Massive Audubon Guide Review Extravaganza! (universal binary)
Audubon Field Guides, by Green Mountain Digital
Varied (see below), ****
• High quality field guides, replaces the old field books
• Many nice images, multiple regions and topics available
• Some guides lacking various media options (sounds, video)
• No incorporation of GPS for identification
• Limited “guided searches” to help identify groups
A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Audubon Field Guide for Mammals (here). At the time, I liked it, although I found a few flaws. I also noticed that Green Mountain Digital has put out a wide variety of Audubon Field Guides, for specific locations as well as organismal groups (birds, reptiles, fish, etc.). Being a nature loving biologist (is there any other kind?) I wanted to take a look at them to see how they worked. I downloaded a number of them – Audubon Guide to Mushrooms, Fishes, Wildflowers, and of course Insects. I also downloaded the Guides for a couple of regions – Texas and New England. There are many more available, including different regions (Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Northwest, Afirca) and even specialized regional wifdlife options (such as California birds). There are also many more organismal categories – owls and birds come to mind. Lastly, there are two grouped nature guides that are cheaper to purchase than buying the individual components – Birds and Insects as well as Trees, birds, mammals, and flowers. Whew, lots of options for budding naturalists. Personally, I would have liked to see one large guidebook, where you could use in-app purchases to expand your library of nature guides.
I will include a brief write-up of the app I purchased below, to identify any specific strengths or flaws, but right now I want to provide a generalized write up for the Audubon Guides, in case someone is thinking about purchasing one of these or one that I didn’t review. I will start with the general organismal guides. First, the positives – the guides a very nicely laid out, with clear reference sections and multiple methods to try to find whatever you are looking for. All the guides allow you to search for the organisms based on shape, name, or biological order. In addition, there is an advanced search feature that allows you to specify things like habitat, regions, colors that you see, sizes, and more specific categories for different organisms (like cap size for mushrooms or leaf shape for trees). This allows for a high degree of specificity when trying to identify an unknown organism.
Another great feature of all these guides is that they contain great reference information. For example, the trees guide included information about general tree identification, habitats, natural history, and even something about threats to trees. The insect guide included helpful guides on how to find insects, conservation, and how to start an insect collection. These additional reference materials provide some great information to people who are interested in nature. The individual entries for each species are well laid out, containing at least one picture, descriptions, and allowing for a notation in a sighting log (although you need to create an online account to do this). There is some variation – for example, the insect guide only seemed to contain one picture for each insect (which is a shame for insects since you can’t identify the larval stage from looking at the adult stage), as did the fish guide. In addition, some of the guides included range data (such as the trees, fish, and wildflowers) while others didn’t (such as the insects and the fungus). I suspect the range data probably has more to do with the organisms and interest people have in finding them.
There are some features that seem to be missing which I mentioned in my review of the mammals guide – there is no integrated GPS, which would seem to be a great way to rule out a number of organisms that simply aren’t found in the area where you are looking. In addition, there were limited options for multimedia – in some cases this might make sense (who really cares what a fungus sounds like? I don’t think a movie of a tree would be all that interesting, but certainly in some cases video and sound would be an added benefit. They did have an audio tab for the owls, but nothing was listed – possibly something that would want to add in the future?
My two biggest complaints about the guides are the journal feature and the lack of a guided identification option. While there is a journal feature in the apps, you need to create an online account in order to use it. You can’t just record what you have seen, using geo-referenced GPS data and recording video or sound with your iPhone. Many people might be interested in a personal journal but don’t really want to create an online account. In addition, it would be great to use the iPhone interactivity to have a guided “question by question” feature for identification. Sure, they allow you to identify by shape, but that is all – you are then taken to a list of organisms that match that general shape. Going further with trees, for example, then asking about leaf shape, bark, size, location (see GPS complaint) would really narrow down the kind of tree that you are looking at – especially if the guided questions had reference pictures included!
The two regional guides I downloaded (Texas and New England) are useful for people that might not care about wildlife that is found in a region of North America where they will never travel. The regional guides include Birds, Butterflies, Fish, Insects and Spiders, Seashells (at least the two I looked at), Seashore Creatures, Mammals, Wildflowers, Trees, and Reptiles and Amphibians. Presumably landlocked regions will not include seashells or seashore creatures. When you start up the regional guides, you get to choose what you want to look for from that list. Once you specify what kind of living thing you are looking for, the guide basically appears the same as the individual guides for that category, allowing for the same feature (search by shape, name, order, etc). The regional guides also contain the reference information found in the individual guides. I was happy to see general reference information about the region itself – the kinds of habitats, the climate, conservation or parks, etc. Given that you are looking in a specific region, it is really nice to get references on the kinds of habitats found there (for example, in Texas we have scrubland, desert, mountains, sub-tropical desert, shoreline, and even more ecotypes!). Unfortunately, they didn’t have a map showing where the different regions are, but it is still nice to see this added feature.
I have included some general pictures in this post, and in the followup posts (with a paragraph for each individual guide) I have included pictures just from that guide. Links for the individual apps are also listed below, although I have not rated each one individually.
All in all, these references are nicely made, well designed nature guides for either specific kinds of organisms or specific regions. While there are some clear flaws in all the apps (lack of GPS integration, limited journal options, no guided identification) and there are some differences between the individual guides (limited/non-existent multimedia for some guides, lacking ranges in some guides, limited photographs) overall these are a nice, useful tool for the amateur naturalist who may want to be able to actually identify what they are seeing when outside hiking, camping, or engaged in any activity where they may come face to face with nature. The regional guides are a conglomeration of the larger nature guides, but focused on specific regions of North America (and Africa). The prices of these guides range from free (Audubon Owls, Birds of Central Park) up to $14.99 (for the mammals, birds, wildflowers, and trees in one guide, although it is now on sale for $9.99). While there are some flaws, the usefulness and design of these apps win out in the end, and I give them an overall rating of four out of five stars.
* = No redeeming qualities or features, probably not worth it even if it is free
** = Few redeeming qualities, or is simply isn't worth the price
*** = Some good features but also some clear flaws.
**** = A solid app, worth the money if interested, a few flaws or problems or slightly overpriced
***** = Top of the line app, no problems or drawbacks.
Price is factored into the ratings. Ratings are lowered if I feel the price of the app outweighs the benefits/enjoyment/features it provides. Likewise, an app that is a good value for the money will have a higher rating. Please comment on these reviews. All opinions expressed in this review are precisely that – opinions. You may agree or disagree. If you own the app, tell me what your opinion is. If the review prompted you to buy (or not buy) the app, let me know why. If you want more information about the app, go ahead and ask.
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