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Simming on the Go: Round 2

MobileArticleBannerWhile everyone has been complaining about the lack of recent “FS next” releases, there have been not one, but two updated releases for the mobile simming market – both of which are considerable improvements over their predecessors.

While the high-end FS crowd will still decry the mobile sims as being “games”, rather than “sims”, the features (or lack of features) which leads them to say that is actually slowly and partially being addressed. In this article, we’ll take a look at two of the sims available for the iPad and the differences between them. Those two sims are X-Plane 10 Mobile and Aerofly 2.

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XP10 Mobile’s Super Cub

The basic premise of both of these platforms is the same; you use the accelerometers in your device to control the ailerons and elevators, while on-screen hit points, designed to be reached with your thumbs or the occasional finger, control the rudder (if enabled), throttle, flaps, gear, etc.

These aren’t, as you might guess, intended to be full-on detail simulations, but the latest incarnation of both sims improves the realism, compared to their predecessors. Inclusions such as the ability to change weather, radio and/or GPS navigation have increased the options of how to use them and the array of aircraft available – albeit mainly pay “DLC” – has increased as well. Both sims work with most recent iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch devices, but if you have an older device, check the documentation on iTunes, because you may well not be able to run them. The majority of testing for this article has been done on a pretty old 32GB iPad3 so you don’t have to have the latest generation to run them.

To start with, both applications can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes App Store; X-Plane 10 Mobile (XP10M) for free, while Aerofly 2 (AF2) costs a massive £0.79 (€1.10, US$1.25, approximately). For that, X-Plane gives you a single aircraft, the C172SP, and five locations around the planet to fly. Aerofly 2, on the other hand, gives you only one area to fly, but seven aircraft. Neither sim currently has an option to buy more scenery areas, but both have the option to add more aircraft – many of which are directly comparable and some of them have been tested within the scope of this article.

Learning to Fly

If you’re new to iDevice “flying”, both XP10M and AF2 include tutorials that start by teaching you the basic controls, then move on to teach you how to fly… Sort of properly. The reason I say ‘sort of’ is that the lessons do include errors such as saying that you increase throttle to increase speed (while then changing the elevator pitch for you, as you increase throttle, but not telling you about it!) They are, however, good introductions and both sims  ‘score’ you on your aviatory attempts, giving you a “pass” and unlocking the next lesson if you get a high enough score.

The primary differences between the two regarding lessons are that XP10M includes some of the DLC aircraft as part of the tutorials, so obviously you cannot do those unless you have purchased the relevant add-on, while AF2 uses voice instruction and feedback, compared to text windows in XP10M.

The majority of control options between the two are very similar and simple to learn. Throttle is on the left side of the screen, rudder is bottom right. Ancillary controls such as flaps and undercarriage are moved elsewhere and use different control methods – for instance XP10M uses “press, slide, release” to control the flaps in stages, while AF2 uses “press, press”, allowing you to select any stage in one go.

There's a bombing tutorial in XP10... I missed. Repeatedly.

There’s a bombing tutorial in XP10… I missed. Repeatedly.

Flying Free

The main thing that will be of interest to the readership here is the “free flight” mode of both sims, which allows you to, basically, pick the situation you want to fly in and pick your aircraft, then go fly it wherever you want.

Obviously both sims have this, and they are very much of a muchness regarding how you use them. Here, the primary difference is that XP10M allows you to choose different locations around the globe, with options of Juneau, SEATAC (North-West United States), Hawaii, Grand Canyon and Interlaken (Austria). AF2, to the contrary, only features the area around California in the South West United States, but the area you get to fly around is much larger than each individual area in XP10M.

Weather and time of day can be set in both sims, while XP10M also allows you to set a level of turbulence. I’ll cover weather a little more later in this article.

Filling your Virtual Hangar

Because XP10M is free and hence only comes with a single aircraft, the C172SP, if you want to add any more then you will need to part with money. Not a massive amount, compared to desktop sim add-ons, but they are rather more limited as well. AF2, on the other hand, gives you a little more for your 79p, with a C172SP again, but also a B58 Baron, F/A-18 Hornet, Learjet 45, Pitts S-2B and a Schleicher ASG 29 glider.

