We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
Software Reviews
15,670 Reviews

Wolfram Alpha review

FREE

Manufacturer: Wolfram Alpha

Our Rating: We rate this 3 out of 5

Wolfram Alpha is a search engine which serves up formatted answers to questions rather than provide just a list of links.

Wolfram Alpha is a search engine which serves up formatted answers to questions rather than provide just a list of links.

What needs to be fixed? A lot.

While it's fun to play with Wolfram Alpha, unless you're a mathematician or a scientist you're not going to get a great deal out of it in its current iteration. Because much of the information that appears in its pages is apparently derived from "Wolfram|Alpha curated data," there is a lot - a whole lot - it can't find or understand.

We tested Wolfram Alpha about five days before it was set to launch, and it didn't take much to find its limits. Too many times, the simplest query (such as "kidney cancer") brought up the message "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input." "PC Advisor" got the same response.

One thing that the company suggests you try as a test of the engine is to type in your home town. I live in Brooklyn, New York - a place that is, I believe, not unknown to either mapmakers or movie directors - and so I typed "Brooklyn" into the search engine. The best guess that Wolfram Alpha was able to come up with was Brooklyn, Connecticut. It also suggested (as a possible alternative) Brooklyn, Ohio. There is a "more" drop down menu (in case the first alternative isn't enough) which listed Brooklyns in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa. When I finally typed in "Brooklyn, NY," I got a page comparing the populations and elevations of Brooklyn, Conn. and NY State.

Ornithologists may also find Wolfram Alpha rather frustrating: a search on "blue heron" got me the scientific names and the taxonomy of the bird, but nothing about its flight path, physical characteristics, call, reproductive habits or any other pertinent information. A search on "mockingbird" was a bit more successful; it included other names by which the bird was known, but not much more information.

Wolfram does include a source listing for Wolfram Alpha entries, but there's no indication which specific facts come from where. A rather spare entry about Napoleon Bonaparte included (when we clicked on "Source information") a general list of references that included both the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia. But the primary source was "Wolfram/Alpha curated data."

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict

Wolfram Alpha Expert Verdict »

Internet connection
web browser
  • Overall: We give this item 6 of 10 overall

Wolfram Alpha is fun to play with, and introduces an original format for finding information on the web. As it currently stands, it may be useful for mathematical and scientific research. However, until it aggregates a lot more data, and learns to handle more complex user queries, this interesting experiment is no danger to Google.

  • iPhone 4S review

    iPhone 4S

    The Apple iPhone 4S is more a running upgrade to the popular iPhone 4: read our Apple iPhone 4S review to discover the faster dual-core processor, better camera and optics and new antennae – UPDATED 2 DECEMBER 2011

  • Google Earth 5 review

    Google Earth 5

    Google Earth 5 adds new historical images and underwater viewing features

  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha vs iPhone 5S comparison review: Metal smartphones fight

    Samsung Galaxy Alpha vs iPhone 5S comparison: Metal smartphones fight

    Samsung has gone metal so here's our Galaxy Alpha vs iPhone 5S comparison review.

  • Google Sky

    Google Sky

    Google Earth now includes Google Sky - a feature that allows you to get up-close and personal with over 100 million galaxies and 200 million stars.

  • Apple Final Cut Pro 7 review

    Apple Final Cut Pro 7

    More than two years since Apple released Final Cut Pro 6, Apple has updated its flagship pro-level nonlinear video editing app.


IDG UK Sites

6 best gaming PCs 2015: What's the best gaming PC you can buy in the UK?

IDG UK Sites

Three of the most expensive Limited Edition games ever made: Who's buying a $1,000,000 game?

IDG UK Sites

The future of Microsoft Surface: What to expect from the Surface Pro 4

IDG UK Sites

Best Mac: Apple Mac buyers guide for 2015: iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and...