5 Google Pixel Buds alternatives: Real-time translations
When the Google Pixel Buds were announced, the reaction was along the lines of: “Google’s Pixel Buds translation will change the world.” But, the first thing I thought was, I wonder how it compares to what’s already out there?
I’m a native English speaker, who doesn’t have the best nack for languages. I also live in Taiwan which is a Chinese-speaking country, and I run a German-language website. There is no one more ready for a real-life Bable fish than I am.
Before I head into the Pixel Bud Alternatives, let’s take a quick look at the device that’s turning heads.
Google Pixel Buds
The Pixel Buds are neck buds, not truly wireless earbuds.
To start a translation, you hold your finger down to the earbud 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.
I’m a little dubious that this is any more convenient than just passing your phone back and forth and doing everything there, but it’s nice that only one set of translations is done over the phone’s speaker. A fairly natural voice does the translation, which is a step up from what we currently hear through Google Translate. This isn’t real time, but it’s very fast.
It doesn’t work offline and the Pixel Buds will eventually be able to translate between 40 languages, but so far, it only translates Japanese.
Google says they should last about five hours on a charge; the case can charge them four times.
I found even more offline translators at StartUp LaunchPad. Found at the Global Sourcing Fair, StartUp Launchpad is a Hong Kong Conference that showcases brand new startups looking for distributors. This happens twice a year and Mobile Geeks has made a habit of attending since it gives a sneak peek at the technology trends that are coming out of China to the rest of the world.
Le Trans is about the size of a bar of soap and can translate 29 languages, which is a lot of combinations! They’re mostly using Google’s translation library but have added in a few others, as well. You use an app to select which languages are being translated but it doesn’t work offline, meaning it’s not a great solution if you’re traveling.
LeTrans will be launching on Kickstarter in December with a shipping date for sometime in 2018. I did get to go hands-on, but the sample wasn’t working, so I’m reserving judgment on this until I have working samples and a price point.
Travis the Translator
Travis launched on Indegogo back in April and raised US$ 1.63 million in funding. Travis can translate 80 languages, 20 of which work offline. It’s not a headset like the Pixel Buds; it’s a MiFi-like pod that has a built-in speaker and headphone jack, so you can plug in your own.
Travis works for up to 12 hours and uses AI to become more intelligent. It works to understand your accent better and provide more accurate translations taking context into account. As you see in the video above, you can just place Travis between you and carry on a normal conversation. You have to wait for the translation to be read out, but it’s very fast and natural.
Travis doesn’t provide a full list of what translation engines they’re using but claims the best translation engine for each language is different, which is why they are using so many solutions. This makes Travis more interesting than Pixel Buds, which as far as I know, just uses Google Translate.
You can pick up Travis for US$ 169 plus shipping through their Indiegogo campaign, but the price will rise to US$ 229 when they go on sale. Travis is meant to ship towards the end of November to current backers and be ready for the market in the winter of 2017.
So far, I think that Travis offers the most interesting solution for a live translation device. For a full list of all 80 languages, visit their website.
Pilot Translating Earpiece
Pilot fits into your ear, offers live translation of 15 languages, and will stream music, take calls, deliver notifications, or act as your phone’s personal assistant. You can share the earpiece with the person you’re having the conversation with so you can both have a translation device. I have strong feelings against sharing my earbuds with a stranger, so it’s a good thing that you can use the Pilot app on the phone to listen and translate.
Currently, Pilot is not available offline, but they’re planning on adding it later. You’re also dependent on using the app for translation and the app will be available for free in November so you can download it to find out if it’s any good.
Pre-orders of the Pilot Translating Earpieces start at US$ 249 (US$ 299 when it goes on sale) and come with free access to Latin/romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, along with English). However, adding more languages like Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, German, Greek, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Turkish, etc. will cost you more.
Ili Wearable Translator
Ili can be worn around your neck or simply held in your hand and pointed at people’s faces, like in the video above. Ili is around the same size as your phone, but it’s not as wide. It doesn’t offer instant translation and has 0.2 seconds of delay.
