I love me some crossword puzzles. You can keep your silly Sudoku, I played enough logic games getting my philosophy major from a department that didn't go for them crazy postmodern language games (seriously, the folks at St. Thomas love them some logic). I love having crosswords on my smartphone because it's the perfect 'quick game' app: you can spend two minutes or twenty on them, there's many new and free ones available every day, and they fend off cognitive decline in old age (Seriously, speaking of Catholics, look into the "nun study").
Anyway, point is I want my crossword puzzle app to be awesome. So this week's App vs. App is crosswords. Today's contestants: 2 Across (1.2.2) by Eliza Block and Crosswords (1.13) by Stand Alone, Inc. Which one will better serve your word-puzzle fetish? Read on!
Both 2 Across and Crosswords allow you to download around a dozen different free crossword puzzles, many updated daily. These puzzles are in the .puz format -- which I know because I spent many an hour hunting for .puz files back in my days as a PalmOS Treo user (full disclosure, the best PalmOS cross app is developed by Stand Alone). It's a standard crossword file format that can be made available for download by any crossword app and can either be free or by subscription (i.e. both can download the NYT puzzles if you've subscribed).
Both apps allow you do download these free puzzles as often as you like and also give you access to download a nearly unlimited number of puzzles by going backwards in time. 2 Across gives you a decidedly-standard-iPhone method of selecting a source, drilling in, and then choosing the date you want to download. Just press the "+" button at the bottom center and away you go.
It's a simple system that's very iPhone-esque in its UI and methodology (remember that, it'll be a trend).
Crosswords has the same functionality -- the ability to download any single puzzle from essentially the same sources and also the ability to download from previous dates. But Crosswords improves on the whole process in two ways. One: instead of using the standard iPhone 'dial' date picker, it presents you with a month view, allowing you to tap multiple dates very quickly. You find these by pressing the "+" button in the upper-left of the puzzles list. Two: the best thing about Crosswords is that there's a big old "Get Todays' Puzzles" at the top of your puzzle list every day. Quick, convenient, and automatic. Love it.
Both 2 Across and Crosswords have a nice, clear list of your saved puzzles. Both show your progress -- 2 Across uses a pie-chart and Crosswords a status bar. You hit the edit button to delete puzzles. Here again, 2 Across utilizes familiar iPhone elements and is clean and simple.
Crosswords listing also uses some iPhone UI elements, but it's not as 'standard' as 2 Across. For one thing, there's that "get puzzles" button I mentioned. For another, there are a lot more buttons on the Crosswords listing. This can be a little jarring for some, but once you figure out what everything does (note that one of the buttons is 'help'), it's pretty great. You can sort by date or by last played. The last crossword puzzle you were playing is always indicated by a checkmark, and those status indicators are nice.
Turns out you use a crossword app for more than downloading, tracking, and managing puzzles! Both apps have great crossword-playing abilities, though again you're going to run into some differences.
The same theme I've hit in the above sections applies to the crossword itself. 2 Across utilizes some very standard iPhone elements and has an immediate and intuitive feel to it. You can pinch-zoom, it has a standard iPhone keyboard, there's buttons for useful bits like looking at all the clues, looking at them in split-pane, switching to 'pencil' mode, and so on. You can show and hide the keyboard, enter multiple letters in a square, and you can even swipe in the 'clue area' to jump between clues
In all, you'll spend perhaps more time than you might like zooming in and out and so on, but here again I find this to be like standard iPhone apps. It might not be the most efficient way of doing things, but it's certainly intuitive.
Crosswords, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. I hated Crosswords in its 1.0 version because its default way of doing things were very un-iPhone-like and it also seemed to suffer from crashes. At 1.13, however, things are noticeably improved. Where 2 Across uses the standard iPhone UI bits, Crosswords uses them and also tosses in all sorts of other options.
The downside here is that you really need to take a half dozen visits to the settings when you first start using Crosswords, because the different options can be confusing and some of the defaults are annoying (I'm looking at you, compact keyboard option). That said, once you know what all the options and features and widgets are, you simply enable the ones you want and disable the ones you don't. After that, Crosswords can do, erm, crosswords in pretty much any way you like from the intuitive, iPhone-esque methods that are similar to 2 Across to a more traditional method that utilizes a floating directional pad for switching between clues.
There are also tons of nice and useful touches like the clue view showing you the letters you've already entered for a word. Unfortunately, I did run into more pauses and slowdowns in Crosswords than I did in 2 Across, so there are some bugs yet to be tracked down from that 1.0 release.
On the other hand, landscape mode! There's not as much functionality when you're in landscape mode, but it's a neat option and a nice alternate view.
2 Across is $5.99 and Crosswords is $9.99, but for a crossword junkie like myself (Jai Alai!) 3 bucks is much less important than playing my puzzles quickly and easily. In that regard, both apps do make the grade. In point of fact, after several weeks I still can't fully decide which one I like best and haven't banished either from my iPhone. I don't recommend this method, however.
The good news is that both apps have a 'lite' version which you can try for free to see which you like better before you lay your money down.
The thumbnail difference is this: 2 Across is intuitive, iPhone-like, and easy to use. Crosswords is a little too complex and option-heavy, but more powerful. I consider myself a 'power user' with smartphones (but not Crosswords, yet. I'll get you, Sunday New York Times!), so Crosswords is likely to get the 'stay' on my iPhone.