Smartisan T1

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Video for a new Chinese electronic watch, submitted by Stephen Hart:

From "Apple Watch takes top design industry honors ahead of launch" (3/3/15).

I had to watch the video several times before I could figure out whether the English was translated from the Chinese or the Chinese from the English, because what is said in both languages is as creepy as the voice of the announcer and the musical (?) accompaniment.  It was only after I read the text (I watched the video first before reading the article) that I realized the Chinese was the original version and the English the translation.

At first I thought I'd just present a couple of examples to show how the English translation adopts a very different rhetorical strategy from the Chinese original, but I found the relationship between the Chinese and the English to be so intriguing every step of the way that I ended up transcribing all of the subtitles.  Where the English departs radically from the Chinese, I also give a more literal version in square brackets.

jiǎnyuē 简约 Simplicity
yuán zì yǐncáng de jīngmì 源自隐藏的精密 is hidden complexity ("is derived from hidden complexity")

píngtǎn de běnzhí 平坦的本质 the essence of flat
shì jízhì de qūmiàn 是极致的曲面 is super curved

bùshì gǎn 不适感 Uncomfortable ("discomfort")
dǎozhìle quánxīn de shūshì 导致了全新的舒适 is the new comfortable ("leads to a totally new comfort")

ràng nǐ de zuǒyòu 让你的左右 Right is right ("allowing your left and right")
bùpò chǎnpǐn zuǒyòu 不破产品左右 Left is also right ("not to bankrupt / bring to naught / destroy the left and right of the product")

suǒyǒu de xìjié 所有的细节 No detail ("all the details")
dōu juédìng chéngbài 都决定成败 can be too detailed ("all determine success [or failure]")

Smartisan T1

tiānshēng jiāo'ào 天生骄傲 Born to be proud

Considering what it had to work with, the English translation is not bad.  Overall, it comes off as more effective than the Chinese, which is trying so hard to be recherché that it ends up leaving the viewer bemused and confused.


  1. Yu Ruye said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 10:29 am

    The subtitle actually says 不*被*产品左右, right, which makes more sense… (in Chinese, the English there is bizarre)

  2. Rodger C said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 10:56 am

    Form is not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

  3. Steven Marzuola said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 11:55 am

    Um … it's a smartphone, not a watch.

  4. Aaron Binns said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

    Reminds me of "Zoolander"

    "Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty."

  5. Ethan said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

    Not that it matters, but the video is about an Android (Samsung) phone, not an Apple watch.

  6. Ray Girvan said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

    "He who does not watch his design will never design a watch"
    – as The Sphinx might put it.

  7. John Finkbiner said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 1:16 pm

    For some reason this reminds me of Powerthirst. Same gibberish, different speed?

  8. Forklift Kiralama said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 2:24 pm

    Stylish looks like a phone that I do not understand what happened, but still looks nice brand

  9. Stephen Hart said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

    "Not that it matters, but the video is about an Android (Samsung) phone, not an Apple watch."

    The URL I sent to Victor, which contained the video, was about two items winning design awards: the Apple Watch and the Smartisan T-1, an Android iPhone lookalike.
    I tried sending the link just to to the award page for the Smartisan, but it didn't work.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 2:59 pm

    @Yu Ruye

    You're *right*! Thanks for catching that. Since you say that bù bèi chǎnpǐn zuǒyòu 不被产品左右 "makes more sense…", what does it mean in this context?

  11. Yu Renye said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 4:23 pm

    @Dr Mair- I'd take the second 左右 to mean "control/determine" – "so your immediate surroundings aren't determined by the product?" i.e enable you to control the device instead of you being a slave to the device? It's still mostly over-zealous wordplay that doesn't seem to end up meaning much…

  12. GH said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

    the English there is bizarre

    "Right is right / Left is also right" seems to be a cryptic way of saying that you can use the phone in several alternative orientations, or that it support ambidextrous use. So the right side is correct, and the left side is also correct.

    While that's not a terribly impressive feature, it would at least describe some meaningful element of the product. I'm more dubious about "The essence of flat is super curved" and "Uncomfortable is the new comfortable." Oh, and "Smartisan" is a truly cringeworthy brand name.

  13. Ray Girvan said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

    @GH: "Smartisan" is a truly cringeworthy brand name

    It doesn't help that at least in UK English product name idiom, "-isan" tends to be a suffix indicating sanitary purposes, as in "Lavisan", "Abri-San", "Napisan", "Tidysan" …

  14. Sevly said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

    If the English is more effective than the Chinese, then… well, by the time I got to the "Left is also right", I was certain that I was watching a parody.

  15. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 6:45 pm

    I'm still not convinced that it isn't a parody. (Pause to make sure that sentence contains the correct number of negatives … )

  16. Stephen Hart said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 7:07 pm

    "Oh, and "Smartisan" is a truly cringeworthy brand name."

    Seems like a portmanteau of "smart" and "artisan," but the sound of it has too many negative connotations in English, e.g. "smartypants."

    "If the English is more effective than the Chinese, then… well, by the time I got to the "Left is also right", I was certain that I was watching a parody."

