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Synctel Software Palm Chess 2.0.3

John Ottini | Handheld PC Reviews
August 6, 2007

Growing up I use to enjoy playing chess, but it wasn’t always easy to find an opponent , let alone, one who could provide me with a challenging game. Well, that all changed with the advent of computers and the portability of the Handheld PC which made it a perfect tool for the creation chess related software.

There are a number of quality Chess programs that will run on my Handheld PC, but Synctel Software’s - PalmChess 2.0.3 is definitely the cream of the crop. I believe that chess players of all skill levels will find this software both challenging and entertaining, so join me as I have a closer look at what this fine software has to offer Handheld PC Chess lovers.

First Impressions

Playing the game of chess is challenging enough without having to deal with complicated and baggy software, so I can honestly tell you upfront, that PalmChess 2.01 is neither of these things.

The interface is straight-forward and intuitive, while the full color graphics are beautifully rendered and easy on the eyes. This software only requires 300 kb of free memory on your H/PC, yet (as you will soon find out) it is a full blown Chess program complete with all the bells and whistles available on most first rate Chess programs.

Figure 1: Full color graphics and a beautifully functional interface

Getting Started

Your first step is to choose a worthy opponent! This software allows you to play against a computer or a human opponent, or if you so desire, it allows you sit back and observe a game played head to head between two computer opponents.

If you’re like me, you will more than likely be facing a computer opponent, so make sure that you select a computer skill level that is appropriate to your game skills. This is very important because a) you want to be presented with a challenging opponent and b) you don’t want to get crushed after 10 moves and be discouraged from ever playing again.

In any case, you have 7 skill levels to choose from (Beginner to Grandmaster), I suggest that you choose wisely because the strong chess engine used in this software can be very intimidating, even to the intermediate player.

Once you’ve set the skill level, you might also wish to choose between one of two chess piece styles. The Staunton pieces are more 3 dimensional and in full color, while the Linares are one dimensional and in black and white, similar to the ones used to illustrate in chess columns in your local newspaper.

Figure 2: Staunton Pieces (colorful & two dimensional), Linares pieces (black & white)

There are a couple more decision you have to make before you start. Sound or no sound and Animation or no animation? I prefer to activate the animation function because I find it easier to follow the game play, but the sound is totally optional as far as I’m concerned.

Game Play

PalmChess provides chess aficionados with many of the useful features one would expect to find in any high quality computer Chess program.

Game play begins in 1 of 3 ways, either you start a new game, load a previously saved game that was in progress or view one of the thousands of games available for download from the internet in PGN format .

Chess Pieces can be moved around the board using the Tap & Drag method or the more popular Tap and Drop method which will save some wear and tear on your H/PCs screen. Time clocks start and stop automatically after each move and can be paused if you need to take a break.

Illegal chess moves are not allowed, but (unlike a live chess match) you can use the take back function to undo multiple (bad) moves. If you can’t decide your next move, you can either ask for a hint or have the computer make the move for you.

Losing badly? Well this software allows you to switch sides at anytime or even modify the game board by letting you add, move or delete game pieces.

There is also a board setup option which allows you to preset the board pieces before you begin game play. This is great for advanced users who want to focus on a particular aspect of their game by using only specific chess pieces to (for example) practice their end game.

Record Keeping

PalmChess not only maintains an on-going Moves List in chess notation, but it is also the only Windows CE software (I’m aware of) that supports portable game notation (PGN) which is the standard format for saving and recording Chess matches.

Figure 3: Automatically maintain a Moves List (left). Recording competitive game history (right)

As the name suggests using the PGN format not only allows you to transfer and replay your matches on PalmChess, but also on any other software that supports the PNG format. Think of the benefits this feature alone will provide the avid Chess student?

Another cool feature is the Games Detail form which you can fill out and save with each game, thereby allowing you to maintain a game history when you are in competition.

Less than perfect

Even the best software could stand with a few improvements and PalmChess is no exception. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that are worth mentioning.

The hint feature is nice, but it’s not very helpful unless you know how to read chess notation. It would have been nice if the actual move where simulated on the game board and not simply written in chess notation.

When the Task bar is hidden, the software does not expand to fill the screen, but leaves a gap along the bottom of the screen. Yes, I’m nitpicking, but this could easily be fixed.

The automated chess piece movement is really nice, but sometimes the move is so quick (even when set at its slowest speed), that I end up having to study the move list in order to make sure of my opponent’s last move. An option to slow down the animation even farther, would be really nice feature.

This software has not been revised since 2000, but the price still remains at $29.95. If the developer has no further plan on revising this software, it would be really nice if he might consider dropping the price a bit, in order to make this product more accessible to more H/PC owners. Something to think about?

The Final Word

The game of Chess is not everyone’s idea of a good time, but if it’s yours, then please have a look at this product. Synctel Software has done a wonderful job of providing Chess software that will surprise and challenge you. The chess engine is very strong and the database of chess openings is quite extensive, so even the best chess players will learn from and enjoy playing PalmChess 2.0.3

Last, but not least, I want to point out the excellent built-in help files included with this software. You get the standard Users Manual, but they also include instructions on How to Play Chess, How to Read & Write Chess Notation and even a Guide on Winning Strategy.

I know that his software is a bit pricey for some folks, but it’s a very complete package and therefore well worth the premium price if you can afford it.

Where Can I get my Copy?

A 14 day full trial version of PalmChess 2.0.3 is available for download from Synctel Software’s website.
In order to continue using the software after the 14 trial period you must pay $29.95 USD to obtain a registration key.

System Requirements

Windows CE 2.12 or higher
StrongArm/XScale, SH3, MIPS

More information on Synctel Software Palm Chess 2.0.3 can be found at


Cost: 3- Star Rating
Usability: 5- Star Rating
Built-in Help: 5- Star Rating
Customer Service: 4- Star Rating
Overall: 4.5- Star Rating
Pros: Wonderful graphics, great interface, very competitive chess engine, program is loaded with useful chess features

Cons: High price for HPC software, animation is so quick, that it is sometimes difficult to follow computer opponents last move

Further Discussion

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