Review: Lingolet One Is Not the Universal Translator I Was Looking For
A hardware device that complements iOS or Android phones with a low-cost translation device that controls an on-phone app. It works as advertised, but may prove confusing in practice.
In January 2020 I attended CES. One of the products that most impressed me was the Lingolet One, a kind of universal translator extender for smartphones. I had high hopes for a lot of travel in 2020 post-CES, but then COVID-19 hit and I haven’t let me home office since February. So I used other forms of translation to test the device, like reading poetry aloud from dual-language versions and translating videos with subtitles. For the most part, the Lingolet One performed well, but the more I used it the more I wanted it to be, well more by being less. But before I get to the praises and suggestions, it is important for those who have not seen the Lingolet One to learn a little bit more about it.
What is the Lingolet One?
Let’s start with what the Lingolet One is not: a standalone translator. The device requires a smartphone. Buying the unit entitles the owner to 1000 hours of AI-driven translation, in realtime, or as transcripts from recordings.
The small rectangular device connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and acts as the translation interface to its translation app. The app will not work without the Lingolet and the Lingolet will not work without the Lingolet One app.
I asked the team at Lingolet why they didn’t just use the phone without need of a device. There were a few reasons including the risk of handing a phone to a stranger, the poor microphones in most smartphones and the need to teach an app, rather than just push a button.
To start an interactive translation section, select the source and target languages in the app (Say Spanish to English). On the device, tap button along the right side, to speak in the source language (Spanish0. Tap button B to speak in the target language (English). Release the button and the device speaks the translation.
AI-based translations include Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, or Thai for now. The company supports almost any language using a human translator. The human translation service, and access to 185 total languages, runs around $2 per minute. Translation services, however, vary depending on the languages involved. Access to human translation requires explicit selection of that option through the app.
Instant access to AI translation in the languages spoken by most of the world is a good start. Lingolet One buyers receive 1,000 minutes of AI translation and transcription. For an additional $49.90 that goes to unlimited AI minutes, and human translations at $1.99, 2,000 minutes of transcription, and 2,000 minutes of cloud storage. The human transcription option also runs $49.90 and includes unlimited machine translation, 30 minutes of human translation with a $1.89 surcharge for each additional minute and 1,000 minutes of transcription and translation, and no cloud storage.
What we like
The Lingolet One delivers on its promise of simultaneous translation. I believe that in a live situation I could adequately communicate with someone not fluent in English. It might take a bit of fumbling through a process to become adept and fluid with a conversation, but I can imagine getting there.
The device’s size and weight, at 4.02 x 0.85 x 0.34 inches and a mere 1.2 ounces, puts it in the very portable category. The built-in clip put the Lingolet One in a secure, and convenient, in most situations. The battery fueled through a USB-C charging port lasts upwards of 10 hours, so charging will likely become an overnight ritual, not a daily scramble.
The relatively simple app relies on selecting between transcriber/translator and voice memos. It exports conversations and supports simple cut and paste between the app and other apps, like word processors, social media, and presentation tools. The app supports iOS and Android.
When connected, the Lingolet One acts as a speaker and microphone on smartphones. Alert sounds come over the speaker, and the headphone battery indicator appears on the iPhone next to the iPhone battery indicator.
The device also includes a headphone jack for moments of personal translation need…though if one is speaking out loud into the device, and people are about, someone is going to be disturbed regardless of translations being spoken into the atmosphere or into a headset.
What could be improved
For a device about the size of a pack of gum, it would seam six small buttons would not be excessive. And I’m sure the design team discussed several button alternatives. But for a translation device, I want a single large button. I don’t want to worry about which language goes with which button. I don’t want to differentiate between record and instant translate. What I want is a big button on the front of the device. Tap it, it translates what it hears until released. Ideally, the software will differentiate between the two languages selected.
Minimalist design with Lingolet One means no screen, just a single LED. I would like to see the LED play a bigger role in user feedback. For instance, when working on transcripts, a double-tap could turn on recording mode reinforced by an LED that indicates status. My suggested LED status would be: on when the device is on and connected to the phone/app, slow flash when recording, fast flash when listening in conversation mode.
As for other buttons, the volume buttons only work intermittently, so they would not be helpful in their current state during a real conversation.
Beyond the hardware user experience, incorporating alternative dialects, like Mexican Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese would make for a better travel companion.
The convenience of having the device clip to a pocket or backpack externally should mean that it is always at the ready. But unless left on and connected, that isn’t the case. Powering on the Lingolet One requires a reconnection to the app, which must be running. And that means getting the phone out to do something rather than just talking through the Lingolet One.
Travelers will need to keep in mind data use when roaming. I did not find any figures on the website, but I have a concern for those with limited data budgets on a trip using the app and then being surprised by their bill when they return.
And that brings me to the app, or apps. The basic Lingolet One app flips between transcriber/translator and voice memos. It also includes the AI interpreter from the menu. It isn’t clear the difference between the transcriber/translator and voice memos. Overall the app needs work. Too many layers doing roughly the same thing. No indication of which button does what—and no way on the device, for instance, to record a voice memo vs a transcriber session—though the record vs. rocker does differentiate between instantaneous AI translation and other modes. They just need to simplify the entire experience.
When I say apps, I am referring to the Lingolet Hybrid app, which answers the question of how the Lingolet’s AI and human translation services would work without the Lingolet One device. It essentially implements the same features through an app with smartphone hardware.
Lingolet needs to synchronize its messaging between the website and the app. The website hints at subscriptions, and the app contains them. They also need to fix the pricing on the app subscriptions to include 2-digits for cents.
I would also prefer better editing of recorded sessions, with an edit button to select multiple sessions for deletion, as well as a slide (vs. tap and hold) for the deletion of individual items. Eventually, I can imagine an integration with cloud-based services and the movement of the recordings off the Lingolet platform and into a user-selectable storage solution.
Finally, Lingolet One is not designed for social distancing. When we do get to traveling again, people may be hard-pressed to get someone close enough to hear the translation even at its highest volume.
Lingolet One: The bottom line
As a translation add-on to a smartphone, the Lingolet One does its job reasonably well. The Lingolet One will need at least one more generation of hardware along with improvements to the user experience before the device will be as useful in practice as in theory. I’m not sure in practice how people will feel about interacting with the device in the field. The combination of the app’s multiple functions and the various tie-ins to buttons on the device make for a more complex experience than designers probably intended.
Lingolet provided the Lingolet One for review purposes. Images and video courtesy of Lingolet.
Serious Insights receives no compensation for directing its readers to the Lingolet purchase page.
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.