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10 best reference and educational apps for your iPad and iPhone

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Top iPad and iPhone reference educational apps iPad iPhone

Develop your skills faster with Wikipedia, WolframAlpha, Khan Academy, Duolingo, Blinkist, Udemy, Dictionary, and other must-have learning iOS apps.

Millions of apps are available in the Apple’s App Store, and I bet you’ve tested dozens of them already. Which app category is your favorite one? Games? Entertainment? Photo & video?

The thing is everything is fun on the iPad, not only games. You’ll enjoy reading books, learning a new language, doing research, or writing an essay.

Below, we’ve collected a few apps that will keep you in the learning mood. These are not classroom apps. These are apps you can use personally to learn a bit more and improve a bit faster in everything you do.

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If you are reading an article on the New York Times website, you can always extend your knowledge about the topic, find a deeper context, or build a historical background.

If you have a few spare minutes, you can always learn a language instead of checking out Facebook. When browsing the web, you can always collect the most interesting pieces you could use in the future.

Some lists put together dozens of education or reference apps. We’ve decided to collect only a few of them and provide detailed descriptions to give you the stronger reason to download and try them.

The best reference and educational apps for iPad and iPhone

1. Wikipedia

Our pick: The best reference app for iPad and iPhone

You may ask a question: Why should I download another app if I can access Wikipedia from my Safari or Google Chrome app?

The reason is simple. A dedicated Wikipedia application gives you more power and control.

First of all, you can customize the app to look exactly the way you like it. You can change the font size, brightness, and theme. Two themes are perfect for the night mode. You can also enable an option to dim images if one of the dark themes is selected.

I find the night mode feature exceptionally helpful during my evening reading sessions, when I switch from the Kindle app with the night theme turned on.

Wikipedia app is heavily integrated with iOS. You can find wiki articles using Spotlight search. The app offers three Today widgets: recently read articles, featured articles, and top reads. Another convenient thing is the ability to save articles for offline reading.

The app’s most significant benefit, however, is multilingual support.

With 40 million articles written in 300 languages, it’s easy to find on the web a wiki entry written in the language you don’t understand. The app is fixing this problem.

You can define your preferred languages in the settings, and pick up the default one. When you search Wikipedia, you can quickly tap the language of your choice. Finally, you can always switch the language version once you are in the article.

I prefer the app over the website version because it enables me to fine-tune the formatting of articles, including text size and background tint, and it enables me to archive articles for future reference.

– App Store review

Benefits: Night mode and other personalization options, ability to save articles for offline reading, integration with iOS
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iMessage
Price: Free

Average rating: 4.5/5

⇢ Wikipedia

2. Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a leading nonprofit organization delivering free tools and online classes for everyone who wants to learn and improve.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a student, a teacher, or a parent helping your first grader, once you sign in to Khan Academy, you get access to thousands of free courses (mainly in a form of short videos) on math, art & humanities, computing, science & engineering, or economics.

The Khan Academy app for iPad and iPhone is one of the most popular in Education category. Besides videos, it offers in-depth articles in algebra, statistics, biology, microeconomics, finance, or art history, among others.

You can also find in the app lots of quizzes, challenges and tests that come complete with step-by-step hints and instant feedback.

As the app has to handle many videos, it’s good to download them while you are connected to the fast internet. You can then watch your bookmarked content easily when you are offline.

There is so much to choose from that some users find it difficult to what to start with.

This app has helped me so much in college when I didn’t understand concepts and formulas. I don’t know why people are complaining about not seeing their progress on this app or that it lacks in depth because Khan Academy isn’t supposed to be a replacement for a class.

– App Store review

Benefits: A knowledge hub with thousands of classes delivered in a friendly way; offline mode; progress synced with the user’s account
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free

Average rating: 4.1/5

⇢ Khan Academy

3. Udemy

If you are into online learning, and if you haven’t found the right set of courses on Khan Academy, give a try to Udemy.

The platform claims it offers “the world’s largest selection of courses.” The numbers are stunning indeed: over 130,000 video lessons taught and inspired by 50,000 expert instructors!

Opposite to Khan Academy, Udemy provides more courses on personal development, design, marketing, lifestyle, music, or office productivity.

Udemy app for iPad and iPhone is free, but most courses are not. Within the app, you can get the course on social media marketing for startups ($19.99), the course on logo design ($29.99), or the beginner’s course on web development ($119.99).

The app lets you learn at your own pace. You can personalize your learning experience, and choose from over 60 languages. You can download courses for offline learning, and there is an option to turn on the audio-only mode.

