Word Lens is an impressive app - recently bought by Google - which (almost) instantly translates printed words with your iOS/ Android device's camera.

We're not just talking about grabbing an image and displaying an OCR translation elsewhere, either. Word Lens actually replaces the words in the picture with their translated version, so all you notice is that the menu (or notice/ sign/ invoice/ whatever) has suddenly become readable.

There's support for translating French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, both to English and back again.

The language packs used to be priced individually, but following Google's aquisition of the company, they're now free. For the moment, anyway.

Does Word Lens work? It's certainly very easy to use. Choose your required translation (Russian > English, English > French), then just point your camera at the printed text in question, hold it very steady, and the image should update in a fraction of a second.

We found the translation quality to be variable: sometimes excellent, sometimes more dubious. The developers say "it's not perfect, but you can get the general meaning", and that's a fair summary.

Word Lens does seem very sensitive to camera movement, and that can be an issue. If there's the slightest tremor then the translation may change, annoying if you've something lengthy to read.

There were some oddities, too, such as the program translating a green button on our PC screen into various words, even though it contained no text at all.

Considering what it's trying to do, though, Word Lens mostly performs very well, and we can't wait to see what Google will do with it.

Verdict

Point and read: this is about as easy as translation apps get. Word Lens doesn't always deliver the best results - and we're sure it could be made a little less sensitive to movement - but you'll have the general meaning of the text almost instantly, and that's good enough for us.