Ili isn’t a universal translator — it’s travel-focused — so this is the context of the content it has available. Due to its limited size and the fact that it’s offline, it essentially holds a translation dictionary.
That said, there is quite a lot encompassed in the travel: “Ili is here to help you when it comes to dining, shopping, finding transportation, and much more,” according to the company. If you believe their YouTube channel, these are quite a lot of scenarios.
The biggest issue/disappointment is that Ili is one way — one language to another, not back again. Forget having a conversation, Ili claims that its goal is to help you be understood by others. Understanding what’s being said to you will have to wait for another version.
Ili has support for three languages from English, meaning English to Spanish, Mandarin, or Japanese and two languages from Chinese.
Bragi Dash Pro
Bragi Dash Pro is currently available and Mobile Geeks has reviewed it. Though I can’t say we were impressed with the performance, I’m hopeful it’ll improve.
All you need to do to have a conversation with someone who speaks another language is throw Dash Pro earbuds in, and you’ll instantly be able to understand someone who’s speaking in one of 40 foreign languages.
The problem is that there’s no compelling reason to use the Dash Pro for translation, unless both people in the conversation are using the earbuds. You can’t hand one earbud off to the other person so they can also benefit from the translator. If the other person doesn’t have their own pair of headphones, you still have to hold your phone out so that the person you’re talking to has a microphone to talk into and a speaker to hear your own words translated into their language. Otherwise, they’d have to talk directly into your ear, and they wouldn’t get your voice translated back into their language. At that point, it’s far easier for you to both speak into — and hear translations from — the same device.
The earbuds act as an accessory for an app called iTranslate, which already claims five million monthly active users and is one of the more high-rated translation apps in both the Apple Store and on Google Play.
This article originally appeared on Mobile Geeks. Nicole Scott, who was GadgetMatch’s companion and guide to its very first StartUp Launch Pad experience, shared her experience on the bi-annual conference at the Global Sourcing Fair in Hong Kong.
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Nothing Ear (2) now available in Singapore: Price, features
Truly authentic sound
London-based tech brand Nothing has launched the Ear (2) TWS earbuds in Singapore.
It is priced at SG$ 199 and will initially be available on Limited Edt from March 23. Free tryouts will be available at Challenger stores in Bugis Junction, Vivo City, and Causeway Point.
General sale will commence starting on April 8 at all Nothing partner stores in Singapore, both online and offline, including Lazada and Shopee.
Truly authentic sound
The Hi-Res Audio-certified earbuds feature an 11.6mm custom driver for deep bass and crystal-clear highs. Its LHDC 5.0 codec technology ensures the finest sound details are transmitted at frequencies up to 24 bit/192 kHz.
The Ear (2) is also engineered with Nothing’s best noise cancellation technology yet, achieving up to 40dB of reduction.
With personalized Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and Adaptive Mode, users may also adjust the noise reduction level based on their environments.
The device also has an improved wind-proof and crowd-proof Clear Voice Technology. This complements the three high-definition microphones on each earbud which have an advanced AI noise reduction algorithm that filters out unnecessary noises when answering calls.
Personalize the experience
Additionally, using the Nothing X app, users may also personalize their listening experience by adjusting the equalizer settings in real-time for optimal sound quality.
Dual Connection, on the other hand, allows for easier device switching between listening to music or receiving calls, for instance. The device likewise supports Google Fast Pair and Microsoft Swift Pair.
The Ear (2) has buttons on each earbud, allowing for easy controls like adjusting volume, skipping to the next track, or switching between noise cancellation modes.
Nothing’s latest offering delivers up to 36 hours of playback on a fully-charged case – with ANC turned off. Using fast charge, it can replenish up to eight hours on a 10-minute charge.
For peace of mind, the earbuds are rated IP54 for water resistance while its transparent case is rated IP55.
Sony announces WH-CH720N, WH-CH520 wireless headphones
Available in four colors
Sony has made two new wireless headphones available in the Philippines: the over-ear WH-CH720N and the on-ear WH-CH520.
