1. cjvitek's Avatar
    The Element: A Visual Exploration, by Element Collection, Inc.
    $13.99, ****


    • Stunning graphics
    • Lots of great information and images


    • Leaves me wanting “more”
    • 3D visualization is either difficult or expensive

    As a biology professor, I am always on the lookout for cool science related apps. When The Elements came out (and was demoed by Steve) I thought it looked interesting, but wasn’t really sure if it was worth the money. After I purchased it and looked through it, I have to say – if you are a science person, then you will probably love The Elements. If not, you will probably think it is a waste of time.

    The Elements is all about presentation. Sure, there are other periodic table of the elements, but none go as far to be as visually stunning as The Elements. When you start the app, you are presented with a periodic table (and small pictures). You can tap on an element and are brought to a detailed screen with information about the element – atomic radius, electron shells, crystal structure, spectrograph, etc). One nice feature is that you can connect to Wolfram Alpha directly to get live information about the element itself. Dominating the screen is a huge, rotating image of the element.

    On the second page is a lengthy description of the element, written in “every day” English (not too much scientific jargon here). It includes a little about the history, use by the general public, and about people who played an important role in its discovery, use, or application. In addition, there are usually three to six additional images of the elements – different states, different uses, different forms, etc.

    The images are the key to this app. Each image can be double tapped to expand to the full page. One expanded, you can manipulate it (spin it) by swiping your finger (you can still spin it when it is small, but it is much more interesting full screen). Unfortunately you can’t shrink/expand, or spin it in any direction. From what I have read, the creators took thousands of still frame images to create the wide diversity of pictures you can see in the app. The attention to detail shows.

    Before I go on, I will just comment on one of my disappointments. The visual display of the elements are great, but I felt when I connected to Wolfram Alpha, there was something…lacking. Lots of information, but not the same detail to presentation. I would have loved to see a 3D image of the electron shells or crystal structure that you can manipulate, expand, spin, etc. I loved seeing all the images, but it left me wanting more than what I was getting with Wolfram Alpha.

    One interesting thing about the images is that you can have the option for viewing them in 3D. You can have the images split in such a fashion to make them 3D when using stereo glasses (available for sale for $4.99) or another method where you sort of “lose focus” and magically it becomes 3D. I tried this, but it didn’t work for me. I like the 3D aspect, but I wish I didn’t have to pay an additional $4.99 to see it.

    While the app does have interesting trivia, some of the images associated with the elements seem a little forced. For example, under sulfur it mentions that the smell of onions and garlic is due to sulfur…and then has an image of an onion that you can rotate. Really, an onion? I suppose it is better than nothing, but it doesn’t really seem to add anything to the app itself.

    One thing that I loved was it included the “Element Song”, along with their pictures of elements. I can’t really explain, you have to see it to believe it. Let’s just say it was recorded by Tom Lehrer.

    All in all this is a beautifully presented periodic table of the elements. At $13.99, it is a little expensive (the iPhone version is $9.99 – I would have liked to see a universal binary for this price), but if you are a science geek, chances are you will love it. The key is the presentation of information and images associated with each element – not in a “scientific-y” way but in a way that most people can enjoy. I was a little put off by the price and the lack of similar attention to presentation in some of the scientific data, but it still is a nice little app. Four out of five stars.

    Rating scale:

    * = 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. 
    10-13-2010 05:29 PM