Review: The WT2 Plus translation earbuds allow you to converse with almost anyone with eas...

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 21
Now you can converse with nearly anyone thanks to the fast and easy translation abilities of the WT2 Plus translation wireless earbuds -- with some caveats.

Earbuds in case


In HitchHiker's Guide To the Galaxy Douglas Addams imagined a future where an unusual species of fish would be able to live inside your ear and instantly translate any language, making language barriers a thing of the past.

While we're not quite to Addams' vision of the Babel fish, TimeKettle's WT2 Plus AI-driven translation earbuds bring us one step closer. These useful little earbuds allow you to easily translate 40 different languages -- enough to let you converse with 85% of the world's population.

The app and the translation modes

WT2 Plus app


The app is well designed and easy to use, and pairing the earbuds only takes a few seconds. Selecting the languages you'd need to translate is done via a drop-down menu. There are 40 different languages you can choose from, including English, French, Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, and many more.

There's also a helpful demo video to show you how to use the device if you need it, though we found it extremely intuitive on its own.

The WT2 Plus earbuds feature three different modes that are ideal for different situations. Selecting the mode you'd like to use can be done from within the app, and it's easy to switch between modes if one isn't working for your specific situation.

Touch Mode requires you to reach up and physically tap-and-hold the side of your earbud to initiate translation mode. This mode is ideal for busy locations where you don't want the earbuds picking up and subsequently trying to translate background noise.

Simul Mode is the WT2 Plus' "always-on" mode, which is best suited for two people who are attempting to have a natural conversation. This mode works okay, though, the earbuds can occasionally get a little confused and try to translate what the opposite wearer is saying, notably if the two languages sound somewhat similar. In our test, this was especially noticeable if one person was speaking German, and the other was speaking English.

Speaker Mode is perfect for tourists. Like tap mode, you can touch the side of your earbud and speak, but the translation will be played through your phone's speaker instead of the other earbud. Perfect if you don't want to share an earbud with someone you don't know.

Accuracy

Active translation


The developers claim that the WT2 Plus earbuds will give you 95% accuracy with an average time of 1-3 seconds to translate. We didn't quite find this to be the case in every situation.

Simul Mode is by far the least accurate of them all, which is to be expected. If you're in a noisy environment, it doesn't always know what to pick up on, which causes some significant delays in translation times and cuts down on accuracy. Still, it did work more often than it didn't. As stated before, it also sometimes mistranslates similar-sounding languages through the incorrect earbud. For German and English, which share quite a large amount of similar-sounding words, this occasionally produced some funny, but potentially frustrating results.

Speaker Mode and Touch Mode worked far better. While the app is quick to translate, it's not 1-3 seconds quick. Short sentences, such as simple questions, were able to be translated in under five seconds on average. Lengthier, more complex sentences sometimes took upwards of ten seconds to translate. As with most translation software, the more complex a sentence is, the less likely it is that you'll get a perfect translation.

That said, it still landed within an acceptable margin of error. Was it 95% accurate? Yes and no -- if the sentences were simple and the background noise was minimal, the WT2 Plus knocked it out of the park with near 100% perfect feedback. If it got too loud or the sentences became too complicated, the accuracy did drop into the 75%-85% range. Very rarely did it miss the mark entirely, though, which only seemed to happen in boisterous environments while using simul mode.

The case and the battery life

WT2 Plus case


Unsurprisingly, the WT2 Plus earbuds are travel friendly. Their case is about the size of a MacBook power brick, and fit comfortably in luggage, carry-ons, laptop bags, purses, or coat pockets. The case is magnetic and easily splits apart for retrieval of each earbud. The flashing W and T on the front of the case indicate charging level of the earbuds inside. Each flash of the light equals one quarter charge, so two rapid flashes would suggest the earbud is charged at least to 50%.

The earbuds can get about 5 hours of active translation time. The always-on Simul Mode will drain the batteries the fastest, while both Touch Mode and Speaker Mode give you quite a bit more time before you'll need to recharge them. If fully drained, it takes about an hour and a half before you'll get them back up to 100%. It does not appear that there is a quick-charge enabled feature in these headphones, so it's likely worth it to return them to the case to prevent getting stranded without them when you need it most.

The case will recharge the earbuds two times from 0% to 100%, with enough of a charge left to get nearly to 50% before it will need recharged. When it comes time to charge the case, you'll have to use a microUSB cable. While they have provided one, we would have liked to see them shift to USB-C instead.

The usual complaints




We do have some complaints about fit, though. The hard plastic earpiece doesn't come with multiple sizes of silicone covers, which means they've guessed what size will work well for everyone. Similar to the original earphones included with the iPod, they don't sit well in some people's ears.

With a bit of fiddling, we found that we could get them to precariously hang where they needed to, but became very concerned about them falling out. Additionally, the ear piece is covered in a silicone ear-tip that features a confusing, ill-fitting bump that only seemed to make matters worse.

