SpeechTrans Wristband Watch : A small step towards the Babel Fish

SpeechTrans' Bluetooth Wristband Watch is almost exactly not like having a Babel Fish stuck in your ear.

In Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," there's a way to understand anything that is said to you in any language; all you have to do is stick a fish in your ear ...

The Babel Fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting, telepathically, a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain. The practical upshot of which is, that if you stick one in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech you hear decodes the brainwave matrix. ... the poor Babel Fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

Alas, as you may have noticed, such a thing as the Babel Fish doesn't exist (at least, out here on the western spiral arm of the Milky Way, it doesn't) and so many of us have to struggle when we go abroad ...

As for myself, outside of English, I have minimal language skills. My French is “très mauvais” and my Latin is as good as “non esse.” Thus, when I travel I’m at the mercy of my hosts, the kindness of the locals, or the clumsiness of a phrase book to just buy a coffee (though speaking loudly, in English, and savagely pointing does occasionally work). But there is hope, for I have seen the future and it looks like a bracelet …

speechtrans bracelet

The bracelet, the SpeechTrans Bluetooth Wristband Watch, is from SpeechTrans, a company that specializes, as you might have guessed, in speech translation.

SpeechTrans offers a broad range of speech translation systems for both consumers and businesses that are really impressive, covering, as they do, 44 different languages that can be translated in real time.

The Wristband extends these services and is a cool idea. It acts as a remote speaker and microphone as well as being capable of answering calls and displaying the time. What’s really cool is when it is the input and output device for the SpeechTrans products (available for Windows, iOS, and Android).

Now, imagine you’re out and about in, say, Paris, and you crave something doughnut-like, so you walk in a patisserie to purchase a croissant and realize you have no idea what the French is for "Shopkeeper. I'd like a croissant to go, please."

With the SpeechTrans app, which uses Nuance's Dragon software to translate the language being spoken loaded on your smartphone, you speak your statement in English and voila! Out of the bracelet, spoken in French, comes "Commerçant. Je voudrais un croissant à aller, s'il vous plaît." C'est magnifique!

The bracelet acts as a remote speaker and microphone for your smartphone and, as a bonus, displays the time. In practice, the speaker volume is rather low for anywhere where there is much ambient noise, the sound quality is just OK, and, most crucially, the wait for the translation can be a little too long (during which, the shopkeeper, not knowing what you're doing talking to a bracelet and then motioning her to listen to it, will probably mutter something like "Cet homme est un idiot, je ferais mieux de l'humour lui".

The bracelet is easy enough to pair with a smartphone, although setting the time is a clumsy process. You can upload your contact list to the bracelet so the caller's name is displayed when a call is received and, should you step away from your phone, the bracelet will vibrate as soon as you get out of range. You can also connect a headphone and microphone set via the mini jack on the side, so your calls can be private and the bracelet provides about three hours of talk time (not enough for a full day of use) with 60 hours of standby time.

I love the idea of a wristwatch-style device to perform translations, but at $100 and given the translation delay (which you can see in the video below), the limited battery life, and weak sound quality, it's very much a geek toy. It's also not particularly good looking and you'd have to be a really committed geek to wear the style I received for review -- it's the one on the right in the picture above with a black center with pearlescent white sides. I'll give the SpeechTrans Bluetooth Wristband Watch a Gearhead rating of 3 out of 5.

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