I am a long-time user of Rick Meyer’s excellent e-Sword Bible software for Windows. Rick recently released e-Sword HD for the iPad, downloadable through the iTunes app store. The cost is $4.99. The app has already had one feature-driven update since its initial release. This review is based on version 1.1 released November 4, 2012. [Version 1.2 released March 10, 2013. See update at the end of this post.]
If you have an iPad, and you have purchased any of the paid modules for e-Sword, you will certainly want to purchase e-Sword HD as well. With e-Sword HD, you can install your paid modules on your iPad at no additional cost.
For me, e-Sword is the best of the free Bible applications for Windows. It has a fairly usable interface, and it sits somewhere in the middle between a pure Bible reader and an academic resource. It enables me to to accomplish most of what I want to do in a study of the Biblical text. The iPad app carries over most, but not all, of the Windows version’s usability and idiosyncrasies.
E-Sword offers a wide range of public domain Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, lexicons and maps. A few vendors also offer paid modules. The free Bibles include the standard assortment of old public domain versions, a few mainstream contemporary versions and some idiosyncratic modern translations. Free Bibles that I’ve installed include the KJV, ESV, ISV, CEV, Good News, God’s Word, and Lexham. Paid Bibles that I use include the NIV, NRSV, HCSB, NASB, NLT and the NET. If you are looking for foreign language Bibles, there are free versions available in dozens of languages. Best of all, for me, are the free Greek and Hebrew modules, older editions of the common critical texts from Nestle-Aland and the American Bible Society. The Greek and Hebrew modules are available as naked texts, or with Strong’s numbers and parsing guides. Some of the English texts also offer Strong’s numbers. Versions of the LXX and Vulgate are also available as free resources. The NRSV module contains versions with and without the Apocrypha.
The free commentaries, dictionaries, concordances and lexicons are 19th and early 20th century works. Very few of the paid study modules come from the mainstream of contemporary academic publications. Most of them are “popular” works that you might find in the Christian bookstore at the mall. One paid module that I do like very much is the IVP Bible Background Commentary. It’s quite good. Many of the older resources are also very usable, especially the lexicons, concordances and cross-references. As a general rule, the older commentaries are not as useful. However, I use the Adam Clarke commentary and the John Wesley notes regularly.
So, all-in-all, there is quite a bit to work with here, as long as you exercise caution when using the older material.
In addition to Bibles, commentaries and dictionaries, there are also reading plans, devotional guides and other reference works available for e-Sword. I don’t use any of these capabilities, so I can’t comment on them.
In e-Sword for the PC, scripture text, commentaries, lexical aids and personal notes are all displayed simultaneously in multiple panes, or you can focus in on one resource at a time. In both versions, the Bible pane is also capable of comparing one verse in multiple translations, or displaying multiple translations in parallel columns. You can personalize the interface in both versions to some degree.
The linkage between text, commentary and lexical aids is very good, and the search function is moderately sophisticated. The commentary follows as you change verses, and the dictionary pane automatically updates as you select new words. Hovering over a scripture reference or a Strong’s number pops up a “tool tip,” a small box with the referenced text. In the iPad version, this occurs when you touch an underlined reference. The tool tips themselves are “clickable” so that you can follow them to a new passage or reference.
One of the things that I don’t care for is how e-Sword displays the Biblical text on-screen. The text is always displayed verse-by-verse (like the KJV and NASB), and not in paragraph format. For general reading, I prefer the text formatted in paragraphs.
Downloading Bibles, Commentaries and Dictionaries
Unlike some other Bible apps for the iPad, e-Sword-HD stores all of its add-on resources on the iPad itself. There is no need for a live connection to the internet to use e-Sword-HD.
You do need need to be connected to the internet for the initial download of the add-on modules. Downloading Bibles and study aids – both free and paid – takes place within the program itself, but paying for the commercial modules does not. Payment takes place on the vendor’s website, and the vendor sends you an “unlock key”. The same unlock key works on both the Windows and iPad versions, so you don’t have to pay twice.
The primary vendor of e-Sword modules is e-Study Source. The Lockman Foundation and Bible.Org also publish e-Sword modules. Paid e-Sword modules are often cheaper than the same resource on other platforms.
Most of the PC versions’s features carry over into the iPad version, but not all. Some of the differences include:
- Some of the resources available for the Windows version are not currently available for the iPad version. All of the paid modules seem to be available (with the exception of the .NET Bible with its extensive translation notes), but several of the free resources are not.
As of this writing, the only foreign language Bibles published for e-Sword HD are in Spanish, German and Afrikaans. Some Greek texts are available, but no Hebrew texts. The LXX and Vulgate are also not yet available. In the commentary section, I miss my “Wesley Notes.”The list of available resources has grown in the few weeks since the app was first published, and it is reasonable to believe that the trend will continue. [See update below for version 1.2]
- There is no split-screen in the iPad version. You can’t see the commentary or a lexical aid while you are looking at the scriptural text. The links between the text and the study aids still work, but you have to tap the tab at the bottom of the screen to jump from scripture to commentary to dictionary to lexicon. The “tool” tip function mitigates this drawback to some degree, and I really don’t mind jumping from tab to tab.
- The iPad version separates dictionaries and lexicons into two separate tabs. Dictionaries are based on English words; lexicons are based on Strong’s numbers. I think this is good move.
- In some respects, scripture navigation in the iPad version is actually superior to the Windows version. The Windows version uses a long, scrolling sidebar for navigation. The iPad version follows the more recent convention of a pop-up with push-buttons. You can also move from chapter to chapter by “swiping” left or right in an open area.
- However, the iPad version does not have “forward” and “back” buttons. In the Windows version, you can follow a string of hyperlinks to scripture passages or Strongs numbers, and then work your way back to where you started with the “back” button. In the iPad version, the links only take you one direction. You have to manually re-navigate to your starting point.
- The iPad version does not offer formatted verse selection. The Windows version allows you to select a range of text and then paste it with a variety of formatting (including a couple of paragraph-style formats). The iPad version uses only the native select-and-copy function built into iOS. This is cumbersome and doesn’t produce an aesthetically pleasing result. In this, e-Sword falls behind many other iPad Bible apps which offer a quick,easy way to select a range of verses.
- The iPad version does not support e-Sword maps and graphics.
E-Sword HD for the iPad works best as a reference tool. However, doing Bible study is still easier on a real computer than it is on the iPad. When I use e-Sword on my PC, I’m also using my word processor and my web browser, and I’m jumping back and forth among applications. This is more cumbersome on an iPad, and typing anything of great length is out of the question.
Both the iPad and Windows versions allow the user to make personal notes, but the applications don’t offer any way to synchronize notes among devices. E-Sword and e-Sword HD would benefit from the cloud.
Purchasing e-Sword HD for the iPad is a no-brainer for those who already use e-Sword on the PC (and those who don’t use e-Sword on the PC should seriously take a look at it. I can’t believe how much some of the big name Bible software publishers charge for not much more than you get with e-Sword).
If you are just looking for an iPad Bible reader, there are a lot of good choices. If you want to do more than just read the text – if you are looking for Bible dictionaries and concordances as well – e-Sword HD moves to the head of the pack.
UPDATE March 10, 2013: Version 1.2 of the iPad app adds the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the Vulgate (important old Latin translation) and a host of modern languages. Wesley’s notes on the Old and New Testaments and other old public domain commentaries have also been added. The search function has also been slightly improved.
UPDATE March 12, 2013: Also see my notes on Olive Tree’s Bible Study app for iPad and PC.