3D Brain (for iPhone) review

The free iPhone app 3D Brain is a good overview of the brain and its structures, replete with rotatable VR diagrams.
Photo of 3D Brain (for iPhone)

3D Brain (for iPhone), a free educational app, provides a good overview of the brain and its structures. It’s best for students, although there’s plenty of interest to those of us who don’t know a hypothalamus from a hippocampus. Along with providing rotatable, VR-style illustrations of the brain and its components, it has informative text and links to relevant medical articles and databases.

Its features are the same as 3D Brain (for iPad), and its layout is basically the same. It is more cumbersome, though. Most notably, if you press Info while looking at a brain structure, the information bar fills most of the field of view, blocking your view of the brain structure (and labels, if they’re turned on). Although pinching or stretching shrinks or expands the type size, the bar’s width remains the same, so for the most part, you can’t look at the structure’s illustration and the info about it at the same time, as you can on an iPad.

A Virtual Tour of the Brain
When you open the app, you see a page labeled Whole Brain, a depiction of the entire brain with its regions marked in different colors. It’s a VR-style 3D illustration; by touching it and dragging your finger, you can rotate it, revealing different regions. One side is translucent, so you can see interior structures. You can also stretch or pinch the diagram to enlarge or shrink it.

One piece of interactivity that I would have liked to have seen is some response when you tap specific areas in the brain in the diagrams. For instance, the Whole Brain view shows six areas of the brain, each depicted in a different color. Clicking on the Labels button in the taskbar identifies them as the Frontal Lobe, the Parietal Lobe, the Temporal Lobe, the Occipital Lobe, the Cerebellum, and the Brainstem. But if you touch on one of the areas or its label, nothing happens. Granted, you can access separate pages for these areas, as well as 22 brain regions or sub-regions, from the Structures button on the right-hand taskbar that reveals a drop-down menu listing the regions you can examine.

Basal Ganglia for Beginners
As an example of how it works, if you choose the second entry on the list, Basal Ganglia, it reveals an illustration with six substructures shown in different colors. Touching the Labels button on the taskbar names the structures: Globus Pallidus, Nucleus Accumbens, etc. Tapping the Info button calls up a wide sidebar on the right side of the screen, with text describing different aspects of the basal ganglia.  Whichever brain structure you call up, the textual information provided is in the same order: Overview, Case Study (or Studies), Associated Functions, Associated Cognitive Disorders, [Impairments] Associated with Damage, Substructures, Research Reviews, and Links.

Through links in the Research Reviews section, you can access PubMed abstracts of selected articles related to the brain region. The Links section includes the MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) organizational tree for the structure in question, while BrainInfo takes you to images. Whichever of these links you click on, it takes you out of the app, which you’ll have to relaunch. It will open to the Whole Brain opening page, where you’ll start from scratch.

The Spinnable Brain
3D Brain (for iPhone) gives a good overview of the brain and its structures, with rotatable, expandable diagrams, and relevant, informative text and links. The spinnable VR illustrations of brain structures are the interactive high point of the app. But there are some places in which my user experience fell a bit short.

The iPhone’s screen size (even with the iPhone 5) does not permit viewing of both text and the full diagrams at the same time, as you can do on an iPad. The lack of touch-sensitive interlinking of the diagrams makes navigation (using the bar at the righthand edge of the screen) awkward. All the links, in text and in the Links section, take you to Web pages outside the app, making you have to relaunch 3D Brain and start from scratch (the Whole Brain screen).

These quibbles, though, shouldn’t deter anyone interested in the workings of the brain from downloading this free app. The material presented in 3D Brain (for iPhone) as well as its interactive diagrams should be a valuable resource to students and informed laymen alike, but, if you’ve got an iPad that’s the best way to experience the 3D Brain.

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Specifications
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
3D Brain is a good overview of the brain and its structures, replete with rotatable VR diagrams, though the app’s navigation could use some polish.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc