Getting a quick, authoritative answer to any question that occurs to you is way up there with flying cars, at least for me. How tall is the average gorilla? What’s the production budget for Gone With The Wind, versus that of the first Harry Potter movie (both adjusted for inflation, of course)?
Wolfram Alpha is a powerful “knowledge engine” that we’ve covered extensively before, and can help you answer all of these questions, and many, many others. But often, we need answers when we’re out and about – when all we’ve got is a smartphone. When that happens, can Wolfram Alpha for Android be as effective as the desktop version?
Look & Feel
The first thing you’re likely to notice when you fire up Wolfram Alpha on Android is the enormous keyboard. This thing is so ridiculously large, it basically fills up the screen, leaving room for just a single line of text. That’s great if you have to do lots of math on the road, but I never do.
I wouldn’t mind it so much if the keyboard supported swiping or sliding, but it doesn’t. You have to tap-tap-tap your query slowly. Fortunately, this is one of the few settings Wolfram Alpha lets you tweak:
Just uncheck “Use custom keyboard,” and you’ll get this:
So much better! But once you submit your query, it’s time to browse the answers. The mobile interface works quite well for most simple queries, showing the input interpretation (letting you see if Wolfram Alpha understood what you want), as well as related queries you can tap to:
Also, gorillas are large.
Some query results involve graphs, which can be trickier to view on a mobile device:
This impressively rising graph is the GDP of Croatia, by the way, and Wolfram Alpha even adjusts the number to my local currency (Israeli shekels) without me having to do anything. The only problem is that it looks quite tiny on my phone, and there’s no way to make it any larger.
Compared With Google Now
Wolfram Alpha isn’t the only one trying to help with quick answers while you’re out and about. If you have a recent Android device, it’s likely you have Google Now – Google’s recent mobile search product, which works hard to answer questions. Above you can see the same query (I used the same exact wording), and Google Now picked it up quite well.
It didn’t adjust it for my local currency, however, and its graph is even smaller than Wolfram Alpha’s. Also, for some reason it decided to show me a map of Croatia, even though it’s completely irrelevant to what I wanted to know (maybe maps are just cool).
When asked about gorillas, however, Google Now did not fare as well:
This wasn’t parsed as a question, so all I got was a regular Google search. The second result does show some gorilla dimensions right on the search results page, but that’s more of a happy coincidence than a design choice.
What about the weather?
Once more, Google Now doesn’t bother localizing units – we’re metric here in Israel – but it sure is pretty (if useless, for me). Wolfram Alpha on the other hand says this:
It took much longer to display than Google Now, and the graphic is tiny, but it’s in units I can understand, and if I scroll down a bit I get a detailed breakdown of conditions, including wind speed, relative humidity, and even information about the cloud cover. So, more thorough and useful, but not as fast (and not as pretty).
This is not a detailed comparison post – that would be an enormous task – but I did want to bring Google Now into the picture mainly to see if there’s still a need for Wolfram Alpha. I conclude that yes, there is. Even if you have Google Now, the Android version of Wolfram Alpha can be incredibly useful (if frustratingly slow at times).
Do you use Wolfram Alpha for Android on the go? What’s the coolest thing you ever did with it?