The iPhone Bible app market is really hotting up since Logos entered the market back in November. Since then I’ve been using both Logos and OliveTree’s BibleReader on a daily basis, so you can think of this as a long-term test. It’s worth saying at the outset that both apps are can be downloaded with a small number of bibles and books for free, so you can try them out for yourself. But although you can do a huge amount for free, you’ll need to pay to get the most benefit, and some of the features I refer to below are not available with the free packages – you’ll need paid upgrades. I’m reviewing the top-end packages: Logos Portfolio (version 1.3.0) and BibleReader Scholar’s Collection (version 4.11).
You can click on any of the pictures for a bigger version.
Introducing Logos for iPhone
Logos for iPhone is the relative newcomer, but Logos itself has been in the Bible Software market for almost as long as anyone (since 1991). Until recently it has concentrated on the PC, but the last 18 months have seen the company diversify into Mac, iPhone and even online offerings of its product. In November, the whole range was re-launched as Logos 4, which marked a very significant step-up in terms of usability and functionality.
Perhaps the key selling point of Logos is that when you buy Logos resources you can use many of them on any platform. No longer do you have to purchase multiple copies of the same resource just so you can have access to your favourite Bible translation whether you’re at work, home, or on the road. Currently, somewhere around 40% of Logos 10,000 resources (yes, you read that right – about four thousand resources) are available on the iPhone platform. Logos are apparently working on making much the rest available as soon as possible.
Perhaps the only way to put so much data onto such a small device is to work in the ‘cloud’ through an internet connection (WiFi, 3G or GPRS/Edge). By default, Logos resources are only downloaded onto your iPhone in small chunks when you need them. The advantage is that you don’t need hundreds of gigabytes of storage space to have access to your Logos library. The downside is that sometimes you have to wait for the next ‘chunk’ to download before you can read on or open a new resource. Thankfully, Logos have added an offline reading option for paying customers. This allows you to permanently download your favourite resources onto your iPhone, whilst still being able to access everything else over the internet. This gives you the best of both worlds, the only negative being that you can’t simultaneously select multiple resources to download for offline use, so it can be quite a lengthy business if you’re setting the device up and want to activate offline access to a few dozen resources.
Logos has continued this reliance on the cloud throughout much of the rest of the application, which enables features that probably wouldn’t be possible otherwise. You can search through your entire library, for example, even if only a few books are actually on your iPhone for offline use. The search is carried out on Logos’ servers, and the result sent to your phone. Unfortunately there is no offline search however, so if you’re without internet access, searching simply doesn’t work.
But if you’re thinking that you might use a Bible app just for reading and searching, think again. Logos comes with three additional features – each one ported over from the Windows/Mac version – that significantly raise the bar for mobile applications.
The first is the Passage Guide. Enter a verse, or range of verses and press ‘Go’, and within seconds you’ll be given screen that lists all your commentaries that deal with the passage, a list of possible cross references, media resources (e.g. maps), relevant bible topics, and even a list of interesting words. You can click on any of these to explore further. Think of it as a customised table of contents to all the resources you have for any passage in the Bible – right there on your iPhone.
The second feature is the Bible Word Study. Type any word in English, Greek or Hebrew (you can use transliteration if you don’t want to type Greek/Hebrew), and within a few seconds you’ll have relevant links to all your lexicons and dictionaries, and a concordance of every use of that word. One of the best parts of this feature is that you can search for a Greek/Hebrew word, and have the results returned in English. You even get a useful chart showing how that word is translated in your favourite Bible version. This is unique to Logos, not just on the iPhone, but on any platform. The Bible Word Study can be called up from most Bibles (English or original language) by just pressing and holding on the word in question. You also get parsing information and Strong’s numbers.
The third feature are the Reading Plans. You can create reading plans on your PC or Mac, and then have access to them on your iPhone. A reading plan allows you to choose any resource (Bible or other book), and create a plan to read all or part of that resource in a given time. It’s very configurable: for example, you be as specific as specifying to read pages 1-39 of Bunyan’s Grace Abounding, reading every Tuesday and Thursday for three weeks. You can’t create these plans up on the iPhone, but you are able to read the resources there, and mark off when you’re done. This information then syncs across to your desktop machine.
