By seamlessly translating spoken audio into another language in near real-time, Google's Translate app for the iPhone comes close to giving you a pocket-sized universal translation device. And it's free.
Like any good universal translator, the Google Translate app accepts voice input in 15 different languages. This means that you can push a button and talk to the phone, and it can understand what you're saying. As long as you speak clearly, it does a pretty good job, too. This works in English, but it also works in Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and Norwegian, to name just a few languages.
After the app listens to you speak, it pipes the message off to a Google server somewhere, and sends back a translation in a language of your choice in the blink of an eye. If that language is one of the 23 currently supported with voice output, the phone will speak the translation out loud in a sexy artificial voice. Otherwise, it'll translate into text for over 50 languages. The upshot of all this is that with the app, you're able to carry on an actual conversation in a language that you don't know, albeit slowly, by having the phone translate and speak for each person.
As great at this sounds (and personally, I was pretty impressed when I tried it out on my iPhone), the Android version of the app is apparently even better. It comes with a 'conversation mode,' where the spoken translation happens in real-time, which is pretty damn close to a Star Trek-style universal translator thing.
Of course, more or less all of this sweet functionality depends on you having a data connection, which is is either impossible to get or really freakin' expensive overseas, where something like a translation might actually come in handy. Alternatively, you can always just go back to doing things the old-fashioned way by actually, you know, making an effort to learn a little bit of the language and immerse yourself in the culture and stuff. Even so, when you're an hour late for your flight home and you need to tell your Arab cabbie to ignore all local traffic laws and you need to know whether he accepts American traveler's checks, you'll be glad you have your iPhone handy.
Via Google Blog