I do not care to calculate the man-hours of labor I’ve probably lost over on Sporcle, the online quiz site that tests your ability to recall trivia under time constraints. In my defense, I’d like to point out that every minute of every working day cannot be go-go-go, so what better way to spend some of that down time than seeing if I can name all Apple products starting with the letter “i” or all the baseball hame of famers or—if I’m feeling particularly squirrelly—all the countries of the world in alphabetical order? It certainly beats staring off into the middle distance.
So it was with a mix of both excitement and trepidation that I learned Sporcle was taking its act on the road in the form of an app for the iPhone and iPod touch. Excitement, because Sporcle for the iPhone promised another way for me to enjoy one of my favorite mentally-stimulating pastimes. Trepidation, because I feared I would never enjoy another productive moment again, with Sporcle quizzes just a tap away.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. In making the jump from the Web to a mobile device, Sporcle loses a lot in the translation.
The iPhone version of Sporcle works the same way as the Website: the app offers hundreds of quizzes in 15 categories, including Sports, Science, History, and Geography. After you select one of those quizzes, you’ve got a set amount of time to type in all the answers. And therein lies the problem with this mobile quiz app—while typing in the name of every World Series-winning manager or Olympic host city on your computer’s keyboard is no great challenge, it requires a bit more effort on an iPhone or iPod touch. Reasonable people can debate the pros and cons of the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard, but I think there’s one thing we can agree that it’s particularly ill-suited for—typing out things quickly as a clock ticks down.
Take Sporcle’s quiz in which you’re asked to rattle off the names of the 13 colonies in a minute. I can type as many as 10 and that’s not, as I’m sure you’ve concluded, because I am a moron. Rather, I just can’t type those 13 names in just 60 seconds—not on the iPhone’s keyboard. And if that makes you think less of my mental acuity or typing ability, I would suggest that you use the iPhone’s keyboard to tap out “Massachusetts,” “New Hampshire,” “Pennsylvania,” and “Rhode Island,” and see how many ticks of the clock you’ve got left. Not enough to enter in the southern colonies, I’m willing to wager.
(Pro Tip: The iPhone’s auto-complete feature helps out a little bit here, but only a little. The names of more common answers—states, presidents, countries—will appear as you type them, and you can tap the space bar to accept those suggestions. But that will add a space at the end of your answer, and Sporcle won’t recognize it as the correct one until you hit the back button to delete that space.)
Quizzes with lengthier time limits fare no better on the iPhone. When taking the countries of the world quiz on the Sporcle Website, I can usually name all 195 countries—or pretty darn close to that—well before the 15 allotted minutes expire. On the iPhone, I run out of time around the 170th country mark… and my poor finger is exhausted after tapping out names like “Kyrgyzstan” and “Republic of Congo.”
The iPhone app has some nice features. A History panel remembers every quiz you took and how you scored, in case you’re the type who likes to top your personal best. You can also see how your results stack up against other quiz-takers. And finding quizzes is easy enough, whether you search by category, use the app’s Quick Play feature to see only a few games, or ask Sporcle to provide you with a random game.
The latest version of Sporcle allows you to play games in landscape mode, and while I normally find the horizontally-oriented keyboard easier to type on, here it covers up too much of the game’s playing screen to be very useful. While that 1.1.0 update also promises some bug fixes, a few still remain—on occasion, the navigation buttons at the bottom of the app will disappear, trapping you in whatever category you happen to be playing.
Sporcle Lite is a free version of the app that restricts you to just 25 games (and not very challenging ones at that). It also features ads that can be very distracting when they appear in the middle of quizzes. Sporcle Lite is probably best for downloading to see if you find the timed typing aspect of the game as unpleasant as I did before you pay $1 for the full version.
Overall, Sporcle is a disappointment in mobile form, proof that what works on one platform doesn’t necessarily translate well to another. It’s just as well—I have some work I need to get done.
[In the time it took you to read this review, Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels probably took at least two Sporcle quizzes.]