One alternative is to use computer software to translate documents. This is fine in the office, though for the business person on the move it poses the question of how to get the material into the computer in the first place. The IRISPen Executive Translator tries to solve the problem.
The IRISPen is a small USB scanner that is not much bigger than a Magic Marker. It works by reading text line by line, so it can scan nearly any document regardless of size. Scanned text appears in any word processor or other compatible application.
For the Translator package, IRIS uses @Prompt software. Produced by a Russian developer, @Prompt translates English, Dutch, French, Portu- guese, Spanish and Russian - though like all electronic trans- lation programs it throws up some interpretations that will appeal to those with a schoolboy's sense of humour.
It might not be wise to rely too heavily on all the software's findings, especially with documents where the meaning is critical. But for translating a large block of text, such as a conference paper, into the reader's native tongue, @Prompt works well enough and performs quickly too. Unfortunately, the software supports only one language pair, which you have to pick on first installation. There is no way to change from, say, English-French to English-Russian for a business trip, short of deleting and reinstalling the whole application.
The IRISPen itself takes a bit of practice to use well: obtaining a clean scan means running the device over printed text at a steady speed. For office-based applications, a flatbed scanner will do a quicker, neater job.
While it scores well for portability and could be set up to work in tight spaces such as a library or exhibition booth, the scanner's fairly short USB cable quickly became a nuisance in tests. A Bluetooth rather than a wired connection would be a real advantage here.
But the biggest problem is the clumsy installation process. The software is not "Windows verified" and this seems to upset computers, especially laptops, running Windows XP with Service Pack 2. IRIS's flimsy documentation means that trial and error is the only way to make the whole package work.
The IRISPen Executive Translator is an interesting idea and could find a niche among those, such as students and researchers, who need to digitise and translate text from a range of printed materials. But the limitations of the software and the troublesome installation mean that the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Pros: portable, fast translation.
Cons: one language pair only, messy installation process.
Price: €229 (£155) inc tax.