Vacationing abroad can be a life-changing experience, but it can also be stressful. Throw in a language barrier, and you’ve suddenly got the potential ingredients for a Chevy Chase misadventure. Back in the old days, you had to learn the language or travelers would be forced to carry around cumbersome translation dictionaries to assist in communication. Today, there are pocket-sized language translator devices that can do the hard work for you.
Some of the best electronic translators on the market are equipped with speech-to-text recognition and speakers that pronounce a desired word or phrase aloud. This ensures faster communication, which could be critical in the event of an emergency. They also come with dictionaries full of common words and phrases, and they include bonus features like world clocks, currency converters and alarm clocks to make your travel experience easier.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. Manufacturers had no input or influence over our evaluation methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Electronic Translator or Smartphone App?
Nowadays, there’s an app for just about everything. If you have a smartphone, you can download a translator app for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a portable language translator. So why is there still a viable market for standalone electronic language translators? The answer is simple: Not everyone owns a smartphone.
Furthermore, even those who do own smartphones may find electronic translators appealing because they don’t require internet or cellular connectivity to function. If you’re going someplace where you have no cellular coverage, or if you’re worried about incurring international data roaming charges, you may find an electronic translator a practical inclusion to your travel kit.
Electronic Translators: What We Evaluated, What We Found
We researched a wide array of portable language translators to determine which are the most functional for vacationers to foreign lands. We discovered that there’s much more to a translation device than the simple ability to translate a word or phrase into another language. Consider these points when making your purchase decision, and bear in mind that cheaper doesn’t always mean better.
Languages Galore: The More, the Merrier
Traveling abroad, you can encounter numerous languages you don't speak. We found the best electronic translators come packed with the capability to translate a wide variety of languages. These devices are typically more expensive, but they can be useful in many more places. Electronic translators like the Atlas SD302 or the BBK AM103 are limited in their functionality because they can only translate two languages, including English – whereas a device like the ECTACO 500AL is capable of translating numerous languages, which means you can get significantly more mileage out of them.
Beyond Mere Translation: Teaching Yourself a New Language
Simple portable language translators help you communicate with others, but the best devices on the market can also assist you in learning a new language. To that end, we recommend an electronic translator that reads translated text aloud so that it also doubles as a mobile teaching device – giving you the tools necessary to not only ask where the nearest restroom is, but to learn proper pronunciations so that you can speak the language capably.
Additional Features and Accessories
It’s easy to find a barebones electronic translator that will perform how it was intended to, but the best translators include additional features and bonus accessories. Some electronic translators come with helpful currency converters, world clocks and alarm clocks. Others include accessories like carrying cases that can protect them from damage, AC adapters for use without battery power, and ports that enable connectivity with computers and other devices. Additionally, you can find language translator devices that include simple games to help you pass the time.
Our Verdict and Recommendations
For frequent world travelers, we recommend a device capable of translating numerous languages, such as the ECTACO 500AL that comes with 26 languages and has the capacity to add an additional 23 more languages via USB connection, for a total of 49 languages. The Lexibook NTL1560 ranks second for its ability to translate 15 languages, while the Lexibook NTL800 ranks third with the capability to translate 8 languages. All come with useful features that assist you not only in language translation, but also in converting currency and other measurable units in other countries.
The right electronic translator can do the talking for you to help you travel in safety and with confidence. Armed with a portable language translator in your pocket, you can get much more out of your travels than you otherwise would if you spent half your time playing a game of charades with locals in order to communicate.
The ECTACO 500AL has a vocabulary of words in the millions and can accommodate literally dozens of languages. Sleek in design and appearance, it offers comprehensive customer support and is an essential travel companion for active globe trotters.
The translator comes with 26 languages preloaded into its internal memory. These include Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, U.S. English, British English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese (Iberian), Russian, Spanish (Iberian), Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, Thai, Turkish and Vietnamese. From the ECTACO website, you can download an additional 23 languages to your computer and install them on your translator via an included USB cable. This is significantly more languages than other translators we evaluated can handle. In total, the ECTACO 500AL can translate 2 million words and 14,000 phrases, which is impressive.
Equipped with a speaker and a microphone, the ECTACO has the capacity to translate spoken text and play an audio translation back. This can greatly increase your communication speed. You can also use the translator’s keyboard to manually type in words to be translated, and the screen displays the translated word or phrase with a pronunciation guide.