There's a bit of added security included, though, with a plastic ear-hook that can loop over the ear to hold it in place. Sure, it doesn't fit like a glove, but at least you're not going to drop your expensive earbuds onto the pavement.

One other minor complaint we have is that the earbuds do not function as earbuds in any other capacity. You cannot take a phone call or play music through them, so you'll need to carry a second set of earbuds for normal, earbud-centric purposes.

Overall

While we don't think it's a device for everyone, we feel that it could be a handy device for specific people. If you regularly travel to areas where you don't speak the native language, it's a great way to give you an added level of control.

If you routinely meet with clients or customers who may not be entirely comfortable speaking a shared language, it could help break down barriers in communication. And of course, if you're feeling a little anxious about a vacation to another country, the WT2 Plus can help alleviate that problem as well.

Where to buy

If you'd like to get your hands on your own WT2 Plus translation earbuds, you can head over to Amazon and pick up a pair for $229.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

    Pros
  • Quick, accurate translation of simple sentences
  • Long operation time
  • Convenient carrying and charging case
    Cons
  • Slower translation time on more complex sentences
  • Inaccurate translation for certain modes
  • Slow to charge
  • Can't play music or take phone calls
  • Uncomfortable, hard plastic earpieces and strangely designed ear tips

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,244member
    I was trying to use Google Translate on my iPad to see what they were saying on the TV. I didn't have very good results. Almost worthless. Luckily, I remembered they could be a English subtitle that could be turned on. It was like half English and half Dutch or French I think. I tried both. I was in PLEX watching, then went to the drop down menu for Subtitles, and wouldn't you know, there was one for English. Turned it on, and hey, it made more sense now. I could stop trying to use Google Translate.

    95% accurate for these things? I doubt that. I'm sure some languages will be better than others, and how a person talks can make a big difference. Many people have issues with SIRI while for me, Siri works great!!! It's almost 99% accurate with what I say. Still this kind of tech is Amazing and continues to get better over time. The Star Trek Universal Translator, going from Science Fiction to Science Fact. At some point, most translators are going to be out of a job.
    edited February 2020
  • Reply 2 of 15
    #DouglasAdams 
    chasm
  • Reply 3 of 15
    @AppleInsider: How did you test the claimed accuracy? Do you have truly bilingual people on staff?

    The deeper you dive into a foreign language, the more you find just how difficult it is to convey intention and interpret subtext, especially in spoken word.

    I have recently used GoogleTranslate and was surprised about the progress of recent years. 

    It’s an intriguing idea to tap into artificial intelligence for this. But I fear that we’re 5-7 years away from NOT getting the S**T kicked out of us, because it missed the actual intention of what we were trying to say.

    I can only imagine the missunderstandings! All sorts of funny and tragic stuff will happen if people trust these things today...

    LOL
    edited February 2020 StrangeDays
  • Reply 4 of 15
    I'd wager that the claim of 95% accuracy is highly unlikely for anything outside of trivially short sentences.
    Even if each speaker spoke perfectly clearly and used impractically precise grammar it won't get that high because language is not a perfect carrier of meaning. Even when two people are speaking the same language, misunderstandings still happen.

    This is for a number of reasons, language is heavily driven by context, the shared history of the participants as well as the setting can change the meaning and tell us how to resolve scenarios such as:
    • homographs/homonyms/homophones: words with the same spelling/pronunciation but different meanings 
    • Expectation-based negation (especially when involving sarcasm.): Tends to come up when people throw in many negating terms for emphasis. "We ain't never got no time for nobody" versus "We never have any time for anyone"
    • Verbs carry multiple meanings: Even in close languages like English/German these don't always carry across, so context dictates the proper meaning of the verb.
    • We use context and understanding to optimise long sentences. Which is why if you say "I repaired my car" in English, it can mean both: that you did it yourself, or you took it to a mechanic. (When translated to german it always means the first interpretation.)
    • Regional variations in prepositions can also confuse robot translators as we often ignore the preposition used in favour of context/common sense. E.g. examples like "I stood on his side" could mean any of these: "I stood by his side", "I stood on his side [of the debate]", "I stood closely to his side", but probably not the literal idea of a person standing on the side of a man's body.
    • Pop, Soda and Coke: Depending on where you live (esp. in the USA) each of these will mean a carbonated drink and not necessarily cola for "Coke" either.
    Untranslatable content:
    • Jokes that have any relationship to the word will rarely translate. Puns that play on homonyms are good examples of this.
    • Portmanteaus rarely translate meaningfully, usually not at all - voice recognition usually just turns these into something entirely different. 
    • When using local grammar structures: "Went and got my hair did". etc.
  • Reply 5 of 15
    fred1fred1 Posts: 743member
    I agree with the previous comments about the difficulties of what used to be called “machine translation”.  I tried recently to find an English equivalent for a foreign word that means something like “borderline” and was told by the Google Translate app that the word is “screwdriver”. 
    But what I find most surprising by the earbuds here is the apparent lack of attention to the simpler details like comfort and the ability to use them to listen to music or make calls. Definitely a work in progress and I hope they can continue to develop them, into something better. 
  • Reply 6 of 15
    Translation is not real. Separate languages cannot be literally translated. It is impossible. What passes for "translation" and what is so commonly taken for granted is not a translation at all. At best, it is a close approximation of original intent.
  • Reply 7 of 15
    Interestingly, the BBC has an article about the current state of these sorts of devices on its front page this morning: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50850239

