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There are almost as many Wikipedia-based apps as there are articles in Wikipedia. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but there are tons of apps that help put everyone's favorite online source of data in your pocket. While you could read Wikipedia’s article on apps, we think our article is much better [need citation].
Articles is a pretty skin for Wikipedia whether in its iPhone or iPad version. Sophiestication Software has chosen a pleasing design for replicating articles. Everything is laid out like a very well designed one-columned magazine with light sepia toning to the page.
A very nice looking layout wins you lots of points with Steve
Navigation buttons as discrete as Safari’s, running across the top on the iPad and bottom on the iPhone. That's not the only place it resembles mobile Safari, as multiple pages can be loaded and accessed very similarly to the iPhone’s “tabs.” Next to that, a familiar bookmark button allows you see a list of saved entries, to access articles about where you currently are, and a Surprise Me! feature which delivers a random page.
Tabs like Safari on the iPhone
On the iPad, a search bar takes up the bulk of the top navigation, then a Table of Contents button. A globe next to that will let you see alternate language versions of the same subject (though articles in other languages will often have different amounts of information). On the iPhone, tap and hold a button to edit which ones are available. A similar tap and hold feature on links in articles sends them a Read Later list for future consultation.
Let's read this article on Dickens later, okay?
We stacked Articles, as page skinner, up against Safari's Reader feature and found the app won the contest for reading pleasure hands down. The features the apps sports are useful, but for reading it's definitely an improvement on Wikipedia's bare bones presentation.
When you open Cooliris, Inc.'s Discover, it pulls up the featured article of the day just like the full site does. This is presented as a magazine cover. Flick the screen to the left to see Wikipedia's Photo of the day. Open the app in landscape and you get the story of the day plus a few random articles. Shake your iPad to get a new randomized cover.
Encyclopedia Britannica won't touch the things Wikipedia will
Tap the cover to open the article and the article is laid out like a magazine. Drag to the left to go forward, to the right to go back a page. In portrait, this fills the screen. In landscape, a third of the page on the right has related entries. Articles always open to the first page of text but if you swipe to the right, you'll find Wikipedia's information boxes such as location, map photos, biographical data points, etc. Pinch in to see the table of contents for the article. Tap and hold on a word or phrase, and Discover will give you a thumbnail sketch of a Wikipedia article for that selection.
That's certainly helpful for discovering things
Swipe up to see your browsing history and swipe down to bring up a search bar. After you type your search term, possible choices appear below. You can't bookmark pages, but articles you've loaded and cover stories and pictures stay in the app's memory to be read later offline (we could access article's over a week old).
Our list of recently viewed stays in memory, then we open the article to read
If the appearance of the page is your most important feature, then you're unlikely to find a much more consistently enjoyable reader of Wikipedia than Discover. There aren't quite the same full range of features that you'll find in other apps, but every article is at your fingertips.
Robert Chin has long had the gold standard of Wikipedia apps in his Wikipanion series (including free versions with fewer features). Not just a reskinner like some apps, Wikipanion seeks to make the site more accessible and user friendly. To this end, pages load fairly similar in appearance to the Safari version (the iPhone app bumped font size up a notch) while the iPad version presents the pages minus the distracting sidebars the browser version sports.
Content both better and worse laid out in Wikipanion
In portrait, on the iPad, you get nothing but article, with navigation buttons across the top (these buttons appear in the bottom of the iPhone version). Turn your iPad to landscape though, and Wikipanion uses a third of the screen in a gray navigation scheme. The four buttons on this side panel allow you to see the table of content for the article, related articles (as well as a GeoName location-based search), a list of saved pages to read offline later, and Queues.
Save this stuff to read later, including offline in their entirety
Similar to what we saw in Articles, tap and hold a link to send it to your Queue. This is a quick bookmarking set up and it also allows you to save these articles in their entirety so you can read them later offline. Hold on a non-link word and you can either use the iPhone’s native dictionary or pull up a definition through Wiktionary.
