As I’m aging I’m finding it increasingly to read on paper books without getting a headache. For some reason I can read without problems on a computer or Kindle. Maybe it’s the light. I was using free apps on my phone, but after a few months it became frustrating switching between my commentary apps and my Bible. I don’t find web apps like Bible Gateway to be conducive to much more than quickly looking up a verse. So I thinks to meself, why not get a single software package that combines everything in one place?
Some online searching revealed three Bible apps that seemed to be the most popular– Olive Tree, Logos, and Accordance— so I tried all three on a trial basis. What follows is one dummy’s review of these products.
This is not a professional review. I went into this knowing nothing about these products. Those experienced with these packages may find my thoughts shockingly simplistic, but I figure there are other layman schlubs like me out there who are interested in a more powerful Bible application and who are a little intimidated by these products. This review is for people like you.
With Olive Tree, you download the free main app and sign up a free account with an ID and password. The freebie includes some free products like the ESV Bible, a KJV Bible, and a Concise (read: unnecessarily edited) Matthew Henry commentary. To add new products, you just go to the Olive Tree site online or in the app and buy them. Products have a 30-day trial period so it’s risk-free to try stuff out.
I bought the Reformation Study Bible notes (2015), Matthew Henry Complete Commentary, the ESV Study Bible notes, and the NASB with Strongs (the latter gives you word definitions by clicking on words in the text, which I find indispensable) for $60 total during their December sale. I’ve since added other materials, including the wonderful Hendriksen/Kistemaker New Testament Commentary series. Olive Tree has weekly sales and times where they will heavily discount titles; I’d wait for those to purchase stuff. You can share the same Olive Tree account on up to 5 machines or devices… for example, I have it on my iPhone, a PC, and an iPAD. Your notes/tags and highlights sync across the devices, so if you highlight something in the PC software it’ll show up on your iPhone app. You can download all of your products locally to each device so they run faster and don’t require a data connection. You purchase new items on the web site or in the app and you can download them immediately.
Logos has the highest cost of entry. The cheapest option is the Starter Kit and it runs about $300. You have a 30-day trial period and the license is a family license that works with unlimited devices. The Starter kit gives you a huge pile of products (you can see them on the Logos site), but I found most of it to be stuff I wouldn’t use. You can add additional products just like at Olive Tree. Nearly everything I bought at Olive Tree was not included in the Logos starter package. One thing I’ll say for Logos is that the default Greek lookup is much more thorough than Olive Tree’s Strong’s Bible, and it can show the Greek text in interlinear fashion. You can purchase additional products just like with Olive Tree, and I found that costs of these add-on products were pretty similar between Logos and Olive Tree (you can go to each of the sites and see what products are available on each one and what they cost).
Logos is probably the most popular power Bible software, it has a good support forum (which Olive Tree lacks), and easily has the most products available. The web site looked nice and clean. All of this biased me toward it initially, but the splash of cold water arrived after I started using Logos 6 on the PC and my iPhone. It is shockingly clunky. The UI design is terrible. Settings are in weird places. I’d find myself losing a screen and really struggling to figure out how to get back to it. You can’t set Scripture to read in in paragraph format. You can’t have different font sizes between the primary and split window. Just very unpleasant to use. My wife used it awhile and had the same experience. After a few days of frustration I bailed and got a refund.
I used the Accordance demo for a few hours. They sell a a starter kit just like Logos, but the Accordance package is far cheaper at $60. Like Logos, it provides mostly stuff I wouldn’t use, but $60 of unused stuff beats $300 of unused stuff. Accordance’s PC and iOS interfaces are a little lacking in “fit and finish,” but they are superior to the messiness of Logos. Accordance also seemed more powerful in some of its research capabilities than Olive Tree.
I tried Accordance last, after Logos had sapped my meager patience, and probably didn’t give it as fair of a shake as the others. Logos had more resources. Olive Tree had a little better interface and it was significantly cheaper to get started. Some of the add-on products I wanted like the ESV Study Bible were a lot more expensive in Accordance ($60) than they were in Olive Tree ($35 marked down to $20 when on sale).
So I went with Olive Tree. The Windows PC interface is imperfect and there are some bugs, but it’s clean, intuitive, nicely presented, and it’s hard to get too lost. The same goes for the (very nice) iPhone app, which easily bests the Logos and Accordance offerings from a usability standpoint. A few hours using the Logos app one evening was a maddening experience that had me thinking about breaking a few things.
Logos’s support desk will recommend various training videos, but I’m too impatient to use them, and it’s just the principle of the thing: it shouldn’t be hard to navigate software. The interface should be intuitive, especially to an IT guy who has been using software for 25 years. I’m sure Logos has powers Olive Tree lacks, but the “blocking and tackling” work I want to do is read a Bible and consult reference materials without a lot of hassle. A pastor may think it’s worth navigating Logos’s obnoxious interface for its greater depth of materials and capabilities, but I found it too aggravating. The higher price didn’t work in its favor either.
One nice thing about all these apps is that the various study Bibles are created for a certain Bible version in print but with these products you can mix and match. For example, you can have the NASB in the main window with the “ESV Study Bible” notes in the secondary window. All the products also allow you to have the secondary window “follow” the primary window. If you’re looking at John 1:18 in the main window, you’ll see commentary notes for that verse in the secondary window. If you switch the Bible to Romans 1, the commentary will “follow” you.
Olive Tree has been a big help with my study.