The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010 for iPhone is a portable version of the famous encyclopedia

When it comes to fact-finding and pursuing points of knowledge, it’s all very well having the internet at your fingertips on your Apple iPhone – but that counts for nought when you’re not online.

That’s one reason for keeping an offline resource like the Encyclopedia Brittanica on your phone. The other mooted benefit is that – unlike, say, Wikipedia – there ought to be a good chance that entries are factually correct and not the result of a misinformed contribution or even malicious misinformation.

We’ve looked at the PC version of Encyclopedia Brittanica before, and the iPhone app carries similar limitations. There may be over 25,000 articles here (we don’t know, we didn’t count them all) but you’ll still find that most subjects only receive a cursory description.

‘Camera’, the picture-taking device with a long story behind its development and technology, gets 184 words.

‘Earth’, our world, gets more than just ‘mostly harmless’, but at 264 words one still feels a little short-changed for a resumé of the planet. But you do get a small illustration, in this case showing a pie-slice through the crust and cores.

The app lists 2700 included images, so only about one in ten entries are given these basic illustrations.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010 for iPhone

For the great... what? Some entries include illustrations, although their captions are bizarrely truncated

For any entry that you alight upon, you can send it in its (brief) entirety to a friend by email with a button at the top of the screen. This pastes the whole article, and even images if included – although we noticed that an HTML error puts a ‘?’ placeholder icon for the image at the mail’s top, then puts the actual picture at the bottom of the email.

You can save any page entry as a Favorite [sic] here too. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the app’s home screen is an ‘On This Day’ button, which calls up a list of events in history for every day of the year.

We found this usually just covered birth and death dates of people from history, but quite interesting nonetheless. Or you can use the iPhone’s revolving-drum date selection device to pick any other date in history.

Getting even more random, you can give your iPhone a little shake to get an entirely random entry dialled up on the screen. This is quite fun at first, but not without its issues.

Perversely, we found while playing with the app on a train that the force required to shuffle entries was just too great to do so without drawing unwanted attention from other passengers alerted to our Tourettish twitches; yet sometimes just placing the phone down on the desk was enough to lose our found entry, to be replaced by a spurious one.

There's a History button next to the Search function, to allow easy perusal of those lost searched entries, although it doesn’t seem to list entries  you’ve followed up by using the random-shake method, nor through On This Day listings.

Thanks to random entries appearing unbidden, at least we now know that, among other chance facts, a tokamak is a device used in nuclear-fission research for the confinement of plasma.

But it was to Wikipedia we had to turn to discover that tokamak is actualy an acronym based on a Soviet Russian name which survives transliteration from Cyrillic, namely toroidal'naya kamera s magnitnymi katushkami.

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Read our full review of the Apple iPad

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010 for iPhone review: Specs

  • iPhone, iPod touch or iPad
  • iOS 3.0 or later
  • 61.2MB download
  • iPhone, iPod touch or iPad
  • iOS 3.0 or later
  • 61.2MB download


The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2010 for iPhone app only takes 61MB of space on the phone, but given the huge capacity of the iPhone we would rather have a larger database with more in-depth entries. At £11.99, it’s relatively expensive for an iPhone app, but may prove useful for pulling up some outline knowledge on a wide range of subjects when you’re missing an internet connection.