A handheld transceiver that brings us one step closer to universal translation

Still to this day, Star Trek The Next Generation remains one of my favorite television programs.  Similar to the dream of space travel, laser weaponry, shielding, teleportation, replicator technology, and the holodeck, I have always been fascinated with the possibility of a universal translator.  Growing up in Southern California, I could have used a device that could readily translate between English and Spanish.  It was quite frustrating that my English education started early, while my Spanish speaking friends and I had to wait until the eighth grade to start Spanish.  As an American, I am saddened by our mono linguistic attitudes.  Do not misinterpret my meaning though, as I love America, it’s history, it’s beliefs and the English language.   According to the University of Houston, there are approximately 6000 languages currently in use and likely up to 31,000 languages have existed historically.  Is it not frustrating and humbling to lack the ability to communicate with another?  Is it not uncanny that we are still in a similar state to the times written about in Genesis 11:1-9, with the story of the Tower of Babel?  It is true that most of our colleges require students to take another language.  For those uninterested in learning new languages, or those who have tried and cannot learn one, or those currently in the process of learning a new language, there have been Apps like Google Translate that can help to bridge this gap.   If that does not interest you, perhaps you may be interested in the cheetahmobile translator? 

The Cheetahmobile translator arrived in a 2 5/8 inches wide by 6 7/16 inches tall by 1 7/16 inches thick white package.  I loved the clean white packaging but was left wanting more than what the outer packaging provided.  The cover displayed a 1 3/16 inches wide by 4 7/8 inches tall ink outline with a single 1/2 inches diameter button and a shimmering-silver cheetahmobile icon along the top right.  The right side panel displayed “CM TRANSLATOR” in silver-shimmering font, while the opposing side listed “1-Key Translation x 180 Days Endurance.”  The top and bottom panels listed “CM cheetahmobile” in the same silvery font.  The blank back panel had a   2 3/8 inches wide by 3 1/8 inches tall product sticker, which listed the B02G model number, a package inclusion list (translator, USB cable, user guide), support (BLE 4.0 or above, Android 4.4 or above, IOS 9.0 and above), input 5V/0.5A, voice support (Beijing Orion Star co. Ltd), Made in China, and several of the standard product manufacturing labels.  I lifted the lid off of the box and found the white 1 3/8 inches wide by 5 3/8 inches tall by 1/4 inches thick cheetahmobile translator resting within a plastic tray.  Beneath the tray, I found a 5 3/4 inches tall by 2 inches wide instruction manual and a 26 inches long USB-A magnetic charger. 

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The multi-lingual instruction manual provided a four-panel, brief-overview of the single-buttoned 39-gram translator.  To use this device, you will need to either scan the QR code from the manual or you will need to navigate to the IOS or Google Play store to download the ‘Cheetah Talk” CM Translator App.  I chose to utilize the iOS App Store, where I downloaded the 4.0 star App.  Upon opening the app, it asked for permission to pair with BT devices and then asked for the translator to be positioned near the phone. I long-pressed the solitary circular button and then a voice noted “connection successful.”  When you open the app, you will see two languages across the top, a blank panel along the middle of the App and “translate” and “Settings” along the bottom.  If you tap either of the languages, you will be able to choose a new option (Mandarin, Portuguese, Bulgarian, English, French, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Arabic (Egypt, Saudi Arabia), Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Hindi, Indonesian, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Spanish (Mexico/Spain), Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Catalan, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese). If you are shocked by the number of languages, you are not alone. If you tap “Settings,” located along the bottom of the App, it will take you to a secondary settings screen.

From the secondary settings screen, you can touch “My Translator,” “Recording,” “Contact US,” “Help and Feedback,” or “Setting.”  If you press “My Translator,” it will take you to another screen which detailed the device serial number, firmware update, and resource version.   If you press “Recording,” you can record a conversation.  Throughout testing, I never found the benefit of this feature. If you press “Contact Us,” you can tap their email and contact phone number.  If you press “Help and Feedback,” you can learn about the device (must be connected to cloud/online for example). If you or tap “Setting,” you can adjust the volume settings, the system language, you can clear the cache, check for updates, Application diagnosis, and about.  You can view the remaining battery from within this panel and when complete, if you tap “Translate” along the bottom of the screen, you will return to the main screen.

Once I became familiar with the App/device, I decided to test it out at a local Mexican restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and I had a simulated patient encounter with one of my friends.  The lightweight 1.37-ounce device proved to be easily pocketable, but I would have preferred a small carry case/bag.  To use the paired translator, simply long-press the central button and talk clearly into the device.  The translator will translate your speech into your chosen language and then verbally announce your statement/question.  Within the App, you can press the last spoken phrase and the device will repeat the statement/question again.  Your partner can answer you in their own language and the device will read it back to you in your chosen language.  For my tests above, I used a combination of Spanish/English and Chinese English.  Throughout my English/Spanish testing, I found the device worked 95% of the time.  Occasionally, the device would either translate the wrong direction or would vocalize “speech recognition failed, try again later.”  In those instances where I was speaking in English and my partner was speaking in Spanish when my partner said si (yes), the translator heard “see” and spoke that back instead of saying the word yes.  Similar to Google Translate, the device seemed to phonetically translate most of the time.  Despite a lack of academic translation, this device will allow you to communicate with someone else.  I have had several years of college Spanish and was pleased with the output.  Since I was able to read both of the languages, I was able to attest to the accuracy and quality of the translation.  If you are interested in an English to Spanish translator, this device will work very well for you. However, I do not know that it provided much additional benefit over that of Google Translate.  Similarly, the device relies upon cloud translation and the internet to complete the translation.  

As noted above, I trialed the device in a Mexican Restaurant and Chinese Restaurant.  Both locations worked well and allowed me to have a conversation with the host, to order my food, and to complete my meals fluidly.  My only concern was with the volume.  If you tap to the left of the record button, you can then slide up or down to increase/decrease the volume of the device.  If you look at the back of the translator, you will find a small speaker.  Even on full volume, I struggled to hear the sound of the device.  I loved that I could read the translation on my phone, but when I tapped it again, I almost had to hold the translator to my ear.  Essentially, the cheetahmobile translator served as a Bluetooth microphone and speaker, with the phone doing most of the work.  I loved the sleek design, the clean white coloration, the beveled edges, and the remote like feel of the translator.  In fact, it felt very similar to the thin voice recorders that I used in high school and college when trying to complete an interview.  I have used Google Translate for the past several years in my clinic.  I often felt that the interaction was rather clunky.  During my mock interview with the test patient, the interaction felt more natural by talking into a microphone and having it talk back to us.  Personally, this felt a lot more like the experience of another person translating in the room.  The experience may have even been better with a two-device setup, similar to the translator phones already in use.  

If you have a smartphone and are planning a trip to a destination where they speak a dissimilar language, the cheetahmobile translator may be the perfect companion.  Remember that you will need a smartphone and you will need an internet connection (WiFi/LTE), which may or may not be available. The device is lightweight, easy to place in a pocket and will work with the phone in sleep mode.  Additionally, the App was rather intuitive, which was a plus.  During this testing, I surprisingly found that it readily translated profanity and slang.  Interestingly, the translations were more accurate than expected.  If you are in need of translation and human translators are not available, this device may be perfect for you.  It may be ideal for a small office, for a college student (local or exchange), for a restaurant owner/server, for an airport, for a post-office, at a school, etc.  The experience felt similar to that while using Google Translate.  However the physical on/off button proved to be substantial/significant upgrade to the base Application.  The device charged magnetically, had an incredibly long-lasting battery, and was reliable. 

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