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Google Translate for Android adds offline translation option

Not quite as handy as a Babel Fish, but almost

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The latest update to the Google Translate app for Android aims to solve one of its trickier issues: how to use the app when you're traveling abroad without incurring expensive overseas data roaming charges or fiddling with foreign SIMs.

Previous versions of the app required you to be connected to the internet, and all of the actual translation took place on the Chocolate Factory's servers.

The new version now gives you the option of downloading "offline language packages" for some 50 different languages, enabling you to translate text even when your phone is in airplane mode.

The app comes with the offline pack for the English language by default (or it may give you a different one depending on your region; we weren't able to check). You have to download the others yourself individually – and with good reason.

When you go to download the offline language packs, the app warns you, "These files are very large. To avoid potential delays or extra data usage charges, use Wi-Fi only." And they ain't kidding, either. The actual size of the German language pack was a hefty 160MB.

 Screenshot of Google Translate for Android in offline mode  

Google's offline German translations were a little
iffy, but suitably humor-impaired

Once the pack was installed, we were successfully able to translate phrases with our phone's wireless radios disabled, but the translations weren't exactly the same as the ones that we got when we were online, and at times they were a bit dodgy.

The online version of the Google Translate service allows users to rate translations and submit alternatives, which probably explains why it seems to yield better results. Still, the offline version is certainly better than nothing and it should be enough to get you through in a pinch.

The offline translation feature requires Android 2.3 or above, though that isn't terribly restricting, given that it covers about 90 per cent of all Android devices in use today.

In addition to the offline translation, the new version also allows you to translate vertical text written in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean by taking a picture of it with your phone's camera (though this feature does require network connectivity).

The updated app is available via the Google Play store as of Wednesday. ®

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