The WH-CH720N is priced at PhP 7,999 and comes with Dual Noise Sensor technology, as well as Sony’s integrated processor V1 chip for noise cancelling. The lightweight device provides up to 35 hours of battery life on a full charge.
When connected to the Sony | Headphones Connect app, users may also adjust ambient sound 20 different levels to suit the environment.
On the other hand, the WH-CH520 is a more affordable option, retailing at just PhP 3,299. It’s available in four colorways – black, blue, white, and beige – to match one’s style.
Both models feature Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) for high-quality sound as accurate as how the artist intended for songs, and Multipoint connection for easy connectivity between devices.
The two headphones also offer better call quality with their beamforming microphones which support Precise Voice Pickup technology and Wind Noise Reduction Structure.
Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 review: Return of the classic
For intermediates and experts
44 years ago, cars were still boxy, the Apple II was just two years into introducing personal computers inside homes, and the word ‘phone’ meant the landline phone inside your house. It was 1979, personal technology wasn’t a thing yet. Until Sony introduced the very first model of the Walkman, the TPS-L2.
More widely recognized in the mainstream now as “Star-Lord’s ancient iPod”, it revolutionized the music industry back then by putting a cassette player in everyone’s pocket, allowing anyone (well, anyone who had the equivalent of US$ 600 at the time) to listen to music anywhere, anytime they wanted.
Fast forward to 2023, we see Sony has updated the Walkman line to fit in with modern standards. The Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 no longer uses an analog Cassette. It’s now a high-fidelity digital music player.
Gone are its plastic and metal body held together by screws, it’s now a glass and metal sandwich like modern smartphones. It has physically changed to the point of being unrecognizable, but the important thing has stayed the same– It’s probably still the most fun music player you can get with your money.
It’s not a phone, it just looks like one
Like its great granddaddy the Walkman TPS-L2, the Walkman NW-ZX707 is built to last. It continues the time-honored traditions of the Walkman line– namely its metal build, external music control buttons on one side, and the audio jack at the top.
But everything else about the build feels like a mix of old smartphone design cues, just updated to 2023. Upon first look, the NW-ZX707 looks like a weirdly small, thick, and heavy smartphone with sharp edges and two headphone jacks in an age where even midrange phones are ditching it.
It’s got a 5-inch 9:16 LCD display with huge bezels straight out of 2017. It’s even got a soft-touch vegan leather back that we haven’t seen in smartphones for years. With that said, ergonomic considerations kind of start and stop with the external music control buttons.
The overall design is boxy, the edges are sharp, the corners are angular, and the screen is flat as they come. Coming in at 157g, it lets you know that it’s in your pocket.
Could’ve used 5G?
In more ways than one, it only looks like a smartphone, but under its metal exterior, the differences are much more obvious. So while it is running near-stock Android 12, you can’t actually use it as a phone, because it doesn’t have a SIM tray (Which I find kind of weird? Like, I think that with high-fidelity music streaming apps available, that would work well with a 5G SIM for on-the-go hi-fi).
While it boasts some of the best audio chips available on any music player today, it doesn’t have a speaker. And while you can expand its 64GB storage with a microSD card, it’s almost exclusively for your music files, because the screen is too small for media viewing and too slow for even light gaming. And there are no cameras on the device.
But it sometimes tries to function like one
The software on the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 is where things start to get dicey for me. While I appreciate that it’s built on top of Android 12, a very secure, stable, and customizable platform, I feel like Sony could’ve customized the software a bit more to streamline the experience.
Take for example the experience immediately after setup. Since the ZX707 is linked as an android device to your Gmail account, and there is no special designation in the Android system that it’s a dedicated music player, it’s inevitably going to receive email and other non-music related notifications.
It can be fine for power users, but I don’t think receiving the same notifications as your phone in the middle of music listening is conducive to the hi-fi Walkman experience. Take it from me, spend that extra 15 minutes of deep-diving into your settings to either log out of your Gmail account or turn off notifications for any non-music-related apps and services.
