Library Blog

Adventures with Apps

App Name:Duolingo
Publisher: Duolingo
Platforms: Android and iOS
Cost: Free, with In-App Purchases
Ages: All ages

Review: Duolingo is an interactive language learning app that offers over 35 courses of different languages. The languages with the highest number of learners are Spanish and French but also offered are Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, etc. In the app, you will complete lessons of different themes such as family, food, at home, at work, etc. The lessons are short and treated like a game to make learning addictive. Each lesson teaches in a variety of ways to encourage repetition of vocabulary and understanding or sentence structure. Some lessons may ask to choose from multiple answers, match vocabulary, or, type in a sentence on your own in the language you are learning. As you play and learn, you earn coins and unlock new levels to stay motivated with rewards.

Ease of Use: Easy
Functionality: Large buttons and graphics make it easy to understand and follow along with the lessons.
Sound & Graphics: The graphics are simple and easy to understand. As lessons are completed correctly, you will hear simple horn sounds. There are also sounds of each word when chosen so you can hear what it sounds like in the original language.
Parent Involvement: This app is for all ages but you can also download Duolingo Kids where children can learn French and Spanish.
Pros:  Duolingo is a very simple, easy app to use to learn a new language or brush up on your language skills. You can choose whether you want to learn the basics of a language or take a placement quiz to help learn at your current level. Learning is treated as a game to encourage everyday use which makes it a lot of fun.
Cons: The vocabulary is limited to basic or simpler phrases. The speech recognition lessons can be sometimes difficult if the app has trouble understanding your pronunciation.
Recommended: Yes


App Name: Endless Alphabet
Publisher: Originator, Inc.
Platforms: iPhoneiPadAndroid (Android version reviewed)
Cost: Free, with In-App Purchases ($8.99—unlocks ability to access any word without having to go through them in order)
Ages: 3-6

Review: With simple tap and drag-and-drop controls, Endless Alphabet aims to teach letter recognition and pronunciation, as well as vocabulary with examples. The app does not have a scoring system, so children are not “competing” for anything. There are also no online components, so the app is relatively safe to use. One thoughtful feature is that when children press on a letter, the app pronounces its sound (for example, making a tuh-tuh-tuh noise when touching the letter “T”). It also provides useful but subtle feedback, saying “uh-uh” when the letter is dragged to the incorrect space, or saying the letter when it is dragged to the correct place. By taking this approach, there is no “failure,” so it should encourage children to try different things without discouraging mistakes. The reward for completing the word is a short animation using the little monster characters. Children will enjoy the cute, colorful characters during their animations and can replay them.

Ease of Use: Very Easy
Functionality: The basic task is to listen to a word aloud, and then the app scrambles the letters across the screen so that users must drag them back to their appropriate position within the word. Users can replay the animations/sound effects once they have dragged the letters over the appropriate spaces.
Sound & Graphics: The music is upbeat and appropriate, and characters are very child-friendly, colorful, and upbeat.
Parent Involvement: Features like links to social media, support, and privacy policy are accessed by hitting an “i” icon and submitting the correct number spelled out
Pros: consistent feedback; no excess distractions; simple functionality; self-pacing; no-stress app environment; appealing to children; no “points” system or negative feedback
Cons: cost associated with being able to access every word immediately
Recommended: Yes


App Name: Endless Reader
Publisher: Originator, Inc.
Platforms: iPhoneiPadAndroid (Android version reviewed)
Cost: Free, with In-App Purchases ($5.99-$29.99 to unlock additional “Reader Packs” for more words)
Ages: 3-8

Review: Following up on skills emphasized in Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader aims to teach young readers common sight words they will encounter in school. Endless Reader spans multiple reader levels, so once a young learner has mastered early sight words, they can move through 12 different “Reader Packs.” One major caveat is that only 6 words are available for free. Despite this limited functionality without paying, this app is both very appealing and developmentally appropriate for early readers. Like Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader pronounces letter sounds and words as users touch them, so children can become familiar with common words. This builds on the phonics and vocabulary skills introduced in Endless Alphabet. Like the previous app, the cute monsters illustrate the use of words, and the sound effects and music are upbeat and enjoyable. The simple functionality does not require adults to work on the app with older children, but parents should continue to supervise app use.

