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Originally published July 25, 2014 at 3:52 PM | Page modified August 8, 2014 at 9:29 PM

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Review: Circle the skies, from your smartphone or tablet

Apps focusing on realistic graphics, sophisticated controls and staged missions allow users to capture a bit of the delight of flight.

The New York Times


Flight simulators are one of the most enduring types of computer games. For years, they were primarily played on traditional PCs, but many smartphones and tablets are now powerful enough to give simulator apps the realistic look and feel of swooping and soaring through the sky.

Infinite Flight, which is $5 on iOS and Android, is easily the most impressive flight simulator for mobile devices. The app has realistic graphics and sophisticated controls that simulate many aspects of flying real aircraft. It also comes with a number of aircraft, and sites to fly around.

To start, select an aircraft type, like a small Cessna or the powerful F-18 fighter. Next choose a location and some basic weather options.

Then you’re immediately transported to the cockpit, with a beautiful view of the sky and ground and a display of the important aircraft controls. Don’t panic at the sheer number of buttons and dials, though, as the app has some introductory lessons for guidance.

Once you’ve learned how to control the speed, fly safely without stalling, and navigate, then take some time to enjoy the view. The ground is shown in pretty persuasive detail, as are mountains and seas.

The game has other options besides flying around and trying to land on different runways. You can strive to accumulate achievements, and if you don’t want to fly the entire route to distant runways, there’s even an autopilot mode.

More locations and aircraft cost $3 to $5. Also, be aware that the image quality sometimes becomes a little jerky, and the engine sounds can occasionally be annoying — though they can be turned off.

X Plane 9, which is $5 on iPhone and free on Android, is a well-known brand of flight simulator, and in many ways, it’s comparable to Infinite Flight. The app emphasizes realism and is packed with technical details. Users can change the weather and time of day to alter the look and feel of the flying environment.

X Plane is a little more daunting for beginners than Infinite Flight, and it has less instruction, but it is extraordinarily convincing in many ways thanks to its complexity. It also lacks a feeling of gameplay, which may limit its fun.

On iPhones and smaller Android devices, the small screen may be frustrating, particularly when the planes’ controls are on the display. However, a separate $10 iPad version makes good use of the larger screen and has better graphics.

For a slightly more gamelike app, try Flight Unlimited Las Vegas, which is $3 on iOS and Android. It offers staged missions for zipping around the Las Vegas landscape. The game has some great-looking 3-D graphics of famous landmarks, and you can choose different planes to fly, including a Learjet or A10 tank buster. Alternative locations and planes are available for $1 to $2.

But this isn’t a pure simulation game. The flight controls are simpler than X Plane’s and it won’t take months to play through the content. Still, it is definitely entertaining.

The silly-sounding 3-D Plane Flying Parking Simulator Game, free on iOS, takes over a lot of the aircraft systems for you, but offers a sense of controlling a big airliner, bomber or even a drone. This app is all about its gameplay: You have to fly through hoops in the sky above a slightly cartoonish-looking terrain and land on improbably placed runways atop cliffs and hidden in island valleys.

The real emphasis in this app is on problem-solving, with in-game purchases to add puzzles: Each costs $5.

None of these games is going to let you get into the cockpit of a real aircraft and fly it. But I’ve been at the controls of several planes, and I can say the games do capture a tiny bit of the delight of flight.

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