Regular travellers will understand only too well how big an issue language barriers can be. But with a new range of pocket translation tools, could gadgets like Pocketalk be the solution?
I’ve been using the Pocketalk classic for a few weeks now, so this review is more a look at first impressions. Living in Spain, my first language is English, although my Spanish is pretty good (definitely not fluent though), and I often come up into situations where I need a little clarification. This is where a tool like Pocketalk classic can be very useful. But how does it stack up?
What is Pocketalk?
This nifty little device is a little smaller than a standard smartphone but slightly thicker. Made to slip into your pocket, the Pocketalk is designed to be a quick and easy instant translation solution. No need to fumble for a translate app on your phone, and no awkward connecting to WiFi.
Oh, it’s also a little more durable, so if you drop it you probably won’t be cursing about a fragile screen.
However, the Pocketalk classic is Android powered, and does have a SIM card installed in it. But that is where the similarities end with your phone. It really is a very simple and clever device, so how does it work?
Out of the box
When we first opened the box for the Pocketalk classic we were impressed by how lightweight it was. It powered up quickly and we simply chose our default language and our target language, which in this case was Spanish.
The Pocketalk classic is basically a screen with two buttons below it. One for your language, and the other for the target. So, you press the button marked ‘English’ (for example), say your bit and it translates, out loud, as best it can. The other button is for the input from the second language to your language, putting the Pocketalk as a conversational tool.
We had a few teething problems where the signal wouldn’t connect, so no matter what we did it didn’t work. However, after connecting to the WiFi in our apartment all went fine. I did some tests using my clunky Spanish and all looked good.
The screen is quite small, but the touch screen for the Pocketalk is very responsive. It’s easy to open the settings and sign on to WiFi (the same as with any Android device), and changing your languages around is also pretty straight forward.
Real world tests with the Pocketalk Classic
Now I like to use my Spanish as often as possible, so I haven’t been using the Pocketalk as much as I should have been for this review. However… I have also been doing some complicated bureaucratic stuff which has been frustrating to say the least, so I thought using the Pocketalk would be a great help.
In my local tax office I put it to use, normally to clarify points that I felt I may have missed. First of all, the people in the office found the device quite amusing and were happy to use it. But how about the translations?
As with any translation device, including Google Translate, it’s not 100% accurate. So you do get some slight awkwardness with the translation, with some context lost on occasion. But, that isn’t to say it’s very useful indeed. In fact, using the Pocketalk did actually help me to make sure my understanding was clear on some instruction, which, as it turned out, I had missed…
So even with a decent level of Spanish, using the Pocketalk classic was actually something that saved the day.
What languages can you use with Pocketalk?
I haven’t actually done a long haul trip for a little while, but I’m really looking forward to checking out the device with a language that I don’t speak a word of. I’m due to fly to Thailand later in the year, so will update this review after checking it out.
Currently, Pocketalk classic supports around 74 languages, although not all of them with voice readout. The languages include:
- Spanish (Castillian Spanish, South American variations and other languages including Basque, Catalan and Galician)
- Chinese (simplified and traditional)
- Hindi and Indian languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Bengali etc.
It also includes popular European languages such as French, German, Italian and Dutch, and also languages like Hebrew, Farsi and Sudanese among many others.
They are constantly updating the supported languages, but you can view the full list on the Pocketalk site.
We touched briefly on the SIM card aspect of the Pocketalk classic, and actually this is an interesting feature. Pocketalk comes with a SIM card that works out of the box with support for 2 years, with connectivity in 120 countries around the world.
You can also buy a version without the SIM card, which is slightly cheaper, but that will be missing the point. Pocketalk can connect to WiFi too, but if you’re in a busy market in deepest Peru you don’t want to mess about looking for connections.
So what happens when your data expires? You can buy your own roaming data card, use it on WiFi, or you can also top up with $50 for another year of global roaming. Not a bad deal to be honest.
The battery in the Pocketalk classic will last a solid 7 hours if you’re chatting a lot. On standby, it is said it will last 10 days. I’ve been using mine for a few weeks and haven’t had to charge it yet (although the battery is getting low now).
Is it worth buying the Pocketalk classic?
If you’re a regular traveller, or if you’re planning a long trip to some far flung reaches of the globe then, absolutely yes. The Pocketalk translator is a very useful tool and one that really could help break down barriers in some places. Even though we might have translation apps on our phones, the hassle of finding and opening these apps, and finding a connection is still a headache. The Pocketalk is basically built to go, will easily fit in your pocket or handbag and is very easy to use.
Although I do like to try and learn some of the language, there have been plenty of occasions when I would have loved to be more confident to try and speak to people in the past. The Pocketalk would have been a very useful addition back then.
It’s worth noting that this version of the Pocketalk has been superceded and is now known as the Pocketalk classic – and there is now a new Pocketalk S available.
This means that the original version of the Pocketalk portable translator is now even cheaper, at around £99/$99- which makes it an absolute bargain in my eyes.