Best free translation apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone
If you’re looking for a free translation app for your smartphone or tablet, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the number available.
So rather than leave you struggling with your Spanish and puzzling over your Polish, PC Pro has waded through the apps on iOS, Android and Windows Phone to pick out the best free translation tools available.
Best free translation app for accuracy
Google Translate: Android, iOS and Windows Phone
When it comes to accuracy, Google Translate is still the best free tool around, whether online or in app form. While it struggles with longer, more complicated sentences, for quick phrase or word checks, it still beats all the other apps tested.
It’s also the most comprehensive; there wasn’t a single language it didn’t recognise or couldn’t translate.
Best free translation app for voice recognition
Speak&Translate is great for speech recognition and translation.
Select your two languages from a sidebar, tap the flag of the language you speak and say whatever it is you want translated. The app will then show on the screen what it heard you say and read out a translation, which it also displays onscreen.
One of the major benefits of this translation app is that it offers different dialects of the same language – there are four versions of English available, and two each of French, Spanish and Portuguese.
This is particularly useful for us Brits, since US-only English often gets confused by our plummy accents.
This app beat all the others when it comes to voice recognition. It easily understood our test sentences, but when it did interpret us incorrectly the first time, a second attempt was normally all it took to set it straight.
Er, not quite…
The UI is also aesthetically pleasing and easy to use.
The only serious limitation is in the range of languages available – we couldn’t test any of the Indian languages – and that the voice is very robotic. Bizarrely, it also lists Afrikaans as “African”.
Also of note is the fact that Speak&Translate struggled with longer, more complex sentences. However, for simple “phrasebook”-style translations it can’t be faulted, and the accuracy of the translation is also extremely high.
Best free translation app all-rounder
Bing Translator: Windows Phone
Bing Translator was far and away the best all-in-one free translation app we tried; it’s disappointing that it’s only available on Windows Phone.
The app takes phrases for translation via the keyboard, camera and voice recognition, and offline packs can be downloaded and accessed if you have no internet connection – handy for when you’re travelling.
Also, while not as comprehensive as Google Translate’s list of languages, it has a solid selection available, encompassing a good geographical range.
We found the camera function particularly cool, although you do have to make sure you have the words lined up correctly to get a translation that makes sense.
While it’s great to have an app that’s so comprehensive, including offline functionality, our one complaint would be that the voice-recognition aspect is limited to four continental European languages, plus US and UK English.
Best free translation app for shortcuts
Translate Pro: iOS
Translate Pro is an easy-to-use app that can, like the other apps reviewed here, be used for on-the-fly translation, but also features a phrasebook-style menu down the left-hand side.
Categories include bargaining, ordering food and drink, travel, and even romance – although we can’t help but think that whipping out your iPhone before asking “may I kiss you?” may spoil the mood a bit.
It’s also easy to choose between any of the 50 languages available, and to switch backward and forward between the selected ones.
The two main drawbacks of the app are that only 11 of the languages in Translate Pro’s database are included in “phrasebook” format, and that the number of characters you can enter is limited. This can leave you with truncated sentences or words (“Neth” should be “Netherlands”), or mess with the grammar of some languages if you decide to split the sentence in two.
Translation apps: the blooper reel
No translation app is going to be 100% flawless.
In Translate Pro, our comment to our Finnish co-tester that North Korea reportedly claiming to have won the World Cup was “mental” was translated as “spiritual”, while thanks to Google Translate we told our Turkish co-tester someone had a court date, rather than a “trial” in the sense of testing something.
Although we found that most of the results from the apps and online tools tested gave you the gist of what you were trying to translate, as opposed to something that was grammatically perfect, when you consider the output of machine translation in the past, it’s a testament to how far the technology has come that these were the only howlers.
How we tested the best free translation apps
PC Pro tested a range of apps on iOS, Android and Windows Phone with a native UK English speaker talking (and typing) to native Arabic, Finnish, French, Hindi, Kannada, Spanish, Tamil, Telugu and Turkish speakers.
We chose these languages to make sure there was a good range of writing systems and grammar tested.
All apps were tested in the above nine languages, providing the target language was available, in order to test on a level playing field and find the ones we think work best.
No logographic languages (such as Japanese or Mandarin) were tested, as we were unable to find a native speaker in time for our trial.