The one potentially major drawback with all these features is that they’re dependent on internet access. If you have no internet connection, they simply aren’t available. In fact, when you’re offline you can do very little apart from just reading the books. When you’re connected though, Logos performs brilliantly.
Introducing OliveTree BibleReader
OliveTree are no newcomers to the mobile Bible market, first releasing software (for the Palm) in 1998. Unlike Logos, they don’t have a desktop version, but you can buy BibleReader for almost any mobile device – as well as they iPhone they support Android, Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian (Nokia) and Blackberry. Although not all resources are available on all platforms, you don’t need to re-purchase if you later switch to Android or Windows Mobile.
OliveTree don’t have the same range of resources as Logos, but there are still more than 500 to choose from. These are mainly Bibles and Commentaries, with a fair smattering of Christian e-Books. There are also a few dictionaries and lexicons. But if Logos wins the battle over the number of resources, BibleReader wins hands down in terms of speed. Because all your BibleReader resources are stored on your phone, no internet access is required to use the app, and resources open instantly. On my 3GS it can take around 4 seconds to open Logos on a fast WiFi connection. But when I’m in church – without WiFi – it’s around 10 seconds. BibleReader on the other hand opens in 2 seconds, wherever I am. Not only so, but because all my resources are on my phone, searches can be performed instantly, wherever I am. You can only search one resource at a time, however – unlike Logos, there’s no way of searching across your whole library.
Like Logos, there are several features in BibleReader that lift it above your typical eBook app.
The first is a built-in app (resource) store. This is done brilliantly well, perhaps better than any other iPhone app I’ve used. All you need to do is link your OliveTree account in with your iTunes account, and then you can purchase new resources through iTunes, in the app, or on OliveTree’s website, and have them instantly available on your phone. If you find yourself in a situation where you need a new book or Bible translation, you can quickly order it, have it billed against your iTunes account, and it will be downloaded and available to read in less than five minutes.
The second feature is split screen reading. In BibleReader you can split your screen into two. For example, it could be useful to have two different bible versions open, or your Bible in one window and a commentary in another, or perhaps a Greek NT in one window and a Greek dictionary in another.
The third feature is user notes and highlighting. This allows you to add notes to any part of the Bible, or to highlight different passages, just as you might in a printed Bible. You can even sync the notes to Evernote so you can view them from your PC, or just to ensure they’re backed up. If you like to take notes whilst you’re reading, this is a great feature.
The fourth feature is morphological searching. This is similar to Logos’ Bible Word Study in that it allows you to search the Greek/Hebrew language texts, and get parsing information for every word. It’s not as pretty as Logos, and you can’t get a list of which English words are used to translate a particular Greek/Hebrew word. However, you do have full morphological searching, which allows you to do searches like “find all the occurrences of πίστις in the genitive singular”. It’s the only mobile Bible app to support searching like this.
Now we’ve examined the unique features in both applications that set them apart, it’s time to look at how they compare side-by-side.
Features: Both applications are loaded with features, and both will do more than many people thought possible even a year ago. Logos is superior at searching, with its Passage Guide and ability to search across multiple resources, though you can’t restrict your Bible search to particular Bible books. This last function is missing in BibleReader too, though you can restrict your search to just the New or Old Testaments. However, BibleReader’s split-screen reading, better morphology support and user notes just tip the scales in its favour. Not only so, but all of BibleReader’s functions work anywhere. Logos, on the other hand, requires an internet connection to get the best from it (apps like Google Maps and Facebook work in just the same way). With Logos there’ll be times when you’ll lose internet connectivity, and with it access to any books you haven’t downloaded, all search functionality, and all pop-up footnotes or cross references. For that reason, the first round goes clearly to BibleReader.
Simplicity: Both apps are very easy to use for anyone used to the iPhone platform. Controls are intuitive and well-organised, and settings kept to a minimum. But Logos just edges ahead – because its Bible Word Study is much easier than BibleReader’s more powerful morphology functions, and particularly because it makes the original language texts more accessible by allowing you to search in Greek/Hebrew yet return results in English.