Table of contents and related articles are just a tap away
This Queue feature is really only the major distinction between the free versions of the app and the paid ones. If you find yourself reading a great deal on Wikipedia and you wish to limit your 3G data usage or your iPad is WiFi only, the $4.99 investment could end up saving you cash.
A confession: we only tried the free version of this app. Neither of our devices were up for the challenge of the full version of Wiki Offline. This would require a download of 3GB to our devices and both were already pushing maximum density. If you're operating an 8GB iPhone, you're going to really, really, really need a device dedicated to just being your Wikipedia device, as the app's download of the entire contents will kill nearly half your device's space. Were we running a 64GB iPad 2, we'd still have to really, really want all of Wikipedia before opting for this route.
Really? Steve Jobs isn't in your top 1,000?
That said, if Avocado Hills' free version is anything to go by, the app is pleasant and responsive. For free, 1,000 of the most popular Wikipedia articles are tucked away in your device for reading at any point online or off -- and if you have an internet connection, the app functions like any other Wikipedia app, pulling it up for you. Go pro and get 10,000,000 articles.
Sure, Scarlett's in the top 1,000, but not Keystone. A data connection gives you more Wikipedia
The same kind of buttons we've seen across the board run across the bottom of the app in the iPhone version and across the top for the iPad. See the history of articles you've looked up or read articles based on what's around you or get a random page. Get a table of contents, add a bookmark, open a new page, and adjust your font size. Tap a photo in the app to see it full size.
Location awareness gives you access to articles around you
While Wiki Offline presented the contents in a pleasant layout, in offline mode pictures are stripped out of the articles along with the references at the bottom of articles for data compression purposes. At this stage, we’d just rather send individual articles to Instapaper.
We feel we'd be remiss if we didn't put the official app into the mix. The standard set of features appear in this smaller-device-only version. Across the top of the screen runs the search bar, at the bottom navigation arrows, a + sign for bookmarks, a clock icon for your history, and a target icon to pin your location.
Pretty much identical; just bookmark Wikipedia to your home page and save space
The Wikipedia app is pretty stripped down with no ability to save pages for later and no iPad version. Apart from the location-based search, there's very little reason to choose this app over simply using bookmarking Wikipedia in Safari.
3 Degrees of Wikipedia ($0.99/iPhone & iPod)
What's the connection?
A take on Kevin Bacon game, this fun little app presents you with two Wikipedia pages. Using the links within each article, can you find your way from Janet Jackson to Led Zeppelin and what is the connection between Batman and a Dolphin? Articles are not complete, so you can't use this app as a solid research tool, but for $0.99 you could play quite a few dumber games than tracing the connection between what landlocked Arizona has to do with Surfing.
On this day... ($1.99/iPhone & iPod)
What happened today?
Our favorite novelty Wikipedia app, On this day... isn't searchable in the usual fashion. Instead, firing up the app loads today's date in a tear off calendar looking format. Three categories of "on this day" happenings are listed. First come Events, moments of historical note. Then there are Births, everyone born on such and such a date, according to Wikipedia. And finally, Deaths, same as births only at the end of one's life. Tap an entry in the list you're given and the app loads the full Wikipedia page for that entry. A fun app from Sophiestication, you can work your way through the calendar seeing when everything happened. A nice little app to start your day off on an historical note.
It turns out your Wikipedia needs will play a big role in which app suits you. If you just want to search and read, then you won’t find a more pleasurable way of doing that than Discover. Unless you only have a smaller device, in which case, Articles is by far the most enjoyable iPhone experience.
We actually thought, when we started, that Wikipanion would crush all competitors. A couple years back and it truly and solidly dominated the field. However, we find we enjoy reading in Articles more, and for two dollars less we get the same full set of features, so it’s a win-win. With the two dollars we saved, we could easily nab On this day… then if game-minded, spring another buck to pick up 3 Degrees of Wikipedia. Now that’s a win-win-win-win.