Android: Google's Goggles app for Android can now translate foreign text that you capture (and crop) with your phone's camera, potentially helping with signage, papers, and other text found while traveling. In a quick test, the results were, well, interesting.
In the update for Android's Goggles app, already in the Market, Goggles gets both new language translation skills and a crop function that makes Goggles a lot easier to use when pinning down something in particular. I lack for foreign-language documents around the house, so I loaded up the web site of Der Spiegel, the one German newspaper I know from memory, and started snapping and cropping.
The lead article in the Der Spiegel news magazine was, of course, about the Greek debt crisis. Using the screenshot I uploaded with Goggles, Google knew the text was in German, and offered a "translate" bar on the results page. It came back with some still-German text, then "A main road in the Plette." By actually typing the line I'd captured into Google, though, I found the actual translation of the cover line, done by humans: "A continent on the way into bankruptcy."
A picture of a laptop screen isn't, in fact, quite the best test case, and slightly metaphorical news cover lines aren't necessarily the best use of a literal translation tool like Google's. So assume that your mileage will vary, but that if you need to know whether a sign says a restaurant is open or closed, you're probably good to go.
Google says at this point that a few languages are covered both ways, and more can be translated to from there:
The first Goggles translation prototype was unveiled earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and could only recognize German text. Today Goggles can read English, French, Italian, German and Spanish and can translate to many more languages. We are hard at work extending our recognition capabilities to other Latin-based languages. Our goal is to eventually read non-Latin languages (such as Chinese, Hindi and Arabic) as well.
The Goggles update is available for Android phones running at least Android 1.6. Tell us what you think of Goggle's new image-based translation tool in the comments.