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Pixel Buds translates voice, but it's not the first

The headphones announced along with Google's Pixel 2 phone promise nearly-seamless futuristic voice translation. We've been promised this before.

100417-google-pixel bud case
These suckers look a lot better than those headsets at the UN.
James Martin/CNET

By some estimates, there are as many as 7,000 languages on the planet and many of us just speak one of them. 

That's led to a cottage industry of Hollywood dream-technology like the babel fish from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," or the always-there computers on "Star Trek."

In the real world, we've fallen a bit short of that promise. There're plenty of ways to learn another language, such as through programs like Rosetta Stone, Muzzy and many others. But technology that can do all that work for us has always seemed just out of reach.

That is, until Wednesday when Google unveiled its $159 Pixel Buds, a pair of wireless headphones coming in November that work with its new Pixel 2 phones to provide real-time translation of up to 40 languages.

"It's like having a personal translator by your side," said Juston Payne, product manager for Google's hardware team, during the company's fall hardware announcement event in San Francisco. "We're letting you connect with the world around you in a more natural way."

While Google may be the best example of this technology yet (look out for CNET's review to know for sure), it's not the first. Here are some other companies that have attempted to bring us to real-time translation nirvana.

Now playing: Watch this: Pixel Buds translate languages in real time


There are a lot of apps out there, but Skype deserves a special mention. The Microsoft-owned chat and calling service has a free real-time translation feature built right in.

Quartz did a test a couple years ago, before it was widely available, and feature was less than stellar. VC Daily, a video conferencing tech blog, tried it a year later and said it's still best to wait. "Hopefully, the lost-in-translation bugs will eventually become scarce enough to even allow us to share an international sing-along," the site wrote.

Now playing: Watch this: Skype Translator breaks through the language barrier


This company got attention for offering up a competitor to Apple's AirPods wireless headphones back when it wasn't yet clear they were a hit. The company's now offering a pair of headphones called the Dash Pro, which are a smarter update with features like a built-in music player and health tracking. It also works with iTranslate, one of the most popular translation apps out there (aside from Google Translate, of course).


Bragi's headphones want to be the alternative to Apple's AirPods.



This tool from Australia promises to translate up to eight languages "within 3-5 seconds." It's an earpiece, and not a slick pair of headphones like Google's Pixel Buds. But it's still way better than those ugly things ambassadors wear at the UN.

It costs $279, and orders are due to be shipped in December.


The Translate One2One promises a great deal in a small package.


The Pilot

These in-ear headphones from Waverly Labs were shown off back in February as part of a crowdfunding campaign promising translation similar to Google's Pixel Buds. The trick with this one though is each person wears one of the two earbuds, and then an app in between sends the information to the internet, where it's translated and sent back to your ear.

The company's products cost $249 for a preorder and $299 after they go on sale. It's due to be released soon.


The Waverly Labs Pilot earpiece can translate language in real-time with minimal lag.

Waverly Labs


Similar to the Pilot, WT2 asks people to put a headphone in their ear, then convince someone else to wear the corresponding one in theirs, in order to make everything work. It too requires an app.

The device is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter for $149 and expected to ship in January.


It's a neat idea, if you can convince someone to put germy headphones in their ear to talk to you.


The Ili

This translator comes in the form of a stick, basically the length of a pencil and the width of pack of gum. You talk into the device, and then it broadcasts the translated response. The person responds back into the device, and it broadcasts the response. It may seem a little less elegant than other options, but it promises to work without an internet connection. That's a huge plus when traveling.

It costs $249, with shipments expected to begin next month.


The Ili translator promises it all in the palm of your hand, instead of in your ear.


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