Developer notes

chessThis section is mainly aimed at app developers though users may hopefully find it helpful also. It includes specific comments or feedback which is perhaps too detailed for the individual app review but which might be useful to the active developer. Separating out these comments will also hopefully prevent the app reviews from becoming too long and detailed.

I will add specific comments to this section as app reviews are posted. As I am using many apps on a regular basis I may also add comments as they come to mind about any chess related apps whether or not they have already been reviewed.

 

Acid Ape Chess (android) – (25 May 2016) ;  (7 August 2016) ;  (29 August 2016)
(v Beta 9 Build 20160430.111303) / (v Beta 10.1) / (v Beta 11.2)

  • When playing a game, it would be useful if there was a ‘simple display’ option which removed as much information and options from the screen as possible. The user currently may be visually distracted by the information panel and the large arrow keys at the bottom of the screen (especially as these are in white – the colour contrast draws the eye from the board). Similarly the clock display looks big and potentially distracts from concentrating on the board (this maybe the point, but perhaps clocks could be put on the same row or reduced in size as an option). Removing the information panel and having a black background would make the chessboard and playing area appear bigger and more spacious especially for phone users.
  • Including some options in board colour/styles and piece types would increase variety and help retain interest (I understand this may be addressed in an an upcoming release)  – addressed in subsequent release (beta 10) 🙂
  • Would be helpful when playing ‘simul’ if different engines could be selected, rather than having the same engine play multiple games (eg for increasingly variation of opponent play and challenge)  (added 7 August 2016)
  • Voice recognition not very reliable (didn’t download large file) – why not just have a blank board? Also various blindfold options building up to total invisibility would be good – for example all pieces distinguishable one colour, all pieces one colour etc (added 29 August 2016)
  • Additional (configurable) time controls – eg tournament (40 moves / 2 hours etc) (added 29 August 2016)
  • Ability to sort/filter opponent by rating (ie refinement to seek command) (added 29 August 2016)
  • Consider adding in an in-app feedback invite/contact button – given the feature rich nature of the app a help/instruction file/page might be useful though appreciate app is aimed at the advanced user! (added 29 August 2016)

Aliyat Chess (android) – (31 December 2016)
(v 1.0.0 beta 3)

  • Well designed and easy to use app with logical and intuitive menu and navigation
  • Playing feature – descriptive playing levels are good but suggest looking at relative difficulty levels – eg beginner is way too strong (think about disabling book moves for weaker levels – beginner won’t know openings perfectly)
  • A serious chess playing app needs the ability to play with clocks and a good range of time controls!
  • Database size and scope is impressive – sample test of range of obscure players all showed positive results. For serious study would be helpful if user could know more detail about database (eg total size) and also totals for any searches – eg how many games in the search where both players > 2500 etc). Tree search of the database would also be very helpful.
  • Visually attractive app – nice range of board colours but would suggest greater range of piece types to cater for different tastes – eg I don’t much like the default minamilistic piece set as the white border around the black pieces is a bit of a distraction
  • Very nice to have a quit option (amazingly not all do!)
  • Impressive and likeable app with good range of features to date and lots of potential but wouldn’t yet describe it in terms of ‘Swiss army knife’ (eg compared to Acid Ape Chess)

Chess Genius (android) – (24 January 2016)
(v 2.64)

  • The easiest levels could be made still more realistic by disabling the opening book.
  • The tutor mode could be a little more helpful by being clearer – reasons for bad moves are not highlighted – this is a problem as on the weaker levels the user’s bad move is not always immediately punished by the engine
  • Ability to configure time controls and/or including Fischer and tournament controls would be a nice addition (addressed in subsequent release 3.0)
  • The dedicated website refers to Chess Genius as … ‘the strongest chess playing program for Android phones and tablets’. It is very strong but the text isn’t accurate and should be updated to avoid being misleading.

Chess ID (iOS) – (13 February 2016)

  • Easy to use app with lots of promise and potentially very useful but please make it more sensitive for other board types – doesn’t seem to work on wood or plastic boards and few users likely to have green roll-up boards (I know app description does give this limitation). Otherwise app may be better targeted specifically at chess clubs rather than ‘average’ user.

Chess Journal (iOS) – (28 May 2016)
(v 0.8.3)

Games and Game entry

  • Scrolling method for entering the date seems a bit fiddly – v slow on my iPad and difficult to get right day  – also it is possible to get impossible dates (eg 30 Feb) and sometimes only 29 days for August (seems to remember previous selection/option)?
  • Can’t return  to earlier entry screen (or save part entry) – I had to cancel and re-enter a game as I got white/black players mixed up – only later found you can subsequently edit a game.
  • For club players would be good to include location and time control. Also helpful to have option for other rating systems other than ELO – eg ECF, USCF etc?
  • Can’t move to next screen without entering someting into elo rating box (took me a while to realise this – my opponent was ungraded!)
  • On page 2 with iPad frame box  is too small – first rank is missing  – can only see full board if options at the bottom are not visible (issue with iPad use?)
  • Move entry – good to include touch square move entry option also
  • Would be good to display move number as games are entered – often errors are made on scoresheets and it is difficult to use undo and compare back to scoresheet to find the mistake and then re-enter. Displaying move numbers would make this easier
  • Other than comment at the end of the game (page 3 of entry screen) – can’t see where comments can be made during the game – eg for individual moves  – in my case something like ‘ ?? – the usual blunder didn’t take long to occur’ 🙂 The website suggests this should be possible?
  • Evaluation – useful to display engine search depth.
  • Evaluation – helpful to have option to keep evaluation switched on ‘eg Analysis on’ option – don’t want to keep pressing evaluate button every (other) move. Also maybe option to select evaluation time (eg 10 seconds etc)
  • Some sub-categorisation option in addition to seasons may be worth considering  – what if I want to see how my league performance compares to that in weekend congresses?)

