Best iPad apps for learning and reference

So you've just taken in a shiny new iPad. Great, but you'll soon realise that on its own the iPad doesn't do that much.

We've scoured the 3500 dedicated iPad apps (and counting) to bring you what we think are the best iPad apps available at the moment (mid April) to get you using the device for learning. That way you can use the kids as an excuse to buy one. You don't actually have to let them touch it of course, but if you need the "it will help with school work" excuse these apps might just give you the edge.

We've tried, tested and reviewed all the below iPad apps ourselves rather than just guessing whether they are good or not. Now grab an apple (no pun intended) and get ready to give it to teacher.

Khan Academy

The Khan in question in Khan Academy is an American chap named Salman Khan who founded a free online education website for people everywhere, and now you can be a student of the Khan Academy your iPad with access to over 3,000 video lessons that you can either stream from the site or download and watch any time you don’t have a connection. 

They run from the absolute basics, such as simple addition, all the way up to heavy calculus and beyond, and the whole app is really as interesting for those just looking to broaden their horizons as it is for students seeking an alternative way of understanding something that’s been troubling them in class. Definitely worth a download, whether you use it just once or every day of the week. Read more

iTunes: Link

Price: Free

Rating: 4/5

 

British Library 19th Century Historical Collection

The British Library 19th Century Historical Collection app includes over a thousand books from classic novels, to works of philosophy, to historical documents and scientific texts. And the aim is, within a few months, for the amount of titles on board to top 60,000. Not too bad for a free app eh? The app isn't all about content either, it's very nicely laid out with easy navigation and a familiar tablet feeling UI. There's also multimedia content such as videos included too.

There's plenty of commentary and additional material associated with each text, and you can even create favourite author lists and save books and documents for offline reading. It's a fantastically rich application and one that will surely broaden your mind. Read More

iTunes: Link

Price: Free

Rating: 5/5

 

Britannica Kids - Ancient Rome

This impressive app is definitely worth the £4.99 price-tag. It's incredibly informative, rich and entertaining - just as a modern educational app should be - and, even though it's aimed at kids aged 8-12, we bet even the mums and dads out there will learn a thing or two. You can try jigsaw puzzles of the Roman Gods, unscramble images of Ancient Rome in The Magic Square game, paint the famous ancient Roman structures and then try to guess what they are, test your knowledge on Ancient Rome with the quiz or test memory with the Memory Match game.

Kids are connected too, so obviously the app has some social media features. You can tweet your answers or share your results with your pals on Facebook. There's also plenty of informative multimedia info, including tons of images and a few videos as well. A great way to make learning fun. Read More

iTunes: Link

Price: £4.99

Rating: 5/5

 

Guinness World Records: At Your Fingertips

There's something inherently fascinating about people that attempt to break or set World Records. Back in the day, when the book version was more words than pictures, we'd spend hours pouring over such entries as "Longest Amount of Time Standing on One Foot" or "Longest Attack of Sneezing". The Guinness World Records: At Your Fingertips offers normal punters the chance to set their own World Records, and the results will be officially recognised and written into THE book.

There are three separate challenges on offer, including an iPad-specific race against a virtual pair of Usain Bolt's feet, in order to beat his record 100 metres time. Of course, the Guinness World Records: At Your Fingertips app isn't just for new record breakers, it offers plenty of information about existing fruitcakes, er, talented members of the public who have already entered the hall of fame. Read More

iTunes: Link

Price: £2.99

Rating: 5/5

 

Wolfram Alpha

When Wolfram Alpha launched back in May 2009, it promised to deliver accurate answers to users' questions; an approach different to that of Google's search engine, as results from queries in this form can often be a little on the random side. And Wolfram Alpha, for the most part, has delivered on this promise, as it is an excellent resource for all sorts of tricky questions.

There's a getting started page and various categories available in order to help with how to ask specific questions; categories include physics, maths, astronomy, engineering, life sciences as well as pretty much any discipline you can think of. Read More

iTunes: Link

Price: £1.99

Rating: 4/5

 

Chambers Thesaurus

This seriously wordy app gets 40,000 distinct words as well as around 400,000 synonyms and antonyms. The smart word entry suggests possible correct spellings as you type, as well as listing words that sound the same or are often confused.

There's a host of search features which include spelling suggestions, for when you're uncertain of how the word is, eh, spelt (they come up whilst typing), a "sounds like" and "often confused" feature and alphabetical listing. A clear layout and nippy response make this a a very handy little app. Read More

iTunes: Link

Price: £2.99

Rating: 4/5

 

Wikipanion

Seeing as there is no dedicated official Wikipedia app currently in existence for the iPad, Wikipanion is the next best thing. In many ways it is better than the official iPhone offering, granting easy access to the whole of Wikipedia's knowledge base through a rather nifty little UI. The app's real power lies in the way it searches the site, either via Google, Wikipedia itself or smart text searching.

Little touches like being able to hide languages that you don't either care about or understand also make the app very useful. Images can also be stored and even parts of pages played back using clever Ogg vorbis technology. 

iTunes: Link

Price: Free

Rating: 4/5

 

Dictionary.com

While your doing all this learning and reading you might come across the odd word you don't understand. Don't be ashamed, instead double tap the home key and pop open the Dictionary.com app. Laid out like ... well a dictionary, it should answer all your word related problems.

No internet connection is needed to get a proper word search on. You also get examples of the word in use as well as a proper history of the word, as well as its full origins. The app also loads custom backgrounds and when you do have a web connection, you get a voice to text search function with daily content updates.

iTunes: Link

Price: Free

Rating: 4/5

 

World Atlas HD

National Geographic has always been good at making maps and if you've ever managed to be lucky enough to get a copy of the magazine with one of its maps inside, then you'll know how good they are with a whole host of information allowing you to quickly see the political boundaries, where things are as well as general information about the world we live in.

