Prototype: Cheetah Mobile’s CM Translator review

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With the market for handheld translators booming, Cheetah Mobile’s CM Translator is one of the many contenders for space in your luggage for your next trip overseas.

It’s easy to see the appeal of these devices: they’re lightweight and handy, and you don’t have to bring out your expensive smartphones just for translation. The microphones on these devices are also more sensitive than your smartphone, which means that you don’t have to pass your precious smartphone to someone else for them to speak to it. 

The unit that we reviewed is the international version of the original CM Translator, a top-selling handheld AI translation device in China. Announced at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in early May, the device is expected to ship this month.

CM Translator boasts 180 days of standby time and 24 hours of continuous use per charge. It supports six languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.

At just 45g, the device sits comfortably in the hand, kind of like a longer presentation remote. With a one-button design, the translator is intuitive and easy to use.

Simply launch the CM Translator app (available in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play) and click the button on the translator to pair the device with your smartphone. Once paired, press and hold the button, speak into the device and the translation will play from the device itself. 

From the app, you can adjust the playback volume, check the battery level and change languages. The translations are also stored in the app, so you can replay older conversations.

CM Translator is powered by AI technology from Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services, including machine translation Neural Text-to-Speech capabilities, as well as Automatic Speech Recognition from China’s OrionStar.

The 10-feet voice recording range worked better than expected. Translations of simple sentences were mostly accurate from distances of more than 3m.

Other translations were a mixed bag, though. The translator could not understand contextual information such as coffee orders and street names. On some occasions, speech could not be recognized.

At $129.99, CM Translator is on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Cheetah Mobile says that it will support 28 more languages in the coming months. But it remains to be seen how effective this device will be in the other languages, given the translator’s poor performance in translating context-specific terms and phrases.

CM Translator is available for order on Indiegogo. Cheetah Mobile is currently offering the device at an early bird price of $79.