Speed: BibleReader is astonishingly quick, with a rapid load time, and almost every function returning near-instant results. Logos on the other hand, with it’s partial reliance on an internet connection can feel ponderous in comparison. And yet it must not be forgotten that Logos harnesses the power of massive webservers to perform your searching. It means I can search my entire iPhone library of more than 1,500 resources and have the first results returned in less than three seconds. For most users though, they’ll spend more time reading than searching, which is to BibleReader’s advantage.
Resources: Here, Logos wins hands down, with an astonishing array of resources of every type imaginable: bibles, commentaries, lexicons, dictionaries, theologies, general reading. Yet there are some surprising omissions, including one that surprises many people: currently Logos does not offer the NIV. Don’t assume that Logos has everything BibleReader has – it doesn’t. How you score this will depend on which resources you actually care about. BibleReader has all of the basics, and several extras. Logos has most of the basics and many, many extras. For me, resources like Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, BDAG and the New International Commentary series swing the advantage clearly in Logos’ favour.
Value for money: Both apps are available free, but both benefit from significant investment. If you’re looking for a free app, Logos is best for Bibles (includes ESV, NASB, HCSB, NKJV, NLT and KJV), whilst BibleReader is best for other resources (31 other free resources in Logos, over 100 in BibleReader). When it comes to paying, neither are cheap. The cheapest Logos package is $265, though bear in mind that this includes very powerful software for your Mac or PC as well as the few hundred additional resources you get. It also adds features like offline reading. Once you’ve bought a base package like this, you can add on additional resources at a lower price (usually around 50%-80% of the cost of a print book). BibleReader on the other hand has a much lower entry point because you don’t need to buy a base package, you can just buy whatever add-on resources that you need (though a few small packages are available which may save you a bit of money). But if you want all the bells and whistles such as morphological searching and commentaries, you too will be paying a few hundred dollars. In the end, I’ve decided to call this one a draw. Logos is more expensive, but has the advantage that you’ll probably save money by not needing to re-purchase to get access to Bibles and resources on your PC and Mac. BibleReader has a lower entry-point, but limits you to mobile devices only.
Original language support: Here both packages excel, and offer better original language support than many desktop programs. Logos has the advantage in supporting the original languages from the English texts, which gives all the benefits of an interlinear, whilst retaining the readability of an ordinary bible. It also has better lexicons and dictionaries available. On the other hand, BibleReader is able to support morphological searching within the application. Which is the more important will depend on how you intend to use the app. I think most users will not find themselves in many situations where they need full morphological searching and don’t have access to their desktop machine, so I’m going to give this one to Logos.
Readability: One of the important functions of mobile Bible software is that you’ll use it to simply read from. Both apps perform this most basic of functions very well. Both have the ability to add bookmarks to your favourite passages, and both remember your position when you come back to resources later. Both support rotation lock, which prevents the screen switching from portrait to landscape and vice-versa. This can be very handy if you’re reading in bed and you don’t quite have your iPhone level. Logos has the much better reading plans (BibleReader’s is limited to Bibles only), though you can’t edit them on the iPhone itself. Logos also has a clearer display, though it’s relatively easy to tweak BibleReader’s settings to mimic this. BibleReader has the option of scrolling the text freely up and down – in Logos you can only turn the page (which BibleReader also supports). Scrolling allows you to easily place a sentence in the middle of the screen to better view the context. I’m going to call this one a draw.
Both apps are genuinely excellent, and streets ahead of the competition. If you want a full-featured, resource-laden, powerful Bible app for your iPhone, look no further than Logos or BibleReader. I own both, and use both regularly, turning to BibleReader for its speed, and Logos for the extra resources and particularly the interlinears.
But which to choose? BibleReader just edges it in my opinion, but which is best for you will depend very much on how you intend to read and study use the Bible for yourself. If you use a Mac or PC, and want Bible software on your desktop as well as your iPhone, then Logos will be great – so long as you don’t think you’ll need access to the advanced functionality when you’re away from the internet. On the other hand, if you can’t afford the high-entry point for Logos’ best features, and appreciate polished performance and near-instant load times, then BibleReader will be just what you’re looking for – though you’ll miss out on some great features like looking up Greek words from the English text, and integration with your desktop computer.
Both apps are improving all the time, so as new released are made available, I’ll try and keep this review updated. Finally, if you’re an iPhone bible software user, leave a comment and voice your opinion.