PocketBible: The Name for Quality in Bible Software for Pocket PCs  
   
  Version: 2.0  
  Developer: Laridian, Inc.  
  Rub�n G�mez  
Overall Rating:  7.6
User Interface: Searching:
Ease of Use Features:
Help & Support: Modules:
Customization: Original Languages:
Speed: Price:

December 31, 2004

A review written by Rub�n G�mez, Bible software translator and beta tester. Copyright � 2006-2009 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission from the author.

Introduction

A recent winner of Pocket PC Magazine's Best Software Awards 2004 in the Bible Software category, PocketBible is to be commended for a variety of reasons.For one thing, it is a very elegant and powerful application that has little to envy to most of its big brothers (i.e., desktop Bible software programs). Something as well built, well thought-out, easy to use, as PocketBible is bound to be a winner or runner-up.

In business since 1998, Laridian is well known for its founders, Craig Rairdin and Jeff Wheeler, of QuickVerse fame. They have done a good job at "porting" the standard features of Bible software to handheld devices. The result is highly satisfactory. PocketBible can be used "right out of the box," and mastered in a relatively short period of time. Clear and detailed online help can be accessed in two ways: via the Start > Help menu while the program is running, or online, in HTML and PDF formats.

This review is based on the use of the following texts: NASB with Strong's Numbers and Greek/Hebrew Dictionaries (NASEC), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary, Nave's Topical Bible, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, and Tyndale Bible Dictionary. This collection of resources has a retail price of $99.94. The program as such, currently at version 2.026, costs only $10.00, and a demo of PocketBible is available as a free download (with the KJV, including New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs). It is a fully functional version of the program, but only works with this particular demo Bible. [1]

It should also be noted that there are a number of free Bible versions currently available: American Standard Version, Darby's New Translation, King James Version, Today's New International Version (NT only!), World English Bible, and Young's Literal Translation. This means that one can simply buy the application and use any (or all) of the free texts.

System Requirements and Installation

PocketBible runs on any Pocket PC device with Windows CE 2.x or higher, [2] and the Bibles and books can be installed on an expansion card. However, with an average size of 2-3 MB per Bible, it is advisable to use the main memory, or File Store (NAND flash memory) if available, for best performance.

Purchased items can be accessed online with the assigned customer ID and password, and downloaded to our desktop computer. Once located in the hard drive, one only has to run the setup program while the handheld is connected to the desktop system.

General Features

PocketBible displays Bibles one chapter at a time, whereas commentaries, lexicons, and dictionaries are displayed one entry at a time. A maximum of two books can be viewed simultaneously (Figure 1), and with Windows Mobile 2003 SE it is possible to use the program in portrait or landscape view.

When the two books mode is chosen (View > Two Books), the texts can be synchronized (opened to the same verse) via the View > Synchronize menu. However, it is not possible to scroll two Bibles (or a Bible and a commentary) simultaneously due to limitations in the Microsoft HTML rendering engine currently used. Also, the size of each window cannot be changed, and thus only a fixed 1:1 horizontal (portrait view) or vertical (landscape view) screen split is available.

As expected, footnotes and Bible references are hypertexted, while text, search results, and notes can be easily copied and pasted into word processors such as Pocket Word.

Fig. 1 General view of the program, displaying NASB (NASEC) and Nave's Topical Bible. The main menu, toolbar and status bar appear at the bottom of the screen. Both the toolbar and status bar can be toggled on and off at will to get more screen real estate.

Navigating the program is very simple. There is a toolbar, which can be toggled on and off from the main menu (Figure 2), that includes all that is necessary in order to easily move through the text, perform searches, look up words, and add bookmarks.

Fig. 2 PocketBible in landscape view, showing only the main menu. The toolbar has been hidden.

Customizing PocketBible is also quite easy. All program options can be accessed via the View > Options menu, including the default Bible and Dictionary when searches are performed or words are looked up (Figure 3).

Fig. 3 Adjusting PocketBible's options.

Jumping to any verse or book entry is a breeze with the Go To feature, which can be opened from the Find menu or by tapping the Go To button. A scrolling list and a keypad will be displayed for Bibles, and a hierarchical tree for reference books (Figure 4).

Fig. 4 Selecting a Bible reference (left) or a dictionary entry (right) could not be easier.

