Best iPhone Bible app contender: ESV Bible (Crossway)

This is our fourth iPhone Bible app review.  You can find our prior iPhone Bible apps reviews here:  Blue Letter BibleBible + 1, and Bible.is.  Our fourth review takes a look at Crossway’s ESV Bible app.  The app is available in a free version, which includes only the ESV’s text, translation notes, and cross-references, and a paid version, which adds the full set of resources from the ESV Study Bible and an audio version of the Bible.  We reviewed version 1.4.4 of the free app, which is available from the iTunes store here.

Criteria

My ideal iPhone Bible app would:

  • have NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NET, and NIV versions (preferred in that order)
  • have all of the above available offline (without 3G, Wi-fi, etc.)
  • allow split screen viewing for continuous translation comparison and/or study notes
  • have awesome study notes for at least one of the better translations (ideally, these notes would be usable with all translations)
  • allow me to bookmark/highlight verses (ideally with multiple different colors to indicate different concepts/subjects, and even better if it allows me to highlight specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me to attach notes to each verse (ideally would allow me to attach rich text, html, and/or other media, and even better if it would allow me to attach a note to specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me easily to email and post verses and a related note (e.g., on twitter)
  • be free

How Crossway’s ESV Bible app stacks up

Crossway’s ESV Bible app:

  • has only the ESV from my list of preferred translations (no other translations are available).
  • has only the ESV translation available offline.
  • does not allow split screen viewing.
  • does offer a translation with a strong, unified set of study notes (paid version, $14.99).
  • does allow me to highlight verses (but with only one color) and does allow me to bookmark (or “favorite”) a verse. It does allow me to copy, highlight or favorite a selection of multiple adjacent verses.
  • does allow me to attach notes to each verse.  It does allow me to add a note to a selection of multiple adjacent verses.
  • does allow me easily to copy, email, or share (on facebook or twitter) a verse.  It does allow me to do the same for a selection of multiple adjacent verses.
  • is free.

Other Considerations

The free version of Crossway’s ESV Bible is a nice one-translation app.  The app has a simple but powerful interface.  The text is clean, and the interface melts away when you start reading and scrolling.  It is really a nice reading experience–it doesn’t feel cramped like some other apps.  Unfortunately, only the text size is customizable.  You are stuck with a bright white background in church, which can be distracting when things are dimly lit.  That is my only criticism of the otherwise nice reading interface.

Touch a verse to view translation notes, cross references, and options to add your own content.  The cross references are handled very well, with discrete blue buttons for each reference that are easy to press.  You can highlight a verse in any color (so long as it’s yellow ;)), you can click the star icon to bookmark the verse as a favorite, you can add a note, or you can share the verse via facebook, twitter, or email.

The great part:  When you touch and hold a verse, you can select a continuous range of verses, which you then can copy, share, or annotate with all the features noted above.

Some notes regarding the ESV Bible’s other features:

  • The ESV Bible has a basic search feature, but that’s it.
  • I don’t see any reading plans.
  • It is very easy to review your reading history and favorite verses.  However, you have to click the More option in the menu to access the menu to access your notes and highlighted verses.  Requiring this extra press seems unnecessary.
  • The book and verse selection window is slick, but it could be a little more efficient.

The Paid Version of the App

If you pay $14.99, the features increase significantly.  You get an audio Bible.  You get a full set of excellent study notes and additional study resources.  However, you still do not get split-screen viewing.  (Instead, you have buttons at the top of the screen that allow you to select between the text and the study notes.)

Like some other iPhone Bible apps we have reviewed, Crossway has an associated website where you can read the Bible online (here).  The site has a very nice setup for Bible study (for example, clicking cross references brings up a pop-up window with the relevant verses’ text in context).  Like the iPhone app, you must pay to access the ESV Study Bible content, but you can listen to the audio Bible for free.  Although you can annotate as with the iPhone app, these annotations and your app annotations do not yet sync, although Crossway promises this in the future.

Verdict

If ESV is your translation, Crossway’s app is a great choice, and it gives you a lot of flexibility in creating your own content.

If you are looking for a free app, the free version is a good choice.  However, there are a number of other comparable apps that provide the ESV text online and offline for free (although without study notes and cross references) along with other translations.  The ability to review other translations of challenging passages allows for a much deeper Bible study experience in my opinion.

If you are willing to pay $14.99, you get a much richer experience.  Most notable, you get a great set of study resources and an audio Bible.  And if you are dead set on getting an iPhone version of the ESV Study Bible, this is the best value–so long as you don’t need or want any other translation.  The only other app I know of that offers the ESV Study Bible charges nearly $40 (although it offers the ability to compare multiple translations and allows for split-screen viewing).

