Wordflex: For the Word Nerds

Wordflex is one of those apps that’s hard to justify. It’s a dictionary, fully featured with all of the resources of the Oxford University Press, and a thesaurus as well. But why is it $11.99? Aren’t there plenty of free dictionary apps available for the iPad?

Sure, you could take that route with this one, but that’s not my position. I am a bit of a word nerd, meaning that I enjoy learning more about the English language. For someone like me, or another who works with the written word on a regular basis, Wordflex is more than just a dictionary, it’s a tool for productivity — and fun. So I contacted the good people at Wordflex, and was sent a promo code to review the app. Is it worth the price of admission? Let’s find out. 

Look It Up

OK, we get it. Not everyone enjoys looking at the dictionary the way some of us do, and truth be told, even those of us who enjoy it don’t really like it that much. Fact is, you go to a dictionary to look up either how to spell a word, its pronunciation or how it’s used in a sentence. That’s not really sexy stuff, that’s for sure.

So the creators of Wordflex had a pretty daunting task in front of them: make looking up words fun. Asking them to get a squirrel to climb Mt. Everest with two broken legs might have been easier, but what they’ve accomplished is about as close to the goal as you can get.

How It Works

When you fire up Wordflex for the first time, you’re presented with a simple screen and a box to fill in a word. Do that, and then the words come flying out from the back of the screen and float in front of you. Variations of the word are all over the screen, as are similar sounding words just in case you mistyped something. For example, I typed in “Text,” and received “test” as well.

Those words are just floating in space, waiting for you to touch them.

Those words are just floating in space, waiting for you to touch them.

There’s also a little window that appears and then disappears across the bottom. It’s just like the Notification Center, except it’s at the base of the screen so you flick up to reveal it. Inside are phrases associated with the word, that way you can easily determine which usage you want to know about. Going back to the “text” example, phrases include “stylistic features of journalistic text,” or “too much concentration on set texts can turn pupils against reading.”

Word Expansion

Once you tap on a word, a beautiful tree comes out from a central box, diagramming the word and its origins similar to how a mind map works. Each little branch of the tree designates a usage of the word — verb, noun, derivatives and so on. From there you can also expand those further to see various definitions, as well as the syntax or similar things.

And just think, the rabbit hole goes deeper.

And just think, the rabbit hole goes deeper.

Back to that original box though, for a second. This shows the word and two pronunciations — the British version, and the United States. Tap on the speaker symbol next to the appropriate region, and you’ll hear the word spoken aloud by a US or UK vocalist. There’s also a yellow box in the top corner, which varies based on the word. Sometimes it’s Orig. for the origin of the word, other times its nothing at all.

Multitouch Movement

The branches of the word tree can be moved and manipulated as well. Say the chart looks a bit too wide for you — pull and drag one of the branches to your preferred destination and it will move appropriately, bouncing delicately as it goes. These trees can get pretty big too, with multiple definitions and variants along the way. You can pull out branches as well, in case you want a specific word to stand out.

It's surprisingly fun to play with words.

It’s surprisingly fun to play with words.

Double tapping a word pulls up a maroon dotted line, indicating that the word is highlighted. A pop-up box appears, allowing you to bookmark the word (something us word nerds enjoy), or copy it to your clipboard. With some words, you can also expand it out into its own tree, and start over.

Art from Words

At this point you might be wondering why you would want to move the branches of the tree around, other than for the novelty of the whole process. Turns out there’s a social aspect to Wordflex as well. By touching the Share button at the top, you’ll see an image of your word map in the center of the screen. From here you can either share the poster with your Facebook or Twitter friends (although I had problems with the Facebook connection myself), or save it to your Photos app for future reference. You can even print it if you like, which for a geek such as myself, is pretty cool.

Up your word nerd status with a poster.

Up your word nerd status with a poster.

There is another cool aspect to the app that I haven’t yet mentioned — the game. If you hit the Shuffle symbol in the top left corner, you’ll see random words flying across a blue screen. Pick a word to learn what it means. It’s not the most interesting part of the app, but it is neat if you want to find some new and interesting words.

The Downside

So what’s the downside to this whole deal? It ain’t cheap. Any app over $10 puts it into a premium market for me, and $11.99 for a dictionary seems excessive. Admittedly, they have a limited market, and word nerds like myself may be willing to drop $12 on some educational fun. But this isn’t the app your grandmother will buy as a reference source while she writes that cookbook — not at $12.

Tweet your posters to your friends, too.

Tweet your posters to your friends, too.

The only other real issue with the app is its size. It clocks in 771 mb, just under a full gigabyte in size (something they tout on their webpage). This is seen as an advantage because you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to use it, but those who have base model iPads may think differently.

On that point, I was working on a side project the other day involving lots of medical terms, and I had Wordflex running next to me the whole time. It didn’t blink at words like arrhythmia or causalgia, and I figured there was no way those terms would be there. So yes, it is a huge file size, but there’s a lot there.

Final Thoughts

I do really enjoy using this app, but I also know that it’s not one that will find its way onto my home screen. It’s fun, enjoyable and a great resource to boot, but I don’t see myself opening it every day — that’s not its role.

But I do think that if you’re into words the way I am, that it’s worth the buy. Yes, $12 is pricey, I’ll give you that. But not only is it the most beautiful way to find a definition, it’s also the most fun. Can you really put a price on that?


Use the prettiest dictionary you'll ever touch.