    The license plate motto in Quebec is ”Je me souviens” which Google will tell you means “I remember”. However it’s much more than that: the reflexive nature of the verb, together with context, weighs it down with a certain amount of nostalgia coupled with long-standing resentment. It would perhaps be better translated as “I will never forget”. And of course what none of these machines can do is affect the way you actually think when speaking in a foreign language, and that’s the real insight you get - much of a peoples’ character can often be attributed to the language they speak, and its constructs. 
    kurai_kage
  • Reply 8 of 15
    When I first saw this review I instantly thought “let’s have a look at this it sounds like something just up my street (in other words something I might be buying). But when I reached what your opinion was of their translation accuracy my interest began to wain a little. I already speak English, Norwegian, Swedish, quite good Danish and my Icelandic is coming along nicely...  But the thought of being able to converse in some exotic language should I ever visit the country where that language is dominant really appeals. I am guessing that the problem these very promising Earbuds have differentiating between English and German is down mainly as already mentioned the similarity between words in each language. English is itself a Germanic language, west Germanic, and of course German is the root language of the other Germanic European languages, the language spoken in the Nordic countries is north Germanic (the settlers who moved to what we call Scandinavia (not including Finland because Finland isn’t a Scandinavian country it is a Nordic country and its language is rooted in Hungarian...)) Took with them the German spoken in northwestern Germany and English is a west Germanic language because it came with settlers to England from the western part of Germany..The only way I can see the developers of these potentially very useful translation Earbuds have of hoping to increase their accuracy translating between English and German is to tweek their ability to handle the sometimes less than subtle differences between what are basically two versions of the same language (British English and American English are fantastic examples of one language split into two because of subtle differences but which don’t stop those from either country having a perfectly normal conversation...). I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on these but not rushing over to my Amazon account to buy some quite yet, they will definitely need to sort out the way they fit our ears as well, I hated the so called fit of Apple AirPods  before the Pros were released, I love my AirPods Pro after only a month of getting them because they are now truly wearable (the sound of my music has also become enjoyable thanks to the new tech built in to my AirPods Pro, pick the right music and the bass and soundstage improves dramatically, they can only put out what we put in!). Nuff said...
    StrangeDayskurai_kage
  • Reply 9 of 15
    Douglas Adams, author -- one D. 

    Charles Addams, cartoonist -- two Ds.
    StrangeDayskurai_kagechasm
  • Reply 10 of 15
    "Translation", "Translator" =TEXT "Interpretation" "Interpreter" = Spoken word. Important when distinguishing the capabilities of people and devices. An interpreter can tell you in your language the meaning and often nuance of the speakers words. The Translator will give you word for word translation.
    StrangeDayskurai_kagejony0
  • Reply 11 of 15
    PeteM said:
    "Translation", "Translator" =TEXT "Interpretation" "Interpreter" = Spoken word. Important when distinguishing the capabilities of people and devices. An interpreter can tell you in your language the meaning and often nuance of the speakers words. The Translator will give you word for word translation.
    Except it doesn't. It is just pretend. Even "word for word" is not that at all. These are still different words, with different origins. They have different meaning, no matter how subtle, to the native language speaker.
  • Reply 12 of 15
    My wife is a teacher and I wonder if these would be helpful for her to interact with non-English speaking parents.  Sometimes she can get an older sibling to help out, and rarely the district will have someone, though there is usually a wait time.  I don't believe she has ever tried something like Google translate.  @appleinsider, does this sound right up this things alley based on your testing?  (The environment would typically be a before/after school very quiet classroom.)  Or would one of the translator apps be more effective?
  • Reply 13 of 15
    1st1st Posts: 443member
    hopefully, the WT2 can order a cup of "white coffee" in US or EU...
  • Reply 14 of 15
    Attempt to translate Chinese or Japanese into English and you’ll see sentences which appear to be complete nonsense because cultural context is completely lacking in these translation solutions.
  • Reply 15 of 15
    fred1fred1 Posts: 743member
    One wonders why it isn’t better to just use the Google Translate spoken translation feature, inaccurate though it can be at times (see my earlier comment here). It would be a lot cheaper!!
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