In the past it has been difficult to recommend a light pen for the Spectrum.
The ones that I've seen ranged from average to mediocre.
All that's changed now with the release of the Spectrum Doodler from F E Electronics. At last there is a pen that works and, within its limitations, works well.
The acid test of any light pen is if, in free-hand mode, you can easily write your signature on the screen. With the Doodler you can, in a variety of brush styles and at a reasonable speed.
The hardware for the Doodler consists of the inevitable black box which plugs into the back of the Spectrum, the pen and, on the 128 version, a lead which plugs into the monitor socket. The pen has a switch built into the tip, and to register its position you simply press it lightly on to the screen. Where the pen scores is in its accuracy, in other words the quality of the software supplied with it.
In use the bottom four lines of the screen are always taken up with a menu bar from which all the main functions of the pen are chosen. Icons are used to show the choices available and the current mode and fill pattern are also displayed.
When one of the icons is selected a pull-down menu appears with more icons to show the choices. All the usual functions are available, drawing lines in various widths, squares, circles, triangles, text, magnify etc. The best feature is the brush option where you can choose one of 24 predefined patterns or even define your own. These can then be used both with the brush and as a fill pattern.
Overall these options are clear and well thought out. they make using the Doodler very simple so that even someone like me - with Van Gogh's ear for art - could use it.
There are one or two omissions that, in the light of the otherwise excellent software, are a bit of a let down. The main ones are that you can only draw on the top twenty lines of the screen; some method of scrolling it would have been useful. I found it impossible to change the background colour of the screen - I'm sure you can but couldn't find out how. With the well known attribute problems of the Spectrum some way of overlaying a grid showing the boundaries would have been useful. Rubber banding, standard on all the latest drawing programs, was noticeable by its absence. And lastly there are no facilities for printing your masterpiece, even an option to use the BasicCopy would have been useful. You have to save the picture, reset the computer and then reload the picture back in.
Despite these limitations the Doodler is by far the best light pen to date. The hardware is fast and accurate which, if you are using it in your own program is all you need, and the software is very good, although it could do with a final polish.
At £29.90 its the most expensive Spectrum light pen, but worth the extra.
F E Electronics, Chesterton Mill, French's Road, Cambridge, CB4 3NP. Tel: 0223-353355.