The offline viewing doesn’t download lectures efficiently. When queueing the videos to download and selecting multiple courses to download, it tries to download everything in parallel and clogs up the internet stream slowing download speed to a stop which would be faster if videos downloaded one by one.

– App Store review

Benefits: Access to all courses; both free and paid plans; personalization options – speed controls and closed captioning
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV
Price: Free, in-app purchases from $19.99 to $119.99

Average rating: 4.6/5

⇢ Udemy

4. Duolingo

Our pick: The best language app for iPad and iPhone

Do you want to start learning a new language? Or at least give yourself a try? What other device is better to accomplish it than your iPhone or iPad? You can take your language lessons everywhere!

Most probably, the first thing you will do is search the App Store for most helpful language apps. And download a few for testing. Make sure Duolingo is one of them. Or even better – try it first, and you won’t even touch the other ones.

Duolingo offers a whole new way of learning languages. It’s more like a game than an educational tool. And you’ll keep being motivated with an extensive reward and progress tracking system.

The app will let you practice reading, writing, and conversations at different levels, using advanced technology and intelligent chatbots. Duolingo learns from your performance, as well as achievements of the community of over 200 million language geeks. Thanks to that, the lessons will be personalized for you, so that you can learn faster and be more motivated.

You can start learning one of the 30 most popular languages. English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese are among them. ¿Estás listo?

From my use of other apps that do a better job explaining grammar I’ve found that Duolingo works really well as a companion app to build vocabulary and just practice hearing/using the language, and is possibly more useful once you have the basics of a language down.

– App Store review

Benefits: A game-like language app with advanced learning tools and extensive motivation system
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iMessage
Price: Free, multiple in-app purchases from $1.99 to $13.99

Average rating: 4.7/5

⇢ Duolingo

5. iTranslate Lingo

iTranslate Lingo - the best language learning apps for iPad and iPhone

From iTranslate, the No. 1 Google Translate alternative, comes a little fun app for iPad and iPhone that is the easiest way to learn a foreign language.

iTranslate Lingo helps learn 14 languages (including English, Chinese, Russian, German, or Spanish) easily and playfully.

The pattern is simple: you learn 4 words per lesson which takes 5 minutes per day, and you know 1 thousand words in 8 months!

You can choose from three skill levels, and personalize your language with over 30 categories. With tailored pronunciation lessons, you will learn how to speak clearly and take your listening skills to the next level.

Lingo is a really wonderful program for learning to speak a language. The only problem is that when they test you. If you don’t speak the word exactly the same as the computer, it is marked wrong.

– App Store review

Benefits: Fun way to learn foreign language; effective and simple exercises; progress awards
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free, in-app purchase from $4.99 to $39.99

Average rating: 4.6/5

⇢ iTranslate Lingo

6. Blinkist

Blinkist - best reference apps for iPad and iPhone

The app lets you learn from the best nonfiction books at the speed no one can beat. And it’s not a speed-reading app. It’s much smarter than that.

Blinkist provides summaries from over 3,000 bestselling books in several categories, including career, society & culture, nature & environment, health, entrepreneurship, education, economics, creativity, leadership, or communication skills.

Each of the books is distilled by experts into 15-minute reads, available in both text and audio. The company adds 40 new titles each month, so you will never run of ideas what to blink-read next.

The iOS app lets you seamlessly switch between audio and text, so that you can continue no matter what you are doing. There is an offline mode, send-to-Kindle feature, and ability to sync highlights to Evernote.

What I love most about this is that you can easily take notes on the notes. Like… you can sync it up with your Evernote account and they beautifully manage your notes. You can also send content directly to your kindle which I particularity enjoy reading on.

Benefits: A smart way to learn faster through 15-minute summaries; personalized recommendations; audio & text modes
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Subscriptions from $1.99 to $54.99, free 7-day trial

Average rating: 4.7/5

⇢ Blinkist

7. Google Earth

Google Earth - top reference iPad and iPhone apps

If you are using Google Maps, you may wonder why you would need another map app, such as Google Earth.

What’s the difference between Google Maps and Google Earth? The first app is down-to-earth, giving you information about places you need to visit. The latter one is pure heaven.

Google Earth is clearly the most stunning way to explore the world without leaving home. And it’s not only about 3D imagery or an iconic zoom-in engine.

Once you type in a location (or roll dice for a random pick), you will see the destination, but also be able to learn about it. Besides pictures from Google and Panoramio users, you will find a knowledge card about the place you’ve entered, with key highlights and related places to explore.

Another way to learn about the world with Google Earth is Voyager, a feature which brings you one-of-a-kind experiences from Sesame Street, BBC Earth, NASA, and other leading sources.