The electronic translator looks similar to a laptop computer, only significantly smaller and lighter. Measuring just 4.6 inches across and weighing 7.4 ounces, it is both lightweight and easily storable. The display portion of the translator flips upward like a laptop screen, and although it renders all data in black and white, it is backlit for easier viewing in low-light situations.
Because it can accommodate additional languages, the ECTACO 500AL comes equipped with a USB port and a provided USB cable to help you connect to your computer. Although it's battery powered, the translator comes with an AC jack for use with electrical power. However, you have to buy an AC adapter separately.
A small speaker in the top left corner of the keyboard plays back audio of translated words and phrases. The inclusion of a headphone jack also enables you to listen in private, which can be a helpful tool to practice proper pronunciations on your own. Headphones are included. The translator’s microphone is located under a small pinhole in the top right corner of the keyboard above to the main power button. The keyboard’s keys are large enough to limit the likelihood of typing the wrong letters – but if you do, a built-in spell-check feature ensures accurate manual word entry.
Although it’s lacking some of the features that many other portable electronic translators offer – a calendar and a programmable alarm are missing – this ECTACO device includes all the essentials you’ll need while traveling abroad. A world time clock is available to notify you of the time in various cities and countries. A helpful metric converter is also included, which can help you quickly understand the differences between miles and kilometers. The inclusion of a calculator and a currency converter are especially useful if you’re going to be using U.S. money or seeking to exchange currency. The ECTACO also includes some simple games as well as a music player with internal memory to store songs. The provided USB cable allows you to connect your translator to a computer so that you can move music files onto it.
The manufacturer provides you with comprehensive customer support and a one-year warranty. The warranty offers protection in the event of defects in workmanship and electronic malfunction. If you need to troubleshoot issues with the device or simply have questions on how to operate it, an online manual is available for download from the manufacturer website. In addition, an online FAQs database provides quick answers. In the event you aren’t able to solve technical issues or simply need to communicate with a living person, ECTACO provides an email address and telephone number for contacting customer support.
The ECTACO 500AL is the best electronic translator on the market today. Not only does it offer the greatest number of languages and vocabulary, but its included accessories and thorough support ensure you can get help if you need it. With its inclusion of speech-to-text voice recognition and audio playback of translations, this portable translator not only ensures ease of communication while traveling internationally, but it also doubles as an effective learning tool for expanding your own vocabulary by teaching you new languages.
The Lexibook NTL1560 is among the most versatile devices we evaluated with respect to number of languages supported. It also includes a host of travel features that can come in handy while traveling abroad, but its limitation as a text-based translator prevents it from ranking even higher.
This Lexibook device can translate 15 languages. These include English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Greek, and Turkish. With an ample vocabulary of 5,000 words per language, the translator holds a total of 75,000 words. In addition to translating single words, it comes programmed with 150 sentences for each language. Sentences are grouped by category, such as commonly spoken emergency, travel, airport and sightseeing phrases.
While the Lexibook scores high marks for its diversity of languages, it lacks any audio playback capabilities. This means it will display the desired translation but doesn’t have the ability to speak the translated word or phrase out loud – a shortcoming that could prove a liability if you’re trying to communicate with someone orally, or trying to teach yourself how to speak another language.
Additionally, the translator requires you to type words and phrases using the keyboard, which is small and can be cumbersome if you’re trying to use it in a hurry. The inclusion of spell-check ensures greater accuracy in translation, but the keyboard entry is not as convenient as having the ability to convert speech to text for faster translation.
Where weight and dimensions are concerned, most electronic translators fall into the category of lightweight and extremely portable. The Lexibook NTL1560 is no different, weighing just 2.5 ounces and measuring 4.5 inches in diameter. The translator’s small display screen is located just above the QWERTY keyboard. It includes a latching clamshell lid that protects the keyboard and display from damage or exposure to dust.
Travel features are not an essential component of a good electronic translator, however they are welcome inclusions that can help keep you better organized during your travels. The Lexibook comes equipped with just about every organizational feature you can think of. The translator doesn’t have the capacity for expanded memory, so it can’t hold MP3 music files, but it does come with simple games that you can play to pass the time while traveling long distances or waiting for transportation. Additionally, it comes with a calendar and a programmable alarm that you can set to remind yourself of flight times and dates. Also included are a world clock that displays the time in a number of cities throughout the world, a calculator, a currency converter to ensure you’re paying the right amount in U.S. dollars, and a metric unit converter.
