Instant Translator App Word Lens: Sounds Great, But It Doesn't Actually Work

Word Lens For iPhone Translation

Photo: Word Lens for iPhone

The Word Lens app hit the Apple App Store last week to a lot of hype.There’s a justification for the hype: Word Lens uses character recognition to instantly translate text it sees.

The words appear on your phone’s screen in the same font and style as the original in front of you, so it looks like someone swooped in and replaced the sign you were just looking at.

A very neat trick if it works as advertised.

But in our preliminary test, the results were nowhere near as silky smooth as the company shows in its promo video. It’s good at translating the letters, but the results are choppy.

We downloaded a few Spanish signs from Google Images to see what Word Lens could do. Here’s what we saw:

  • You have to hold your phone incredibly still. If you move, the text will revert to the original language while the software attempts to translate it again.
  • Overall, the translation is just so-so. The grammar and syntax isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to get the gist of what each sign is saying. We expect it to only get better as more updates and dictionaries are released.
  • Word Lens has trouble with lots of text and there’s a limit to the amount it can translate. For long signs, it automatically crops the section it is working on, so you have to read it piece by piece.
  • Word Lens will work well enough if you need to read a street sign or specials in a restaurant. It’s a great app if you’re doing business in a new country for the first time and need some extra help getting around. There are only two dictionaries available right now, Spanish to English and English to Spanish. (And it’s only $4.99 per language, so it’s a small investment).

Here's a warning sign in Spanish. How will Word Lens handle all that text?

The result is a jumbled mess of broken English, but the font and spacing matches almost perfectly.

This sign has a lot of text and images.

Word Lens can only read a small section at a time. Notice how the app automatically highlights the section it's translating. Again, the results are pretty choppy.

Let's see how Word Lens handles a sign with only a few words...

Everything is translated, but it's not totally correct.

Now check out this promo video of Word Lens in action

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