Statistics

  • In addition to move length (this doesn’t seem separately analysed between black and white?), analysis by opening type would be useful (even if it is only 1 e4 / d4 etc).
  • In any analysis, the average performance score and opponent strength would be helpful (eg – I am getting tired and doing worse the longer the game? When losing to stronger players am I getting outplayed and losing quickly (ie due to opening choice/blunder) or losing more in the endgame due to poor technique?). See comments below about potential cross-over with specialist chess database apps.

Features

  • There is no import/export game option – I don’t want to manually enter all games already played this season! Also exporting will allow me to back-up and carry out more in-depth analysis later – eg on specialist PC database software – without re-entering the game again

Other

  • Instructions! – no app should be released without them 🙂
  • Privacy policy statement – appreciate the statement and transparency, but why is the app collecting data – some of which will be personal data – eg opponent names? And in terms of retention what does ‘a reasonable time hereafter’ mean? Feel it should be option for user to send anonymous data or not and not require the draconian measure of the uninstalling of a paid-for app if uncomfortable (to be fair the statement is available prior to purchase, though most will probably not read, I didn’t in this case)
  • Observation – the idea underpinning the app is a good one – as I understand primarily more a casual and social opportunity for post-match analysis  – the inclusion of long term stats and trends seems perhaps almost contrary to this (?), and begins to enter more formalised territory of specialist chess databases, this may impact on expectations of potential app users?

Chess Openings Explorer (android) – (13 March 2016)

  • In addition to W/D/L information, as an option, it would be helpful to add the % score for each move would also be helpful to more clearly identify the relative success of each move.
  • The images on Play Store need updating  – these looks from an earlier version and are not of the current version – it may confuse (potential) users.
  • There are times when the ‘Quick Return’ option doesn’t return to the start of the game but only to position after 1 e4 is played?

Chess Openings Pro (iOS) – (22 May 2016)
(v.4.1.1)

  • The engine’s principal variation text is very small – font size should be increased to aid readability
  • In terms of the information displayed, in addition to % of white/black wins and drawn games it would be useful to see the overall % score and average elo performance grade. Perhaps informaiton displayed could be chosen by the user (eg option choice to show level of information detail)?
  • It would be good if the principal variation display could be switched off so the user can play the position against the engine ‘blind’
  • App descriptions need correction – the Chess Openings Pro is based on 1.9m games but the Lite version states it is built on 3m (ie more) – though elswhere Pro is given as having x3 bigger database?

Chess Rating (android) – (1 May 2016)
(v 2.6)

  • It would be helpful when updating the database for the user to receive some confirmation that it had actually been updated – for example date and number of positions included in the update. Also if an update is only allowed once a week, instead of greying out the option, might be better to explain this to the user when they try to update again.
  • Further to comments in the main review, the use of the existing colours (green, yellow and red) in the countdown bar as well as being difficult to read because of the narrow width of the line are probably difficult to read for users who are colour-blind

Chess T (iOS) – (4 May 2016)

  • Engine option – to be useful, in addition to the evaluation the engine needs to show search depth and PV (principal variation) line. It would also be better to give the user some control over how long the engine has to evaluate the position. (What does NaN mean?)
  • Clock option – Although screen colour changes to signify time running out it would be more helpful to add some warning before running out of time. This could be use of sounds especially when sshort of time (eg last 10 seconds – eg increasing pitch/volume) and/or also some other visual warning such as flashing screen
  • Gif option – great idea, which works in the main, although it can be a slow process. Main issue is that checkmates don’t seem to be handled properly – move giving checkmate and preceeding move are made far too quickly
  • General issue – the app needs some instructions!

