I’m a lexiconophilist. Specifically, I love old, printed dictionaries, like the OED (or further back, when it was called A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles) or Samuel Johnson’s work. Though I love these books as artifacts and could pore over etymologies and eccentricities all day, I tend to use the more practical Merriam-Webster’s for my daily work. But do I need it on my phone?
When it comes to identifying “best” apps for our Best Android Apps book, we factored in both utility and price to determine an app’s ultimate value for the user. We imagined most users looking for a dictionary app would prefer a free app to quickly find spelling or definitions for more common words to an expensive option that provided more features and a more comprehensive selections of words. Given these assumptions, we didn’t really consider featuring versions of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary ($24.95) or Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged International Dictionary ($59.95), which might perhaps have been “better” in terms of quality but still might not be the “best” choice for a reader’s money.
All that said, I do love dictionaries (see above), so when Paragon Software asked if I’d like a complimentary license for these apps to review, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.* After just a day or so of use, I can say that there certainly is an awful lot to like. In fact, I’m prepared to say that these are indeed the “best” dictionary apps in terms of quality alone, but the question of whether they’re worth their pricetag has yet to be decided (and will likely be different anyway, depending on what you want or need in a dictionary app).
So, what do they offer that you can’t get for free from, say, Free Dictionary Org? The latter does a great job and is pretty full-featured for a free app (which is why it’s featured in the book), including voice search, suggestions as you type, and an annotations capability:
As you can see, it’s certainly serviceable and sufficient if you’re just looking for a quick definition or spelling. So, most people won’t even know what they’re missing, unless they actually get a chance to use the Merriam-Webster apps:
Not only do they show much more polish (and no ads), but they also include additional functionality (annotations being the only missing feature that Free Dictionary Org has) and a much richer, broader, and detailed database of words (notice the additional words found in the unabridged version that aren’t present in the collegiate edition) with a long-established and respected pedigree of editorial oversight. Take a look at these definitions, which include etymology, historical references, pluralization, variations, and linked synonyms and references:
Also note the speaker symbol, which gives you an audio pronunciation, a feature found in Free Dictionary Org, but which is much less useful in the free app:
In all, the experience of using the app lends itself much more to actual research, wordsmithing, and other professional, academic, or other serious use. If you want to carry the unabridged de facto standard for English dictionaries in your pocket, it just might be worth the money (the unabridged dictionary is a little less than half the list price of the print copy).
I’m still not convinced that I would pay 60 bucks for the unabridged version, or even 25 for the collegiate edition, but that perspective would probably change if I weren’t almost always around a computer or the dead-tree dictionaries in my office. Now that I have it, I’ll definitely get a lot of use out of it when I’m working remotely, and I’ll consider it one of the most important reference apps on my phone.
* Full disclosure: I did not pay for these apps, but I was not compensated in any way for this review, nor was there any expectation that I would write a favorable review as a requirement for receiving them.