February 27, 2021

App Smart: Reference Apps for the Budding Know-It-All

Software developers have not found a way to load an entire reference library onto your phone or tablet, and, alas, the O.E.D. doesn’t exist for mobile users. But you can get by with Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2011 ($20 on Android and Apple), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary ($25 on Apple and Android) and The World by National Geographic ($4 for the iPad).

Penny pinchers can also do nicely, with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (free on Android and Apple), WikiMobile Encyclopedia (free on Android) or Wikipedia Mobile (free on Apple) and Google Earth (free on Android and Apple). But these apps aren’t as good as my top three.

First, though, why would anyone need an app when nearly every bit of reference material is already available from a mobile browser? Two reasons: Money and beauty.

If you tend to rely heavily on reference materials for work or school, and you frequently drift outside of free Wi-Fi zones, you can consume a fair amount of data with your browser. And with unlimited data plans quickly disappearing, mobile data charges can be costly.

Meanwhile, few mobile Web sites are as user friendly as an app, even when they’re from the same publisher. The better apps also keep some or all of the data on your phone or tablet, avoiding data charges, and they’re formatted to take advantage of your device’s dimensions and technology.

No device proves the point as nicely as the iPad. My favorite new reference app is the World, which is like Google Earth, only better. For the money, the World offers huge value, and the experience is miles apart from what you would find on the Web.

The World greets you with a globe that spins at your touch. Unlike a physical globe, though, the World changes its skin easily. Tap a button and you switch from the “Terrain” maps view to the traditional “Reference” view.

With both, you can pinch and zoom around the globe with impressive speed and beautifully clear graphics. Only when you zoom in on a region of the United States, for instance, does the app briefly pause to retrieve data. You could zoom to a roadmap view, if needed, or the icy hills of the Arctic.

A third viewing option, “Ocean,” is even cooler. It shows the terrain of the ocean floor in remarkable detail, down to the contours of the Atlantic shelf as it rises toward dry land.

There are no iPhone or Android versions of the World, but World Atlas by National Geographic($2 on iPhone) is a good, albeit less fully featured, alternative.

Because of its price, the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia is less of an obvious purchase. For me, though, it’s worth having an authoritative source to backstop Wikipedia’s occasionally specious entries.

Britannica Concise has just 25,000 articles, compared with the print version’s roughly 65,000 articles.

For example, Bruce Springsteen is covered in Concise, but the E Street Band is not. Joe Namath makes the cut, but not Michael Vick. Likewise, Hillary Clinton is covered, but not Newt Gingrich.

Those who enjoy randomly discovering encyclopedia entries will like the “On This Day” feature, which lists articles with a connection to a given date. (Sept. 1 has 35 entries.) It’s a nice entry point for encyclopedia surfing.

Still, the app can be frustrating. I typed “Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” “Roosevelt” and “Eleanor Roosevelt,” and the search came up empty. Only by typing “Franklin D Roosevelt” and “Eleanor (Anna) Roosevelt,” or reading the links on World War II entries, did I find the Roosevelts.

Despite such shortcomings, I found Britannica Concise useful and reliable.

Its publisher, Paragon Software, also offers several Merriam-Webster editions. The Third International Dictionary, Unabridged version is comprehensive, with 257,000 definitions. It costs $100 on Apple and $60 on Android. The Collegiate Dictionary has 225,000 definitions.

The free version has the same definitions, and, oddly, it includes features lacking in the paid versions.

Look up “lodestar” in the free version, for instance, and you can find an audio pronunciation as well as usage examples, synonyms and the year the word first appeared. All of these features are missing in the Unabridged and Collegiate versions.

The free version includes advertising, but I found the ads unobtrusive and a small price to pay for the app’s utility.

The paid versions do, however, include a few exclusive benefits not available to users of the free app. If you misspell a word, the paid versions will suggest words with similar spellings. And if you know only the incorrect spelling, you can replace dubious letters with question marks, and the app will retrieve the correct word.

Most important, the paid versions work without a network connection, while the free version does not.

It makes sense to download the free and paid versions so you have options. While you’re at it, download Google Earth and the free Wikipedia-related apps. These are less polished than my top three, but are still good.

Google Earth is actually better than good. The company adds new features steadily, and close-up views of notable landmarks and landscapes are fascinating.

When it comes to stocking your virtual bookshelves with reference materials, more is better.

Quick Calls

The Polyphonic Spree’s new song, “Bullseye,” now appears as an interactive, animated video for iPads and iPhones ($2). The app is from the developer of the great Morris Lessmore iPad book. … Cookbook collectors should consider DK Publishing’s Quick Cook ($6, on iPad). It includes more than 500 illustrated recipes.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2bcb2ba33012e86306e5510ac060fbca

Speak Your Mind