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Our ideal iPhone dictionary is more than a portable conversion of a print standard. We want touchable, squeezable extras: spoken pronunciations, browsing history, bookmarks, and more. After comparing four of the App Store's dictionary giants, we discovered that some make the transition while others get lost in translation.
A good iPhone
reference is more than a collection of words. Starting from a direct
translation of the print book, this version includes extras; entries
are searchable, include a recent look-up history, and nearly always
include a spoken pronunciation. Many words include root and history
details, and some entries include pictures, such as “Pythagorean
theorem” and “geologic time.”
A sluggish interface mildly detracts from the rest of the excellent app. The dictionary sometimes ignored our taps, especially when clearing a previous search term. And the otherwise-clear layout includes a useless copyright reminder at the foot of every entry. But otherwise, this dictionary’s features complement the iPhone.
Check out the full review of American Heritage Dictionary - Fourth Edition.
This dictionary converts the printed tome to the
iPhone with a few moderate enhancements. The best addition speaks the
proper pronunciation of about 1/3 of the entries. And we mean “proper;”
the voices have Queen’s English accents that ring melodically at first
and can then become stilted to those of us calibrated to Tom Brokaw’s
We couldn’t skim an alphabetical list to look up words, instead having to type in the first letters, but that worked well for quick lookups. We also liked surfing between entries by tapping new words within definitions. Most lead to new definitions, although words that aren’t their root sometimes don’t lead anywhere, leaving you to translate “involving” into “involve.” At least web browser-like forward- and back-buttons easily hop through previous actions, and a history screen lists other recent words.
Check out the full review of The Concise Oxford English Dictionary.
This dictionary crams
225,000 print definitions into this iPhone app with few other updates.
While its search narrows down words quickly, alphabetical browsing is
limited, and it doesn’t pronounce words out loud. At least it adds web
browser-like forward- and back-buttons for a modest iPhone extra.
Most entries include etymological details, although these are often presented in abbreviated code that makes sense for a print volume but could have been clearer here. Best of all, we bounced between entries by tapping new words, but words in forms other than their root often led nowhere.
Check out the full review of Merriam-Webster’s Colligate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.
Webster's New World Dictionary
Webster’s New World Dictionary organizes words either in its long, alphabetical list, or through searches. We liked the quick ability to tap the first letters of a word and see the results narrow below. Definitions include standards, such as a written pronunciation guide, but they lack audio playback and word origins. We most enjoyed stumbling through different entries by tapping new words within the definition, but the dictionary couldn't always lead to the next. “Suspense” led straight to its entry, but “suspenseful” sent us to the alphabetical list.
We were also disappointed by each entry’s overall layout. While the smaller of two font sizes looked better, we wished the formatting included more breaks for secondary definitions. Offering few extras over a printed copy, at least it’s portable and looks up words quickly.
Check out the full review of Webster's New World Dictionary.
We're always asking for more; an iPhone dictionary should offer new features other than convenience. All quickly search for words, a boon to us slow alphabetizers, but few add extras. Webster's New World Dictionary was our least favorite, with a messy layout and no word origin details. Both it and Merriam-Webster's Colligate Dictionary miss iPhone opportunities, but at least they both let us surf entries by tapping words within definitions.
The American Heritage Dictionary and Concise Oxford English Dictionary add spoken pronunciations, a great iPhone twist. But even though American Heritage doesn't look up new words by tapping within definitions, we favor it for including audio clips in nearly every entry.