Naver Translator app "Papago" (네이버 파파고) screenshots and review

Naver has released their own real-time Korean translation app "papago", which is visually similar to Google Translate but has better Korean visual recognition. This will be very handy for tourists visiting Korea, or even newbie English teachers who can't figure out how to turn on their hot water.

The app currently translates between Korean and Japanese, Chinese, and English. Update: the list of available languages is now much larger and includes Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, and Hindi.

I've got to say, I have been impressed after using it for a few days. It is very minimalist, simplistic, includes full English menus, and is lightweight and responsive.

If you're one of those "Naver sucks" types, give this app a chance for yourself. It really won me over. Let's take a look.

Naver papago (네이버 파파고)

Update June 2019: 
Added the new honorifics feature to the list below.

Naver Papago official features post

Let's start with the official features. I was reading through a Naver Post about the app, and thought the information there might be good for everybody. So I'll run through the features that that post highlights real quick.

1:1 Conversation Mode

Split the screen for a conversation mode where each person can take turns talking and it will translate their speech on the fly. Google Translate also has this feature.

Image Translation (OCR)

Take a photo and papago can pull out the text (after you highlight it with your finger) and translate it. Google has this feature too, but it's pretty terrible at recognizing Korean text. papago works much better at this. Scroll way down for a real life example I did.

Word Sense Disambiguation

This is pretty cool. To help prevent mis-translations, it will ask you to verify certain words that might have more than one meaning. For example, in the picture below, the Korean word 차 was interpreted as "car" but it could also mean "tea."

If a word could have multiple translations, the word will appear underlined and green in the resulting translation. Click it and pictures of the possible meanings will come up. Very handy if you have no idea what the person is saying and they could see the images and tap correctly for you.

Update: This feature seems to have been removed and replaced with a list of dictionary definitions for translated words, leaving it more up to you to decide which meaning is correct.

Currency conversion

If your translation result includes a price, it too will appear green and underlined. Click it to get that amount converted, with the current rates from KEB Hana Bank.

Phrase Book

The app comes with a built-in phrase book, with a wide variety of important and useful set phrases. Choose from catagories like shopping, food, buses, etc. These are built into the app, so they do not require a data connection and work fine offline.

Favorites and Hashtags

Like with Google Translate, you can add your own specific things to the Phrase Book. Sort of. You can "star" specific translations to add them to your favorites list. Then if you want to get intense, you can then go to your Favorites List (located under the "History" menu for some reason) and assign hashtags (up to 3) to each Favorite. This will collect the favorites into groups under those Hashtags. So for example you could add hashtag #triptoUSA to the translation for "Please, don't shoot!" or #bestblogs to "I love 10원Tips" etc.


I was impressed with the quality of this feature. Just as it says, you push, you talk, it translates in real time as you speak, updating and correcting the translation while you talk.

Honorifics (new from Jan 2019)

A new highly-requested feature was added in January 2019: honorifics. This is a small toggle switch that lets you choose the level of formality in the resulting Korean translation.

One problem before this was that online translators would often translate into Korean in informal or low-level speech, meaning people who tried to speak or display the resulting translation might come across as rude even if they had no intention of that. Papago handles this with a toggle that lets you switch between a basic or informal form, and a higher or more polite form as you can see in the screenshot.

For example, I wrote in English:
Hi, I'm Sam. It's so hot today.

And the resulting two types of translations came out as follows:
  • 안녕, 난 샘이야. 오늘 너무 덥다. (1st sentence in informal "banmal" speech, 2nd in base form.)
  • 안녕하세요, 저는 샘입니다. 오늘 너무 더워요. (1st sentence in formal speech, 2nd in polite speech).

My own comparisons of "Papago"

That was all official stuff. Now I'll add some of my own details to fill in the blanks.

Basic translating 

Overall, not bad when it comes to basic translating. See for yourself how it compares with Google Translator in a quick test:

Translation in Naver papago

Translation in Google Translate

I have to give this point to Google, for two reasons:
  • Papago suddenly went from formal to very informal speech. Why? Google played it safe and stuck with polite speech the whole way.
  • "Thanks for visiting" makes much more sense in Google's translation than Papago's. 

Camera OCR translations

To test the image translation feature I wrote out by hand 안녕하세요 샘입니다 오늘 날씨가 너무 더워요 (Hello, this is Sam. Today's weather is too hot) on a piece of paper and used the camera functions of both apps.

Please ignore my terrible handwriting; I was trying to awkwardly write on a small whiteboard with my left hand while holding the phone in my right hand. Don't ask me why I didn't just write first and then take a picture. No time for that!

Papago's visual translation

Google's visual translation

Again, ignoring the crappy handwriting, Papago seems to have identified it more clearly.

Other screenshots

Papago menu

Papago settings menu

Papago's Android app permissions page

Final Thoughts

I was impressed by the quality of the app and its easy simplicity. Anybody can use it, no matter how limited your Korean. It can be a real competitor to Google.

I'm glad Naver has been moving in this English-friendly direction lately with Line, Band, and V app, for example. Like I've always said, I think Naver's only real handicap in competing against Google is its Korean-language exclusivity, which it's slowly working on eroding.

By the way, it's called "Papago" because that apparently is the word for "parrot" (a creature that talks and repeats, get it?) in Esperanto.

Update: A Reddit user points out that the name "Papago" bears a similarity to AlphaGo, the AI from Google that dominated Korea's Go champion Lee Sedol. I wonder if the team behind Papago, with its emphasis on AI language translation, had that in mind.

Read more about it here in Korean:
한영일중 통역이 필요한 순간! 네이버 파파고(papago) : 네이버 포스트
or here in English:
Naver launches new translation app Papago [Korea Herald]

Download papago


Bushido said…
Thank you for these reviews in English.
I like that you describe every move and a new thing that pops-up, so not giving a impression that the reader should already know it.
Sam Nordberg said…
Thanks for the comment. I'm glad the post helped.