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Wikipedia is a great way to learn something new every day, and its mobile website is exceptional. If you haven’t tried it yet, go ahead and do so now: It almost feels like an app. But if almost doesn’t cut it for you, you’re going to be interested in WikiExplorer [No Longer Available]. This is a slick and modern Wikipedia client that feels thoroughly at home on recent-model Android devices. It’s ad-supported, but you can pay to get rid of them.
Reading an Article
While you can’t pinch-to-zoom, WikiExplorer offers a selection of font sizes, ranging from tiny to huge:
Above you can see the default (which looked quite sensible on my full-HD 5″ phone), as well as the tiny font setting, which was still readable but bordered on the masochistic (for people who really enjoy squinting). But showing plaintext is easy – the tricky parts are the “rich” areas of Wikipedia entries, such as the sidebars many entries have:
Above you can see WikiExplorer’s floating lightbox display for two types of sidebar: One is for an incredibly popular tech blog, and the other is for a highly intelligent mammal. They’re formatted according to different templates, but WikiExplorer makes them both look good.
Inline images are shown, but WikiExplorer knows they may be too tiny for you to enjoy. Tapping an image floats it on your screen, and you can pinch to zoom as close as you want. The original article remains open in the background, so there’s no delay when you want to get back to the text.
Wikipedia As a Travel Guide: Nearby Articles
This is one of the coolest features WikiExplorer offers:
A map showing nearby entries. Yes, a similar feature is available on Wikipedia’s mobile website as well, but there’s are several key differences: The website shows results as a sorted list rather than a map, and it forces you to use your current location.
With WikiExplorer, not only do you get a map, but you can pan around and long-press any spot in the world to get a view of all of the related entries:
Tapping an entry pops up a related image, and allows you to either navigate to it or read about it. The fact you don’t actually have to be nearby means you can suddenly use Wikipedia as a travel guide: Flying away later this week? Bring up a map of your destination and check out some of the attractions.
App Settings and Page Options
The App Settings show several other ways WikiExplorer differentiates itself from the website:
For one thing, you can use the volume buttons to scroll text, if you’re into that sort of thing. That’s not a feature the mobile website is likely to offer in the foreseeable future. Page options lets you switch to distraction-free full-screen mode, as well as browse the table of contents. I do wish there was a quick way to switch to a dark color scheme, though.
No app is perfect:
The left screenshot shows how deeply-indented lists are displayed. It’s a mess. The right screenshot shows… well, nothing, really. It looks like it was supposed to be an interstitial banner (one of those annoying full-screen ads), but it never loaded on my device – something that happened more than once, despite having a stable Wi-Fi connection. Actual pages did not fail to load, though.
Not a Must-Have, But a Solid App
WikiExplorer is up against some tough competition. Not only is the Wikipedia website one of the best mobile websites around, but there are other Wikipedia clients for Android such as the previously-reviewed LoboWiki and the excellent Wapedia. But the intense competition seems to have bred a capable, stable, and modern app — one that is well worth a try, especially for free.