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X-Plane for Android Review

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As part of the 'simming on the go' series of reviews, CombatAce looks at Laminar Research's X-Plane for Android.


Normally, we would not review X-Plane because it is a civilian flight simulation...and after all, we are CombatAce. However, X-Plane for Android has some limited air combat options. In addition, it is a well regarded flight simulator, using 'blade theory' for flight dynamics and even includes multiplayer. So we decided it was worth a look. How does it fly? Let's jump in...


As you can see at the top, this is the screen that greets you when you start X-Plane. Nice reference to the full PC version right there in the screen...more or less free advertising! And speaking of which, normally X-Plane on ALL platforms is a payware program, but due to some sort of patent issue, the Android version is free!


Looking at the Google Play store screen for X-Plane, you would think it has a remarkably small footprint. What isn't specified is that after you install and start it, it has to download more content before it would run. This only has to occur once, but makes it unclear how much space the program actually takes up. The current version requires at least Android version 2.2 to run.


Included in the basic free level are several aircraft and terrains. Terrains are a decent variety, ranging from southern California to Austria to Hawaii, etc. Aircraft are mostly light general aviation, business jet...and a JA37 Viggen hidden in the back! Additional aircraft and/or terrains are available for $0.99 each. The terrains are more famous areas, but additional aircraft are a really wide variety from the A380, F-22, Huey Cobras, to more exotic types like the XB-70 and X-15.


Unfortunately, the first obstacle to getting some air combat goodness rears its head. Only certain aircraft have air combat capability...namely, fighter types like the Mig-21, F-14 etc. No bombers or helos have combat ability in this program. In addition, none of the air combat capable aircraft are free...the Viggen isn't armed. Since I wanted to shoot stuff, I ended up purchasing teh sexplane (F-14) and the B-1B to see if we could drop bombs (nope).





X-Plane, being based off the PC version, means you have the power to tweak just about everything in the flight scenario, as is typical for this kind of program. The following thumbnails show all the different option screens , click on the appropriate link for a more detailed view.



tn_gallery_12105_834_23027.jpgFlight Conditions

tn_gallery_12105_834_40512.jpgWeather Conditions

tn_gallery_12105_834_20903.jpgTime Of Day

tn_gallery_12105_834_21007.jpgWeight and Balance





Most screens are pretty self explanatory, there is even an accelerometer calibration screen, to get detailed readings on what the phone/tablet is sensing.



Basic Flight


The flight typically starts with a HUD view:




Basic pitch and roll controls are through the accelerometer. The secondary controls are on screen, including things like sweep and flaps. Note that except for the rudder, the other secondary controls have a 'lag' associated with them...ie you use the control to 'set' the flaps, then a dimmer marker which actually shows the position of the flight control moves to match what you set. Nice touch of realism to those controls.


To bring up additional views or the options, merely touch anywhere on the screen not associated with a control. Several transparent tiles will pop up temporarily, and disappear after about 5 seconds. Touch any of them while they are visible to change or activate the desired option (see the flight dynamics screenshot for more detail on what this looks like).



Included views (besides the default HUD view):




Cockpit view. Cockpit views tend to vary from aircraft to aircraft, but they are all similar in that there is no view outside, betraying X-Plane's civilian based roots. A better description would be Instrument View.




Flyby, fixed location, and external views all look roughly similar, just different in how they interact with the camera. One glaring omission is lack of any flight data in these views.


X-Plane also has a replay function, where you can look back and replay the action from different viewpoints. You cannot alter the outcome, and there are some glitches, usually related to visual damage still showing even if you rewind before the point where the damage occurred.



Flight Dynamics


The way aircraft feel in X-Plane are the highlight of this program. Aircraft are affected by weight, speed, Gs, etc. in a very believable fashion. This is not surprising, based on Laminar Research stating that 85 percent of the flight dynamics code in the PC version is incorporated into the Android version. The aircraft just seem to feel right compared to most other flight programs on Android. There are some exceptions...the F-14 for instance seems to gain speed far too quickly when the wings are swept back.




X-Plane has a nice option to actually 'see' what it is calculating in real time on the flying surfaces. You can see the vectors for lift, drag, and thrust all change as you fly the aircraft around. Quite fascinating from an air enthusiast point of view. Minor nit...the B-1B does not appear to be calculating lift from the body...whereas the real thing generates over half its lift from the fuselage when the wings are back. Flight controls appear to move correctly...makes sense based on how X-Plane works.