Ease of Use: Very Easy
Functionality: This app builds on the drag-and-drop functionality of Endless Alphabet, and then also has users drag and drop words into sentences. It then illustrates the sentence and reads it aloud. Readers can touch buttons to replay an animation, or reread a word or sentence aloud. For number words, the app switches between the numeral and the spelled word (e.g., “three” also flashes as “3”).
Sound & Graphics: Endless Reader features the same style of music and graphics as Endless Alphabet. It uses the same characters, as well
Parent Involvement: features such as accessing social media, in-app purchases, and some information are age-restricted
Pros: easy to use; concentrates on essential early literacy skills; colorful; appealing to children; no unnecessary distractions; no “points” system or negative feedback
Cons: only 6 words are available for free, and to buy all 12 Reader Packs costs $29.99
Recommended: Yes, with reservation (cost)


App Name:Evernote
Publisher: Evernote Corporation
Platforms:iPhone, iPad, AndroidWindows, MacOS (iPhone reviewed)
Cost: Free, but can upgrade to Premium or Business (Free version reviewed)
Ages: Adult

Review: Evernote is a productivity app that is intended to help you get organized.  The first thing to do after downloading it is to create an account.  Within the app, you have the option of creating notes, reminders, audio recordings, sketches, and adding photos.  All of these are organized in Notebooks that you create. One thing that is nice about the notes feature is that you can work with a blank note, or they have predetermined templates that can be used.  These templates include options like weekly reviews, daily planners, calendars, meeting notes and budget planning. It takes a lot of the work out of organizing when you can simply fill out the information instead of starting from scratch.  The reminders option is nice, but they do have to be associated with specific notebooks.  You can’t create a reminder for something random like you can with calendar apps.  Everything you create is associated with a specific notebook to keep you well-organized.  There is a search feature that will also help.  You can create tags for the different notes you create and this will help when searching through everything. One benefit to using Evernote is that there is a computer version. Because of this, notes you save to your account can be accessed from either the app or computer as long as you’re signed in. The downside is that there is a 60MB cap to this shared data. If you add features like audio and photos, that will take up a lot of your space.  Evernote also allows you to share the content you’re creating.  If you’re sharing it through email, the other person doesn’t necessarily need an account if they don’t have one, though they can save it to Evernote if they do. An Evernote link will be shared in the email and the other person can view the content from there. This makes sharing much simpler since not all users will want to download it.

Ease of Use: Easy
Functionality: Creating content is simple and the app has a simple design that makes it easy to navigate and sort through.
Pros: You can use it across multiple devices and share content easily.
Cons: You have to pay for the premium service in order to access the content offline and increase the data cap allowance.
Recommended: Yes


App Name:HouseParty
Publisher: Life on Air Inc.
Platforms: Android and iOS
Cost: Free, with In-App Purchases (Heads Up! game charges for additional decks)
Ages: All ages

Review: HouseParty is an app for video chatting with friends that allows up to eight people to chat at once. You can have a group hangout call similar to Zoom but more used for casual purposes. Unlike Zoom, you don’t need to call or invite people to a video chat that’s been scheduled in advance. Once you’ve opened the app, your contacts will get a notification that you are in HouseParty. If they open the app, they will automatically show up in your video chat. The fun part is “popping in” on someone as if you were making a house call. But if you want to limit who can join your chat, you can lock a room to only talk with the current group. It’s also possible to call in the app or send a wave to let a contact know you would like to chat. An extra feature to this app is the collection of games. The videos stay open so you can watch together as the group plays. The current games offered are: Heads Up!, Trivia, Chips and Guac (similar to Apples to Apples/Cards Against Humanity), Quick Draw! (similar to Pictionary), and Word Race.

