I play a lot of Words With Friends. It’s an excellent Scrabble knock off, and certainly better than the official Scrabble iPad app—which, in an amazingly poor design decision, shrinks the board down to less than two-thirds of the available screen real estate. But despite being better than Scrabble, and despite being a game from which I derive plenty of enjoyment, the Words With Friends iPad app kind of sucks.
On the plus side, and obviously in sharp contrast to Scrabble, Words With Friends lets the game board take up nearly the entire iPad screen. I can no longer play WWF on the iPhone, because of how accustomed to and reliant upon the full-screen view I have become.
Less good, however, is nearly everything else.
First is the game’s general bugginess. If the iPad is moved ever so slightly when a game is loaded, the tiles don’t load properly on your rack. You’re forced to refresh the game to see your tiles and gain the ability to, you know, use them. During peak hours, sometimes words (or messages in chat) simply won’t submit. I can generally only resolve such lockups by force-quitting the app from the iPad’s multitasking bar.
Not that Words With Friends is a good multitasking citizen. It still lacks support for “fast resume” under iOS 4, meaning you’re forced to sit through its loading screen every time you switch back into the app. If you’re attempting to use your iPad for anything besides Words With Friends—web browsing, email, reading, and the like—while simultaneously playing WWF near-live with a friend, the process is painful. Words With Friends → Safari → Words With Friends loading screen → Wait → Play turn → Safari → Words With Friends loading screen → Wait → Play turn → Safari… You get the (painful) idea.
Also annoying is WWF’s failure to add up your words’ scores as you form them. Scrabble for iOS actually gets this right. It’s of course not too difficult to add the point totals yourself, but the iPad is a computer, and WWF should compute.
Words With Friends also doesn’t respect my orientation preferences, which makes it a lousy iPad citizen. I don’t mind if your app’s experience is better in one orientation over the other, but I do mind if you completely ignore my rotation.
I find the portrait orientation upon which WWF relies very frustrating when using the app’s integrated chat feature, since you’re forced to use the portrait keyboard. Chatting within Words With Friends is a challenge anyway; the chat box uses such a small (iPhone screen-sized) window that it’s tough to see (let alone edit!) what you’ve typed if you enter in more than just a few words.
If you’re in one game, and a friend plays a turn in another game, the “move made” sound plays, and the last-played letters on the current screen refresh, as if they were the ones just played, though they weren’t. It’s a silly glitch.
When a friend proposes a game, if you tap anywhere but the small “Accept” button in the center of the screen, you reject the game. On a device where the entire screen is touch sensitive, this design decision makes no sense. The game needs a “Decline” button to go along with “Accept,” and you press one or the other. This isn’t complicated.
You can’t disable games from random opponents. You can’t browse a list of recently or frequently played opponents. You can’t turn off the game’s boneheaded “auto-resign” functionality that penalizes your buddies if they take a couple weeks off.
That Words With Friends is the best asynchronous multiplayer crossword/Scrabble-style game for the iPad isn’t saying much; rather, it’s the faintest of praise. One hopes that new owner Zynga will feel somewhat invested in giving WWF the polish of, say, FarmVille.
One hopes one doesn’t hope in vain.