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Google's new headphones have a universal translator feature for 40 languages -- and I got to try it

Pixel budsMatt Weinberger/Business InsiderGoogle Pixel Buds

On Wednesday, Google unveiled the Pixel Buds, a $US159 pair of wireless earbuds designed to work with its new Pixel 2 smartphones.

The Pixel Buds will release in November, between the launches for the Pixel 2 (October) and the larger Pixel 2 XL (December).

The coolest part of the Pixel Buds is the ability to use them as a universal translator. It’s like something out of “Star Trek” — at its November launch, you’ll be able to use the Pixel Buds to have a conversation across 40 languages.

All you need is the Pixel Buds ($US159) and the Pixel 2 smartphone (starting at $US649). The other person doesn’t need a phone, earbuds, or any kind of gadgetry at all.

I had the chance to try this feature out. And it works! Mostly.

Here’s how you’ll use the Pixel Buds as a universal translator.

It’s actually a feature of the existing Google Translate app. To get started, just load it up on your Pixel 2 phone. From there, choose the language you understand, and the language you need to translate. An introductory message pops up on the screen once you begin: It basically explains to the other person that you’re using an app, and how it works.

Now, the magic happens. In my demo, I tried out my mediocre Spanish on a Google spokesperson wearing Pixel Buds, so I’ll use that as my example.

He spoke English into the Pixel Buds, asking “hi, how are you?” The Pixel 2 phone spoke, out loud, the equivalent Spanish phrase: “¿hola, como estas?” This text was also displayed on the screen, which is good, because the demo area was noisy.

Google translate pixel buds pixel 2Matt Weinberger/Business InsiderWhen you start using the Pixel Buds as a translator, it displays this friendly welcome message to your conversation partner explaining how the whole process works.

That noisy room also led to the demo’s biggest glitch: When I went to answer in Spanish — “muy bien, y tu?” — the Pixel 2’s microphone didn’t pick me up clearly. In theory, my conversation partner should have heard “very well, and you?” Instead, all the app heard, and translated, was “William?” Bummer.

I’m willing to cut Google some slack, here — the room was cacophonous with the sounds of my fellow tech reporters playing around with all of Google’s new gadgets. In my own experiences with Google Translate, it’s pretty solid at recognising language, so I trust that it would work as well here. Still, be aware that it might not work in a noisy bar.

Google is being very clear that this is a test. For now, this feature is limited to the Google Pixel Buds headphones and the Pixel 2 smartphone, as Google works the kinks out. Still, it’s another sign of how Google is turning its considerable edge in artificial intelligence into futuristic, but very real products that make a difference today.

Get the latest Google stock price here.

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