Ease of Use: Easy
Functionality: The app relies on “swiping” motions that can be an adjustment for users who are not as familiar with using smart phones. It’s mainly used for mobile but is available on desktop too.
Sound & Graphics: The interface has simple, minimalistic buttons. The games have clean, fun graphics.
Parent Involvement: There are no parental controls available though users can lock chat rooms.
Pros:  It’s a fun novelty app that helps you connect to family and friends and you never know which of your contacts might pop in. The bonus feature is the games that are short but very fun to play while video chatting.
Cons: Video can lag or freeze more easily with larger groups. Sometimes the video can be lost all together even though you can still hear the other person talking.
Recommended: Yes


App Name: Khan Academy Kids
Publisher: Khan Academy
Platforms: iPhoneAndroid (version 3.5.3 on Android reviewed)
Cost: Free, no in-app purchases
Ages: 2-7

Review: Khan Academy Kids is the child-friendly learning app from the makers of Khan Academy. With options for preschoolers and children just starting school, Khan Academy Kids provides a safe way for children to work on counting, arithmetic, logic skills, working memory, early reading, and art skills, among others. Many activities are altered depending on the child’s age to be developmentally appropriate, but the entire learning library is accessible regardless of age. The app is best used with adult supervision, but children should also be free to explore the app’s many offerings, as there are no in-app purchases or device permissions beyond initial setup. A great early learning app, Khan Academy is a good choice for caregivers looking to prepare their children for school or to continue learning throughout the summer. For daycare or school teachers or librarians, the app is a great way to incorporate technology into the learning process. Assigning, managing, and viewing learners’ tasks is easy, and there is a setting for independent learning.
Ease of Use: After the account set-up process, most functions should be easy for older children to access.
Functionality: A virtual assistant, “Cody,” guides children through tasks, and can be tapped for help at any time. He repeats the instructions as children work. Concepts are introduced through short videos featuring the characters introduced at the start of the app. A library icon allows users to select types of activities (stories, drawing, etc.) or learning materials (books, videos, creation). The classroom version allows teachers to manage participants and their curriculum tracks. A parent guide includes more resources for remote learning. Teacher options are password protected.
Sound & Graphics: Pleasant, slow-paced music, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star plays in the background. The graphics are simple, cute cartoons
Parent Involvement: When initializing the app for the first time, it prompts a microphone permission. Kids are asked to sign up for an account using an adult’s email address to save the child’s progress, or sign in with a class code. Adults can set up an account as either a parent for their child or a teacher for their class. Adults should sit down with the child to help them navigate the app, so that they can learn which buttons do what. Young learners may need parents to help them select tasks. Caregivers can set up profiles for multiple children, while classrooms can be set up by teachers.
Pros: easy controls, no privacy concerns, can be used offline, no advertisements, many activities, options for both at home and at school/daycare, “Read To Me” or “Read By Myself” options, designed by educators
Cons: no classic children’s books/stories—all appear to have been written for the app, but are good quality
Recommended: Yes


App Name: Scannable 
Publisher: Evernote Corporation
Platforms:iPhone, iPad (iPhone reviewed)
Cost: Free
Ages: Adult

Review: It seems like people need to scan documents all of the time now. Scannable is a good option for this and you don’t need to use Evernote in order to use it.  You do have the option to do so if you would like.  The app uses your camera to take a picture. It’s a little confusing because it gives you two options: Send or Save.  If you choose the save option, you can only save the picture as an image to your camera roll. If you choose the send option, you can send it as a PDF through email or share it to the files on your iPhone or iPad as a PDF. This is just a small annoyance once you figure it out.  It probably depends on your camera, but the image does have good quality when saved as a PDF if you’re scanning documents.  Scans are kept for 30 days in the app and are then deleted.

Ease of Use: Easy
Functionality: The app is simply designed and pretty easy to navigate.
Pros: It’s very easy to scan documents.
Cons: It’s not available for Android devices at this time.
Recommended: Yes