Playing around online and Apple AirPods

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. I just bought my first smartphone and I want to play some games. What advice can you share to help first-time phone gamers?

A. Many phone and tablet games are labeled “Free” or “Free-to-Play.” “Free” is a loaded phrase in the gaming world. Although the initial purchase price is zero, so-called free games can become very expensive, likely more expensive than games sold for a fixed price.

The definition of what makes a game free-to-play is flexible, but typically it means the game is free to download and play, but play is interrupted by advertising or by purchase requests.

I dislike the entire category of “free-to-play” because a game’s true cost is difficult to determine before purchase. Unfortunately, their popularity has made them almost impossible to avoid.

With thousands of games published in app stores, choosing well becomes a challenge. There is no single guideline to cover every situation. One option is game review sites, which provide detailed descriptions and bestseller lists for high-quality games.

Check games for in-app purchases to get a sense of what they require. Games with a single in-app purchase or expansion packs are easier to price in advance. Games that charge for “lives” (extended play) or some other consumable item tend to be more expensive.

The upside to “free-to-play” games is that you get a chance to explore the game before paying a cent. But if you get hooked, even a few dollars a week can add up quickly. I know individuals who have spent thousands of dollars a year on certain addictive “free-to-play” games. Granted they are the exception, but caution is vital.

The old advice is timeless: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Q. I do not want to search the entire catalog for games. Are there specific titles you can recommend?

A. Letterpress is my favorite word-puzzle type phone game. It works great on any phone and it is easy to play with friends over the Internet.

The game board contains 25 letters arranged randomly in a five by five square. Two players take turns composing words with two or more letters. Each move adds the last word’s available letters to that player’s collection. Letter ownership is locked by gaining control of adjacent letters, with unlocked letters flipping back and forth between players until the game is over. Letterpress is inexpensive. (There is a one-time fee to remove advertisements.) It sports more than enough playability to deliver hours of entertainment.

If word games are not your favorite, take a look at Mini Metro. The game is perfectly designed for a phone and can be played in short bursts of a minute or two.

Metro has you draw mass transit lines to connect stations to keep people moving. You have limited resources, and the passengers keep coming. You earn trains, stations, and new tunnels to cross rivers as you become more successful.

Several others I highly recommend include Monument Valley, The Room, Alto’s Adventure, and Threes. All of these titles are inexpensive, top-quality games available on the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store for Android.

Q. How do Apple’s AirPods compare to other, less expensive Bluetooth headphones?

A. AirPods are the best headphones I have ever used. In the last year, rarely has a day passed when I did not use them at least once. Most days they get several hours of use. They are worth every penny.

I have owned at least a dozen Bluetooth headsets in the last ten years. Not a single one worked day after day as well as AirPods.

They come in a case that keeps them charged throughout the day. That is rarely needed, since they can last about 4 hours on a single charge.

The sound quality is the same or better than Apple’s wired earbuds.

Since I tend to prefer podcasts, I usually use a single earbud. If I remove it from my ear, the player pauses.

AirPods are best experienced for yourself. Take advantage of Apple’s return policy and try them for a week. I think you will be impressed.

Wander the Web

Touch Arcade iOS Game Reviews

This site has been the best game review site for iPhone and iPad for years. There is so much info that it can be overwhelming. To focus, tap on Hot Games in the main menu, then use the Genre menu to select areas of interest.

Android Game News and Reviews is an excellent site, especially their news coverage. Sadly, the reviews section is light on titles. Because many hit games appear on iOS first, one approach is to find year-old reviews on TouchArcade and then Google search for an Android version.

Especially for Enthusiasts

This site’s visual design might intimidate casual gamers, but there is a lot of excellent information here for those willing to dig for it. This site covers games for nearly every platform, with an emphasis on handheld devices.

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at

Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at