It was last year that we first heard about ili, a handheld electronic translator that does not require an internet connection in order to work. At the time, some people may have wondered if the device would ever make its way to production, or simply remain an interesting prototype. Now, however, its makers have taken a step forward by announcing pricing and availability.
Each ili device is programmed to translate one specific language to one other, although it should be possible to add output languages via firmware updates in the future. For now, though, buyers have to choose between English to Spanish, Mandarin or Japanese, as well as Mandarin to English or Japanese.
It also only supports one-way conversations – this means that while it could translate your English-language question to Japanese, for instance, it wouldn't be able to translate the Japanese response to English … so it's best to use it for questions that have a yes/no answer, or that can be answered with gestures.
Additionally, its vocabulary is currently limited to words and phrases that are likely to be used by travellers, such as inquiries about transportation, shopping or dining.
To operate it, you just hold down its main button, speak into it (keeping your phrase fairly short and basic), then release the button to play back the translated version of that phrase – the translation takes less than one second. As it has no screen to display text, though, you pretty much have to just hope that its speech recognition software understood you correctly.
And yes, from now until June 30th, it can now be preordered for a price of US$189. Its planned retail price is $249. Shipping is expected to begin in October.
ili can be seen in use, in the video below.
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