Another useful feature is the ability to bookmark verses, entries, etc. in any of the books included in our library. These bookmarks can be arranged according to user-defined categories (Figure 5), and are very useful when we want to quickly get back to a specific place. Setting bookmarks also makes up, partly, for the lack of a highlighting pen, which would be a welcome addition. In fact, the Palm OS version of the program does include such a facility. Hopefully, PocketBible will do so in the near future.

Fig. 5 Different bookmark categories allow users to create their own topical index.

Searching

The search capabilities of PocketBible are quite extraordinary. Searches may not be as fast as in other programs, but they are extremely powerful and accurate. In this particular area, many Bible software packages for desktop systems pale in comparison to this program. Except for case sensitive and proximity searches, almost everything else can be done with PocketBible.

Boolean operators (AND, OR, XOR, NOT) have to be typed in all uppercase. Alternatively, special characters can be used instead of the operators themselves (&, +, ^, #). This is helpful, but I find the plus character (OR) and the pound sign (NOT) particularly counterintuitive. Parentheses can also be used to modify the standard order of evaluating operators (from left to right), and both the global wildcard character (*) and the single wildcard character (?) can be used in any position and search combination.

Fig. 6 Entering the search syntax paul & silas #(timothy + barnabas) the program will return any verses that contain both "paul" and "silas" and neither "timothy" nor "barnabas."

For example, choosing the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as the search version, PocketBible returned the following results:

paul & silas (paul AND silas) - 14 hits.
paul & silas # timothy (paul AND silas NOT timothy) - 10 hits.
paul & silas #(timothy + barnabas) (paul AND silas NOT (timothy OR barnabas))- 9 hits (Figure 6).
paul & silas # timothy + barnabas (paul AND silas NOT timothy OR barnabas) - 41 hits.

All very straightforward once you get used to the search syntax, but it is a real pity that the program does not "remember" previous searches. It was kind of annoying to keep tapping in previously run search queries.

The difference between the last two searches above is that the nested one (i.e., the one with parentheses) first looks for verses with "timothy" or "barnabas" and then excludes them from the opening AND search, whereas the one without parentheses searches for "paul" and "silas" first, then gets rid of any instance where "timothy" appears, and finally includes all the verses with "barnabas" in it, even those where none of the other first two names are included.

It should be mentioned that PocketBible does not have an option to exclude passage headings from the search. This, in my opinion, distorts the results. Thus, the search paul & silas # timothy + barnabas yields 41 hits, but 3 of them are found in passage headings (Acts 13:13; 14:8; 16:16), not the Bible text itself! By the way, do not be misled by the term "hit," which here means "verses." All the occurrences of the search terms are highlighted, but only the number of verses is given. It would be very helpful if both verses and "hits" were displayed.

Unlike other products, PocketBible does return more complete results in combined Strong's searches (i.e., words and numbers) with exclusion terms. Thus, the search -lord:g2962 � Strong's number 2962 when it is not translated as "lord" � returns 79 hits, including verses which contain instances of #2962 translated as something different from "lord," even when this word and its corresponding number are also present within the same verse.

Throughout the different tests, this type of search returned consistently precise statistics. For example:

-lord*:g2962 [3] (64 hits in the New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance � NASEC [NASB]) [4]
-lord:g2962 (79 hits in NASEC) � includes "Lord's," "LORDS," and "lords." (15 hits)
lord's:g2962 (12 hits in NASEC)
lords:g2962 (3 hits in NASEC)
lord*:g2962 AND -lord*:g2962 (4 hits in NASEC)
lord:g2962 AND -lord:g2962 (9 hits in NASEC)

Fig. 7 Left: search results in NASEC can be viewed with or without Strong's numbers, in its own window. Right: the Find Next and Find Previous buttons enable us to see the results of the search in the Bible of our choice.

One final request: It would be nice to be able to export the search results with formatting information (highlighted hits). Having said that, and although a number of improvements have been suggested in this area, it must be conceded that PocketBible's search power is pretty impressive. In fact it is head and shoulders above most of its competitors.

Look Up

The Find > Look Up feature (Dictionary icon on the toolbar) allows users to look for definitions or more extended articles on the highlighted word. In order for it to work, one must have installed at least one dictionary.

As can be seen in Figure 8, we have selected the word "earthquake" in Amos 1:1, tapped on Find and then chosen Look Up...

