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Quest Visual WordLens review

WordLens isn't quite sorcery, but it's as close as we've seen on the iPhone

Quest Visual WordLens
Possibly one of the most important apps for travelers that we have seen


  • Word recognition and translation
  • Great concept


  • Only Spanish supported so-far

When the first video hit the net, people thought WordLens was a joke. Instant, real-time translation via the iPhone. Just hold it up to a sign and not only will it tell you what it says (in English or another supported language), it replaces the text on what you’re looking at, like a Babel Fish for your eyes.

In practice, it’s not quite that good. The letters flicker around as it adjusts to the movements of your hand, and there’s not much intelligence in what it gives you.

Still, it’s a brilliant application, and one that’s perfect for getting at least a rough idea of what you’re looking at without you having to type in a single word. When it’s finished its calculations, you can pause the recognition system, making it easy to read a translation without it changing its mind or losing whatever it was you shot.

The freely downloadable version doesn’t use translation as a demo though, instead reversing the words you point your iPhone at. Even that is damn impressive, though.

If you want to use it as intended, only Spanish is supported and requires a $10 in-app purchase. More language options are due soon, starting with European ones and then moving further afield. We see it being particularly interesting when it can handle symbol-based languages like Chinese and Japanese, especially for tourist purposes, when you can’t simply look something up in your dictionary.

We hope there’ll be more work on the recognition part too, making it as good as it was in those video demos. Not too good though, or the developers risk being burned for witchcraft.

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