Word Lens for iPhone review

If you're traveling to foreign countries and you aren't 100% familiar with that language, reading traffic, public transit, and wayfinding signs can be a task. Looking them up in a translation app or in a physical guide can be daunting and slow you down. Word Lens for iPhone can solve this problem by allowing you to use the camera in your iPhone to take photos of signs. It will then translate them in real time.

Word Lens for iPhone currently supports a few different languages including French, Italian, Spanish, and German. It will translate these languages into English or reverse common English to these languages. Even though Word Lens offers support for these languages, you'll need to purchase each as a separate pack. While it's free to download World Lens for iPhone, you'll be given a demo mode to try out that will only reverse and erase words. Each language pack will run $4.99.

Once you've purchased the language packs that you want, you can simply tap the top menu bar in picture mode to toggle between modes. Then just point your iPhone camera at any sign you'd like to translate. You'll notice that you can pause the camera to get a better look but World Lens can also translate signs live. If you focus on a sign you'll notice that the words will begin to translate to English without even having to snap an actual photo.

You can also tap on words to view more information on them. They should be highlighted in blue after tapping pause if that word has been translated for you. If you're in a dark environment, you can tap the flash button to enable your iPhone camera flash to stay on so it will illuminate any signs that Word Lens may have trouble reading due to inadequate lighting conditions.

The good

  • Live translate makes it quick and easy to translate wayfinding and transit signs on the go
  • For the most part, translations are pretty accurate
  • Flash toggle helps to capture signs at night quickly as well
  • Much easier than looking up words in an app like Google Translate
  • No need to be connected to the internet in order to translate

The bad

  • Not very many languages supported
  • The interface is confusing and could be laid out much better
  • Language packs are a little steep in price compared to other translation apps
  • Sometimes definitions don't always seem to be right for words that you tap on

The bottom line

There are literally tons of translation apps available in the App Store for iPhone but Word Lens is unique since it lets you translate live with no work on your part. While the interface could use some major work and the addition of more language packs would be welcome, no one can argue the convenience. Since World Lens doesn't require data use in order to translate once your language packs are added and installed, there's no need to worry about roaming fees.

We'd also like to see a way to store photos that you snap of signs for later reference but as it sits, it's still an excellent app to have while traveling abroad.

  • Free (language packs require in-app purchase) - Download Now (opens in new tab)
Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • I guess the best way to "save for later" is a screenshot, but still pretty cool. I've been "stalking" this app, despite having no need for it.
  • same here.....this a cool app....my girlfriends boss just went to Italy he could have used this
  • "Not very many languages supported yet" I would remove the word 'yet'. This app has been out since December of 2010 and still only has four languages that it supports. That said, the app is amazing when it works. It's like magic. Worth at least trying the demo.
  • Ah, good catch, i'll edit that. And yeah, it's pretty awesome but more language support would be awesome.
  • The name of this app is Word Lens
  • Please fix this typo Allyson, I searched for the app earlier and couldn't find it because of the incorrect name. Thanks
  • While the name may be wrong the download link is at bottom of article like always in an app related post.
  • True, but I was reading the article on my mac, and typed the app name into the search field on my iOS device, rather than following the link. It is still worth correcting
  • A nice app to have, though for people like musicians who travel the world, a few more than 4 languages needs to be supported. But again, other than that, a nice app worth looking into.
  • I tried this app a while back. didn't support Brazilian Portuguese well and couldn't read words off a monitor which is where i really needed it. luckily now i have google translate in chrome but it's doesn't really do well with all the nuance of Brazilian Portuguese slang.
  • Wow! This is cool. I have been to countries and always wonder what the signs were saying, now there is an app for that.
  • If only I travelled... But for now, Google Translate does best for me! :)
  • This is great for traveling countries. I'll be visiting Germany in a few months and this app will completely save me. Otherwise, I'm sure I'll do something stupid and park my car beyond hours allowed because I couldn't read the parking sign.
  • This is a really useful app. I use it a lot in my french class.