Mobilia Chess (android) – (22 November 2016)
(v 5.3.1)

  • In Analysis setting menu there is a spelling error ..’analize’ should read ‘analyze’
  • Would be helpful to show somewhere on main screen or on menu heading which engine has been selected for analysis – easy to forget if you have a few installed!
  • Pressing the evaluation indicator (bottom left) moves the analysis up and down – formatting issue unless this is supposed to happen? – it means sometimes the full evaluation (PV) is obscured and can’t be read. Even when analysis is not on, pressing the indicator moves the board up and down

Napo Chess  (android) – (10 January 2016)
(v 0.7.7.1)

  • Perhaps add descriptions to supplement level numbers to help guide user about relative strengths – eg level 1 = novice;  level 2 = beginner, level 3 = inexperienced  etc….
  • Consider disabling the engine’s opening book for the weaker levels to make them more realistic
  • 3D board operation is maybe a little too sensitive, making it harder than it should be to operate
  • Sample games referenced in the review are available in pgn format

Round Robin (iOS) – (11 January 2016)
(v 1.0)

  • Can’t delete tournaments or add players to existing tournaments?
  • Whilst it’s easy to enter and remove players when setting up a tournament as all players ever entered are listed each time a tournament is set up it may become hard to manage with many tournaments. To avoid this it would perhaps be helpful to be able to sort/filter players alphabetically
  • The selection criteria needs rechecking – the first player selected always seems to gets black for every game!
  • It seems you can’t opt to play more than one round against the same opponent –  no double headers – what about being able to play the same opponent black and white (or home and away)?
  • Formatting of crosstable grid could be improved – it’s not easily viewable – either fit to screen or pinch to resize
  • Total scores to the right of the crosstable grid would be helpful.
  • The inability to export and also print the crosstable grid easily feels like a gap
  • The standings page should ideally also include number of games played and/or % scored – eg 3/6
  • Some instructions should be included in the info menu
  • As an added feature it would be useful to consider including other pairing options – especially swiss for chess (maybe another app!?)

Shredder Chess (android) – (19 August 2016)
(v 1.3)

  • app doesn’t work reliably when multi-tasking. Frequently a dialogue message will appear stating… ‘Unfortunately Shredder Chess has stopped’. This means that when playing long games in particular and maybe wanting to send quick text etc that when the user revisits the Shredder app to make a  move that:
    • the game has been recorded as a loss in the player’s rating record
    • if match opponent rating option is used, the shredder opponent’s rating has changed mid game,  (eg dropping from 1753 to 1552 and then 1402 etc)

The above issue could possibly be resolved by an ‘adjourn’ or pause option which preserves the game status variables

SmallFish (iOS) – (13 February 2016) & (21 February 2016)
(v 9.4) / (v 9.4.1)

  • Book moves and stats are shown with Analysis option disabled (more consistent to disable – if user wants to play without ‘help’, shouldn’t see book moves)
  • Mint colour scheme is unusable – board squares are indistinguishable
  • ‘MMarble’ still looks like a typo – how about ‘Light (Blue) Marble’? 🙂
  • Shadow option has little effect – would delete this altogether to aid simplicity
  • Shortcut option – not clear how/if this works
  • Good explanation for engine options – but for consistency should also include some narrative on threads – probably one of more important? – some guidance about settings for threads/Hash would be useful (eg optimal/maximum values etc)
  • Pressing Analysis bar brings up game options (Pay White / Black/Both)?
  • Options sub-menu could be more logically sub- headed (eg why not have a ‘display’ subheading similar to ‘engine’ – for show leagl moves etc; also the options under ‘Analysis’ are all display related not analysis related (added 21 February 2016)
  • Would be better to show analysis with centi-pawns as is traditionally the case (at least an option for those used to/preferring this level of detail)? (added 21 February 2016)

Swift Chess (android) – (8 August 2016)
(v 1.0)

  • Colours used in the app (menu screen, board etc) feel rather too bright/lurid, make it difficult to use the app for long period. May be better to try more neutral colour schemes?
  • Use of dark blue whole square colouring to highlight possible legal moves is off-putting (especially where large number of available moves), the use of blue doesn’t fit well with the existing colours used. The highlight move option is good but why not do it more clearly and in a more polished way? (eg how about a small coloured dot in the middle of relevant squares – a good example where this works well is the Hiarcs chess app)
  • The app doesn’t feel very responsive – seems to take a quite a while to load (download?) relevant positions (eg fetching modules, fetching game etc)
  • Game browser -filter isn’t overly clear to use  (eg only 6 tiles, does this means maximum of 6 piece endings are playable? – what does the ‘played/unplayed/liked’ button mean/do?)  – Not sure the filter feature works – eg filtering on white knight v black rook didn’t seem to bring up positions with either of these pieces?
  • Endgame course – basis for scoring isn’t clear (why 995 one test and 991 the next? – is it based on time taken milliseconds?)
  • No app instructions (might answer some of the issues/questions above!)
  • Checkmate challenge – existing metrics (best level, best streak etc) are good in themselves but think some grading indicator (eg elo scale) might be more interesting or motivating for regular chess players
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2 thoughts on “Developer notes

  1. Thanks. In SmallFish, when you double-click the analysis bar, it triggers the “Shortcut: feature. There is a section in Help & FAQ for it. The motivation is to speed up the app. It’s important and very handy.

    Like

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond. Yes, I agree but the Shortcut section of the FAQ doesn’t say anything about double-clicking the analysis bar to access the shortcut! I think this text could be clearer. As a general point, I deliberately first use an app without looking at the instructions to see how intuitive and easy to use it is without them as many users don’t bother to RTFM! 🙂 Thanks again and keep up the great work on your apps! 🙂

      Like

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