Weather, turbulence, wind are all modeled. Aircraft and terrain collision are also modeled. Overstress, surprisingly, does not seem to be modeled. The terrains 'wrap'....you simply appear at the far side of the map when you hit the edge.


Lights are on all the time and no atmospheric effects (vortex, Mach 'cones', etc) are modeled.


Damage effects are limited to big flames when destroyed. No airframe destruction is modeled...when hitting the ground, you simply bounce along until running out of momentum (while flaming of course).



Carrier Operations






Depending on the aircraft and terrain, you can launch and recover on aircraft carriers. The launch feels a bit simplistic, but the recovery makes up for it. The combination of the flight dynamics, sense of speed and grading system urges you to try to nail it down, giving you a challenge you'll keep coming back to.



How we lookin?


Part of the enjoyment of flight simulation is viewing the aircraft we enjoy flying. Sadly, X-Plane models are uneven in quality. The civilian models aren't bad...planes like the Avanti are quite nice. But the same can't be said for at least the military models I played with. Some screenshots:







The last screenshot is my B-1B model that I created in 1995 for Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.1. It is kind of sad to see a model created almost 15 years later that actually looks worse than mine. Stretched and mirrored textures, inaccurate or excessively blocky contours characterize the 3 military models I played with. I'm not looking for the PC version in visual fidelity...but something at least to the quality of the ThirdWire Android offering would be nice. It mainly just adds to the feeling that the air combat was just 'tacked on' in X-Plane.



Lets shoot some stuff down!





If you're looking for variety in your air combat, you won't find it here. You and your opponent's armament consists of guns and Sidewinder missiles. That's it. For single player, there is no choice of opponent or armament. You can choose where to duel though. As mentioned before, only certain aircraft are even armed and only certain terrains allow for air combat.


Based on the screenshots, you would think there are things missing. And you would be right. Other than the 'box' around your opponent, there are no visual or auditory cues to let you know you have a lock. No gun reticle, funnel or line. There is a cue at the edge of the screen to show the direction of your opponent when he is off screen.


No ECM or expendables are available. You do get an audio warning tone if your opponent has a missile in the air. Basically, most of the time, your shooting consists of either launching a missile and praying, or filling the windscreen with the target before gunning him. Missiles themselves seem to be all aspect (having been face shot a few times to verify this).


Based on what I could tell, any modern western fighter you buy will have the MiG-21 as its opponent...mainly because that seems to be the only eastern block aircraft available for X-Plane.


The AI opponent is a little uneven. I did notice that he would sometimes use a vertical loop verses a horizontal turn to maneuver. But there never seemed to be much blending of the two to turn at an oblique angle. It doesn't help that the AI cheats...I found him on the ground sometimes, fully intact but making like a tank...which makes trying to get 'in plane' difficult. But I can verify that a strafing kill works...







There is possibly a redeeming characteristic of air combat in X-Plane we haven't talked about yet...multiplayer. X-Plane supports multiplayer over wifi. Within multiplayer, collision and air combat effects are modeled (with sometimes hilarious results).


Both devices have to be on the same wifi network. Connecting to each other is pretty easy...just wait until you see each other on the Multiplayer screen and then select.


Minor issues include each player can have totally different simulation situations (ie different locations, weather, time of day, etc). Which means if you pick different terrains, you won't ever see each other. Or the playing field itself could be very uneven.


The largest issue with multiplayer is because it is wifi only, you have to be in the same local wifi network. Which means you're hanging out together already. In which case, why not play something more optimized for multiplayer (like a console). In addition, both of you must have purchased aircraft that are air combat capable. PCs and consoles do multiplayer much better in that you can game over the internet...something you can't do here.





X-Plane is a good mobile flight simulator...but it isn't so good at air combat. Highs include fairly realistic flight model handling, especially for the civilian aircraft, and a wide range of adjustments available for the simulation 'world'. Lows include very uneven external model appearances, and sometimes dodgy combat AI. Multiplayer can be fun in specific circumstances.


I would recommend trying X-Plane for Android for basic flight simulation, but have a hard time justifying spending money for the available air combat.


Reviewed on a HP Touchpad running Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

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i may have missed it but one feature i would believe to be missing in your review sir: what are teh costs?

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You did miss it.


...normally X-Plane on ALL platforms is a payware program, but due to some sort of patent issue, the Android version is free!


Additional aircraft and/or terrains are available for $0.99 each.



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hmmm, haven't launched this one in a long time, must check it again


thanks for your most excellent series FC!

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After download and have played over one hour... Totally agree FC... X-Plane have a nice flight model, is the stronger point here... nice fs.

About review.. superb analysis!




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