Where warranty and support are concerned, this Lexibook device achieves near perfect marks. The manufacturer’s warranty is two years long, compared to other translators with one-year warranties and some with none, which keeps you well protected against the possibility of defect or electronic malfunction. If you need to exercise your warranty or want to contact customer support to resolve a technical issue with the translator, you can reach a representative via email. No telephone support is offered, but you do have access to an online FAQs database, and an online manual is offered at the manufacturer site as a supplement to the user guide that comes with the Lexibook.
The Lexibook NTL1560 shares many of the common features found in the best electronic translators, including expansive language capabilities. But without the ability to play audio translations out loud, it’s rendered little more than a compact e-dictionary. Given the added time it takes to manually type in a word or phrase, it could also prove inefficient at enabling verbal communication, especially in emergencies. The warranty is excellent and the travel features are helpful, but if you’re looking for a translator that offers near seamless communication and the ability to teach you proper pronunciation, a different device may suit you better.
Like the best electronic language translators, the Lexibook NTL800, is capable of translating a variety of languages. In addition to being a language translator, it also doubles as a convenient organization device that can make traveling abroad easier, but some inherent design limitations could make fluent communication difficult.
The Lexibook NTL800 can translate a total of eight languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Polish and Dutch. It holds 5,000 words in each language, which is a total vocabulary of 40,000 words. It is capable of translating phrases as well as individual words, but it's not equipped with speech-to-text voice recognition or audio translation. Instead, you have to type all words and phrases manually with the QWERTY keyboard and the translation displays on the unit’s small screen. Translated text includes a pronunciation guide, but it’s missing the added convenience of having the word or phrase read aloud.
The translator includes a host of organization features that make travel easier. These include a world clock that displays the current time in a number of cities, a metric converter that can help you translate miles to kilometers, a currency converter, a calculator, a calendar with a programmable alarm, and simple games to help pass the time. The translator is entirely battery operated but lacks the bonus capability of an AC adaptor that would enable use while plugged into a wall outlet.
The warranty for the Lexibook is two years, which is longer than the average length for electronic translators and offers adequate protection against electronic malfunction or defects. Help and support can be reached via email. No telephone support is available, however the manufacturer website includes helpful FAQs for troubleshooting, and you can download an online user guide if you lose or misplace the provided manual.
The Lexibook NTL800 portable language translator displays versatility in the number of languages it can translate, and it contains a sufficient number of words in its vocabulary to help you communicate and even teach yourself a new language. It has plenty of features that can assist you with international travel and commerce, but its lack of speech recognition and audio translation limits its practical use when used as a verbal communication tool.
ECTACO ECS430T Review
When compared to the best electronic language translators, the ECTACO ECS430T impresses with its existing vocabulary and its ability to add even more by software disc. Unfortunately, it lacks diversity in the number of languages it can translate and is missing some important features.
This is a trilingual language translator device that can translate English, Spanish and Chinese. Out of the box, it comes with a total of 650,000 words and 1,100 phrases stored in its internal memory. Through the use of a jack that you can connect to your PC and an included software disc, that vocabulary can be expanded up to 3 million words. This requires the purchase of a separate cable to make the connection between translator and computer.
It has no speech-to-text recognition, which means that you have to manually type in all words and phrases you want to translate. Translations are shown on the small LCD display in text, and the ECTACO is equipped with a built-in speaker that can play the translation out loud. This is extremely useful in communicating quickly with others and also doubles as a good way to teach yourself proper pronunciations. A headphone jack also lets you listen privately.
The ECTACO device runs on battery power, but you can also connect it to AC power via an adapter jack. The AC cable is not included and has to be purchased separately. Other features included with this portable language translator are a world clock, a unit converter, a currency converter, a calculator, a calendar and an alarm for reminders. It also comes with a hangman word game.
Help and support are comprehensive, with telephone and email support avenues and an online FAQs database for troubleshooting. The translator has a one-year manufacturer warranty.
A capable electronic translator, the ECTACO ECS430T has a broad vocabulary, and its ability to expand that vocabulary is impressive. However, the lack of speech recognition makes it difficult to use quickly and its limit of three languages hinders its practicality. It can read translations out loud, which is a useful feature if you are trying to learn Spanish or Chinese.
