Google Translate for Android review: A feature-packed and reliable translator

Word Lens

One of the coolest features in Google Translate is Word Lens, which shows translations overlaid on signs and other printed text. All you need to do is tap the camera button in the app and point your phone's camera at the words.

You'll see a real-time translation of what it says into the language of your choice. You can also have the app scan the text and then highlight each word, getting a translation that you can save to your phrasebook. This works best with printed signs, especially the kinds you'll find on streets and in businesses. The camera struggled with handwritten text both small and large, sometimes failing to detect the original word or getting the translation incorrect.

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Word Lens can translate signs in real time. Here, the sign was in Spanish and the app shows the English translation on top of the words. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Word Lens is even better now because you can use it offline, without any kind of connection. The only drawback is that it's only available for select languages now; between English and French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.

Other extras

Along with the star features, Translate has many other tools that make it incredibly handy. The app automatically keeps a history of your translations, and lets you flag any of them for easy access later (even when offline).

Text-to-speech output is available for select languages, and can be a huge help when you're dealing with unfamiliar phonetics. And finally, the SMS translation feature can pull in any of your text conversations for quick processing. Overall, there are a lot of extras, all of which come in handy.

The app also lets you download language packs for offline support, so you can get translations without a connection. Since it's still common to travel without an international plan for your phone, that's an especially useful feature.

As you can imagine, these language packs are pretty hefty (from 150MB to 300MB, based on what I've seen), but the functionality they afford is worth it. You'll need to download both languages for translations to work, so keep that in mind.

One thing to note is that these language packs are not as comprehensive as the online databases are when you're fully connected to the Internet. However, they still appear to be good enough for basic translations that travelers might need. Offline translations are now available for nearly all of the languages in the app.

Conclusion

It's hard to beat Google Translate. The free app keeps getting better at helping you communicate in another language and comes with tons of features.

Word Lens is still a bit finicky, but it works well for street signs and other printed text. Conversation mode is almost like having a personal translator, though it still has a ways to go. Despite its flaws, this app is a must-have for traveling or connecting with someone who speaks a different language.

Overall, Google Translate is easy to use, can translate more than 90 languages and offers a variety of input options, making it one of the best translation tools out there. And now, with its new features and improved offline support, this app is even tougher to beat.

What you'll pay

    Pricing is currently unavailable.

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