Captain Kirk had the universal translator, Arthur Dent had the Babel fish — and the rest of us have smartphones. There's one major difference, though. Neither the universal translator nor the Babel fish chew up your 4G data allowance, potentially costing you an arm and a leg on your overseas vacation.
Luckily for you, though, the translator gap is narrowing as more developers create apps with helpful offline modes that let you do your translating at your leisure, without worrying about the bill.
Price: $19.99, iPhone and iPad; $16.99, Windows Phone
Let's get it out of the way, shall we? Ultralingua is a little on the pricey side at $20. You do get an awful lot for your investment, though: a numbers translator, quick links to a dictionary and to Google, and (most impressive of all) a verb conjugator for those times you really need to know the future imperfect tense.
Ultralingua is a universal app, so you'll get a different experience on your iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch — but at its core, the app boasts a solid design. More than 270,000 translations lurk in the built-in database, and you can access all of them without being connected to the Internet. Those translations go far beyond the usual wooden phrases, too. You'll find slang, technical terms, and even regional differences in spelling and usage slotted in here too, as well as biographical and geographic entries to flesh out a word's meaning.
Despite all that, Ultralingua is an expensive purchase. Your initial $20 gets you just one language pair (English to Spanish or French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Latin — or a number of other options). If you wish to broaden your horizons, you'll have to dip further into your wallet.
2. Jibbigo / Lonely Planet
Download: Jibbigo for iPad, iPhone or Android
Price: $4.99 for iPad, iPhone or Android
Depending on how fond you are of commercial branding, the Jibbigo smartphone app and the Lonely Planet Offline Translator app are both pretty much the same — unsurprising, as Lonely Planet bought the Jibbigo technology to power its app.
The nifty thing about Jibbigo can be summed up in three words: offline voice recognition. All you need to do is load up the app, speak to it in English, and within a few taps, Jibbigo will respond aloud. Like all voice-activated systems, results will vary, but the software overall works pretty well. The original language, phrase, or words appears in the top half of your phone screen, while the translation appears below with a handy Play button to avoid awkward mispronunciations. The best part? All of this works without any Internet connectivity.
If you don't want to say things, the touchscreen keyboard comes in handy for simply entering the phrase or words you're trying to say — great for areas that are either really noisy or extremely quiet.
Downsides? As we've seen before, each dictionary can be purchased separately, for around five bucks a pop. Not bad if you're only looking to speak to a select group of people, but a little pricey for your 'round-the-world vacation. The database of more than 40,000 largely travel-centric words does take up a fair chunk of your phone's memory, but having everything at your fingertips is worth it.
3. Bing Translator App
Download: Bing Translator App for Windows Phone