The iPad app is basically an extension of that, but digitized. The app comes with all the map sets National Geographic has launched over the years and you can either choose to access them online or, if you are constantly referencing a particular continent, download them (for free) for quicker load times.

Each map offers Political, Executive, and Satellite views with road maps offered via Bing. You can pinch to zoom in on any area of the map to an impressive zoom level. But it's not just about maps (after all Google maps can do that) but the ability to learn about different nations with key facts about the country given as well - perfect for school-essay answers.

The app allows you to bookmark your favourite locations, locate yourself via a Wi-Fi or GPS connection and search for major cities around the world.

While it's not going to let you find the quickest way to Doncaster, it will give you a good educational slant to you mapping needs. As a fan of the paper versions (we have the world map on our office wall) this is a nice digital approach.

iTunes: Link

Price: £1.19

Rating: 3.5/5

 

TED

If you're unfamiliar with TED Talks, then a) Where have you been for the last 5 years? And b) Prepare to be amazed. TED (which stands for Technology Entertainment and Design) is a worldwide, on-going conference that is organised by the Sapling Foundation, with the objective of presenting "ideas worth spreading". Since 2006the Talks have been posted online at TED.com and by July of this year, over 900 talks, ranging from an eclectic spectrum of topics, were available and have been viewed more than 290 million times.

The TED iPad app brings a bunch of those Talks to the 10-inch screen, with almost 800 available from 3 minutes to 30 minutes long. The app allows you to personalise your TED experience and you can also save your favourite talks, or create play-lists to watch at a later date. Read More

iTunes: Link

Price: Free

Rating: 5/5

 

Star Walk

So you're interested in the stars, but aren't really sure where Orion is or how many stars make up Cassiopeia. Hoping to give you a helping hand is Star Walk, an iPad and iPhone app that will let you see where the stars are in the sky.

What makes this perfect for the iPad is the large screen as all you have to do is point the device upwards towards the sky and as you move it around it will do the rest; showing you what's what and mapping out the stars.

Failing to use it as a star chart, the app comes with other information like sunset and sunrise data for the Earth, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn as well as the phases of the moon.

There's a picture of the day feature, the ability to bookmark events, as well as see your exact location (thanks to GPS locking) or select another point on the planet to get a different view of the sky.

Those hoping to use it at night will also be pleased to hear that there is a night mode (turns everything red) so you can still see the stars you are looking at.

Top stuff if you are just starting to find your way into the world of astronomy.

iTunes: Link

Price: $1.79

Rating: 4/5

 

Drink-a-Dex

We like a drink, you probably like a drink too, but can you tell your Harvey Wallbanger from your Adios Amigos? What about Pan American Clipper and a Zombie?

That's the idea of the Drink-a-Dex, a cocktail recipe book that will tell you how to make the finest cocktails in the land without you having to result to experiments of your own.

Each recipe will give you the ingredients needed, whether or not you can substitute any of them with something else and also a reference to where the recipe came from so you can sound like a pro.

The iPad app lets you favourite your, well, favourite cocktails, and there is even a way of searching the database for just Vodka recipes or other random liquors you've been given for Christmas.

There is even a Twitter, Facebook and email option so you can share the recipes with your new found chums.

Frozen Banana Daiquiri anyone?

iTunes: Link

Price: £1.19

Rating: 4/5

 

ABC Dinos

How many dinosaurs can you name? Now how many dinosaurs can you name each starting with a different letter and spanning the entire alphabet?

ABC Dinosaurs is a book for dino fans big and small that lets you go through the alphabet seeing a picture of a dinosaur and having its name read out to you, if you have the volume on, or letting you try and guess if you haven't.

It's aimed at kids so don't expect any real information here, but it's great fun trying to say Quetzalcoatlus or Xenotarososaurus.

iTunes: Link

Price: Free

Rating: 3.5/5

 

Today in History iPad edition / World Book This Day in History for iPad

Depending on whether you are downloading the app from the US or the UK will determine the title of this app. They are different apps by different developers, but basically are the same app.

You get a calendar with famous events of the day so you can charm (read bore) your friends with mindless factoids from the past.

The American version does acknowledge the rest of the world, but is very American focused with American history first over more European and other worldly events. Each entry has a link to read slightly more (a couple of paragraphs) and it's all fairly basic stuff, but enough to make you look knowledgeable down the pub.

The British offering is more text based giving you a soundbite followed by external links to further reading rather than letting you read a quick snippet there and then.

iTunes: Link / Link

Price: Free

Rating: 3.5/5

 

The Elements

Theodore Gray's The Elements is a must have if you are any way intrigued by chemistry and the way our planet and the universe is made. 

Put simply, this is a graphically pretty table of the elements that gives two place cards to for each one, telling you virtually all you need to know about different elements like Helium, Oxygen and other gems; such as those without a final name yet (our favourite Ununtrium).

The app itself is fairly basic, and if you aren't interested in science you'll probably baulk at the price (£7.99 / $13.99), which is fair as it's pretty niche stuff.

Those really into the science will like the ability to find out more information in-app via Wolfram Alpha, and before you ask - no you can't use it to find out the calorific value of a Big Mac.

The only catch we can see is that it's a thirsty beast when in comes to storage space - it will take almost 2GB of your iPad storage.

iTunes: Link

Price: £7.99

Rating: 3.5/5

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