Articles: Give Wikipedia the Royal Treatment

At $4.99, Articles is by far the most expensive Wikipedia option in the App Store. I approached it with a little bit of trepidation and a lot of doubt, wondering why on earth I would want to spend that kind of money on what’s basically a Wikipedia app. Up until this point, like many people I’m sure, I was using Wikipanion for my Wikipedia needs, which is great but I think that Articles is way better.

Articles is more or less a special interface for Wikipedia articles. The interface espouses a different philosophy than its competition. Articles is meant for long-form reading and learning, and it feels to me like the Instapaper or Pocket of Wikipedia. I’ve been looking for an app like this – one that treats Wikipedia like a real encyclopedia that should be read and enjoyed. And this app more than does the trick.

Like this article? Stay up to date with the latest changes by subscribing to our RSS feed or following us either on Twitter, Facebook or App.net.

Readability

Articles are joys to read.

Articles are a joy to read.

Simply put, the interface in Articles is extremely readable. The first thing I noticed is the really nice Sepia colour tones that the app went with. I’m a huge fan of Sepia — when it’s done properly — and Articles has got it spot on. Colour me impressed. Compared to the harsh white of most apps, I usually find that Sepia is a more preferable, paper-like way to view a screen. The Sepia colour here is comparable to the same tone in Instapaper or iBooks — sometimes, it can look terrible but I think it’s really effective here.

The font choices are really nice too. They’re extremely legible and large enough to ensure that there is no eyestrain after reading for a while. Links are a brownish-red colour, which stands out against the Sepia background and is in my opinion a far better choice than the harsh blue that most apps and websites use for links. There’s one other really nice touch here, and that’s the textured background. It’s subtle, but it makes the articles feel a little bit more like they’re printed on real paper.

In all honesty, Articles captures a real opportunity. The Retina display on the iPad really does have the capability to feel similar to real paper, and this is the one Wikipedia app that captures that possibility and turns it into a reality for encyclopedic reading. If Wikipedia is normally a nice encyclopedic reference and its apps serve just to look something up quickly, then Articles feels like reading a real encyclopedia and to me, that’s huge. Articles won Apple’s award for Best Design in 2010 and it’s really easy to see why.

Great Additional Features

The Read Later feature is extremely handy.

The Read Later feature is extremely handy.

Articles is tailored for reading, discovery and learning. It’s got a few features that aren’t in other Wikipedia apps that I think are just fantastic. For starters, there’s a great Read Later feature: long-tap on any link in an article and you can save it in the app’s built-in queue for later access. As you would expect, the articles that you mark for later reading are cached and can be read without an Internet connection, which I think is a great feature.

Beyond that, there’s a ton of smaller things. Multiple articles can be opened at once, and looking through them is like going through tabs in Safari on an iPhone. It’s less cluttered than the tabs in Safari for iPad and visually really pleasing. Images look great on an Retina display iPad and they can be saved directly to your device as well.

Looking through open articles is like flicking through tabs on Safari for iPhone.

Looking through open articles is like flicking through tabs on Safari for iPhone.

There’s the expected Random Article feature (called Surprise Me!) here as well. You can also bookmark articles that you reference frequently, but an Internet connection is required to read them. It’s a handy feature, but I’m not sure about how useful it is when an Internet connection is required to use it.

Finally, there’s the really cool Nearby feature. If you let Articles have access to your location data then you’ll be able to look at everything around you and read the relevant Wikipedia articles. It’s a small addition, but I learned stuff about my neighbourhood that I never knew before and thought immediately, “this is just a great feature!”. Some people may never use it, but those who do will find it immensely rewarding.

Improving the Experience

The Nearby feature is way too cool.

The Nearby feature is way too cool.

Articles is so refined that it’s really hard to find something to complain about — and really, for $4.99, it should be refined. In the majority of ways, this is as close to a perfect Wikipedia app as you’re likely to find, but that doesn’t mean it’s beyond reproach.

I’d like to see some kind of server-based syncing between the iPad, iPad mini, and iPhone if you have the app on all of them. iCloud is one possible solution (as unreliable as that service can be with third-party apps), because it would be nice to have the ability to see what articles are open on other devices and have your Read Later queue synced up between each device. These are services offered by Safari now as well, so really, it’s just about Articles playing catch-up to that experience.

The sharing features of the app relatively robust currently: You can bookmark the app for your own personal interest, Tweet it, email it, etc., but it would be nice if you could share it via Facebook as well. That functionality was also built into iOS 6, and it’s another simple matter of catching up.

The app (and particularly pictures) also looks great when used in landscape mode.

The app (and particularly pictures) also looks great when used in landscape mode.

It would be nice to see integration with a real Read Later service like Instapaper or Pocket, but I’m not sure if that’s within the Wikipedia API. That being said, I am able to save Wikipedia articles to my Instapaper queue in any web browser. The problem isn’t that Article’s Read Later service is inefficient or poor, but simply that some people (like myself) already use alternative services for that sort of feature.

Beyond that, the only real wish list that I have for the app is more robust customization features. Specifically, I’d like to be able to alter the font size and margin width. I think the choices that Sophiestication Software made are good, but I can understand why people would prefer to make the font smaller or have bigger margins. There are no options in the app to speak of whatsoever currently (but to be fair, if I’m wrong and there are options in the app, then they are clearly hidden far too well and not many are likely to find them!)

Is It Worth the Money?

I opened this review up by mentioning how expensive Articles is. Let’s mention that again. At $4.99, very few people are going to feel the need to splurge on Articles, but those who do are going to walk away very happy. For those who usually have an Internet connection, this is very clearly the best Wikipedia app available on the iPad. I deleted Wikipanion and put this in its place. It has an incredible design and lots of great features.

I wish it would integrate with third-party Read Later services, but the fact that this app offers a similar service at all should be praised. I also think a few options would be nice for some people, but for me, this app is already perfectly set. I love it, and for those who are looking for a finer Wikipedia experience, I give it my full recommendation.


Summary

Articles is the best Wikipedia app on the App Store: It has more features than most people might ever need and a beautiful interface to match it.

9
  • http://rationalblogs.org/rationalwiki/ David Gerard

    I don’t see the word “edit” in there anywhere. Are you seriously telling us that for $5, you can’t actually edit Wikipedia? That being pretty much the point of the thing?

    • Albert Kinng

      Nope. Lots of people use wikipedia just for get info and know about something. Not everybody is a wikipedia guru or editor. This app is the best looking app outthere for read and organize your wikipedia searches. I bought it since it’s introduction and it’s my number one app for wikipedia needs.

  • Wolfgang A

    Actually you can change font size by pinch-in and pinch-out gesture. Not obvious but works well