Even in the age of information, travelers without a constant internet connection eventually get lost or require data that’s not readily available. Everyone who has heard, seen or read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remembers the eponymous Guide, a source of vast and questionable knowledge, which bailed out or confused the travelers, time and again.
You don’t have to travel to Ursa Minor Beta in order to score an analog, either. If you own an Android device, preferably a tablet, getting your book ready only requires three apps and approximately 2.5 to 7 GB of free space on your device or SD card.
Get Your Towel Ready
This guide covers three primary apps: Wiki Encyclopedia Offline, WikiSherpa and the Oxygen Guide. While other similar software exists, these apps provide the offline functionality that any pan-galactic hitchhiker worth her salt would keep handy.
However, if you find yourself wanting offline Wikis on your iOS or PC, check out Saikat’s ridiculously good cross-platform roundup of offline Wiki readers or his follow-up piece covering additional offline readers. Note: I
stole reused Saikat’s XKCD reference.
Wiki Encyclopedia Offline
Like its name says, WEO is an offline Wiki reader.
To get started, download Wiki Encyclopedia Offline. It will immediately ask if you want to download the entire free version Wiki dump, which takes up approximately 3.5 GB of data. If you lack the space, consider installing an even smaller offline reader. After downloading the dump, get started searching by tapping on the search icon. Also, you can bookmark particularly important articles.
The Good: It’s both fast and has a well-laid out design. The 3.5 GB offline dump includes a great deal of data and I find myself never really needing anything more. Even so, I encourage you to look at the paid version of the app, Wiki Encyclopedia Offline, paid edition.
The Bad: While the majority of my experience with Wiki Encyclopedia was quite good, it would automatically enter portrait mode. Unfortunately, WEO isn’t tablet optimized.
The Vogon: Like most Android apps, hitting the back button in WEO feels a lot like an improbability drive. That’s because you have no idea what that button does when pressed or where you’ll be after pressing it.
WikiSherpa is an offline WikiTravel reader.
To get started, download it. After firing up WikiSherpa, go to Downloads.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page again and select “Bulk Download”. Depending on your operating system, you might instead need to hit the Menu button.
As you might expect, WikiSherpa will then download approximately 300 MB of the WikiTravel database. After downloading, run the Index, located to the right of the download option, at the bottom of the page. This will increase the speed at which the app loads data.
The offline dump includes only the text and geotagged portions of the guide. Maps must be downloaded in one of two ways:
- Make your own: Choose the Map option from the main menu and then navigate to the region you want to visit. Click the map icon at the bottom of the page and then “download offline map“. Be aware that if you are too far zoomed out, and you select too high a level of zoom, the map will take a very long time to download. I’ve found that a healthy zoom level ranges between 14 and 16. Once downloaded, the map can be viewed in Offline Maps.
- Download preselected maps: In the offline maps section, there’s a variety of maps that can be downloaded. Just select the location of your choice, choose “OK” and the map will download.
The Good: Fast, efficient and well-laid out, WikiSherpa easily offers the best offline WikiTravel experience out of all the apps in the Android market.
The Bad: WikiSherpa isn’t perfect. There’s some issue with the stability and its offline maps feature isn’t 100% reliable. There were some instances where I had to re-download an offline map as the app inexplicably lost the original.
The Vogon: I certify WikiSherpa to be absolutely 99% Vogon-free.
The Oxygen Guide offers one of the best offline, cross-platform travel guide material in the entire Milky Way. However, it’s not an app. The Oxygen Guide is actually a 200 MB offline HTML file, loaded with information on pretty much every country on Earth, and (to my knowledge) in the galaxy.
The Good: The compressed size of the file comes out at a minuscule 86 MB of memory. It also runs quite fast. The search feature is outstanding.
The Bad: The Oxygen Guide isn’t the most visual of travel aids around. There’s a strong lack of both maps and images of any sort. However, minimalism is also what makes the guide so transportable.
The Vogon: I certify the Oxygen Guide to be completely and utterly 99.9.9% Vogon free.
If you have a tablet, prepaid or limited data cell phone, and plan to travel, then you would benefit substantially from turning any such device into your very own Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with offline Wikipedia, WikiTravel and Oxygen Guide readers.
However, an alternative to the three methods outlined here is creating PDFs of Wiki articles.