I would love Crossway’s free ESV Bible app if:

  • I wanted only the ESV translation AND
  • I did not need or want a unified set of study notes AND
  • I did not need split-screen viewing.
    OR
  • I needed/wanted an audio Bible.

I would love Crossway’s paid ($14.99) ESV Bible app if:

  • I wanted only the ESV translation AND
  • I did not want split-screen viewing of text and notes AND
  • I wanted an audio version of the ESV within my primary Bible study app (recall from our Bible.is review that that app offers a free audio version of the ESV)

Feel free to share your opinions of–or questions about–Crossway’s ESV Bible app below.

BNMPI

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Best iPhone Bible app contender: Bible.is

This is the third installment of our iPhone Bible app review series.  Our first two iPhone Bible app reviews are here:  Blue Letter Bible and Bible + 1.  Both of those apps offer free versions with quality content and options.  Neither met all my needs, but one or both may meet yours.  This third review takes a look at Bible.is, another free app, which is available from the iTunes store here.  We reviewed version 1.5 (we have updated the earlier posts to reflect the versions of the apps we tested).

Criteria

Quick reminder – my ideal iPhone Bible app would:

  • have NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NET, and NIV versions (preferred in that order)
  • have all of the above available offline (without 3G, Wi-fi, etc.)
  • allow split screen viewing for continuous translation comparison and/or study notes
  • have awesome study notes for at least one of the better translations (ideally, these notes would be usable on all translations)
  • allow me to bookmark/highlight verses (ideally with multiple different colors to indicate different concepts/subjects, and even better if it allows me to highlight specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me to attach notes to each verse (ideally would allow me to attach rich text, html, and/or other media, and even better if it would allow me to attach note to specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me easily to email and post verses and a related note (e.g., on twitter)
  • be free

How Bible.is Stacks Up

As a general matter, Bible.is takes a slightly different approach than the Blue Letter Bible and Bible + 1.  Bible.is focuses on presenting the text of the Bible concurrently with audio versions in a vast number of languages.  This focus on accessibility and breadth doesn’t really match my goal of deep review of a few key translations.  So if you want to save a little time reading, I can tell you now that if your needs and wants are similar to mine, the BLB or Bible + 1 will probably be better options.  However, Bible.is does offer some unique advantages that I discuss below, and it might serve as a valuable supplementary resource for many of you.

Bible.is:

  • has only the ESV from my list of preferred translations (also available for free:  King James Version and New Revised Standard Version).
  • has only the ESV translation (and KJV) available offline.
  • does not allow split screen viewing.
  • does not offer any translation with study notes.
  • does allow me to highlight verses (with 1 of 4 different colors) and does allow me to bookmark a verse. It does not allow me to highlight more or less than a discrete verse.  However, Bible.is has a somewhat inflexible approach to bookmarking.  If you highlight a verse or add a note to it, a bookmark is automatically created.  If you delete the bookmark, any corresponding highlighting or note is also deleted.
  • does allow me to attach notes to each verse.
  • does not allow me to copy a verse to the clipboard easily but does allow you easily to share a verse on facebook.
  • is free.

Other Considerations

Bible.is provides at least one translation of the Bible in about 90 different languages (my unofficial count as I scrolled through the language list in the app).  Some translations include text only, some translations include audio only, and some translations offer both text and audio.  Some translations offer dramatic or non-dramatic audio versions.  The sheer scope of languages covered is impressive, and Bible.is should be commended for making such an accessible app.

Some notes regarding Bible.is’s other features:

  • Bible.is has a basic search feature, but it isn’t as flexible as some other offerings.
  • Bible.is makes it easy to bookmark/highlight/share (but only via facebook)/add a note to a verse.  In fact, Bible.is may have the best interface yet in this regard.  Click anywhere on a verse, and a menu pops up with options to bookmark, highlight, share on facebook, or add a note.  The best part is that you can use multiple features without having to click through menus between each.  With just a few clicks, you can richly annotate verses with ease.  This is the strength of the app, although I wish there were more sharing options (as well as the option to share the note, which I don’t see…although I could just be missing it).
  • Bible.is has a number of reading plans.
  • You access all of your user-created content in the Bookmarks menu option because Bible.is always creates a bookmark for verse highlighting and notes.  I have not found an independent way to access or search verse highlighting or verse notes.

I liked the Bible.is interface overall, although it is sparse.  No split-screen reading is a dealbreaker for reasons I mentioned in the Bible + 1 review.

I see only one setting for this app–text size.

