Digital | ON: TECH

Smart ways to communicate

by Chiho Komoriya

The Babel fish stick

When overseas, trying to speak an unfamiliar language can be a difficult and stressful task, especially if you’re on a vacation and there isn’t enough time to learn useful phrases before heading out. Logbar has a solution that sounds like science fiction — a portable device that translates and repeats speech in another language within less than a second. Named Ili, Logbar’s device won a Good Design Award this year and was so popular it sold out in about an hour when pre-released on Dec. 6.

A stick device that can be stashed in a pocket, the Ili has an extensive library of useful words and its own all-in-one processor, meaning it not only works without Wi-Fi or internet connection, but it can also translate at a speed of 0.2 seconds.

Simply speak into the device and then push a button and it will repeat the phrase in a different language. Japanese can be translated into English, Chinese or Korean, while an English version (currently only available in the U.S.) can translate into Spanish, Chinese or Japanese. Logbar found that one-way translation worked the best, so the input language can’t be changed. The output language, however, can be switched using a button and there are regular downloadable updates adding new languages to the library.

A limited number of pre-sale Ili are available again, priced at ¥19,224 for the Japanese version and $199 for the English version, with full prices (¥21,384 and $249) in effect next year. Though not available yet, there are plans for worldwide shipping for both versions.

Japanese: iamili.com/ja. English: iamili.com

Line introduces its Clova Friends

As Google Home and Amazon Echo fight it out to corner the smart-speaker market, Japanese messaging app Line is determined not to miss out. Unsurprisingly, it’s also joining the race in a very cute way. Line actually released a smart speaker called Clova Wave in October, but now it’s offering a range of Clova Friends, which come in the form of company’s hugely popular messaging sticker characters.

Undoubtably the cutest of smart speakers, there are two Clova Friends: Clova Friends Brown the bear, and Clover Friends Sally the chick. And if that’s not kawaii enough, Line will also start selling outfits for the two in spring.

Like other smart speakers, Clova Friends has its own AI assistant software, which can play tunes via Line Music, read the news and weather forecast, tell your fortune and send and receive Line messages. In late December, it will also support Line’s free voice-call function with more updates, including infrared home-appliance control, in the pipeline. Equipped with a microphone, volume control and Bluetooth pairing buttons to allow it to connect to various gadgets, Clova Friends is priced at ¥8,640. If you order before March 2018, though, you can get it for ¥6,750 bundled with six months free use of Line Music.

clova-blog.line.me/ja/archives/5424631.html

Kumamon’s bear necessity

As using Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in Japan becomes a more popular way to keep mobile-phone bills low, Kumamoto Prefecture has allowed its official mascot, Kumamon the bear, to be the face of a new MVNO and special edition sim-free phone.

Kuma Mobile, which piggybacks off NTT Docomo, started its service in September. Now it has collaborated with French smartphone maker Wiko to create a special-edition sim-free smartphone, emblazoned with Kumamon wearing a French flag scarf. The phone itself, which will be red, like Kumamon’s cheeks, is based on the Wiko Tommy Android smartphone, and a percentage of sales will be donated to earthquake reconstruction projects in Kumamoto.

The phone’s packaging box has been designed to turn the phone into VR goggles, while VR content featuring Kumamoto Castle before it was damaged by earthquakes in 2016 is currently being prepared.

Kuma Mobile have yet to release a price for the smartphone, but it’s expected to be similar to the Tommy and will be released later this month. Keep an eye on the website for more information.

kumamobile.co.jp/news