In the AF2 glider, the "throttle" controls the spoilers.

In the AF2 gliders, the “throttle” controls the spoilers.

Available for purchase, both sims can be brought closer together, as XP10M will also allow you to add a B58 Baron, plus both sims can be expanded with A320 and C90 King Air models. After that you diverge, with AF2 offering a B737-500, B747-400, Extra 330LX, F4U Corsair, MB-339 jet trainer, P-38 Lightning, Sopwith Camel and Swift S1 glider. XP10M on the other hand, offers the A-10 Thunderbolt II, B777-200ER, CRJ-200, F-22 Raptor, F-4 Phantom, Piaggio Avanti, Super Cub, and a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

While the majority of the aircraft are pretty much the same regardless of which sim you are using, X-Plane 10 Mobile includes two things that Aerofly 2 doesn’t – the obvious one being the S-76 helicopter, which does use an appropriate and quite challenging  flight model. The A-10 also includes weapons as well, though, which can be used within the sim. Dropping “dumb” BBs, aiming using an iPad, is equally “challenging” as flying the helicopter!

Another feature that is new, although unfortunately only in Aerofly 2, is the ability to change liveries on some – not all – of the aircraft. The F/A-18, for example, comes in US Navy and Swiss Air Force liveries, while the C172SP comes in three different liveries. The airliners all come in a mix of primarily real world liveries, although the A320 also comes with the fictional “Cloverleaf Air” livery that it wore in the first version of the sim.

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XP10M does have a nice feature in that you can “test fly” any model you do not own – for a short period at any time, or if you share your action on social media, for a single 24-hour period. This allows you to play with things you haven’t tried yet (try the helicopter!!!) without parting with any money. AF2 doesn’t have this option – it’s definitely pay to play with any add-on aircraft.

So how well do they fly?

Actually, pretty well, is the simple answer. Compared to their predecessors again, both AF2 and XP10M have significantly improved the controller sensitivity and you can pitch and roll to pretty accurate levels. This becomes particularly important during the lessons, when you are scored on how well you maintain the attitude required by the instructions, so thankfully both sims also use the iDevices’ “multitouch” capability to allow zooming in and out of the panels. Unlike some other packages, for example “TheFlight“, the primary flight instruments are functional. Not all functions are present though – more are in XP10M than AF2.

Neither sim has a function allowing you to control elevator or aileron trim, so you cannot set them up to fly ‘hands off’ very easily – although it’s not exactly like you can put the device down, either, considering that it is the yoke/stick as well. Fortunately, for longer flights or if you get bored wiggling the device around, both provide basic autopilots that can control critical functions.

That said, you do still need to use very fine motions of your device to control accurately and when full user control of the rudder is enabled, that particular control can be very hard to balance. I cannot take off at all in the AF2 B58 Baron when fully manual rudder is enabled – it simply spins around in circles on the ground at anything higher than about 35-40% power. On XP10M, or with “assisted” rudder enabled on AF2, I have no problems flying either. It’s only the Baron, so far, that I’ve found that problem with.

The only other difference between the two sims, really, is when it comes to flying in an external view. The “purists” will object to my even mentioning that, but sometimes you do want to look at the outside of the aircraft and the complete lack of gauges when flying externally in XP10 makes keeping control very hard. AF2’s little top bar, while unrealistic, makes flying a lot easier when not watching the instrument panel.

And how do they look?

As you might imagine, given the fact that these are designed specifically for mobile devices, the graphics quality isn’t up to the desktop sims and I, certainly, never expected it to be.

Innsbruck, Austria (XP10M)

Innsbruck, Austria (XP10M)

Both sims are pretty much comparable, although the smaller areas of XP10M look slightly sharper to me at a lower level than the larger area of Aerofly 2. That may be better with newer devices than I have access to, but unfortunately I cannot test on the most current array of devices. In contrast, some of the cockpit graphics in XP10 actually leave quite a bit to be desired, looking poor quality even in relationship to their immediate neighbouring textures or gauges. All round, AF2 is probably the better of the two graphically, but it’s marginal and very much down to personal preference as to which areas of the graphics you find more important.

