Review: Talking Panda iLingo iPod Translation Software

Pros: Excellent concept; good phrase choices; excellent pronunciation; easy installation.

Cons: Apple’s technical limitations prevent a truly elegant solution; installing a new language does not delete previous languages from iTunes automatically.

Review: Talking Panda iLingo iPod Translation Software

When the third-generation iPod was released, the music player evolved into a simple PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), gaining the ability to view text contacts, calendar entries, and notes.  Since then, freeware and shareware developers have worked to utilize the versatility of these features; we have seen software that automatically downloads the daily news and weather, Bible verses, email, driving directions, interactive stories, and more.

Talking Panda’s iLingo “Language Translator for iPod” software takes iPod software to the next level by incorporating audio clips.  Though technically not a program running on the iPod hardware, iLingo certainly is about as close as can technically be achieved with the iPod as it is today.

Clearly intended for travelers, iLingo supplies text and audio translations for approximately 450 fundamental words and phrases for each of eight European and Asian languages.  These languages are available individually for $14.95 each, or in either of the following “Language Packs” for $39.95.

Euro Pack:  French, German, Italian, Spanish

Asia Pack:  Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean

In addition to the above eight English-to-another-language modules, there is also a version of the Euro Pack which uses French as its base language.

How Does it Work?

The concept is simple and clever: iLingo exploits the HTML linking capabilities of the iPod’s “Notes” feature by placing a multi-directory hierarchy of translation categories on your 3G, 4G, photo, or mini iPod.  It works much like the “Artist—> Album—> Song” tree that iPod music fans are intimately familiar with, but is significantly more powerful.  Upon selecting a category and phrase, the final “Notes” page shows a text translation of both the English and translated language, and a “Click to Listen” link appears.  Activate the link, and a clearly enunciated audio clip of the translation is instantly played in the background.

A typical menu navigation diagram is found below, and readers can also try an online Macromedia Flash demo at Talking Panda’s website here.

(Images originally from Talking Panda iLingo online demo website)

We found iLingo’s phrase categories represented a comprehensive set of items a traveler would find useful.  These include:

  • Simple Terms
  • Greetings
  • Getting Around
  • Numbers & Money
  • Mail
  • Phone & Internet
  • Time
  • Hotels
  • Dining
  • Shopping
  • Entertainment
  • Don’t Understand
  • Emergencies
  • Local Lingo

How Well Does it Work?

This question is a bit difficult to answer fairly and completely.  iLingo’s installation is simple, and takes account of oddities in the iTunes installation process, properly managing the entire process of transferring its data into iTunes, and then onto your iPod.  Navigation is easy, pronunciation is clear, and phrase choice is logical.  Translations into languages such as Japanese appear in English, English-readable transliteration (“______ewa doikeba il desuka?”), and Japanese characters, taking advantage of the iPod’s multiple language support.

In our opinion, therefore, Talking Panda’s implementation of the translations and menu navigation system is absolutely as good as it could have been.  Why do we word the previous sentence so carefully?  Technical limitations in Apple’s software have prevented iLingo from truly shining.  Here are a few key examples:

  • Since Apple’s audio-linking feature in Notes requires that the audio files being linked to are in the iPod’s database, each language adds 480 very short audio tracks into your iTunes Music Library.

    On your computer, iTunes can successfully remove these tracks from the play order:  simply uncheck the box to the left of the song titles, and iTunes won’t shuffle to them.  On the iPod, however, there is no such luxury.  “Shuffle Songs” on the iPod’s main menu will fairly frequently play short foreign language phrases, rudely disrupting your groove.

  • Apparently due to a limitation in maximum directory level depth, only one language can be installed on the iPod at a time.  While this may not be a significant hinderance to light travelers, multi-country trips will require the iLingo user to reconnect to a computer and install another language pack between countries.  It should also be added that upon doing so, the old language is not automatically deleted from the iTunes library, though it is nearly trivial to do manually.
  • According to a TalkingPanda FAQ, Apple firmware limitations also prevent iLingo from peacefully coexisting with your existing Notes.  The iLingo installer automatically creates a backup of your Notes folder’s prior contents, but we lament the fact that a better solution is unattainable.

Regardless of these limitations, however, we must emphasize that we still hold iLingo in very high regard.  Talking Panda has done a phenomenal job of taking a limited system and maximizing its usefulness.  We would have no reservation in recommending iLingo to even a one-time international traveler, although we may move to suggest that such light travelers purchase only the language or two they expect they’ll need (at $14.95 each), especially since you can’t load multiple languages at once.

For those interested, the iLingo retail package does not include any printed manuals or supplemental material, but considering iLingo is so easy to use, these are not really necessary anyway.

Therefore, the retail version offers no true advantage over the electronically purchased/downloaded version, save the CD and box you get.

Jerrod H.