Like the BLB and Bible + 1, Bible.is has an associated website where you can read the Bible online (here).  The site also allows you to listen to the available audio versions and access the Bible.is twitter feed and facebook page.  When you try to access the site from an iPhone, you are automatically directed to the iPhone app, so I don’t know if viewing Bible.is on the iPhone via Safari is possible.

Verdict

Although Bible.is is not the right primary tool for my Bible study needs, it is a valuable and unique app that will stay on my iPhone because, quite simply, it is great having a free audio Bible for all those times when reading is impractical or impossible.  I find myself using the app for this purpose frequently (usually in the car).

I would love the Bible.is app if:

  • I wanted only ESV, KJV, and/or NRSV translations AND
  • I did not need or want a unified set of study notes AND
  • I did not need split-screen viewing.
    OR
  • I needed/wanted an audio Bible.

If you have any interest in an audio Bible, Bible.is a valuable addition to your Bible study toolkit:  It is free (and some translations, like the ESV, are downloadable for free for offline use) and its interface is straightforward, making it easy to add your own content and share verses (via facebook).

Feel free to share your opinions of–or questions about–Bible.is below.

BNMPI

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Best iPhone Bible app contender: Bible + 1

Our first iPhone Bible app review looked at the Blue Letter Bible, a free app with a lot to recommend it.  Our second iPhone Bible app review considers Bible + 1, another app that is free (in its basic configuration).  The free version is available from the iTunes store here.  We took a look at version 1.2.3 of the app.

How Bible + 1 is sold

Before we review the app, a few notes about how this app is sold.  You can get a free version of Bible + 1, which allows you to access multiple translations with an internet connection but has no local translations (at the link above), or you can buy it with one of a number of “pre-loaded” translations of the Bible of your choice, so you have at least one translation available offline.  I recommend buying the free version linked above so you can check out the interface and features before you buy.

Criteria

Let’s recall my criteria.  My ideal iPhone Bible app would:

  • have NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NET, and NIV versions (preferred in that order)
  • have all of the above available offline (without 3G, Wi-fi, etc.)
  • allow split screen viewing for continuous translation comparison and/or study notes
  • have awesome study notes for at least one of the better translations (ideally, these notes would be usable on all translations)
  • allow me to bookmark/highlight verses (ideally with multiple different colors to indicate different concepts/subjects, and even better if it allows me to highlight specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me to attach notes to each verse (ideally would allow me to attach rich text, html, and/or other media, and even better if it would allow me to attach note to specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me easily to email and post verses and a related note (e.g., on twitter)
  • be free

How Bible + 1 Stacks Up

Bible + 1:

  • has NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, and NIV versions (and others).
  • has all of the above listed translations available offline (but for a per-translation fee ranging from $0.99 for KJV to $9.99 for ESV).
  • does not allow split screen viewing.
  • does not appear to have awesome study notes for any of the above mentioned translations (there is no downloadable translation with a study Bible at this time).
  • does allow me to highlight verses (with 1 of 4 different colors) and does allow me to bookmark a verse. It does not allow me to highlight more or less than a discrete verse.
  • does allow me to attach notes to each verse.
  • does allow me to copy a verse to the clipboard easily but does not have an easy way to email verse notes.
  • is free for the base app (but if you want any offline translations, each translation costs between $1 and $10).

Other Considerations

Bible + 1 does not have the plethora of resources BLB had, but it has some potentially valuable extras:

  • Bible + 1 has an alphabetical list of Keywords, Topics, and Stories, so you can access relevant Bible books and verses those ways.
  • Bible + 1 has a pretty nice search engine that will allow you to search the Bible text, Keywords, Topics, and Stories together or to filter by resource type (you can also filter by OT/NT or books of the Bible).
  • Bible + 1 has a good (but poorly named) Devotions option, which is essentially a nice set of reading plans, some of which are focused on particular subject matters.  But don’t expect study aids here–these are pure reading plans.
  • The My Stuff icon presents a clean look at the content you have created, listing your bookmarks, highlights, and notes.  There are a variety of ways to find and access your content, which prove helpful.

From a usability standpoint, I thought the Bible + 1 app was OK.  The fundamental flaw is the lack of split-screen reading.  This makes reviewing study notes or comparing translations difficult.  That aside, the interface is pretty straightforward.  There are only a few settings in the app–one for Low Light (which reverses Bible text and background colors but leaves the other pages at their default colors, which means those pages will be bright in a dimly lit church), one for Show Footnotes (if you want to hide translation notes), and one for Auto-Lock Disabled (if you want to lock the screen orientation).