Both sims use photoreal scenery, with few structures and landmarks either on or off airfields. Major airfields usually have some buildings and cities have tower blocks or other buildings, but there’s no foliage and no vehicles (ground or air) or “clutter” to liven things up. These are mobile applications, so I’m not surprised by this at all. It might put some people off, though.

So what about those flyable areas?

as previously discussed, both sims have a very different approach in presenting terrain for you to fly over, with AF2 opting for one large area of the US, while XP10M has five much smaller areas around the Northern Hemisphere. XP10’s areas are a little too small, to be honest, rendering the airliners pretty pointless in most of them, where you only have a single airport capable of handling something that size, so you’re extremely restricted in what you can do.

"It's the end of the world as we know it..." (XP10 "SEATAC")

“It’s the end of the world as we know it…” (XP10 “SEATAC”)

As an example, the Juneau area has a total of two airports, Juneau and Gustavus, while Innsbruck has Innsbruck itself and another small GA field across the mountains. Both areas have lots of nice mountains around them, though, and the greens and whites make a nice change compared to the much browner shades that make up California and bits of the neighbouring states in Aerofly 2.

In general, the areas have been chosen pretty well, to give a variety of terrain to fly over, but XP10’s limited areas do put me off a little – you reach the edges off them far too quickly and easily in faster aircraft. When you consider that three of them – Juneau, SEATAC and the Grand Canyon, are pretty average 737 or A320 flights apart, it’s a pity that you can’t fly between them, even if you only had very generic repeating terrain below you, with some radio navaids where necessary.

“RNAV engaged, Captain”

Speaking of radio navigation, that’s one big advantage that XP10M does have over AF2 – although given the limited areas, again, it’s not as great as it could be.

Innsbruck's ILS, sort of centred... This isn't easy, using an iPad!

Innsbruck’s ILS, sort of centred… This isn’t easy, using an iPad!

Both sims provide a degree of assistance in navigation; in AF2, it’s direction arrows with airport names and distances at the top of the screen, plus yellow “approach path” boxes (if enabled) and functional ILS needles when near to the airport. X-Plane 10 Mobile, however, includes radio navaids and selectable ILSs, which can be tuned by clicking on them on the nav chart and selecting the radio you wish to tune to them. This is actually very intuitive and is a great addition to the sim… Although, it has to be said yet again, that they’d be more useful if there was the possibility to fly between them more! You can fly the ILS approach into Juneau, or Innsbruck, nicely, but only the Oahu area (a misnomer, as it actually comprises the entire Hawaiian islands chain) has enough navaids for you to do a full IFR flight.

Weathering the weather

As with other areas, both sims have adjustable weather this time round, although this is another area where X-Plane 10 Mobile excels, with an extremely configurable system… But no glider to take advantage of the thermal activity slider, unfortunately.

As you might expect, the weather system does have its limitations. Thin layers of cloud don’t look particularly realistic at all and flying aircraft in turbulence is another one of those “challenges”, given the nature of the control device. The turbulence is not overdone, though, that I found, and I only lost control once – of the Pitts S2B in AF2 – which resulted in a crash message and flight reset. That was more because I was trying to do aerobatics in turbulence than simply because of the turbulence itself!

To be honest, the large array of options in XP10M is excellent, if only really fully usable in Hawaii, for the reasons previously discussed.

Conclusion

Neither of these “second generation” mobile sims are any threat to the desktop, but then they’re not supposed to be. As something you can use while away from your desktop, to keep your hand in or just have some fun, they’re pretty good, but they’re not comparable with FSX, P3D or XP10 and no-one is ever going to say that they’re an aid to flight training.

Because both sims have plus and minus points, it’s very difficult to pick an outright “winner” and much of your choice will be down to personal preference. That said, however, if you’re not sure, there’s a clear first choice, because the zero initial cost of X-Plane 10 Mobile makes it the obvious sim to get. In fact, it’s free, so if you have a compatible Apple device, why not just download it for a play? If you don’t like it, delete it. If you do? Well, you can expand that, get Aerofly 2 or why not both? Given the strengths and weaknesses of each sim, I’ll be hanging on to the pair of them.

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Hardcore simmer or not, I just don’t see how moblle phones could ever be a platform for anything else but simming “games”. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a good game. Just not my cup of tea, as they say.