[Hands-on] Honor Magic 2 can do real-time translations during phone calls
If I were to choose one stand-out feature from the major flagship devices released last month, I would pick Night Sight for the Google Pixel 3, the triple rear-cameras on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC on the LG V40 ThinQ, the in-display fingerprint scanner on the OnePlus 6T, the 120Hz variable refresh rate display on the Razer Phone 2, and the slider cameras on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 and Honor Magic 2 for nearly bezel-less displays. Each of these smartphones also has plenty of other software features that are unique in their own right. The Honor Magic 2’s Yoyo assistant offers a ton of features and integrations, although the majority of Yoyo’s features are geared towards an average Chinese user. One of Yoyo’s features, though, can be used anywhere: two-way, real-time voice translations.
I received the Honor Magic 2 (model number TNY-AL00) for review while at the launch event in Beijing. At the event, Honor demonstrated the in-call translation feature by showing a video of a Chinese woman speaking with the receptionist of a hotel. During the video, the woman’s speech is translated into English by Yoyo and played aloud so the receptionist can hear the words in English, and vice versa. The conversation is short, but the basic message gets across. I was intrigued by the feature because I had never seen a similar feature on another device. I checked with TK’s Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the feature isn’t on that device, so it seems to be a new feature for Honor’s latest flagship. I decided to test the feature myself to see how well it works.
Before I show you a demonstration of this feature, though, let’s talk about how it works. In the dialer app, there’s a setting submenu called “call translate.” You can set the other party’s language and your language here, or you can change this in the middle of a phone call. Honor has a few tips explaining how best to use the feature. First, you should wait for the feature to finish translating whatever speech it has already detected before continuing to speak. Second, you should use the feature someplace quiet so background noise doesn’t get accidentally picked up. Third, you should enunciate your speech so the service can differentiate each of your words. With these limitations, it’s just like any other voice assistant. Sure, it might be able to understand what you’re saying when you speak normally, but you’ll have better results when you take into account that you’re speaking to a robot.
Currently, the service supports 10 languages: English, Arabic, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. The FAQ says that the translation service relies on Microsoft’s servers, which implies that the translation service is using Microsoft Translate. Microsoft has a partnership with Huawei to bring on-device translation support on Huawei’s flagship smartphones, and it seems that the Honor Magic 2’s voice call translation feature takes advantage of that. Unfortunately, there’s apparently a limit to how often you can use the call translator feature. The FAQ warns that there’s a daily time limit, but doesn’t specify how long you can actually use the feature.
To start the feature, you simply tap on the “AI” button in the top right-hand corner while you’re in a phone call. While you’re in a phone call, you have access to shortcuts which mute the call, turn on the speaker, or show a pop-up dialer. You can also toggle whether the translator speaks aloud yours and/or the other party’s translated speech. The UI also shows a scrolling view of your ongoing conversation with the text of yours and the other party’s speech in its original and translated languages.
Honor Magic 2 Call Translator Demonstration
I made a few phone calls to test the feature out. I spoke with the man behind FunkyHuawei.club because he’s fluent in Japanese and speaks conversational Portuguese, but I decided it would be better to demonstrate the feature by trying a two-way translation between English and Spanish. I called Mario Serrafero, XDA’s former Editor-in-Chief, because he’s fluent in Spanish. To make sure that we both spoke clearly, we wrote a short script to follow so we wouldn’t mess up and have to do multiple takes. We wanted to see how well the call translator worked on our first try with the script we wrote by hand because we didn’t want to tailor the script to be more machine friendly. Anyway, here’s the video (skip to 1:37 for the actual call, the beginning is just a quick introduction to the phone.)
The Magic 2’s call translator feature made a good first impression on both myself and Mario. It was able to mostly pick up what each party was saying and translate appropriately, but we did notice a few times where it started translating our speech a bit too early. During a real phone call, this can be problematic because you’ll naturally have more pauses when speaking. It can be a mess when the translator is speaking over the other party because they didn’t wait for it to finish. But, in an ideal scenario, it does work as advertised. FunkyHuawei told me that the service had a hard time translating between English and Japanese (we talked a lot about his dogs), but that the service was still a decent first attempt by Huawei and Honor.
First, there was the Google Pixel 3’s Call Screening feature and now there’s the Honor Magic 2’s two-way voice call translation feature. I believe that phone call assistants are only going to become more popular in the future. Call quality will be a limiting factor for some, but during my brief time testing the feature it seems to pick up speech from both ends of the call quite well.