Published: April 2009
By Bridget Moriarity
Are pocket-size dictionaries a thing of the past?See how two of the latest handheld translators stack up.
To test the French, German, and Italian skills of the Voyager II Talking Translator from Lingo and the Ectaco Partner EW800, T+L enlisted a trio of in-house language experts—assistant editor Darrell Hartman and associate editors Clark Mitchell and Clara Ogden. We sent our team on the road to try the devices under real-world conditions—while eating out, shopping, and in a hotel. Although no serious mishaps ensued, they also tested the Health and Emergency sections of the translators.
Lingo Voyager II
Basics 12 languages, 240,000 words, and 27,600 phrases
Features Built-in voice recorder, phone book, and six games; speaks words and phrases.
AT A RESTAURANT Basic requests like "Could I have a menu?" are filed in the Meals category, under subheads such as Order and Payment. Nationalities make up the additional subheads; there's also a bizarrely detailed breakdown of Chinese food. On the other hand, there are no entries for German cuisine. And foodies will be disappointed by the dictionary: lettuce is listed, but arugula is not. AT A SHOP We were impressed by the range of phrases in this category—in particular the Bargaining subgroup, with expressions tailor-made for flea-market negotiations. AT A HOTEL The first phrase we stumbled across in this section was "More hanger, please," which left us a little disheartened. But we were reassured to see that we could make a variety of practical demands, whether for a quieter room or a safe-deposit box. IN AN EMERGENCY In this category, you'll find topics ranging from theft to sudden illness. If time is of the essence, you may be frustrated by the fact that to get to a particular phrase, you have to scroll through every one—and they're listed in no apparent order—that comes before it. OVERALL While not as comprehensive as the Ectaco, the Voyager II won us over on three points: its navigability, its ability to translate from one foreign language to another, and its recording function for audio playback. However, its speech function—words were delivered either too fast or too slow in a stodgy male monotone—proved its downfall.
Ectaco Partner EW800
Basics 6 languages (more can be input with additional software), 2,500,000 words, 84,000 phrases
Features Speech-recognition technology, educational flash cards, and a color touch screen.
AT A RESTAURANT The Ectaco's phrase book and dictionary for Food/Drinks are extensive—and easy to navigate, once you get the hang of the touch screen—but its speech-recognition function could get you into some trouble at the local pub: when we told the microphone in English, "I think I'm a little drunk," the German for "I'll have a gin and tonic" popped up. The Ectaco did pass our arugula test. AT A SHOP With tons of useful phrases pertaining to everything from shoes and souvenirs to electronics and jewelry, the Ectaco scored high in this category. At the toy store, you can even ask: "Do you have any dolls that walk and talk?" AT A HOTEL We loved the Complaints subcategory (one of seven)—with entries ranging from "It smells bad in my room" to "The sink is clogged," you'll know exactly how to whine when the situation demands it. Service requests are also extensive, including "Is there a socket in my room for my electric shaver?" and "Would you please be careful with these blouses?" IN AN EMERGENCY It's hard to imagine having the composure or ability to navigate with the Ectaco's touch-pen setup in a real emergency, but those with chronic medical conditions can plan ahead using the many phrases grouped under Health/Drugstore. OVERALL More than a quick translating fix, this device is built for language learning. The downside of toting such a sophisticated mini-computer-like device is the learning curve.