HowStuffWorks: Curiosity Built the App

HowStuffWorks is a popular website specialising in explaining how day-to-day items and events work. Sometimes these are described in great detail; sometimes briefly. The aim is to provide interesting and educational information about why everything in our world functions the way it does.

The site’s tie-in app was released for Android about a month ago. I was expecting to have to be forgiving with this application, and allow for errors and undesired behaviour attributable to teething issues. But I didn’t find any, and was pleased by what this application offers!

Overall Interface Experience

I won’t lie, the interface is unimpressive. Portions of it use Flash-based video and imagery transitions; it is slow to start up; and it’s not easy to use. With continued work the interface could be refined and improved, but at present it is the focal point of negativity with this application. I just don’t like it and it has not grown on me whatsoever, despite using it thoroughly for the purpose of this review.

And Now for the Positive

If you pardon the interface, this application is very good! As well as being educational and informative, it is a brilliant time killer! If you are on a bus or a train, load this up. Granted, games may be more fun, but HowStuffWorks will leave you feeling that little bit more wise and knowledgeable, rather than feeling dismay at failing to beat the high score.

Upon launching the application, a straightforward icon-orientated menu is brought up. These five functions (six if you count the search bar) are all that HowStuffWorks offers at the moment but should be more than enough to keep you interested. I have broken down the next section of the review by the same list of functions.

menu

The main menu in HowStuffWorks

The Functions

Search

This is your standard search bar featurette at the top of the screen. Searching HowStuffWorks with a keyword will offer you related articles on the site that should be of relevance or interest to you. You can see my result for ‘cake’ in the screenshot below.

Featured

This section highlights the HowStuffWorks featured articles, reflecting the full website. Flick the items horizontally to browse through categories, then choose which ‘Episode’  you want to listen to, or what you want to read from ‘Blog’ or ‘Social’. The ‘Featured’ menu combines parts of the ‘Read’ and ‘Shows’ functions, explained below.

search and featured-final

On the left is my search, the right is the 'Featured' window. See what I mean about the interface?

Read

Perhaps the most polished part of the application, the ‘Read’ option lets you scroll through the popular article choices, as well as sorting by category across the top. I would argue that reading the articles on your phone is far better than viewing them on the website. On your phone there is no advertising or ‘Next Page’ links (both of which are pretty frustrating on the site). The formatting and layout are also a step up from the browser-based version.

read-final

Two screenshots of the 'Read' feature.

Facts

It never hurts to have interesting facts floating around your mind does it? This is a simple add-on to the main application which provides you with interesting facts about anything and everything. A short fact is presented to you, and once you have read it, you can tap ‘Get More Wisdom’ to show another.

This is a great cure for patches of boredom and will definitely help you sound interesting whilst down the pub. I kept getting more and more facts and only came across a repeat once, so I can assume there is quite a large supply.

facts

That is an interesting fact!

Quotes

Similar to the Facts feature, the Quotes item is a simple addition to the HowStuffWorks application. You are given a famous or inspirational quote and then rhetorically asked ‘Who said it?’. To find out, just drag up from below the question to see their name. Tapping ‘Get More Wisdom’ fetches another quote for you to read. Like the Facts feature, this would serve as a pretty good combatant to boredom.

quotes image

Isn't that uplifting? There must be hundreds of these to go through.

Shows

The ‘Episodes’ feature allows you to listen to HowStuffWorks episodes podcast style! This is achieved through internet streaming and a single Play and Pause button. If you are not in a mood for reading, or just like learning from listening to people, this is a nice alternative.

The blog stream is the written word again, and links can be followed to their full posts. All of them are viewed within the HowStuffWorks application, thereby saving you being thrown about between HowStuffWorks and your browser application. The Social tab displays social media which has mentioned or referred back to HowStuffWorks (Facebook and Twitter predominantly).

Something worth mentioning is that radio shows continue to run in the background if you switch to another application, thereby allowing you to learn about how crocodile wrestling works, while annihilating pigs in Angry Birds at the same time.

radio shows

An example of streaming on the left, and the 'Tech Stuff' filter on the right.

Price

Just like the host website, the HowStuffWorks application is free. Free learning and interesting information can only be good for you! That should be enough incentive to give HowStuffWorks a try, which I do recommend.

Conclusion

The HowStuffWorks application needs some tuning up in places, and an overhaul in the interface. Other than that, despite only having been out for a very brief period of time, everything is fully functional and I can’t complain about the level of content offered.

I was in a bit of a quandary when trying to decide how to rate HowStuffWorks. The overall application is great, but the interface brings the score down significantly. I wondered whether it was fair to include the interface in the final score, and then decided that since it is obviously a key part of the application, I should. Therefore I give HowStuffWorks a final rating of 7/10. If the interface is refined, I would gladly bump up such a score to 8 or 9/10. Everything works, the content is diverse, and is definitely worth trying out.


Summary

The Android application for HowStuffWorks, the popular educational website.

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