The concept behind Word Lens is so simple, the mind recoils from it. Point an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, or iPod touch’s camera at printed text and the app translates the word on the fly simply by tapping the green button in the toolbar.
Quest Visual looks to reform the status quo of translation with its Word Lens free iPhone (free, but language packs cost $4.99) app, which translates printed text almost instantaneously.
Unfortunately, languages are not included by default; you have to purchase one of the $4.99 language packs. Only two packs are available at the moment—English to Spanish, and Spanish to English—so the selection is extremely limited. Other undisclosed languages are in the works.
The free app does include two demos designed to entice into purchasing a language: Reverse Words (which spells words in reverse) and Erase Words (which removes words, leaving behind punctuation). They’re both pretty useless for day to day use, but they were impressive demonstrations of Word Lens’ ability to identify words.
The translations aren’t perfect, but for 4.99 and the convenience of point-and-shoot (as opposed to alphabetically find the words needed), a rough translation is acceptable. Google Translate, for example, is a far more accurate translator, and based on my experience, it’s still not near perfect. Although Google Translate may be more accurate, it requires actually typing text into a field—Word Lens requires no effort, handy for when you’re out and about.
In terms of language translation, Word Lens does a respectable job; in terms of convenience and ease of use, Word Lens will make you want to pitch your language guide. Word Lens may not serve up the perfect translation, and I’m absolutely convinced that the app should come bundled with at least one language pack, but the ease of use makes it an app that every iPhone-toting traveler should have installed.