Chess-wise Pro for iPad
Has FICS client, but crashy
and needs work on UI
One of the features that attracted me to Chess-wise Pro was the FICS client. As persistent socket connections were once disallowed on iOS applications, Apple’s withdrawal of that limitation has meant that playing online chess against decent strength opponents is now possible; and enjoyable.
The ability to play chess online from the comfort of a sofa means casual blitz is possible. Tablets moves the serious chess player away from a mouse-dominated game towards something a lot more natural; back to the good old days.
Online play with FICS
In terms of online play, Chess-wise Pro doesn’t disappoint. Right off the homepage of the application there’s a button simply titled “FICS”. This logs you into the Free Internet Chess Server with a guest login, and you are then presented by a visual list of game offers. Tap one to select, and Murphy willing, you’re playing a game.
The board is very decent. I’d prefer the last move notation to be clearer, perhaps not camouflaged in the app title bar. Since on a tablet there’s space around the board in both landscape and portrait modes I’d have preferred to see the last two or three moves listed.
I haven’t really played on FICS for about a dozen years, I use it just to watch relayed games of Super Grandmaster tournaments and matches. But I did play a few games for the purposes of this review.
I liked this form of online play. I actually played on FICS while on my commute into work on the train, over 3G. I am impressed that the connection didn’t drop, and I played several games.
I very nice feature is that Chess-wise Pro stores all your FICS played games into a PGN file for later review. A stonkingly useful idea. (Pity the games against the computer aren’t saved to their own database too!).
Chess-Wise pro also impresses with it’s chess database functionality. Initially this points to three online databased covering covering Tournaments, Matches and World Championships. Plus a database for your FICS games that’s populated automatically.
The Database button takes you to a navigatable list of PGN files. Selecing a database gives you a three column quick display mode, which allows you to skim through the selected database, play through the game. Export it to email or the clipboard (I have no idea how this is then accessible to other applications, I didn’t even know the iPad had a clipboard).
The database is definitely useful, but a little clunky. Searching for games between two grandmasters returns a list of results, but it’s missing the year the game was played, and it’s not clear what the order of games is. It’s these little details that hinder this being a must-have chess app.
Interface quirks and bugs
The user interface has a number of flaws and usability gaffs. It certainly needs improvement
The start screen is confusing.
It’s hard to tell what the difference is between a button showing one person, and an icon showing one person and a clock. Both take you to a board to play against the computer, one allows you to set the chess engines’ average thinking time per move, the other sets a time limit for both players. Personally, they are both facets of a timed game. The FICS button only makes sense for people who know what FICS is.
The start page has a button usefully titled Help, which contains a brief overview of the application. But inside the Help itself there is no obvious mechanism for exiting back to the start page. I had to force quit the application and restart to get back to the start page.
Thankfully it’s very hard to screw up the understandability of a chess board. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the icons around it. When you are playing a game, the house icon (recognisable as a home button) triggers a “New Game” dialogue. To get back to the start screen of the application you need to tap the icon that’s either supposed to be a target or a 2D tornado funnel.
Forcing the chess engine to move is done by tapping the rotate 180 degree icon. In other chess programs this icon is immediately recognisable as the rotate board option. Chess-wise uses an downward-pointing arrow for rotating a board, an icon I initially interpreted as a “force engine to move” button.
In play, a couple of times the chess engine has hung and refused to move. Most notably when it’s running out of non-losing moves. It’s almost like it’s petulant and skulked off. The activity indicator keeps animating, which suggests there’s some processing going on, but nothing happens, but the UI is still responsive.
In the analysis mode I’ve had a few weird crashes right after the analysis engine carries out moves like invisible white knight takes white queen on c3.
I wanted to like this particular chess app. The FICS client is the strongest feature here, and probably the prime reason for purchasing. The additional features are not at an acceptable quality level yet, which means there is a lot of potential for this application to be the one essential app for serious chess players. The UI needs improvement.