Three years ago, Scrabble was one of the very first 500 mobile applications to appear on the new iTunes App Store, allowing iPhone users the chance to kill their Scrabble cravings on the go. It was a smart move for Hasbro and Electronic Arts (EA), but it's been two years and eight months since the Android Market opened for business, and they've just now released an official app for Android smartphones—Scrabble Free.
It reminds me of the whole Scrabulous fiasco, when the famous Scrabble clone quickly became one of the hottest games on Facebook back in 2007. I played it. Everyone I knew played it. In fact, it was the only reason I joined Facebook. It was the easiest way to play a game of Scrabble with your friends around the world.
Hasbro didn't realize how popular Scrabble could be on social networking sites, but they quickly lashed back with a copyright infringement lawsuit. Scrabulous was shut down, not to reopen until after Hasbro and EA released their own Scrabble game on Facebook in July, 2008. Scrabulous reopened as Lexulous a couple months later, but its new gameplay didn't stand a chance against what we've all come to play and love—original Scrabble.
They did things right with the iPhone, releasing their app as soon as possible, but they screwed things up again with Android. Zynga's Word with Friends was released on the Android Market back in February, making it first choice for quick games with other mobile friends, letting players challenge friends on both Android and iPhone devices.
So, why did Hasbro and EA wait so long to release a Scrabble app for Android?
Who knows. But at least there's one now, right? And you can play a game of Scrabble with your Android buddies, as well as your iPhone pals, just like you can with Words with Friends. But will it capture the hearts of those already playing the popular app from Zynga with Friends?
Probably not. At least, not right now.
Both the Scrabble and Words with Friends games on Android are only available as free versions, which means either way you go, you'll have to deal with ads, ads, and more ads. This also means that you can't play any games offline; you always need to have an active internet connection, whether 3G or Wi-Fi, so they can keep displaying ads. The same goes for the iOS free versions for both games.
The Scrabble paid app does prevail over the Words with Friends paid app for Apple devices though, because you can still play a single-player game or local multiplayer game in offline mode, whereas you're still unable to do anything in Words with Friends without the Web. Note: Scrabble Free DOES NOT have a single-player mode, and multiplayer Pass N' Play is limited to just two players.
The new Scrabble app for Android does have some cool features though. You can keep up to 50 games going at the same time, and you can play against random players if friends aren't available. Words with Friends only allows up to 20 simultaneous games, but you can also play randoms.
Inviting a friend to play is extremely versatile. You can invite one of your Facebook friends to play via Facebook Connect. And you can find friends on the Origin network (EA's gaming network) by either username or email address. Words with Friends also allows you to find friends via Facebook or by username and email address.
A Scrabble dictionary is also included in the app. Truthfully, I've never liked the idea of including a dictionary. Sure... if there was also a game option that replaced that dictionary with a "challenge" option, but there's not. Words with Friends does not have either option, but both games will stop you from putting a fake word down.
One interesting aspect of Scrabble on Android is the Teacher feature. After you make a play, the Teacher will let you know the best word you could have played. It's a very nice way to help you learn over time without resorting to outright cheating. Words with Friends does not have anything like this, but it's geared towards quick and friendly games, not educating you along the way.
Overall, the Scrabble Free app for Android is just like the iOS version. Nothing is really different, as it shouldn't be. But again, why did it take them so long to develop one for Android?
Compared with Words with Friends, I can't say that one is better than the other. The Scrabble interface is a little clunky and slow in comparison to the quick-loading Words with Friends board. And the Scrabble tiles aren't as easy to move around as the Words with Friends ones. But you can keep track of your progress in Scrabble, as well as play local games and single-player game against the AI (paid iPhone app only). You can also see how much your play is worth just by placing the tiles on the board, whereas in Words with Friends you have to break out the old math skills.
They both definitely have their good and bad qualities, which makes both games a must-have for any word nerd.
But as of right now... I have way more friends playing Words with Friends with me than I do Scrabble. So, will Hasbro and EA take down Words with Friends like they did Scrabulous? No. Not unless they have a legit legal dispute. But that doesn't mean Scrabble won't become popular across Android devices, especially if they beat Words with Friends to a paid version, which most Android users are dying for right now. Who wants to look at ads all day long?