Google’s New Earbuds Are the Closest Thing Yet to a Universal in-Ear Translator

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Photo: Courtesy of Google

Today, Google announced a whole bunch of new products, including its new flagship Android phone, the Pixel 2. But maybe most exciting was … a new set of earbuds. Really.

In most ways, the Pixel Buds are a regular set of wireless earbuds. Their battery lasts up to five hours on a charge and the case; you can use them to make and receive calls. But what makes them so exciting is that they’re one step closer to that Holy Grail of way-cool sci-fi gadgetry: the in-ear universal real-time translator.

They’re not quite there, yet, but it’s the closest thing we’ve seen to the Babel Fish of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Google showed off the new technology today using a conversation, performed live, between a person speaking Swedish and a person speaking English. “Your earphones hear you and your Pixel’s speaker will play the translation in another language,” the company explained in a press release. “When the other person speaks, you’ll hear the translation right in your ear.” Google currently offers the feature in 40 languages. The Verge explains in more depth:

You hold your finger down on your ear and say “help me speak French,” and speak a phrase. When you lift your finger, the Translate app speaks and displays your translation. Then the person you’re speaking to holds a button down on your phone and says their reply, which you hear in your ear.

The on-stage demo — which we can, of course, take with a grain of salt since it was, well, a demo — seemed to go off pretty seamlessly. Not quite Star Trek seamless, but certainly better than if I attempted to speak Swedish using a dictionary in real time. The Pixel Buds start at $159 and should ship in the next six weeks.

Google’s New Earbuds Are Like Having an in-Ear Translator