BBK AM103 Review
The best electronic translators come with audio playback capability, which not only ensures faster communication but also helps you learn how to pronounce words on your own. The BBK AM103 includes this important feature but falls short when it comes to offering other functions, or a diversity of languages to choose from.
The BBK AM103 supports translation between just two languages: English and Chinese. In this respect it’s vastly limited when compared to other electronic language translators that come equipped with multiple languages. It does not offer speech-to-text functionality, however it does include a speaker that plays back translated words and phrases. There’s also a “fuzzy query” that works similar to spell check when you’re not sure of the proper spelling of a word. The device’s small black and white screen displays translations in text.
In addition to the speaker that plays translations aloud, a headphone jack is present that can be used to listen to translations in private. This can be useful when trying to teach yourself how to speak Chinese. The BBK AM103 brings with it standard features such as a world time clock, a metric converter and a calculator. It does not offer a currency converter, calendar or alarm clock – all of which would be useful when traveling abroad and keeping a tight schedule.
This device comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, which protects you against defects. Help and support can be reached via telephone or email by calling the manufacturer directly. An online manual is available for download, however there are not FAQs databases for troubleshooting issues.
The BBK AM103 is an electronic language translator device supported by a good warranty, available help and support, and a few helpful travel features. It can only translate two languages, but depending on where you travel, this may not be an issue. Its audio translation capabilities ensure more rapid and thorough communication with Chinese speakers.
Atlas SD302 Review
The Atlas SD302 electronic translator is a handy, lightweight device that you can use while traveling to translate words and phrases. It can also help you learn a new language. Although it only supports two languages, its ability to play back audio translations differentiates it from typical portable language e-dictionaries.
With the Atlas SD302, you can translate English to Arabic and Arabic to English. Although not as diverse as other electronic language translators that house many more languages, it includes the ability to play back audio of words and phrases for more accurate communication. This also helps you learn how to pronounce words better when learning English or Arabic. In addition to audio playback, translations appear on the device’s small text readout screen.
Unlike the best electronic translators, the Atlas SD302 doesn’t support speech-to-text recognition. You have to manually type words and phrases into the device’s keyboard. The inclusion of a spell-check feature ensures that translations are accurate, reducing the risk of being misunderstood when you’re trying to communicate.
Bonus travel features of the translator include a world clock that displays the time in various cities throughout the world, a unit converter, a calendar and an alarm for reminders. There is no warranty included when you purchase the Atlas SD302, and the only support offered is the information you can find via the provided user guide. Additionally, you can download the user guide in PDF format from the manufacturer’s site.
The Atlas SD302 is a useful device if you are only seeking to translate English to Arabic, or vice versa. The inclusion of speech playback is a helpful feature, as is spell-check functionality and added travel features that help you set reminders when traveling. However, the lack of a warranty or any technical support may cause you to consider purchasing a different language translator device.
Atlas L106 Review
The Atlas L106 electronic translator is basic in design and functionality. It is compact and easily portable, which means you can carry it in your pocket or purse when you travel. Several useful travel features extend its capability beyond mere language translation, but it is limited in the number of languages it is capable of translating.
If you’re looking for a language translator that can span a diversity of languages, you’re better off looking elsewhere. This device is limited to just three languages: English, French and Arabic. To its credit, it’s not just an e-dictionary, but is capable of translating phrases as well as individual words and includes Atlas Modern dictionaries for all three languages.
The most significant limitation of the Atlas L106 is the fact that it does not have speech-to-text recognition capabilities and lacks any audio output. This means you have to manually type words and phrases on the QWERTY keyboard and translations are shown in text on the device’s small display screen. The display and keyboard are both protected by a small closing lid.
The device operates on battery power and is not equipped with an AC jack for use on electric power. It comes with a world time clock, a metric converter that can transfer measurements, memory for storing important phone numbers, and a daily alarm. It lacks a currency converter and calculator, both of which would come in useful when traveling abroad.
Although this electronic translator comes with a user guide that can also be downloaded online, there are no support channels for troubleshooting. It comes with no manufacturer warranty protecting you against defects.
The Atlas L106 lacks some of the features found in the best electronic language translators, including speech-to-text functionality and the ability to read a translation out loud. A handful of useful travel accessories add to its functionality, and it’s small enough to fit into any travel pack or purse. Unfortunately, the lack of any warranty and the fact no technical support is offered beyond the owner’s manual make this a language translator device with limited appeal.