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Posted on December 17th, 2010 by Barry Collins

Word Lens review: the iPhone app that translates whatever you show it

Only one word was uttered when we first saw the video (below) of the Word Lens app: wow.

But we’re cynical and wizened enough not to be taken in by a flashy demo video. Does this app actually manage on-the-fly, augmented reality translation? It only blooming does.

The first thing to note is while this app might be free, if you want the translation feature you have to pay £2.99 for the language pack. Right now, it can only translate from Spanish to English and vice versa, and somewhat cheekily you have to pay twice to get both.

That said, three quid is a small price to pay for the magic that unfolds. Point the camera at a decent-sized chunk of Spanish text and within a couple of seconds you’ll get a rough and ready translation. And most magnificently of all, the translation is overlaid, at the correct size, on the original object.

Take this notepad for example, where the Spanish language is the second from the bottom – not the rather more amusingly botched translation of French from the second row from the top:

Word Lens spiral notebook

Funnily enough, we didn’t have vast quantities of Spanish signage knocking round the PC Pro office, so we resorted to looking up Spanish signs on Google. And even when scanning images from a computer screen, the translator does a remarkably effective job – even retaining the perspective of this angled street sign:

Word Lens stop sign

And even signs with relatively quirky fonts, such as this:

Word Lens hands sign

It’s not flawless. The translations are of the pidgin English that we’ve come to expect from computerised services such as Babelfish and Google Translate – enough to get the gist, if far from grammatically perfect. Words occasionally go missing. And it (predictably) failed to recognise handwritten notes or dense banks of text, such as the Spanish instructions for a router in our cupboard.

So, its practical applications are going to be few and far between. But this is the only iPhone app we’ve ever tested that’s had members of the team crowding around, gagging to have a go for themselves. And for that reason alone, it’s our iPhone App of the Week – if not the year.

Word Lens happy Christmas

Want more iPhone apps? Try our 73 best iPhone Apps feature or our previous iPhone Apps of the Week.

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14 Responses to “ Word Lens review: the iPhone app that translates whatever you show it ”

  1. dave Says:
    December 17th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    So in theory you could get one iphone translating english -> spanish, point it at a big block of text, then get a second translating spanish -> english and point that one at the screen of the first?

  2. George Says:
    December 17th, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    If it works without a network connection I’d consider it, not really much point otherwise unless roaming charges come down drastically.

  3. Peter Tennant Says:
    December 17th, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    I came up with this idea a couple of years ago, and said it to my brother (who writes phone apps), but he thought it was impractical…

  4. James Says:
    December 18th, 2010 at 7:07 am

    It looks pretty cool. Too bad all of the Spanish examples were contrived (direct word-for-word translations from English to Spanish then back again, not real accurate translations either). None the less it’s an impressive looking app. The functioning though… looks like it needs work.

  5. simbr Says:
    December 18th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    PCPro’s editorial has been starting sentences with “and” and “but” for a while now – it bugs me no end. It isn’t like I I don’t do it all the time myself, but I do so more for effect than anything else and wouldn’t if I was writing anything professional.

  6. משחקים לאייפון Says:
    December 19th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Now why would I use this app? I can just type in the words into Google Translate and get it translated into any host of languages for FREE. For $4.99 this is price that is way too much to pay for it.
    Couple of apps that I thought have truly done some innovation:
    1) Spotify – First app that caches your music for offline listening from within the app (no iTunes needed)
    2) Azul Media Player – First app that downloads videos for offline viewing from with app (no iTunes needed)

    אפליקציות לאייפון

  7. Rob Schifreen Says:
    December 20th, 2010 at 11:34 am

    We’ve a Spanish speaker in our office, and were playing with it last week. She thought it was amazing. It’ll revolutionise travellers’ lives.

  8. simbr Says:
    December 20th, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Our Israeli friend does make a somewhat valid point (while missing the point of the augmented reality magic going on here), but I’ve long wanted something like this that works with Kanji. Pleco is doing something similar already (, but for Chinese rather than Japanese Kanji (and my iPod doesn’t have a camera anyway).

  9. 5ky Says:
    December 20th, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    What a great bit of software. With no use of network services too, it would definitely be of great use when you go abroad. I’d pay the couple of quid for something like that. Sure, google might be free, but you need network coverage to use it, and if you’re not in your own country I’m willing to bet for the cost of a couple of small translations you’ll easily be shelling out more than the cost of the app itself. The fact that it overlays on the original item is VERY cool.

  10. Paolo Says:
    December 23rd, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Google goggles anyone? Take a picture of text and translate it in 20+ different languages. Free on android

  11. jt Says:
    December 23rd, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Looks a great idea. I wonder if it would work “internally” on the mobile? e.g like on (local search) to show whatever in the language of your choice? (when there’s more than Spanish hopefully.)

  12. Martin Says:
    December 30th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    @George, check out the video – it doesn’t need a network connection (so no gobbling up of your data allowance).

    If you’ve got an iPhone and you’re visiting foreign countries (OK, only Spanish-speaking ones for now, unless of course you’re Spanish) it could come in handy.

  13. red3dwarf Says:
    February 4th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    “iPhone App of the Week” is a few weeks out of date!

  14. מעבדת אייפון Says:
    October 11th, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    wow, what a nice app, it’s one of this things you don’t know how the world managed with out them (:


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