Like the BLB, Bible + 1 has an associated website where you can read the Bible online (here).  A mobile version of the page is available here.

Verdict

The Bible + 1 app is a solid app and a good competitor to the BLB, but it can’t meet my needs.  Bible + 1 beats the BLB in its ability to take notes on a verse-by-verse basis and the option to download preferred translations offline.  And I can’t justify spending $1 to download an offline copy of the KJV or $10 to download an offline copy of the ESV when both are available for free download via other apps.  The ultimate dealbreaker, though, is the lack of split-screen viewing.  This makes it unnecessarily hard to review study (or translation) notes in context or to compare different versions’ treatment of complex text.  Finally, like the BLB, Bible + 1 offers no option to download a Bible translation with unified study notes, so if you want a study Bible, you have to look elsewhere.

I would love the Bible + 1 app if:

  • I always had a free internet connection or didn’t mind paying for offline copies of translations AND
  • I did not need or want a unified set of study notes AND
  • I did not need split-screen viewing.

Bible + 1 is a nice app that offers a strong variety of free translations online and allows you to create targeted verse-by-verse notes, bookmarks, and highlights.  The free version is a great value obviously, although the cost of the offline translations is dubious.

Feel free to share your opinions of–or questions about–Bible + 1 below.

BNMPI

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Best iPhone Bible app contender: Blue Letter Bible

First we looked at the Blue Letter Bible (version 1.0.3).  The BLB is free and available at the iTunes store here.

Criteria

Let’s recall my criteria.  My ideal iPhone Bible app would:

  • have NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NET, and NIV versions (preferred in that order)
  • have all of the above available offline (without 3G, Wi-fi, etc.)
  • allow split screen viewing for continuous translation comparison and/or study notes
  • have awesome study notes for at least one of the better translations (ideally, these notes would be usable on all translations)
  • allow me to bookmark/highlight verses (ideally with multiple different colors to indicate different concepts/subjects, and even better if it allows me to highlight specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me to attach notes to each verse (ideally would allow me to attach rich text, html, and/or other media, and even better if it would allow me to attach note to specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me easily to email and post verses and a related note (e.g., on twitter)
  • be free

How the BLB Stacks Up

The BLB:

  • has NASB, ESV, NKJV, NET, and NIV versions (and others).
  • has only the NET Bible available offline (of the translations listed above).
  • allows split screen viewing.
  • does not appear to have awesome study notes for any of the above mentioned translations (although it has other similar resources, which are listed below).
  • does allow me to highlight verses (with 1 of 7 different colors) and allows me to bookmark a chapter (but not a verse). It does not allow me to highlight more or less than a discrete verse.
  • does not allow me to attach notes to each verse but does allow me to attach notes to a chapter.
  • allows me to copy the verse to the clipboard easily and email chapter notes easily.
  • appears to be 100% free.

Other Considerations

The BLB has some other interesting features, like:

  • a one-click version comparison for a verse (click the verse, then click Version Comparison, and a comparison of all the available BLB translations for that verse appear, not just the one or two versions you were reviewing).
  • a Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK)–which does not require an internet connection, so it can be viewed offline–and entries for Commentaries, Dictionaries, and Concordance/Interlinear, which do require an internet connection.  (You should check out this content on your own to see if it’s valuable to you.)  The Concordance/Interlinear option provides each word in its original language with correct fonts and the respective word’s potential meanings, links to other instances of the word in the text, and identifies the frequency and number of different ways the word has been translated throughout the text, among other information.  There looks to be a lot of good information here, although you may have to hunt for some of it.

From a usability standpoint, I thought the BLB was fine.  You can’t customize the size of the split screen windows, which is a bummer and seems like an easy improvement, but you can customize the colors, font sizes, etc. of the text.  I didn’t have any real complaints with the interface, although I wish you could use a dark background (bright iPhone screens can distract others in a dimly lit church).

The BLB app is part of the larger Blue Letter Bible project. The website is here, and it has number of study tools and other related resources.  The official page for the BLB iPhone app is here.

Verdict

The BLB is excellent on most counts but misses on three critical points for me:

  • First, the BLB does not provide two of my preferred translations offline, and I don’t feel comfortable relying on the NET version of the Bible as my sole translation.
  • Second, it does not allow you to use any study Bible with a unified set of study notes.  The supplemental content attached to each verse (TSK, Commentaries, and the rest) seems designed to fill the gap, but it requires quite a bit of effort to review (at least two clicks for each verse) and appears of inconsistent value or quality.
  • Third, the BLB does not allow you to attach notes to specific verses.  To be useful, I feel my notes need to be able to target verses, not simply chapters.

