Editor’s Note: Purchase your own ChessNoteR for a 10% discounted rate by using the code CAMPFIRECHESS when you checkout. This offer is good until 30 April 2019, so don’t wait!
One of the things I love about chess is how it leverages technology and even drives advancement of new hardware/software or repurposing of old hardware/software. Throughout history, engineers and developers have found ways to incorporate chess into their projects. When new supercomputers are designed, chess gameplay is often the first thing to be implemented as a way of demonstrating the new system’s intelligence. Programs like Deep Blue and Google’s AlphaZero are just a few examples of this push. But what about the everyday chess player sitting in a smokey club trying to decide which Sicilian Defense line to follow? Well, technological advances in the club have also modernized the game. Few people use manual clocks anymore in favor of digital clocks with increment controls and other unique features. And, for a growing number of players, paper scoresheets are being replaced by a growing field of electronic ones.
This brings me to today’s topic: electronic scoresheets and a dangerous new contender. My regular friends and readers know that I’ve used the Plycounter electronic scoresheet for years and even did a review several years ago. It’s a small touchscreen device that uses a stylus to move the pieces. It’s been an OK device that, honestly, hasn’t held up as well over the years as I had originally hoped. That’s why I’m pleased that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an emerging device called the ChessNoteR.
DISCLAIMER: Black Mirror Studio graciously provided me with a ChessNoteR to test and review.
As you can see, the ChessNoteR (pictured above) looks a lot like a cell phone. Well, that’s because it is a re-purposed cell phone! The ChessNoteR I tested is a Motorola Nexus 6 cell phone running a custom flavor of Android OS called ChessNoteR OS. While the device still bears the mark of its previous life as a cell phone, it immediately boots into its custom OS that only runs the ChessNoteR app and its support services. I found the interface to be relatively easy to set up. Upon booting, it enters into a default setup wizard that enables a user to connect to WiFi and input their own user information. You can opt out of the WiFi settings, but you’ll lose some of the more interesting features if you do. On that note, WiFi access has been one of the biggest hurdles for electronic devices being certified by US Chess. Access to telecommunications services is forbidden during official tournaments, so that has squashed the hopes of many iPhone and Android apps of being certified for tournament play.
ChessNoteR is the first device to find a way around this. At its core, it’s an Android app, but it owns the device. So, you cannot run any additional apps and you cannot run the notation app with WiFi enabled. It’s this feature that gives ChessNoteR the leverage it needed to become certified. I’ll get into the software next, but I wanted to note that it comes with two different delivery methods. The first option is to buy a pre-configured device from the website. The second option is to buy your own used Motorola Nexus 6 and ship it to the company and they will load the software onto the phone and configure it for a much cheaper price.
Exploring the Software
The core of ChessNoteR is its software. As I said, you can buy a pre-configured device or ship your own to the company for configuration. So, what about the software? Well, I must say that I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far of the software. The interface is very clean and user friendly. You can tell that the designer has put a lot of work into it. There are options for inputting your rating and demographic information which auto populates on scoresheets and in the exportable PGN files (sweet).
Once you start a new game, the device disables it’s WiFi service and you cannot exit the game without ending the game. This prevents a user from exiting their game and using it to reference any other information that might be stored on the device during a tournament. You’ll also find that you can drag the pieces to any point on the board. This is an important part of certification through US Chess because restricting piece movement would be a form of electronic coaching. For example, you could actually play 1.e6 on the device and it would properly annotate the move.
The notation interface also enables you to change the board colors to better suit you if blue and white (the default scheme) are not your preferred colors. Typically I change the board colors to match my favorite color scheme which matches that of Chess.com’s default dark green scheme. However, I enjoyed the blue and white design of the ChessNoteR app, so I left it alone.
Next Generation Feature Set
Sure, it’s cool to have your games in electronic format on a hand held device, but what good is the device in the world of tournaments and real chess? Well, this device seems to have that covered as well. ChessNoteR enables a user to export games in multiple formats.
- First, you can export the games in the traditional PGN format for use with Chessbase and other desktop (or mobile) database applications. Plycounter also does this, but it requires installation of a third party application. ChessNoteR takes advantage of built in hardware support through the Nexus device to export the game.
- Second, you can export the games on a professionally designed scoresheet with signatures that are ready for submission to a TD. When a game is complete, the user and opponents sign their scoresheet using the touch screen. Those signatures are exported on the scoresheet in PDF format via WiFi transfer using integrated Dropbox functionality! So there’s no need to connect to a TD’s computer. Just connect to their WiFi and submit your game to be officially logged electronically.
I’m a big Chromecast and video streaming user, so I was pleased to see that ChessNoteR supports wireless video casting, which allows you to cast your game to a device using a device compatible with Android video casting. This is great for reviewing games with a coach or for those times when your chess study demands 4K high definition. ChessNoteR does not support Chromecast itself, but instead supports some built-in protocols in smart TVs from Samsung, LG, and others through standard Android OS protocols.
These are nice features that bring the convenience of digital scoresheets and notation to the tabletop chess world with a minimum amount of hassle. The controls and features are intuitive enough that anyone who uses a cell phone or tablet should have no problems using it.
I’ve been using my Plycounter for almost five years and it’s certainly taken a beating. The screen is showing significant signs of wear and overall the device feels much more cumbersome than it did when I first reviewed it. I was extremely excited to have an opportunity to test out the ChessNoteR and I am very pleased with it. The screen is much larger and more responsive than anything you’ll find on the market today.
The only thing that I don’t like is how the device comes stamped with the giant Nexus logo on the back. There’s a small label on the device with a QR code for certification data, but the logo bothers me for some reason. In no way does that affect the device operation. Instead, it effects my OCD tendencies more. This can be fixed with a simple skin or decal from a place like SkinIt or DecalGirl.
Bottom line? You won’t find a better device for the price for digitally tracking your tournament games. Check out the ChessNoteR on their official website. You can also find a large selection of videos on the ChessNoteR official YouTube Channel that demonstrate the various device features and how to use them.
RATING: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟
ADDENDUM: I didn’t realize how out of it I’ve been lately. In researching this article and doing the review/evaluation of this device, I realized that Plycounter ceased operations in February 2018 and the Monroi Personal Chess Manager is not available for purchase on their website.