I tested the $700 AI gadget that can translate 40 languages in real time – here's my buying advice

Timekettle X1 AI Interpreter Hub

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • The Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub is a translation device available for $700.
  • The X1 Interpreter Hub has a screen and earbuds that charge when stored inside the device. Thanks to AI, it’s very effective at translating and has different modes for one or two wearers per device. 
  • Though generally effective, the Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub requires users to speak clearly near the device and it isn’t very accurate when people speak too fast. We also can’t look past the steep $700 price tag.

As a fan and proponent of artificial intelligence (AI) tools, I jump at the chance to test new, innovative applications of the technology.

That’s why I decided to try out the Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub — especially as a bilingual person.

The Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub looks sleek and feels futuristic. It’s packaged beautifully: The box contains a Timekettle (which does the translating for you), two earbuds that are stored and charged inside of the Timekettle, ear hooks and tips for the earbuds, a USB-C charging cable, and instructions.

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After a good charge, I turned on the Timekettle for initial testing. This is a standalone device, meaning you can translate sounds around you, like another person talking or a movie on the TV, provided it’s loud enough. However, it can also handle two-way translation when each person wears an earbud. This lets you speak to a person in one language and have them hear the translation in their preferred language in their earbud and vice versa.

Furthermore, several Timekettle users can hold multilingual meetings and have up to 20 people speaking up to five languages in one place, provided each person has their own device. 

Timekettle X1 AI Interpreter Hub

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The Timekettle also allows remote voice calls between two devices, as long as each is connected to Wi-Fi at the time. During these calls, each user can speak their own language and have the devices translate for the listener.

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I tested these functionalities and found that the Timekettle was equally effective in each instance. That is to say, it was mostly accurate, but still made mistakes, regardless of the conversation method. 

As a member of a bilingual family, I tested the Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub with my husband. We used English and Spanish one-on-one, with each of us wearing an earbud. I also tested listen-and-play mode in different languages, where one user wears both earbuds, and the device listens. Finally, I tested ask-and-go mode, which lets you speak into the Timekettle, and it displays the translation.

Timekettle X1 AI Interpreter Hub

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

My intermediate proficiency in French helped me test the Timekettle in that language. Still, I used the listen-and-play mode with Korean, German, French, Spanish, and Russian with Netflix media, using subtitles to confirm the accuracy of what was generally meant. 

The Timekettle X1 was accurate when using deliberately clear speech, but accuracy diminished when people spoke too fast or used regional vernacular. When online, the device can understand 93 accents in the 40 languages in its repertoire. Offline, the X1 offers 13 language pairs. The inaccurate translations were still generally understandable most of the time — though not always.

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I liked that the Timekettle has a clear LCD screen that displays translated text for visual confirmation, which is available in different modes. The display makes navigating and choosing the preferred translation mode easy and lets you keep track of the conversation. The visual clarity also helps with language practice, which brings me to my next point.

Timekettle X1 AI Interpreter Hub

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Aside from being a great tool for conference rooms, business conversations, international travel, and remote calls, the Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub can also be highly useful for learning pronunciation in different languages. If you’re interested in learning a new language, a device like this can greatly aid in learning how to pronounce or word a phrase correctly.

ZDNET’s buying advice

Timekettle X1 AI Interpreter Hub

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Is the Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub worth its $700 price tag? Although it’s a standalone device that can be a great tool for translation, the X1, in my opinion, is priced too high for the functionality it offers. I find it makes mistakes too often to justify such a steep price. It does include earbuds and packs high-end technology that is powered by AI, so it’s a definite step up from other options on the market priced between $100-150.

Though the earbuds are included, the device is incompatible with any other earbuds or headphones. You can’t use the Timekettle with your AirPods or over-the-ear headphones, so at least it’s a good thing that the included earbuds are comfortable. But that also means you’re out of luck if you lose the Timekettle earbuds.

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The Timekettle X1 Interpreter Hub works very well, with only minor errors, and is useful for translating in business and personal settings. It’s simply priced too high for my comfort, especially when other options, like Google Translate, exist for free. However, I could see a professional interpreter appreciating this tool in their arsenal — or a well-heeled global traveler seeking a portable but reliable translation solution.

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