LAS VEGAS — We seem to be asking more of our mobile devices to help us communicate whenever we travel the globe. The Honor View 10, for example, will have Microsoft's Translator integrated into the phone to help with on-the-go translation. One of the marquee features of last year's Pixel Buds was the headphones' ability to tap into Google Translate for real-time translation.
At least one device treats our need for translation skills as a full-time task. Travis the Translator is a handheld device that lets you hold real conversations with people, even if you can't speak any other language beyond your native tongue.
Travis supports 80 languages. For context, that's double the number Google's Pixel Buds support. Travis pulls its language data from several different sources, including translation engines from Google, Microsoft, IBM and Baidu, looking for the best source depending on your circumstances. A simple greeting in Spanish may be tackled with Google's Translate, for example, while a conversation in Chinese may have Travis turning to Baidu.
The translator fits neatly in your palm and has a couple of buttons you press so that you and your conversation partner can talk back and forth. While Travis has a screen that displays the text of any translation, it's a pretty small circular display. From my demo time during CES, Travis seems to work best when it's heard instead of seen.
You don't necessarily need a network connection to put Travis to work. More than 20 languages have offline support, though a company rep says that performance isn't as robust as it would be on a Wi-Fi or cellular network. You can connect Travis to your phone using hotspot data.
The crowded Eureka Park showroom at CES is a less-than-ideal place to showcase Travis's powers, though the translations came swiftly even with the heavy network traffic around us. A bigger concern was the volume of the translations: it was hard for me to hear Travis convert my English questions into Spanish over the din of CES's massive crowds, which might be a concern if you need it in similarly hard-to-hear places. (Then again, if you regularly find yourself in places as noisy and crowded as a CES demo hall, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your idea of travel.)
One feature I appreciated was Travis's ability to store the last 20 translations it makes. I can see that coming in handy if there's a particular question you find yourself asking the locals over and over again.
After shipping out to backers of its 2017 crowdfunding campaign, Travis is now available for orders. The translator normally sells for $229, though as of this writing, it's available for $199.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.