Cars & Gadgets
Wear This Device In Your Ear and Get Instant Language Translation
Google’s new Pixel Buds are ready to change how we communicate.

You’ve found a quaint little restaurant in a foreign city and you're ready to take a break after a long day of exploring, only to deal with the hassle of trying to order something from a waiter who doesn’t speak English. To make things worse, you don’t recognize a single word on the menu, so you resort to using the most basic phrases you can think of—perhaps even unconsciously miming things—just to get a quick snack.

This could now be a thing of the past. Google has always tried to bring the world closer to Star Trek territory, and its upcoming Pixel Buds are a bold step forward. These Bluetooth earphones not only address some of the major design issues of Apple’s own wireless AirPods, but they offer a feature that’s never been seen on anything like it before: instant language translation.

The translation feature—currently supported only on Google’s Pixel phones—works by pairing the Buds up with the Google Translate app. Press a button on the Buds and say “Help me speak [desired language].” That will open up the app, which then acts as a mediator, listening and speaking for you.

If, for example, you say “Help me speak Italian,” and say something, the app will listen to your voice and play an audio translation of what you said in Italian. Then, if it hears someone else speaking Italian, it’ll feed an English translation straight into your ear through the Pixel Buds.

The Pixel Buds are launching in November for $159 a pair, and will support translation for 40 languages from the get-go. Tests done so far with the Pixel Buds show mild inaccuracies and a very slight lag in translation, but they work well enough for two people to carry a conversation in both Japanese and English. As Google continues to develop its AI-based Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT) system, the translations look to get more and more accurate—and this includes slang. In fact, it already perfectly translates the French expression “J’ai un petit creux,” which literally translates to “I’m a small hollow,” to its more common usage, “I’m a little hungry.”

The most important part of all this, however, is that the Pixel Buds allow you to factor in non-verbal cues like body language and tone. Using the Buds means that you don’t have to frequently look away from conversations to look up words or press translation buttons on your device. And because the Buds are designed to allow a little ambient noise through (much to the chagrin of audiophiles who’d rather tune things out), you can hear how a person says something to you, which makes for a world of difference in communication.


The entire system is nothing short of revolutionary, and it can only get better as Google’s translations get more accurate, and as they add support for more languages. If the prospect of making language barriers a thing of the low-tech past excites you, you’re not the only one—they’re already sold out on pre-orders alone.

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Marco Sumayao
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