Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review of 10 iPad Dictionary apps

Dictionaries are an excellent resource for solidifying meaning, aiding understanding of texts and sorting out scrabble conflicts. There are plenty of iPad apps with excellent content, many are free. One of the major issues is the interface. Copying text out of some dictionary apps is impossible. Some don't store bookmarks or histories or have a "back" button. Another shortfall is discovery, the lack of serendipity in the app interface which you get when just flicking through the pages of a paper based dictionary. I have performed a small test with a number of dictionary apps, including a range of word look ups and a feature list. There is a reasonable variation among the apps, but fortunately many good ones are actually free.

I have used the paper based Macquarie Dictionary (2nd Ed) for years, however the iOS version is iPhone only and very basic, however the developers have said that an upcoming upgrade will be a universal app. I decided not to test the Oxford, as it was expensive and although tempting, I already had the Australian version which appears to be identical in operation. Note that Collins and the Advanced English apps use the same MSDictViewer engine. Also most pay-for dictionaries often have a cheaper "essential"/"concise" version available. Do you really want to pay for a reduced number of words? Why are you buying a dictionary with some of the words missing?! How are you supposed to read Melville if the dictionary doesn't have "grapnel", "Tophet", "copestone" and so forth.

Words tested: Piccaninny, Load, Tweet, Muggle, Oberon

My paper based Macquarie Dictionary (2nd Ed) has "piccaninny" with three definitions: 1. a Negro or coloured child. 2. an Aboriginal child. 3. A small child. For some reason, piccaninny (also pickaninny) is now considered offensive. So my favourite breakfast dish at Pancake Manor has recently been renamed to "Picadilly Dawn". I was taken aback by the offensive categorisation, so investigating current dictionary definitions was included in this research. Sadly the tested apps came up short compared to the paper based Macquarie definitions. All dictionaries that had the term also noted the word was (possibly) offensive. I assume this is a U.S. issue where any word that contains even a hint of ethnicity is considered offensive. Sadly, even the MacQuarie app did not have definition (3).

I used the number of definitions for the word "Load" to sort the list. "Tweet" was examined for the definition of short message on the Twitter internet service; this is a new word officially added by Oxford ... but oddly not in the Australian Oxford Dictionary. "Muggle" was also used for similar reasons. Finally "Oberon" was examined to see if both the Shakespeare character as well as the satellite of Uranus was listed; the MacQuarie app had only a definition for a town called Oberon, no Shakespeare, no moon; the paper version included a second definition of the name of an Indian actor born in 1911.

The apps usually report number of words stored in the dictionary, but have different ways of measuring this metric which makes comparison invalid. I did include the reported number at the end of the notes section, but this should be seen as a rough guide only.

This blogger's choice

All of the listed dictionary apps fail at some level. Because of this, I would suggest acquiring a couple of the free dictionaries no matter what you end up getting. For a recommendation from the selection below I would suggest the offering from and the free offering from Merriam-Webster, they have a paid version if you don't like the advertisements. I liked the Collins for content. The Australian Oxford kept having temporary freeze sessions, even after rebooting, reinstalling, but otherwise had good content. WordBook XL is for the scrabble/crossword fiend with it's handy solver function.

iPad app nameCostSizeAdvertInclude
Dictionary.comfree50MegYesYes1 def, origin39 defsNoYesYes
Output: Email, facebook, twitterNotes: History, bookmarks, voice input, shake for a word, 2000K
Chambers Dictionary$1025MegYesYesNo36 defsNoNoNo astro
Output: noneNotes: Bookmarks, random word, 260K
Macquarie Complete Australian$3519MegOnlyYes3 defs, origin31 defsNoNoNo
Output: Copy enabledNotes: iPhone app tested, upgrade expected, 210K
Collins English Dictionary Unabridged$3721MegYesYes2 defs, origin28 defsYesNoYes
Output: noneNotes: Bookmarks, History, random word, cross references, 500K
Free Dictionaryfree1MegYesYesNo2 defs, origin27 defsNoYesYes
Output: Copy enabledNotes: Thesaurus, translation, download offline dictionary, bookmarks
Meriam-Websterfree21MegYesYes1 def, origin24 defsNoNoNo astro
Output: noneNotes: Voice search
Australian Oxford$30166MegYesYes2 defs, origin18 defsNoNoYes
Output: noneNotes: History, bookmarks, 170K
Dictionary FreeFree27MegYesYes1 def14 defsNoNoNo
Output: Copy enabledNotes: Link to wikipedia, bookmarks, history, 140K
Dictionary! for iPadfree11MegYesYes1 def14 defsNoNoYes
Output: noneNotes: Links to wiktionary, ugly, 200K
WordBook XL$420MegYes1 def14 defsNoNoYes
Output: EmailNotes: Bookmarks, Notes, Solver (word puzzles), 220K
WordWebfree29MegYesYesNo14 defsYesYesNo astro
Output: noneNotes: Bookmarks, random word, cross references, 285K
Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurusfree22MegYesYesNo12 defsNoNoNo
Output: noneNotes: Bookmark, random word, word of the day, 140K
Oxford English Dictionary$37203MegYes
- not tested -Notes: Similar to Australian Oxford.


Scrabble said...

I like it scrabble app many people enjoy playing scrabble game.
you find easily Scrabble Cheat with here.

Unknown said...

Audionote, the alternative and is very useful for lectures. It records sound as well as being able to both type with the onscreen keyboard and write (with stylus). You can then assign your notes to different parts of the lecture, which you can play back together.
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