The tide hasn’t come in yet
Speaking of apps and services, a big miss for the ZX707 here in the Philippines is the lack of support for hi-fi streaming apps like Tidal and Qobuz. They’re just straight-up not available in the country. So, if you’re planning on getting the new Walkman, your best bet in filling it up is either manually ripping your CDs or Purchasing hi-fi master tracks in either FLAC, PCM, or DSD.
The digital does its best to be analog
Pre-installed software is limited mostly to the Sony Walkman music player app and its customization software, which is generally fine since it leaves so much space for all your high-resolution music on the internal 64GB storage. And for the entirety of the Walkman NW-ZX707 experience, this is where you’re going to get the most value out.
The music player is pretty standard fare, save for the fact that it has support for extremely high-resolution audio formats like FLAC, PCM, and DSD– it even has a separate section dedicated to all your high-res files. There is no visualization option, but you do get a little Cassette animation when the device is idling– a nice touch. And if you’re looking to have better synergy between your Sony headphones / IEMs, there’s the Sony Headphones Connect app where you can choose your headphone model from a list, and the app will automatically change its sound signature via profiles to give you the best listening experience.
But in the great chance that you’re not using Sony headphones to plug into the ZX707, you’ve got a great range of sound customization via the Sound Adjustment app. And let me tell you, this customization app is the bee’s knees. It’s got properly staged equalizer settings, giving you control from sub-bass 31Hz frequencies, all the way up to cymbal-rattling 16KHz highs in 0.5db increments. It’s a great EQ fine-tuning utility, and super responsive.
There is also a whole slew of sound improvement utilities built-in with the sound adjustment app. There’s the DSEE Ultimate toggle– It’s a new feature from Sony that apparently increases the dynamic range of sub-hi-fi tracks like MP3 and CD formats using AI technology.
I found it somewhat effective, but not to the MP3 files on the device– it worked better when it was post-up-sampling non-hi-fi streaming apps like Youtube Music and Deezer.
There is also a DSD Remastering feature, which converts all PCM signals to DSD. In theory this should increase the signal resolution of sub-hi-fi recordings like MP3, low-quality FLAC rips, and of course, low-bitrate PCM files, but it should be of little value for audiophiles looking to load up the ZX707 with higher-quality 24-bit 117.6KHz PCM files. Do note that PCM and DSD are both quantized signals, so while they’re some of the most high-resolution signal formats a music player can put out, they are still (losslessly) compressed to some degree.
Lastly, the ZX707 also features sound emulation/simulation features if you ever want to introduce some analog qualities to your hyper-clean modern digital recordings. There is a DC Phase Linearizer which somewhat emulates the natural warmth of an analog amplifier, and a vinyl processor, which simulates the sound signature of hearing your songs through a vinyl record player.
I feel that this is something you might want to turn on based on the kind of files that you’re listening to. There are certain genres that benefit greatly from the warmth and texture of Vinyl simulation like classic rock and electronica. Also, remember to turn this off if your music conversions are from Vinyl like my library. It doubles the Vinyl noise and kind of overdoes the warmth of the track.
Good thing that with all of these settings, there is a toggle for direct output so you can A-B your sound settings really fast anytime.
With a little help from my (Hi-Fi) friends
But enough about all of the intricacies that happen outside of the play button. I called the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 earlier in this article “probably still the most fun music player you can get with your money.”, so that begs the question– how does it sound?
Well, let me get this out of the way for all you audiophiles first: it’s not a ‘flat’ music player. It’s not a reference device, nor does it advertise itself to be one. It’s high-resolution, sure– but it’s not neutral. And that, to me, just sounds like a good time on paper.
In my two weeks with the NW-ZX707 I was able to try it out with three of my most used audio gear:
- For the budget on-the-go side, the KZ x CRN ZEX Pros
- For hi-fi home listening, a modded pair of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros
- On the weird-but-fun side, the Sony MDR-XB700 Extra Bass.
And with that lineup, one might assume that the ZX707 would be picky with showing its audio brilliance– not really. It sounded great on everything.
