Accordance and its Limitations
For the last three years I have been an Accordance (Bible Software) user. I use Accordance for all of my original language study and profit immensely from having such a powerful set of tools (most of which I have barely scratched the surface of) at my disposal. I also use it for reading commentaries alongside of my Scripture readings — and find these modules very easy to use together.
However, I also have some other things in Accordance that don’t work too well with the format. I have Calvin’s Institutes, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (2 Vol.), the writings of John Milton, St. Thomas’ Summa, and other miscellaneous works of theology. Accordance shows its strength both in its speed and when dealing with original language material, but it shows a massive area of weakness when it comes to handling or searching anything that isn’t Biblical material or commentaries. Simply put, in my opinion, Accordance just wasn’t made for reading most books. It's hard to search them, it's hard to navigate them, and it's hard to even open them to read them in the first place. I'm sure there is probably a way to bookmark my place in them, but I've never figured it out.
Logos Fills the Void
Most of the students here in Seminary seem resigned to the fact that no matter how much they love paper books, or may bewilderingly associate electronic books with Gnosticism, they will probably need to get some kind of software to digitize their Bible study and reading. The question for most is if they need to commit to one particular format, and if so, which one? I won't give a firm answer to that question, but I hopefully have some helpful thoughts on the matter. After spending a couple years with Accordance and the last six months or so using Logos, I do want to mention the four advantages of Logos as I see them.
Four Strengths of Logos
First, Logos is the best for an all around library. I mentioned already that Accordance is a very weak format for reading anything that isn’t the Bible. Do not buy Accordance because you want a nice, portable version of Augustine’s Civitatem Dei that you can pick up, put down, and come back to later. The format (even in the portable iPad version) just does not work well for such books, nor does it have actual page numbers, making citation of books in Accordance, if not impossible, at least a huge pain in the neck.
This leads to my second point, which is that in contrast to Accordance, Logos gives you actual physical page numbers. This means that you don’t have to dig around for a new, funky 21st century citation style involving location numbers or anything like that. You just cite the page number of the particular edition you are reading in Logos. It’s all very nice. Also on that point, copying and pasting from Logos into a document you're working on automatically comes with the page citation in whatever format you set up (except for Pages, which evidently doesn’t like pasting citations). That’s very nice, and something that makes research papers that much less painful.
Fourth, Logos has a really well-made iOS app. One of my classes for the Fall at RTS has us reading Andreas Kostenberger’s book A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. I thought about buying a used physical copy from Amazon but instead bought it for Logos at full price. Why did I do this? Well, frankly it’s a large book. It is a book I will be reading all semester long. I don’t like lugging around big books. I look forward to being able to go to school and conceivably sit down and just open my iPad Mini to get a bit of my school reading done. No pressure, just wherever I find myself to sit down and get in some reading. The iOS Logos app is the reason this is possible, and I like it a lot. Unlike the desktop version, which has a long startup time (hint: just never close it and leave it running in the background and then you won’t notice), the iOS version on my iPad Mini is snappy, fast, and involves almost no waiting. You can read your books without downloading them, just reading them in the cloud over Wi-Fi or you can download them to read later when you’re out in the boonies. However you use it, the iOS app is very good, minimally glitchy, and makes for a great reading experience. The desktop app is great for searching and studying, but the iOS app means that you almost feel you can sit down and enjoy the book as a book, not just dig through it for quotes or information.
The weakness of Logos is related to its strengths. It's great at searching what can be an incredibly large library of material, but that takes computing power and time. As such Logos, when it first starts up, can take several minutes if it hasn't been updated recently. Also, the original language modules in Logos, from my perspective, have a steeper learning curve than they do on Accordance. My final complaint, once again, relates to the size of the library in that looking for books is not intuitive. You have to know the name of the author to search for it, or you have to have used it recently and have your library set to show most recently used first. These aren't deal-breakers by any means, but they do mean that you will have to be purposeful in how you use the software.
What Kind of User Are You?
Perhaps a seminary student may have a friendly benefactor who wants to bless them with some Bible software and gives them a choice. If someone finds themselves in such a situation, which should they pick? Well my answer is that it depends on what they’re going to do and where their interests are. If you are into history and commentaries or systematics but aren’t much of a language guy, I actually think Logos is the best pick. But if you’re into the languages exclusively and don’t see yourself building much of a digital library I still might recommend Accordance (with a few language-specific modules) over Logos.
How I Balance Accordance/Logos
Reformed Gold package. I see them as complementary.
Speaking specifically of The Reformed Gold package, it comes with so many books that it can almost be overwhelming. It comes with some really fantastic things such as Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, the Lewis Ford Battles translation of Calvin’s Institutes, as well as the complete works of John Owen, Louis Berkhof, John Bunyan, B.B. Warfield, and Richard Sibbes. It also comes with some extraneous stuff that I’ve never heard of but that I plan to explore when I find the time. Some of the material is a bit dated. For example, Kittels was a very impressive resource for a long time, but with the work of James Barr (see his book The Semantics of Biblical Language), it is now evident to modern students of Greek of the New Testament that the methodology employed in Kittel’s 10 volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is fundamentally flawed. It’s a valuable resource and still has value, for sure, but it’s also hardly cutting edge any longer.
Where to Start?
I can’t tell somebody what would be best for them, but I can hopefully at least give somebody an outline as to how to approach things. If someone is interested in the Reformed Gold package (or any of the packages for that matter), I would begin by going to Logos’ website and installing the free base app on their computer. Grab some of the free modules from their web page and start there. See if you like the program and how it runs. Try out the search functions for yourself. Fiddle around with the iOS app, which I do think will impress most who try it out. If you have the money and are looking to have a nice searchable library that you can take anywhere with you, Logos is a really strong choice that deserves serious consideration.
[Update (8/27/14)]: I would highly recommend reading the comments below by R. Mansfield, who is an employee of Accordance. He has corrected me on many of my statements regarding what Accordance can and cannot do. We would do well to remind readers that this perspective offered above is of an average user who has not taken any classes on either platform. My perspective here reflects my own "non-expert" experience with both, and so should be read in light of that.