PocketBible immediately opens the preferred dictionary (or any other word-based resource) to the right entry. It is also possible to open the Look Up menu and simply enter the word we want to find.

Look Up will only work if the exact word appears in the target book. So, generally speaking, only singular nouns or adjectives should be selected.

Fig. 8 Overview of the Look Up feature.

Notes

This is certainly one of the highlights of PocketBible. Writing notes and attaching them to a given Bible verse or book passage is very easy, and yet extremely powerful.

Since notes are based on HTML, there are lots of things that can be done to format them to our liking, although no previous knowledge of HTML is necessary, thanks to the Tag Helpers and shortcut buttons (Figure 9 - Left).

Notes can include many different types of formatting information (like bold, italic, underlined, and so on), as well as various font types, sizes, and colors. As can be seen below (Figure 9 - Right), it is even possible to use Greek and Hebrew characters. Bible references are automatically hyperlinked, and adding images and tables is quite a painless task. All you need to know is some basic HTML, or else simply use the HTML Tag Helpers mentioned before.

The note below contains roughly the same information included in the previous paragraph, and once finished, it should look more or less like the screenshot shown in Figure 9. Note that if you are going to use an image you will have to write your own image name and path.

This is a sample note attached to a Bible dictionary. It can include many different types of formatting information, like <b>bold</b>, <i>italic</i>, <u>underlined</u>, <strike>and so on</strike> etc. <font face="Courier New" color="green" size="5">You can also change the font type, size, and color</font>. As you can see, it is even possible to use fully accented Greek characters: <font face="Laridian Greek" color="darkblue" size=6">Qeo&v a)ga&ph e1stin</font> or Hebrew: <font face="Laridian Hebrew" color="brown" size="14">.MlfwO(l; [email protected] [email protected]'lo)v-rbad;[email protected]</font>. Bible references are automatically hyperlinked (Psa 150:1; 1 Ti 3:16)<p align="left"></p>

<table border="1"><tr><td><img src="file:\iPAQ File Store\My Documents\Laridian Books\oldbook.gif" alt="Image" align="center" border="0"></td><td>It is easy to add images and tables! All you need to know is some basic HTML, or else simply use the HTML Tag Helpers.</td></tr>
</table><p align="left"></p>
In summary:
<ol>
<li>Notes are feature-rich</li>
<li>Notes are written in HTML</li>
<li>Notes are fun!</li>
</ol>

Fig. 9 HTML Tag Helpers (left) and sample note (right).

Granted, writing in fully accented Greek and fully pointed Hebrew characters on a PDA can get really cumbersome [5] (besides, you cannot write right-to-left Hebrew). However, brave souls can do it if they feel so inclined. In such case, the most sensible thing seems to be to type the note on a desktop computer and/or use an external keyboard.

User Texts

PocketBible will read any txt or html files written by the user and placed into the Laridian Books folder. These files will then be integrated into the program's library of resources. [6]

Figure 10 shows an example of a Bible study downloaded from The Biblical Studies Foundation. After some basic cleaning up, the html file was copied to the default directory (My Documents\Laridian Books\) - see Figure 11 - and the program immediately recognized it. Bible references were converted to hypertexts automatically, and the original formatting, including footnotes, remained intact.

This opens up many possibilities for those people who want to incorporate their own material (or other people's free articles and works) to their library.

Fig. 10 Tapping on a Scripture reference in an imported user text opens the Bible to that particular verse.

Fig. 11 By default, PocketBible looks for any resource contained in this directory.

Conclusion

PocketBible is an excellent program with lots of useful features. Its searching power is unparalleled in Bible software for PDAs, and it is great for reading (using Microsoft's Clear Type technology) and as a general purpose Bible study or sermon preparation tool. It may not offer a huge amount of Bibles and reference books, but the available titles are well chosen.

However, other companies are making big strides in putting together some quality software too, and Laridian will do well to keep developing and improving an already outstanding program if it does not want to lose ground. In the opinion of this reviewer, the next logical step would be to offer some Greek and Hebrew texts and original-language search capability, despite the fact that PocketBible is not specifically geared to the academic community as such.

Pros

Overall quality and attention to detail
Very powerful and flexible searches
Excellent note-taking capabilities
Ability to incorporate user texts

Cons

No Search history
No highlighting feature
There are no original language texts available.


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