way microphone’s noise cancellation, the TimeKettle app does a better job than Google Translate of identifying the two voices when other people are speaking nearby.


Everything you say is dictated on your side of the screen. Once you pause, the translation is spoken aloud and displayed upside-down so the other person can read it, another benefit compared to Google Translate which shows everything right-way up.

The TimeKettle app also offers 2-way interview and 4-way conference modes, which record conversations and translate them on the screen, but it’s clunky at times and I’m not sure I’d trust it enough to handle delicate business negotiations.

If you’re sick of playing charades when in need of directions to the train station, TimeKettle’s Zero translator might be the travel companion you’ve been looking for.

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