I would love the BLB if:

  • I relied on the NET Bible translation primarily or exclusively and/or always had a free internet connection AND
  • I did not need or want a unified set of easy-to-access study notes (or used the alternative BLB resources and/or other resources instead) AND
  • I did not need to track notes on a verse-by-verse basis.

As it stands, I think the Blue Letter Bible is a great resource for comparing the raw text of different translations when you have an internet connection.  It’s also a great value.

Feel free to share your opinions of–or questions about–the Blue Letter Bible below.

BNMPI

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Best iPhone Bible apps: Comparison, Evaluation, and Review (Pt 1)

My first iPhone app series takes a look at iPhone Bible apps. Like all my reviews, I will tell you (1) where I’m coming from (in the relevant context, who I am and what I do), (2) what I want and how I prioritize those wants, and (3) in my experience whether the apps satisfy my wants. Then you can do more research and make the best decision for you.

(1)  Where I’m coming from:

I love to read my Bible, which is the MacArthur Study Bible in NASB (New American Standard Bible) version. But I don’t read it as much as I would like. I think I would read it more if I had a better way to take and track notes and if it were more accessible and easy for me to pick up and read at a moment’s notice, particularly when I am away from the house, when I am least likely to have my Bible handy. I like to read the Bible deeply and try to understand the complexities of the language and interrelationships within the text, but I’m no Bible scholar. I’m also very frugal.

(2) My Wants:

Based on that background, my ideal iPhone Bible app would:

  • have NASB, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, NET, and NIV versions (preferred in that order)
  • have all of the above available offline (without 3G, Wi-fi, etc.)
  • allow split screen viewing for continuous translation comparison and/or study notes
  • have awesome study notes usable with at least one of the better translations (ideally, these notes would be usable on all translations)
  • allow me to bookmark/highlight verses (ideally with multiple different colors to indicate different concepts/subjects, and even better if it would allow me to highlight specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me to attach notes to each verse (ideally would allow me to attach rich text, html, and/or other media, and even better if it would allow me to attach a note to specific text less than or more than a discrete verse)
  • allow me easily to email and post verses and a related note (e.g., on twitter)
  • be free

For an iPhone Bible app to meet my basic requirements, it must:

  • have at least the NASB or NKJV and the HCSB, ESV, NET, or NIV versions (at least 2 versions total)
  • have either NASB, NKJV, HCSB, or ESV available offline (without 3G, wi-fi, etc.)
  • allow split screen viewing for continuous translation comparison and/or study notes
  • have awesome study notes for at least one of the better translations, and these notes must be available offline
  • allow me to bookmark/highlight verses
  • allow me to attach notes to each verse
  • allow me easily to copy verses (which I could then email/tweet/etc.)
  • cost no more than $30 for all of the above

Here’s my rationale:

When I study, I like to compare versions to get the most comprehensive understanding of the original words used (and the different ways experts have interpreted those words).  I also find it helpful to compare and contrast literal translations with more idea-based translations.

A good split-screen view is essential to effective comparison of versions and effective use of study notes, in my experience.

I am not smart enough to get all I can out of the Bible without study notes. I love high quality study notes and cross references. I need them.

I really want to start creating some durable memory about what deeper biblical concepts I am starting to understand. I want to take good notes and highlight key text and remember the cool things I am discovering. As it is, I feel like I am learning a lot in different contexts, but I don’t have a way to pull it all together and keep it fresh in my mind so it actually impacts my actions on a daily basis. I also want to be able to email or post cool things I learn to share with friends or family. I like the concept of a low-level lay ministry, even if sporadic.

Finally, I’m cheap. $30 seems a fair total price for the above, given other amazing iPhone apps that retail for significantly less.

(3) Coming Up:

In my next post, I will begin reviewing individual iPhone Bible apps with reference to my key criteria listed above. At the end, I’ll post a summary and pick a winner (if there is one). If you have any requests or input, feel free to post a comment. Word.

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Now that everything is working…

My next post begins my first in a series of reviews of iPhone apps.  I don’t have time to make these reviews pretty, but I will do my best to focus clearly on my criteria for good apps and provide an accurate description of my experiences with these apps.  All apps I discuss are purchased (or, if free, obtained) by me with no intervention by the publisher or any other entity.

I give my honest opinions because that is what I would want if I were searching for reviews or advice.  I have invested a heck of a lot of time trying to pick the best apps for me and my family, and I hope I can give you the benefit of my experience so you can get to the right apps for you asap.

If you have any questions or requests, post a comment.  Word up.

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