Gear Closet: Jarvisen Smart Language Translator Review

arvisen Smart Language Translator: One of the biggest obstacles for travel for many is overcoming language barriers. Frequent travelers often learn to get by, picking up a few words and phrases where they can, but almost all of us wish we were better at learning and retaining languages.

Others let their fear of not being able to communicate keep them from traveling at all, missing out on a host of amazing opportunities as a result. But a new gadget called the Jarivsen Translator looks to make those obstacles a thing of the past by providing a lightweight, easy to use device that can do realtime translations on the fly.

This electronic device mostly delivers on that promise too, unlocking all kinds of possibilities for how it can be used to make life easier while on the road.

You’d be forgiven if you mistake the Jarvsen for a smartphone at first glance. Thin, and lightweight, the device even comes equipped with a touchscreen, which makes configuring and managing the device quick and simple.

In fact, the operating system that it runs is fairly intuitive, allowing users to navigate through a few menus and submenus quite easily. Those options include the ability to change which two languages you want the gadget to translate between, picking one for the person holding the Jarvisen and another for the person he or she is speaking with.

With the two languages selected, operation of the Jarvisen translator is very easy. A bidirectional button on the front of the device is pushed down in the direction of the speaker at all times. So the Jarivsen user pushes down and holds the button towards themselves, then speaks naturally into the device, asking questions, making comments, or communicating whatever it they want to say.

When they’re done, they simply release the button and what they said is quickly translated into the other language. When the person they are speak to replies, the other side of the bidirectional button is held down so the Jarivsen can hear what the other person is saying. When they are done, the user once again lets go of the button and the translation is heard out of the device’s speaker.

For the most part, that’s all there is to it. The entire experience is fairly seamless, easy to use and works very well. Translations are quick — Jarvisen says the fastest of any device on the market at .5 seconds — and as far as I could tell, accurate too. The Jarivsen delivers on the promise of the “universal translator,” which was a science fiction gadget found on the old show Star Trek that once seemed behind belief. Now, it is something that you can hold in your hand, helping to make travel so much easier.

There is one big caveat to all of this that you need to keep in mind however. Unless you are translating from a English, Spanish, French, and a handful of other languages to and from Chinese, all of the translation functionally takes place off the device. That means that it requires a network connection of some kind at all times.

That connection can come in the form of WiFi or the Jarvisen has the ability to connect with mobile data networks as well with the addition of a SIM card. It is also possible to tether the device to a smartphone to piggy-back on its data connection to, provided your mobile phone and carrier support that functionality. But without a data network of some type, the Jarvisen is mostly only good at translating to Chinese.

When on a mobile data network, the Jarivsen also has the ability to work as a WiFi hotspot, providing an Internet connection to your other devices as well. This is welcomed functionality for business travelers in particular,

but it comes with the warning that frequent use of the hotspot will also not only drain the battery of the Translator much more quickly, it could also chew through a data plan in short order as well. Still, it is a good way to stay connected while on the road without having to carry a separate device altogether.

I took the Jarvisen with me on my recent trip to Jordan and found that it worked very well, provided that network connection was present. That means that in larger cities, it worked as advertised and was even relatively quick to translate on slower connections. But as soon as you traveled out into more remote and rural areas, where cell phone networks have yet to be filled in, its functionality disappeared, leaving you with a gadget that doesn’t provide the functionality that you specifically brought it along for.

All-in-all, the Jarvisen is a great little device and is exactly what I’ve been looking forward to having at my disposal for a very long time. You do have to manage its network connection carefully in order for it to provide its full level of functionality however, so keep that in mind if you plan to use one.

In the future, I’d love too see a translator that can download language packs ahead of time, so having a data source isn’t quite as necessary. For example, knowing that I’d be heading to Jordan I could download the “English to Arabic, Arabic to English” pack and just have it already preloaded. The fact that the Jarvisen can translate Chinese while offline is evidence that such an approach can work, it just needs to be able to be applied to other languages too.

The Jarvisen Translator is available in two versions, one that comes with a data plan already installed and another that comes with no data at all. The base unit sells for $429, while the model with the included data runs $499 and operates in more than 100 countries around the globe. That data plan is good for two years and is a good deal for frequent travelers who are going to use the Jarvisen regularly. Otherwise, data SIM cards can be purchased as needed at your destination.

$429 is probably a high enough price tag to turn off casual travelers. But for those of us who are frequently jetting off to far corners of the globe, this is a device that I’d recommend wholly, provided you understand its limitations ahead of time. Having fast, real-time translation in your hands at all times is a pretty powerful tool to be sure, opening up a world of possibilities for how to travel more independently and richly.

Find out more at the Jarivsen website.

Kraig Becker