    I thought that too, but the Chinese translation above seems to imply that it means that you can use the phone left handed or right handed, as others have suggested. Other parts of the Chinese translation also make more sense.

    It occurred to me that the English writer may have been playing on the advertising "IS," as in Benedict Cumberbatch IS Sherlock Holmes! (not merely playing Sherlock Holmes).

    What leads me back toward the parody idea is that the whole video, in English, sounds so Orwellian (Orwellioid?), words, voice and music.
    War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength (that last a little slantwise)

    BTW, there are many, many hits on Smartisan T-1, indicating that it's a real phone, but not necessarily that the video isn't a parody. Or maybe it's a real ad using as its angle that it's a parody.

    I couldn't find a version voiced in Chinese.

  17. flow said,

    March 9, 2015 @ 5:57 am

    i wonder why they rendered 简约源自隐藏的精密 as "Simplicity is hidden complexity". 精密 is "precision". As for 简约 (which may also appear in contexts like "preserving / saving resources"), a gimage search: shows that 简约 is a lot about the lack of frills when it comes to design; in fact, 简约 and "simplicity" are gimage-compatible, so it seems a good translation.

    简约—源自隐藏的精密 is literally more like "Simplicity—out of hidden precision". I guess someone felt that doing a more straightforward juxtaposition of terms was called for. Then again, it would seem the English text misses an opportunity to bring a good point to the fore, "precision"—we don't want "complexity", not even "hidden complexity", and saying that a product's simplicity comes from its "hidden complexity" doesn't sound very reassuring. "The safety of the car is achieved by hiding the hazards"?

  18. GH said,

    March 9, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

    Enough of the logic makes sense to a tech person that I'm inclined to believe it's real. For example, "simplicity is hidden complexity" is absolutely true. Getting a computing device to appear simple (as in all those Apple ads that show tasks being performed by a single flick) is horrendously complex. And as for cars… well, that's where we get the expression that some things happen "under the hood": hiding all that stuff during everyday use is key to good design.

    My opinion of "Smartisan" may also be colored by once having worked on a project called "Smartifacts" (a name which now seems to be used by several different companies and products).

  19. Sevly said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 12:07 am

    @Steven Hart – "the whole video, in English, sounds so Orwellian"

    Yes! I think that's exactly it.

    "Uncomfortable is the new comfortable" has that "(negative) is (positive)" structure that evokes the infamous motto. Then, once primed, "Left is also right" comes across as "2 + 2 = 5". The contradictory lines, the voice, the music – you can almost see Big Brother watching from above as the banners screaming "Buy This" unfold beneath him. From there comes the notion of a parody that mocks the melodramatic and groupthink elements of other similar advertisements.

    Indeed, I'm somewhat saddened that the Chinese refutes this. It would actually be quite clever.

    @GH @flow

    Yeah, as another fellow from the tech field, "Simplicity is hidden complexity" is the one line that actually works for me. It reminds me of an anecdote from The Grumpy Programmer: his son asks him what he did that day and he says, "I wrote the code so that when you press a key, a letter appears on the screen." "Ha ha," his son says. "No, Daddy, it just does that!" Hidden complexity indeed.

  20. Brendan said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 9:54 am

    Smartisan is Luo Yonghao's company. Lao Luo is something of an internet personality in China: he became famous when one of the students in his English class at New Oriental recorded his bombastic lectures, then (after parting ways with New Oriental) parlayed that into a popular blog. That blog became the genesis of 牛博 ("Bullog"), a blogging platform that for a while hosted some of China's hipper bloggers, including Lao Luo, Chai Jing, and Fang Zhouzi. When it became necessary to move Bullog to overseas servers, and to come up with a censored version for Mainland consumption, Lao Luo called the new site 閹牛 — "Bullock." (This was all circa 2006/7 – 2009-ish; the sites are now defunct.)

    Point being, anyway, that Lao Luo is linguistically much hipper than average, especially when it comes to bilingual puns. "Right is right / Left is also right" is a departure from the original, and I don't think it quite succeeds, but the original (which I read as meaning something along the lines of "You control the phone / the phone doesn't control you") isn't really a problem. Overall, the style of the writing here seems to be pretty heavily informed by both the English and Chinese versions of Apple-style prose.

    I haven't asked Lao Luo whether or not the Chinese name of Smartisan ("锤子") is intended to be a naughty pun, but I'm assuming it is.

  21. Brendan said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 10:09 am

    Looking at the English product spec page, the "right / left" thing appears to be in reference to the fact that the phone is designed to be easily usable by left-handed and right-handed users — which I think actually makes the English more transparent here than the Chinese.

  22. Stephen Hart said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 11:05 am

    Right is right / Left is also right

    This could be seen as a play on two meanings of "right," a side and correct or OK.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    March 10, 2015 @ 11:14 am

    Now that Brendan has revealed the identity of the Smartisan CEO, Luo Yonghao, it has given me the chance to look around a bit and find out what sort of person he is. Lao Luo seems to be a force of nature, full of energy like that other famous Chinese entrepreneurial English teacher, Li Yang, but far more benign.

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