BARCELONA — Google’s voice-translating Pixel Buds failed to impress us when they debuted last fall, but a new startup in town has a pair of foreign language-translating earphones that could actually make conversations easier.
Waverly Labs’ $250 Pilot earbuds are completely wireless and can translate conversations in 15 languages, with more to come. Unlike Google’s Pixel Buds, which also double as earbuds for Google's headphone jack-free Pixel 2 phones, the Pilot devices are designed as conversation facilitators first and foremost. But in a demo I saw at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Pilot buds are as comfortable as any other wire-free earphones I’ve worn, even to run. I could see myself relying on these on my daily commute to take calls and listen to music, with language translations while traveling overseas as a bonus.
How it works
The Pilot earphones can be used in two modes: listening and conversational. To translate a specific language to your default language, choose listening in the Pilot app for iOS and Android. A conversational mode allows you to converse with people you wouldn’t be able to chat with normally, such as a relative who speaks a language you don’t. In that case, each person wears one Pilot bud to chat. Both people must have the Pilot app installed, and then the earbud will listen for speech and translate it in the language you’ve set as your default in the app.
For instance, if your grandmother speaks Japanese and you don’t, you could still carry on a conversation if that other person was wearing a Pilot bud, says William Goethals, Waverly Labs’ vice president of manufacturing. Your earbud would listen for her voice and then translate it from Japanese to English with a slight delay, and her Pilot bud would do the same.
I demo’ed the Pilot buds in an extremely noisy environment, but found the device picked up on words with almost 100 percent accuracy.
You can even have group conversations with multiple people who all speak different languages. You have to select which mode you want to use in the app before beginning to talk, but in my demo, the selection seemed straightforward and obvious.
The Pilot earbuds are available in three colors: red, white and black. The red looks particularly fetching. They do cost more than Google's $159 language-translating earbuds — almost $100 more — but they work with both iOS and Android devices. They're also completely cord-free, unlike the Pixel Buds, which connect to each other via a cable you drape around your deck. You can order a pair through Waverly Labs’ website now. We’ll put these earphones to the test against Pixel Buds to see which is more useful, so stay tuned for that comparison.