Everyone of a certain age remembers those old-school monochrome electronic organisers from the likes of Casio, ususally featuring day to day essentials such as a calculator, address book and calendar. They never really took off in a major way, and are now all but obsolete thanks to the fact that mobile phones can do all of this and more.
However, Seiko, one of the main perpetrators of such products and now the UK distributor for Franklin, still provides a range of electronic organiser type devices that offer more specific functionality. One of them is the TGA-490, otherwise known as the 12-Language Speaking Global Translator, designed to get you out of a bind on your travels or help with home learning.
The device offers an impressive range of support, with translation to and from Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. It sports a pretty tidy black design with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard reminiscent of modern mobile phones, but sadly has the same old monochrome screen that you often need to tilt at an angle to make out text; the type that we became familiar with in the eighties (don’t be fooled by the apparent clarity of the text in the product photo).
This is our first bugbear with the device, and considering the developments we’ve seen over the last ten years in OLED and LCD technology we’d expect it to offer something a little more user-friendly. Regardless, we ploughed on through the admittedly wide selection of tools and features to see how useful it could potentially be.
In terms of the main language translation tools, you’ll find dedicated keys either side of the main display to select a target and destination language, select ‘keywords’, where you can type specific words yourself, or ‘phrases’, where you can choose from a list of common expressions.
The process works quite well; the keyboard and function keys are quite responsive and the device is innovative enough to suggest alternate forms for verbs and possible matches if you misspell. Once you’ve correctly entered a word you can return the results on-screen or have the device speak them to you in either tongue.
In terms of phrases, you unfortunately can’t enter combinations of words or phrases of your own, instead choosing from a categorised list that includes ‘Conversing’, ‘Dining’ and ‘Emergencies’. There are quite a few to choose from, though, and these can be read back to you in the same way as individual words to help you master pronunciation.
In addition to language tools you’ll find a range of extras that include a clock and alarm, voice memo recorder, calculator and currency/unit converter, MP3 player and a selection of games. There’s only 86MB of free storage space on the device for your music so you won’t fit a lot on there, and the only game worthy of a mention is a ‘quiz’ which can test your knowledge of a specific foreign language.
You’ll also find a contacts list, though it’ll need to be populated manually so you won’t be able to autosync it with Outlook, for example.
We weren’t particularly impressed by Franklin’s TGA-490 initially, and although it did grow on us to an extent, the fact that you can’t enter your own phrases does seem like a large drawback. When you consider that you can buy language translation software for PDAs and mobile phones quite cheaply, it does seem like an unnecessary expense to shell out this much for an all-in-one solution.
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