Low-cost iPhone dictionary applications

A really good dictionary is an indispensable part of any library, home or office. I have three unabridged dictionaries in my office, along with two thesauruses and maybe a half-dozen dictionaries devoted to specialized subjects. Stacked on my living room floor, my reference books come to my chin and easily weigh 100 pounds.

And at the moment I have eight dictionaries, including two unabridged volumes and the compact Oxford English Dictionary, on my much smaller, much lighter iPhone. What a world!

There are , with the triumvirate of Merriam-Webster, American Heritage and the somewhat abridged OED. I wondered how some of the upstarts stacked up with the Big Three. I selected five of the most popular free or inexpensive dictionary apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch for comparison. My assessment of the app versions of the Big Three will appear in a separate review later this week.

With all of these apps, I decided to play "Stump the dictionary." My word of choice was panjandrum, which Webster's will tell you means "a powerful personage or pretentious official." (Incidentally, J.N. Hook's long out-of-print book, , not current events, inspired the pick.

Hampton Catlin's Dictionaire is the most popular dictionary in the App Store, undoubtedly because of the price. The free app is a bare-bones word finder, with more than 140,000 definitions in its database. Panjandrum, alas, was not one of them.

Dictionaire is easy to use. Simply start typing the word you are looking for and the app will helpfully supply suggestions. The developer says he created the app as a convenient reading aid. This relatively unambitious reference tool is handy for casual readers in need of a quick definition, and not much else. So what you get is the word, its part of speech, and a short definition, but no pronunciation help or etymology.