In "Chess on the iPhone," I highlighted two iOS chess apps for playing online that are not worth having. Live Chess has nonstandard pieces and other irritating features, as well as a playing environment that resembles Yahoo! Chess (not something worth recommending). Chess Online is vastly worse. The flaws in this app suggest that the programmers need to learn how to play chess before they redesign their app.
As I am going through as many chess playing apps for iOS as possible, I'm learning that many of those available are so bad that they could be detrimental to young players seeking to improve through play on their or their parents' phones.
Chess++ by Fat Bird Games is slightly better than Chess Online, but worse than Live Chess. The pieces are standard Staunton design (a plus), but insufficiently contrast with the squares. I could barely see my rooks--fortunately, I remembered where I had moved them. As with Chess Online, the board has a thick border, rendering everything smaller. However, they do recognize light on right. The app also recognized when my opponent was in checkmate. At least the developers understand the rules of the game.
Prior reviewers warned me that it may be a long wait for a game. Indeed, I waited close to five minutes, but I did get an opponent. I would post the game score here, as it is was an instructive example of how the Falkbeer Countergambit can bust the King's Gambit on positional grounds. Alas, the app offers no means of saving finished games. For me, this absence of an essential feature is a deal breaker. The app claims to save unfinished games that are interrupted by a phone call. I did not test this feature, but if so, it reveals that the developers already have written most of the necessary code for saving finished games. They simply need to straighten out their priorities. Perhaps if they could make the app appealing to serious players, the wait for a game in Game Center would not be as long.*
Good news for the developers: three small changes could vastly improve this substandard app, and hence render it attractive to serious players. Allow games to be saved (and emailed) in PGN, change the colors so pieces contrast with the squares, and remove the border around the chess board.
Chess LIVE by Instant Chess.com deserves praise. The interface is clean, and configurable. There are multiple available time controls from one-minute to two hours plus ninety seconds per move. It is possible to log in via Facebook, but not necessary. There are many strong players using the app. My opponent clobbered me in the game from which the screenshot emanates, and yesterday I was schooled by a young Los Angeles-based model whom I was privileged to coach when he was in high school.
Instant Chess.com has been online since 2000.** Games played with the app are saved online for one week, and can be easily downloaded individually or all in a batch. This essential feature could be improved if the PGN data included the date the game was played, player ratings, and the time control. As with most chess apps, it is also possible to play against an AI opponent (called "coach" in Chess LIVE). Those playing with the Facebook version of the app can share easily a game that just finished.***
One major drawback to the app is that users are able to play only a limited number of games free (50 for those getting the Facebook Bonus). In-app purchases extend these limits, but strike me as rather expensive: $6.99 for 100 games, or $7.63 per month for unlimited play.
In contrast, Chess.com, which offers features too numerous to name, offers premium membership for as little as $5 per month (or $29 per year). Moreover, non-paying members may still play as many games as they like, limited only in the number of concurrent games. Their iPhone/iPad app offers some of the best online play--live and turn-based--available for iOS. Some features, such as the entertaining and instructive forums, are more easily accessed vis the iPad than the iPhone. Tactics trainer and video lessons have direct links from the home screen on both iPhone and iPad versions. Chess LIVE (Instant Chess) is vastly superior to most available apps for playing chess online on the iPhone, but it remains far outside of the league of Chess.com's app.
*If Game Center could match chess players across apps, it would become useful.
**My recollection, possibly in error, is that Instant Chess.com initially offered only play against a computer opponent, and that it was not possible to save games unless one took the time to review them afterwards and record the moves by hand.
***The option of sharing individual games on Facebook was part of Chess.com (a different site than Instant Chess.com) as recently as one year ago. No longer. Instead, those who enable Facebook sharing do not see that batches of their games (often embarrasing losses) appear in the FB news feeds of their friends. Aside from this defect, the Chess.com app remains vastly superior to Chess LIVE (Instant Chess).
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