KZ x CRN ZEX Pros
Pairing the ZX707 with the somewhat-neutral KZ x CRN ZEX Pros brought out a good tandem. The ZX707’s sound signature at stock is somewhat warm with a moderate emphasis on midbass and lower mids. The ZEX Pros are somewhat known to have a fair bit of sibilance, but I’m glad to report that because of the Sony Walkman ZX707’s laid-back presentation, there wasn’t much harshness in the highs. Detail suffered a bit, especially on busier tracks, but that was more of the limitation of the ZEX Pro’s limited drivers than through any other factor. The stand-out track for this setup was Silversun Pickups’ “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”.
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros
The duo of the ZX707 and Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros was probably my most used setup during my review period. They just complement each other very nicely. And since I’ve modded the DT770 Pros to have a 4.4mm Balanced input, I was able to leverage the higher power output capabilities of the Walkman– I paid for the whole 250 Ohms, I’m going to use the whole 250 Ohms.
The DT770 Pros are known for their surgically neutral and flat response with a slight prominence in the low-bass. It’s that kind of sound signature that I found pairs the best with the ZX707, as it will ‘convert’ the headphones from ‘mixing ready’ to ‘party ready’. It’s like having a smoothening filter applied to all frequencies, but it doesn’t reduce any of the texture and detail. For that pairing, I turned on the DSEE, the DC Phase Linearizer, and the Vinyl Processor.
It was able to inject a lot of warmth and texture to my songs– coupled with the very forward vocal presentation of both the ZX707 and the DT770 Pros, vocal-centric music like ballads, soft rock, and even ‘00s rap sounded amazing. There are a few times when the bass would sometimes start getting bloated, but it wasn’t something a few adjustments to the EQ couldn’t handle. The stand-out track for this setup was Barenaked Ladies’ “New Disaster”.
Sony MDR-XB700 Extra Bass
Lastly, we’ve got the crazy pair of Sony MDR-XB700s. The midrange of Sony’s classic Extra Bass line, it’s a deceptive pair of headphones– regular music players can make it sound okay, but only the best music players and amplifiers that have exceptional bass and sub-bass processing can make it sound the way it should. And for the ZX707, it was no problem at all.
Having a big hump of sub-bass all the way up to midbass in the EQ was the only way I can listen to the XB700s. Even at almost maximum volume, there was almost no distortion and no significant dynamics compression. It just powers through the songs cleanly and never lets any of the frequencies stray too far from their comfortable thresholds.
Presentation is always smooth and warm, with a big emphasis on vocal presence, and highs are much more relaxed but with a lot of texture. The highs don’t go too far up so listeners of borderline-sibilant textured tracks might have to EQ their highs in, or you might want to look at other ways to improve the high-frequency response on the ZX707. The stand-out track for this setup was Dutch Uncles’ “Flexxin”.
To round off my playback performance findings on the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707, it was able to sustain two (2) days of almost constant playback before needing a charge. I attribute this to fine volume and power control. The granularity in the volume adjustment is incredibly accurate and is always a requirement for any hi-fi music player.
Is the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 your GadgetMatch?
There’s an air of being carefree with the ZX707– it knows it’s not a reference device, nor does it try to be. It plays on its strengths of being a solid, high-power, high-resolution music player that you can take anywhere and plug anything into, and it’ll just slowly fade into the background. Present enough that you’re going to enjoy your music, but never stepping in to interrupt you from dancing to ‘Come Get Your Love’ on a distant alien planet.
Coming in at around PhP 45,000 or US$ 600, the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 not only invokes memories of the original but also the (frankly) prohibitive price as well. Let me make this clear– this is not an entry-level audiophile PMP, it’s somewhat reserved for intermediates and experts who can leverage its non-neutral presentation to improve their on-the-go listening setups.
But as far as audiophile PMPs go, this is certainly one of the most fun ones I’ve tried so far. Check your gear first– it synergizes well with forward-sounding headphones/earphones with great highs presentation. If you’ve got one, I suggest going for the ZX707. If not, you might have to look somewhere else for your on-the-go hi-fi fix.
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