What happens when you stuff all the knowledge known to man into a big box and let a super-computer deal with it? A “computational knowledge engine“ by the name of WolframAlpha happens! It promises to answer every question you might have whenever you need it, thanks to WolframAlpha Mobile for Android. Does this thing actually work? Does it really know everything? Read on!
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Features & Use
WolframAlpha isn’t the same kind of search engine as Google or Bing in the sense that results aren’t shown in the form of links; what happens instead is that results are produced in accordance to the entry. This means that if you ask a question such as “How old was Barack Obama when the Berlin Wall fell?” will lead to an actual answer revealing Obama’s exact age, the very day. In order to do so WolframAlpha draws from its own data bank which, along with natural language recognition is WolframAlpha’s defining feature. You can’t use Wolfram Alpha to find a as you would Google, e.g. to find a cheap flight or hotel due to its – to some extent limited – data base, which is mainly based on numbers. On the other hand, WolframAlpha is exceptionally good at dealing with facts and dates. For instance, Wolfram Alpha receives weather and stock updates in real time, and you can access them via keywords (“weather Pittsburg 04/10/98", “Apple stock”). It would take much to long to list all the research possibilities so let me just say that the data diversity is pretty impressive.
Another function is the calculation and processing of mathematical terms. Wolfram Alpha boasts a broad spectrum of mathematical know-how: from the basic calculation of numbers to cracking systems of equations.
So just how well does it all function?
On the whole Wolfram Alpha provides a good service. The results are mostly very accurate and detailed and provide thorough information. However, seeing as the computer has to interpret both the entry and the natural language the results aren’t always successful; in some cases keywords aren’t recognized and the results are thus absolutely not what one was searching for. The fact that Wolfram Alpha understands only English is a shame but not that big of a deal. What is annoying, on the other hand, are a few mishaps in the apparently incomplete data bank. A few facts that you would expect to be in the data bank are not to be found: searches for “when did the war in Iraq begin” or “winner French Open 2007” did not come up with the correct answers, which leads to believe that this data has not yet been introduced into the data bank. Another small drawback is the spell check which isn’t always accurate.
On a more positive note, Wolfram Alpha’s mathematical branch works brilliantly. The design, differentiation, and integration of functions as well as the solving of equations (with restrictions) work superbly and very precisely. Wolfram Alpha can be used by those who enjoy and/or struggle with maths.
The “basic functions” such as displaying and saving the history of search terms are also worth mentioning.
Screen & Controls
WolframAlpha’s design is simple and you will find all functions in the menu. The integral keyboard (which can be adapted) allows for entries that include mathematical symbols. It’s also possible to use Google Language Tools. Unfortunately, the keyboard does not provide haptic feedback. A widget would also be nice, seeing as this would allow you to access Wolfram Alpha from the homescreen.
Wolfram Alpha is a very useful app that will allow you to access a lot of information / an informative data bank. The functions related to mathematics are especially impressive and useful (provided you find maths to be useful). Coping with small glitches isn’t a big deal. Should you choose to make use of this app please keep in mind that as opposed to the Wolfram’s website this app doesn’t provide a big spectrum of functions.
Speed & Stability
There’s nothing to nag about in regards to WolframAlpha’s stability; it ran very smoothly throughout the testing phase. Seeing as this isn’t a standard search engine is takes a little bit longer for the search results to appear on the display.
WolframAlpha costs US$ 1,99, which is acceptable for an app which is mainly representative of a website.