This thing is amazing. I have learned so much about the scale and true size of things using this. Additionally, Google Earth shows the Earth in it’s true spherical shape. This lets you see truly how much bigger or smaller things are than what you thought.

– App Store review

Benefits: All-in-one tool to quickly learn about most attractive locations on Earth
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free

Average rating: 4.1/5

⇢ Google Earth

8. Dictionary.com

Dictionary - best apps for iPad

Our pick: The most comprehensive dictionary app for iPhone

If you are looking for a comprehensive and affordable tool to improve your language skills, download Dictionary.com app from the App Store. Its only drawback is that the iPad version is still not available

Once you open the app to check out a particular word, you are guaranteed to stay longer. Why? Dictionary.com is not only a dictionary and thesaurus in one, offering over 2 million detailed definitions. It’s an entire ecosystem that will help you explore words, phrases, and meanings in a surprisingly entertaining way.

Other apps in the Apple iTunes Store offer traditionally organized definitions. Information is delivered linearly, and it’s easy to get lost in more complex entries. Dictionary.com splits every entry into simpler and cleaner sections: dictionary, thesaurus (synonyms), origin, and learners. In the paid version, you will also gain access to examples, idioms, grammar, or slang, among others.

You can set up your primary search option: dictionary or thesaurus. You can favorite words, see spell or IPA, learn about trending words. Plus, there are extensive tools that will let you enjoy learning about language to the fullest: Word of the Day (with an option to receive daily notifications), Grammar Tips, Word Trends, Slideshows, and more.

The app offers several options to upgrade, from removing the ads ($1.99) to adding example sentences ($2.99), to the Power Pack Upgrade ($2.99).

The interface is enjoyable. I appreciate the simple themed blog posts about words. I like how you can favorite words and the easy switch to thesaurus mode. It would be cool to have fewer ads, or at least a different type of ad.

– App Store review

Benefits: A comprehensive tool for a language geek
Compatibility: iPhone, Apple Watch
Price: Free, multiple upgrades from $0.99 to $3.99

Average rating: 4.4/5

⇢ Dictionary.com

9. Word of the Day

Word of the Day - iPad and iPhone app

If you are looking for a simple tool that will prompt you to learn English, the app that sends a notification with one new word a day is all you need to keep you on the tracks.

This feature is available in Dictionary.com and other learning apps, but a little application called, … surprise, surprise, … Word of the Day is extremely well-designed and focused on just this one thing.

The app gives a short and simple definition of a word, accompanied by an example sentence. You will be able to see how many times the certain word was liked by other users, and find more info on Google with just one tap.

The fun thing is that you can share the word with your friends by sending an automatically generated image with a crossword puzzle to Facebook, Instagram, and other services.

All previously released words of the day are available for you in the app’s archive. You can explore them randomly, alphabetically, or by date.

The definitions are direct and easy to understand. My only complaint is that the app does not use the words in a sentence. However, this isn’t essential… Ever notice how as soon as you learn a word, you start seeing it everywhere?

– App Store review

Benefits: Easy to use, daily prompt to expand English vocabulary
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: Free, multiple in-app purchases – annual subscription costs $9.99, lifetime plan is available for $14.99

Average rating: 4.8/5

⇢ Word of the Day

10. WolframAlpha

WolframAlpha - top reference iPad iPhone apps

The interface of WolframAlpha app is to me what the science looks like. It’s like being taken out right from an advanced academic book.

WolframAlpha is an answer engine, using complex algorithms to aggregate answers in a range of topics, including science, nutrition, people, history, geography, engineering, mathematics, linguistics, or books.

Where Google gives a list of thousands of results, WolframAlpha provides one detailed answer (or we should rather say “report”) based on external sources – curated, structured, processed, and visualized.

The iOS WolframAlpha app can be helpful if you are looking for data-rich information from several areas, including mathematics, statistics, chemistry, engineering, astronomy, socioeconomic, or web & computer systems.

You can also find answers to less advanced topics such as currency rates, date and time, or weather analysis. Are you looking for a structured information about people, fictional characters, books, TV programs, or historical events? WolframAlpha has it, too.

A lesser-known fact is that several parts of WolframAlpha computed answer engine are used by Apple’s voice assistant Siri.

This app is amazingly good for STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, math). It is not a search engine like Google as some of the other reviewers seem to believe. If you want to know what it’s like, the website by the same name is almost identical.

– App Store review

Benefits: Single answers to most complex questions, aggregated detailed reports on topics from numerous fields
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad
Price: $2.99, three in-app upgrades: Image as Input ($0.99), Pro Monthly subscription ($6.99), Pro Yearly subscription ($65.99)

Average rating: 4.1/5

⇢ WolframAlpha

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