Why is it not possible to follow chess games on your mobile easily and for free? Many chess players must have wondered about this, and many would perhaps even like to try and build such an app themselves! A few days ago a mobile application was launched with exactly this purpose, and we decided to have an early look at it. Our conclusion for now: it's not yet something we'd start using, but it could become something quite useful.
ChessOnMobile was launched Monday, March 11th, 2013. As the press release writes,
There are chess apps for almost everything. To play, to learn, to solve problems, etc. There are also programs and websites that allow you to see chess games, taken from large databases. What did not exist until now is an application or website that shows the chess games in an intuitive, fast and efficient way on mobile devices. This is not easy because the mobile devices have a smaller screen and generally have a lower speed internet connection if one is not connected via WiFi.
The people behind ChessOnMobile, who also run the Argentine chess website Argedrez, wanted to change this. With their web application you can view chess games from the best chess tournaments on your phone or tablet and follow your favourite players within a nice interface. We've tested the app with an iPhone 4S and this is our review.
The start ('Home') screen shows 'Events', 'Players' and 'Favourite Games'. After pressing 'Events' you'll get to a screen with 'Current Events', 'Finished Events', 'Upcoming Events', 'Favourite Events', 'Events by Country' and 'Events by Favourite Country'. By now it's clear that at different locations in the app, you can create 'favourites', which the app then remembers so that you can easily return to a certain event or player.
Obviously we click on 'Events', and we get the following screen:
At the moment only one big open tournament is under way: the Karpos Open in Skopje, Macedonia. Let's have a look!
What we get is a screen with big buttons showing the round numbers. Now it also becomes clear how easy it is to make an event a 'favourite'. What we should note here is that round 5, played on Tuesday, March 12th, is missing. On the website it is promised to update the games on a daily basis, but this might prove a tough task for the developers. Hopefully they'll be able to automate this.
Anyway, let's try round 4, shall we?
We're getting a list of the games played in round 4, and it's nicely designed. We like the simple and logical way they have presented the difference between White and Black, the flags... couldn't be better! Except that somehow it would be nice to have some more games in one screen. Anyway, clicking on a player gives the following page:
A nice, small biographical page with basic data but unfortunately no photo. We can hardly blame the makers, though: the strongest players all have a photo and surely they'll be trying to increase their database as much as possible.
Let's move on to the most important screen: the one where you can view and replay a game!
This is the actual chess board. The pieces and board are OK, but this is something that can be quite personal. Many fans won't like it so much! At the moment there doesn't seem to be a way to change board colours and piece sets but perhaps this will be included in an update in the future.
There's a more serious problem, though, as you can see in the screenshots above and below: the buttons to move the pieces don't fit on the screen. At least not on the iPhone 4S screen - this will probably be better on other devices, such as the iPad, but hey, it's called ChessOnMobile, isn't it?
Here you can see that there's actually quite a lot of buttons that are not shown initially. The next thing we try, of course, is to scroll the screen just right to be able to go through the game. This is just possible:
It works as expected, but there are two more issues here, one minor and one more serious. We're not a fan of highlighting squares of the last move (like c3 and e4 above), and you can't remove this option in the settings. In fact, there is no 'Settings' page at all!
More annoying is something we have experienced on other chess apps as well: if you push the arrow button too fast, the app won't do anything. You have to wait until the move has been played, and so going through the opening phase quickly is not an option. There is an autoplay option, and you can enter the speed you like, but somehow we've never been a fan of autoplay on chess viewers. But that's a personal thing.
We were intrigued by the 'SHOW PGN TEXT' button, but this doesn't really do what we expected from it.
