AceCat. (graphics tablet) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by William D. Harrel
If you've ever tried to draw with a mouse or trackball, you've probably noticed how unnatural it feels. Graphics designers, desktop publishers, and computer-aided design (CAD) operators have complained for years about the hindrance these types of pointers have posed to their professions.
A while back, the computer industry responded with pen tablets--devices that use stylus pens and tablet-like drawing areas that operate much like the pad and pencil we all grew up with. Until now, though, the price put them out of the reach of the average computer user. Pen tablets have been confined to high-end graphics applications, such as engineering and architecture.
Enter AceCAD's AceCat graphics tablet. At $129, it's much easier to step up to this relatively new technology. AceCat's 5- x 5-inch tablet size (most others are 9 x 6) is also easier to find room for on a crowded desktop.
What's the difference? Now that you've mastered your mouse or trackball, why change? Pen tablets provide absolute precision placement. This means that you point to an area on the tablet that corresponds to an area of your monitor.
Mice and trackballs provide relative placement, meaning that the pointer moves relative to the speed and distance you move the device, no matter where you start on the mouse pad or desktop. Once you get used to the change, absolute positioning makes much more sense, especially when drawing in graphics programs.
A breeze to install, AceCat connects to both your keyboard and RS232C serial interface port, with little or no compatibility fuss. Older computers with serial ports that don't meet the RS232C conventions (most do) will also need an optional AC power adapter. Drivers for DOS applications and Windows are included, as well as one for emulating a Microsoft mouse. To change the tablet from pen to mouse, you simply flip a switch on the back. A Windows utility allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the tablet and customize button configurations on the pen stylus or optional cursor puck.
The optional four-button cursor puck ($49.95) lets you trace images into any paint or draw program. The puck's crosshairs make it ideal for mapping. There's also a Velcro hand strap available for palm-based cursor control, which is great for walking about during presentations.
The tablet also gives you the freedom to point from anywhere--leaning back in a chair with the tablet on your lap, for example, instead of being confined to the desktop. This makes it more comfortable to use for certain tasks, such as drawing or playing games.
Once you've tried the AceCat graphics tablet, you may never let your mouse out of its hole again.