Because we believe quality Bible resources are some of the best gifts you can give this Christmas, we want to give a little help, reveiwing some of the great software that’s out there. (Here’s the introduction post.) Keep your ears tuned for Accordance and Logos coming up next week, but today one of the easiest platforms to get started with—Olive Tree.
If you are just starting out with Bible software or don’t really anticipate using it “professionally,” Olive Tree is probably the best place to start. In the world of free mobile apps, Olive Tree reigns.* For starters, it has one of the best library of translations and resources that you can begin with for free. With a really solid suite of English translations, several free commentaries and even high quality Greek and Hebrew resources, you can use a really high quality tool without paying anything. Don’t forget to go beyond what is automatically installed. By logging in you can download far more free resources.
And yet you aren’t limited either. Olive Tree has a full suite of commentaries, lexicons, theologies, and general Christian titles. The works available are nearly as extensive as most people will want for Bible study. This extends from very popular works or free works in the public domain (Matthew Henry) to really scholarly resources (BDAG, NICOT, NIDOTTE, etc). Of course anything you buy is now available on computer, tablet or phone, and since everything is in the cloud you can even download a given resource whenever you need it. Highlights and notes also sync through the cloud, so notes you take on your phone at church will be on your computer when you get home.
What’s it like on my computer?
The computer app is simple, clean and reasonably powerful. The most important thing you should pay attention to is the search bar at the top right. Put in a verse and it’ll take you there. Put in a topic (e.g. “Holy Spirit”) and it’ll give you a list of references. Put in a book title you own and it’ll open it. How to search for a word or phrase across the whole Bible? Put in the word and chose which translation you want it to search. It’s a very clean, clear and simple way to get around.
Another helpful strength is the ability to search for topics or general ideas. Type in the word “Spirit” and of course Olive Tree will give you every verse that uses the word. But it also goes beyond because you are offered four sub-categories: God’s Spirit, the human spirit, demons and angels. Each gives a more specific list of references and even places them in helpful categories to give you a big picture view. Obviously a human compiled the list so you’re depending on someone else’s judgment. But it also saves you time. If you’re a little geeky, you can do advanced searches using AND, OR, WITHIN and wildcards (? or *).
What’s it like on my phone (or tablet)?
The interface is quite simple, nice to look at, and not at all intimidating. One of the places where Olive Tree really shines is with full-screen reading and an optional page flip mode. Menu bars and buttons disappear to let you just look at the text which is also very nicely formatted. Overall, you’ll feel like you can just open the Bible instead of fighting against an interface that makes you work to go where you want to be.
One weakness of the mobile app is speed. Particularly if you split the screen to use a second resource (commentary or other translation), expect to wait a second between each page turn. I also had problems with crashing. The Olive Tree mobile app is also more limited than its competitors, lacking the ability to to do complex searches or easily switch between resources. Finally, the menus on the mobile app for changing font sizes and so on are unnecessarily complex.
What’s it cost?
Besides it’s clearn interface and impressive ease of use, I would have to say the most impresive thing about Olive Tree is their prices. As mentioned above, you can get a very nice software platform with reasonably decent set of resources for free. So truly there’s no risk in giving it a try.
So what if you decide to go further and buy some resources? When I compared the same resources on Logos and Accordance, Olive Tree was always either quite competitive or the cheapest. Like all major Bible software, you should plan on signing up for their emails and buying resources when they’re on sale. Times like Christmas and Black Friday see discounts of 50-80%. If you are patient, you can accumulate a really good quality library at as little as half of the cost it would be physically and generally cheaper than with the other platforms.
Olive Tree is definitely most suited to reading and getting immersed in the text as opposed to technical searching and research. You’ll experience almost no learning curve and can get down to work right away. But if you decided to go far with the software you will fairly quickly experience its limitations. If you’re a pastor, seminary student or interested in doing research, you’re going to be limited in what you can do. But for most regular Bible readers this may be one of the best places to start.
Biggest Limitations: Lack of advanced searches, statistics, and nearly all advanced features beyond the basic, particularly if you’re working with original languages.
Biggest Strengths: Really simple to use and above all, remarkably cheap.
Be sure to take a look at the next review of Accordance!
* I should give a nod to an even more popular mobile app—the YouVersion or Bible app from Life.Church. With a truly impressive list of free Bible versions and some basic features like highlighting and reading plans, it’s a great app and it’s also free. Of course, the list could only get very long from here. However, I have chosen to restrict my posts to software that (1) goes beyond reading to robust searching and study tools, (2) software you can purchase once and then use on any platform (mobile and on your computer in any major operating system), (3) and that lets you invest in a library of solid resources like commentaries and theologies.
Have another app you love besides Olive Tree, Accordance or Logos? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll take a look!