Reference Apps for Android - dummies

By Daniel A. Begun

Reference apps for Android devices include language translators, collaborative dictionaries, visual and computational search engines, and algebraic and scientific calculators. Another cool reference app for Android uses your device’s GPS, compass, and accelerometer to view a current map of the stars, constellations, and planets in the night sky.

Following are some popular reference apps for Android devices:

  • ConvertPad (free; ad supported): ConvertPad is a unit converter and algebraic calculator that includes a mind-boggling variety of different types of conversions it can compute. Common types of conversions are length, weight, and area. ConvertPad also incorporates a wealth of science-related unit conversions, such as entropy, thermal conductivity, and magnetic flux.

  • Free Dictionary Org (free; ad supported): Free Dictionary Org might not be the prettiest app to look at, but it harnesses the power of the Internet to collect detailed definitions. When you look up a word, the definitions come from a variety of online sources, such as the Collaborative International Dictionary of English and the WordNet lexical database. From these and other sources, you see definitions, pronunciations, and synonyms.

  • Google Goggles (free): Google Goggles uses an emerging technology called “visual search” to look for matches based on the physical attributes of an object, such as its shape, colors, or unique patterns. Using your device’s built-in camera, take a snapshot of the object you wish to identify. Google Goggles analyzes the image and if Google Goggles thinks it knows what the object is, it displays information about the object and provides a list of relevant links.


  • Google Sky Map (free): Google Sky Map will appeal to budding astronomers looking to find their way around the night sky. You hold your device up to the sky, and the app displays which celestial objects are located in the section of sky directly behind the device. It’s as though you were looking straight through your device to see an accurate sky map.


  • Google Translate (free): Google Translate understands over 50 different languages, and can convert text between any of them. You can input what you want to translate by typing it, pasting it from the clipboard, or even pulling it from your SMS messages. You can also speak what you want translated, and Google Translate can actually speak the translated text.

  • The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary ($24.95 US): The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary has more than 90,000 entries and 225,000 definitions. There are also free trial versions available in the Android Market. One very cool feature of the Merriam-Webster dictionary is that you can tap any word on a definition page to look up its definition.

  • RealCalc Scientific Calculator (free): This app can be used for simple arithmetic to trigonometric, logarithmic, and hyperbolic functions. It includes four display modes: normal, fixed decimal point, scientific notation, and engineering notation. Even if you don’t need all these functions (or understand them), RealCalc includes a useful module that performs unit conversions for things like volume, energy, and data sizes.

  • (free): The U.S. government created this app, which keeps you up to date on all the latest product recalls. The default screen displays a list of the most recent product recalls from all categories. Tap the Show More Results button to see older recalls, or filter the list to display only those recalls from a particular category. also includes a Tips section that provides common-sense advice on topics such as window guards, cribs, and ATVs.


  • Wapedia (free; ad supported): When you search Wikipedia with Wapedia, you see a list of related matches, not just the main article. When you read an article, Wapedia breaks it up across multiple pages so that it’s easier to manage, and a pop-up Contents window lets you jump directly to any section of the article. You also aren’t limited to searching only Wikipedia articles; Wapedia gives you access to dozens of other online Wikis.

  • WolframAlpha ($1.99 US): WolframAlpha is a “computational knowledge engine.” This means that it’s not a search engine, it’s an answer engine. Type in what you are looking for, and instead of getting a bunch of results with links that may or may not give you some of the information you’re seeking, WolframAlpha gives you the answer to your question. This app queries its own database of information, which is actually administered by live human beings!