After 2 years on Google Nexus 5, I figured it was time for an upgrade of my well-worn phone. Shortly after Google announced its new lineup of phones in late September, I preordered a Nexus 6P, Google’s latest flagship phone, built by Huawei.
When it finally arrived mid-November, I was ecstatic to see that Nexus 6P’s OS (Android 6.0 Marshmallow) comes with out-of-the-box support for the Burmese language. Oddly enough, my Nexus 5, also on the same version, doesn’t offer Burmese language support. The Nexus 6P is a great piece of hardware, by the way.
Ad for the HTC Butterfly, the world’s first smartphone with a built-in Burmese keyboard.
While Samsung and HTC have previously built Burmese language support into their skins of the Android UI, it’s quite exciting to see this kind of official support built into Google’s latest flagship devices. This is the latest milestone in Google’s attempt to cater to the Burmese-speaking audience.
I’ve previously written about Google adding built-in Burmese language support into Android 4.4, about the addition of Burmese in Google Translate, and about the rollout of Gmail in Burmese. Burmese is officially the last national language of Southeast Asia to be supported by Android’s stock UI, joining the ranks of Indonesian, Malay, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Khmer and Lao.
After a few weeks of admittedly on-and-off of using Android 6.0 Marshmallow in Burmese, here’s my take: Android in Burmese is definitely usable, but far from perfect:
- You’ll definitely miss out on Android Marshmallow’s newest features, including Now on Tap, as well as access to a more useful Google Now interface (weather, stocks, and search functions become completely useless in Burmese).
- Translations can be incomplete, with one screen perfectly translated, and another set of prompts in English.
- Also, be warned: app support in Burmese is still quite limited, with only a handful of Android and even among Google-built apps currently providing Burmese language support.
- And perhaps the biggest oversight of all: Google provides no native input method for Burmese (unlike other Indic scripts), meaning you’ll need to install a 3rd party app. [UPDATE: Google’s Handwriting app supports Burmese handwriting now, but it’s plagued with some of its own quirks.]
It’s a great step in the right direction. But until Google polishes up the user experience (and translation quality), and more importantly, can provide access to a fully functional Google Now interface in Burmese (or at the minimum, access to the English equivalent), I can’t justify switching over just yet.
Below is one of the biggest reasons. The Google Now interface in Burmese is limited only to one type of the card, the stock card, even when the Google search settings remain in English (meaning useful cards like weather, news, and package tracking, are altogether omitted):
But more importantly, as several readers have pointed out, the greater issue is the divide between Zawgyi and Unicode users, and the momentum needed to get everyone off Zawgyi.
Like I mentioned above, there is no built-in keyboard for inputting Burmese. So any users will have to go out into the wild world of third party Burmese keyboard apps, which come in all shapes and sizes, and differ in terms of development quality, input order, and security. Yikes.
As of December 2015, Google’s Handwriting Input app does have a capability to input Burmese. However, the app can be quite cumbersome to use, because of the space provided (you’re basically limited to typing a few letters at a time) and then making sure the correct selection has been made. I’ve found that the app also has significant difficulty recognizing certain letters, like စ and ဓ:
Use of native numerals
In a very encouraging sign, Android in Burmese uses the native set of Burmese numerals in lieu of Hindu-Arabic numerals!
This usage is fairly consistent throughout apps, and is sometimes even displayed in apps that otherwise are in English, like Instagram:
However, in some Google app screens and prompts that are otherwise in Burmese, the numbers oddly appear in Hindu-Arabic form. For example, the calculator, which really should have 2 display options.
Formal vs. Informal Usage
The Burmese translations are not consistent in word usage, with prompts varying in formality (Burmese has 2 registers, formal and informal, each distinguished by a unique set of grammatical particles and vocabulary. Overall, Android leans toward the formal register in Burmese, with some odd areas where the linguistic choice suddenly becomes colloquial. The selection for Burmese in Settings uses ဗမာ, not မြန်မာ, for one.
Also, there are some strange carryovers and translation omissions throughout the interface. For instance, the ampersand (&) makes its appearance throughout the UI, even though it ought to be replaced with either နှင့် (formal) or နဲ့ (informal). Symbols like the comma and fullstop also need to be replaced by their Burmese equivalents.
Also, a words as basic as “keyboard” is inconsistently called လက်ကွက် (letkwet, native Burmese) and ကီးဘုတ် (kibot, from English keyboard), often on the same screen.
Other words are not even translated into Burmese, even when perfectly fine Burmese equivalents exist. For example, “flashlight” is rendered ဖလက်ရှမီး (English flash + Burmese light), even though the native equivalent, လက်နှိပ်ဓာတ်မီး is universally understood. Also, “battery” is disappointingly called ဘက်ထရီ (from English battery) even though a native equivalent, ဓာတ်ခဲ, exists.
The community that translated Mozilla Firefox into Burmese should be commended. Google would do well and borrow a few translations from them. In lieu of Google’s use of ဆက်တင်များ for “settings,” အပြင်အဆင် makes a great deal more sense.
Incomplete and Inconsistent Translations
Weirdly enough, certain prompts, such as updates, default back to English:
Perhaps the most obvious example of this is when the hover box for the select, copy, paste functions appears:
Also, there is a certain degree of inconsistency when it comes to term usage. For instance, various UI screens spell Bluetooth as ဘလူးတုသ် or ဘလူးတု.
One of the most blatant grammatical syntax issues I’ve spotted so far is the improper order of counter words. Burmese, like most Asian languages, uses counter words to quantify nouns, events and time. In most cases, the counter word follows the number:
However, in Burmese, the standard word order is flipped for round numbers (i.e., numbers ending in -0), the number follows the counter word (with 10 being the only exception to this rule):
This grammatical rule isn’t part of the Android system’s logic, so it’s quite noticeable to me, like the screen below:
Parts of the UI are still laden with incorrectly spelled words and translations that are not encoded in standard Unicode. The most egregious is the spelling of “network” (ကွန်ရက်), which is misspelled as ကွန်ယက် throughout the UI.
Several apps, including Google Maps, have screens that are written in Zawgyi font, so that the text is practically illegible when rendered in Unicode:
The onboarding process was quite painless, I have to say. Google has really streamlined its onboarding process in this latest iteration. A beautiful screen greeted me “Mingalaba” when I switched over to Burmese.
I proceeded set up Wifi, transfer my apps, downloaded a system update, and effortlessly registered my fingerprints using Nexus Imprint. A really convenient way to unlock your phone:
Thereafter, I was whisked to the homescreen, which greeted me with another မင်္ဂလာပါ.
Android’s system font
The system font’s Burmese block also appears to have been modified. The biggest pet peeve I have is how inexplicably squished the Burmese text now appears. (Android 4.4 did not have this issue). The letters all appear to be wider than they ought to be, with letters based on an oval shape, rather than a perfect circle shape.
Oddly enough, some Google apps such as Chrome, don’t have this issue.
Google’s Android App Support for Burmese
Note: This list will be updated as I continue testing the apps.
|News & Weather
သတင်း & မိုးလေဝသ
(Last updated January 18, 2016)