This is not PGN, this is notation. It's nice that the developers have used a figurine font (it seems they have used one that comes with Chessbase products) but we thought we would get something like this:
[Event "Skopje MKD, Karpos Open 2013 r_4"]
[Site "Skopje MKD"]
[White "Yemelin, Vasily"]
[Black "Arnaudov, G. Petar"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. Nc3 fxe4 5. Nxe4 Nf6 6. Nxf6+ Qxf6 7. Qe2 Be7 8. c3 Qg6 9. Bd3 Qxg2 10. Rg1 Qh3 11. Rxg7 Bf6 12. Rg3 Qh5 13. Be4 Ne7 14. d4 d5 15. dxe5 dxe4 16. exf6 Qf5 17. Nh4 Qxf6 18. Bg5 Qe6 19. Re3 Rg8 20. Rxe4 Qxe4 21. Qxe4 Rxg5 22. O-O-O 1-0
which you then would be able to copypaste (or even email to yourself!).
The biggest downside of the app is the complete absence of live games. At the moment ChessOnMobile only offers games of previous days, but this is slightly counter-intuitive. Chess players will have other sources to find older games, of which The Week in Chess is still by far the best.
A mobile device is best used for the most topical activities: checking email, Facebook/Twitter, reading the news and viewing games that are being played, like checking the scores of a football match in progress.
ChessOnMobile cannot be used for this. In fact, you cannot even view games of events that are under way for free. There are three ways to use the app:
- As a guest. You can see all the games except for current events. You can't search, and you can't mark favourites. You will see advertisements as well.
- As a registered user: this is like a guest, but you can mark playera, events and countries as favourites.
- As a premium user: no restrictions and without advertisements.
Registering is free while premium users pay US $8 for 3 months, US $14 for 6 months and US $26 for 1 year. Let's compare this with two usual suspects: ICC and Playchess.
With the Internet Chess Club app, called Chess at ICC (available for iPad, iPhone and Android), you can follow top events live. Their relays are fine, but we noticed there’s no archive of past events. All apps come with solid features including online play, instructional videos, chess problems, etc. Subscriptions vary, starting at $4.99 a month for iOS, and $9.95/month for Android. www.chessclub.com for more info ;-)
Chessbase's Playchess app offers similar functionalities for playing online and watching games. The basic 1-year subscription is $42.61. However, there are special subscriptions for using the app on a phone or tablet, for instance $11.99 for a year. This allows you to play online and watch top games. To view archived games, you have to use a different app by Chessbase: CB Online. This one costs US $4.99 only once, and allows you to replay games from their online database (offering millions of games). We're not sure if they really offer very recent games; for instance if we search for 'Skopje', we don't find this year's tournament.
In any case, it looks like ChessOnMobile is targeting customers who are not members of ICC, Playchess or similar services and are not intested in playing online, but who do want to view games of current events. The big question is whether chess players are willing to pay for this, taking into account that archived chess games are available for free elsewhere. So at the moment, when the app still has a number of limitations, we fear not many will be convinced yet to grab their wallets. We're especially missing the option to follow tournaments live.
We like the design of the app, which is more like a mobile website than a native app, in fact. The good thing about this is that it will work on any device: iOS, Windows, Android, whatever. You might think it's more complicated to go a website instead of start an app, but for instance on the iPhone it's quite easy to create an app icon from a bookmarked page so that's not a big issue. The interface, however, has some issues which are the result of this choice to go for a mobile site and not an app.
One example is going through top players and their biographies. When you click on 'Players' on the homepage, and then 'Players by Ranking', you'll see the world's top 25 (and yes, they all have photos on their biography pages!).
Clicking on 'Load more players...' will increase the list with 25 more names. If you click on one of these names and then go back, you'll again arrive at the starting page with the first 25 names. You have to scroll down again, and click on 'Load more players...' again, to get back to where you were. Annoying! In general the app seems a bit slow even on Wifi because it's based on a website.
So all in all we're not too enthusiastic about the app. We really like how it looks, but it's just too uncomfortable for quickly finding event games and viewing them. Some of the issues can clearly be improved in later versions, though! So why don't you give it a try and see whether it fits your needs more than ours?
If you leave specific comments about the usage of the app, please mention the device you're using it on!
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