You really can’t blame the developers for sticking their URL in the product name here, for once. The world of dictionary applications and web sites is competitive enough that to really stand out, such an app has to be both very good and free (or nearly free). This is free, though there are occasional relevant self-promoting banner ads, and the interface and functionality are a joy to use, hence the high star rating. The dictionary is the ‘Random House’ one, not that well known, while the thesaurus is the best known in the world, Roget’s, adding a welcome stamp of authority.
The first nice touch that you’ll notice is the use of different, striking colours for the main dictionary and thesaurus pages. In addition to giving a big clue as to which module you’re currently in, the same colours are used for the icons showing matches in the ‘Search’ page – all very intuitive. Word matches are very good, with even British spellings recognised (despite this being a USA product), even though the entries are essentially redirects to the American version of the word. The information given, in all modes, is nicely implemented into a standard iPhone OS ‘look and feel’.
Importantly, and despite this product being largely the creation of an online dictionary site, all the main word and thesaurus information is stored locally, i.e. on your device, so you don’t need an Internet connection to look up words or their synonyms. So if you’re miles away from Wi-Fi and also don’t have a good 3G signal, you’ll still be able to use the application.
In a sensible design decision, there are two features which do need to go online: firstly, the audio previews of each word, of necessity requiring significant storage space – these download quite fast over the air and are typically played within a couple of seconds. And secondly, the ‘Word of the day’, designed to increase your vocabulary – this is presumably set manually on the developer’s servers.
The only slight confusion, and the reason why Dictionary.com drops a star in its rating, is that the dictionary’s not quite as complete as you might think. Many words are ‘resolved’ down to their main variant and you’re left to complete the related words in your head. For example, ‘coagulability’ is in the main listing, in that it comes up as a ‘quick match’ as you type. But when the entry is shown, you’re looking at (and hearing, via the preview) ‘coagulable’ – you’ll get the gist of what the initial word means, but it’s a shame that so many complex words are rationalised down in this way.
Although there’s no ‘browser-like’ forwards and backwards ‘history’, you do get a ‘Recent’ list, which keeps track of everything you’ve viewed – if anything, this is even more useful. Overall, for a free application, you really can’t fault ‘Dictionary.com – Dictionary and Thesaurus’ in terms of value for money(!) and commercial competitors will have to really stretch out in order to beat it on functions too.