July 12, 2012 11:13 am

App vs. app: Encyclopædia Britannica and Wikipedia

Encyclopædia Britannica vs Wikipedia

Before the rise of the Internet, people turned to books for information, and in particular an encyclopaedia. Now, with access to the Net, it’s all much simpler. It’s made much easier still with the abundant supply of apps on our smartphones, two of which are Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica. We’ve decided to put them side by side to see how they compare to each other.

We’ve searched for the same random subject on both apps to make for a fair comparison.

Wikipedia £Free

Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopaedia that enlists the help of good-willed people around the world to add and edit the content, without pay. There are currently 77,000 active contributors adding information.

That means that there’s very little that Wikipedia doesn’t have information on. However, the sheer number of contributors who can add information at a moment’s notice means that there can be mistakes and what you read may not be true.

With this aside, it’s worth noting that Wikipedia has become the go-to site when you’re looking for anything remotely factual.

Wikipedia search Wikipedia search results

The Wikipedia app offers a very simple function: to search for information and have it displayed. The first screen you’ll see will be a black window with a text box at the top. It’s here that you’ll type in what you want to learn about.

As you type, Wikipedia will offer you some suggestions based on the letters you’ve typed to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. Once you’ve selected an item, you’ll be taken its page.

Wikipedia Times Square Wikipedia more Times Square

The subject pages look a lot like the Wikipedia pages you’ll see if you use the web version – white background with standard black font.

To navigate the page you scroll up and down the page, flicking left and right occasionally when a piece of text doesn’t fit the screen. To take a closer look at an image, just select it and you’ll be shown a larger version.

As is often the case with Wikipedia, you’ll see numerous words that have been hyperlinked. Clicking on any of these will take you away from your current page and to that words’ own Wikipedia page. This encourages people to explore and learn more.

The Wikipedia app supports 24 languages and is available to download from the Windows Phone Marketplace for free.

Encyclopædia Britannica £3.99 / $4.99 / €4,99

The Encyclopædia Britannica is the oldest English-language encyclopaedia that began publication in 1768 and is still being produced today.

It’s known for producing large sets of encyclopaedias that would sit proudly on people’s bookcases at home and would show any visitors how learned you are – or in the very least, pretend to be.

The Encyclopædia Britannica produced its final (32-volume set) print edition in 2010 to focus on an online version; Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

With content from over 4,000 contributors, there’s a wealth of information to be learned from all aspects of life.

This app follows the same Metro design language that is based on the classic Swiss graphics design principles.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica browse

The Encyclopædia Britannica app welcomes you with a featured article in case you’re looking for something new to learn about. The large image fills the screen and the brief text below invites you to read more.

By looking at the information on the screen it’s obvious how you discover more content. The next page peeks shyly at you from the right side of the screen, encouraging you to slide it across.

The browse section has several options. A-Z is where you can limitlessly scroll through topics alphabetically, Top Articles shows you a long list of popular articles, and On This Day:.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Times Square Encyclopaedia Britannica article options

The On This Day: function is a really interesting one. It shows you what happened in history on any particular day. By default, you’ll see what happened years ago on the current date you happen to be looking at the page. This is can be changed, if you’re looking for something more specific.

Then, there’s the Search feature. It does exactly what you’d expect. Just type in something and the app will find you some results.

There you have it, our comparison of two encyclopaedia apps. If I had to choose my favourite, I’d choose Encyclopædia Britannica.

Yes, it costs more than the free app provided by Wikipedia, but its quality is better. It’s right in tune with the Windows Phone design. You can tell that somebody has taken his or her time to create the app.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Wikipedia app. It looks bland, like a mobile version of what I’d see on the Web. There doesn’t seem to have been any substantial thought on how to design best for mobile users or this particular platform.

That raises a question for me. Is a free app better than a paid one? It obviously depends on a number of things, all of which would probably be best saved for another article.

Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica is available on the Nokia Lumia 610, Nokia Lumia 710, Nokia Lumia 800 and the Nokia Lumia 900.

Have you tried both of these apps? Which do you prefer? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Leave them below.

Image credit: Alex E. Proimos