FOR MANY applications the standard QWERTY keyboard is far from ideal. The Touchmaster, from Touchmaster Ltd, is one way to make data input easier.
It is a pad with a flat surface on which, as you draw, the position of the pen is returned to the computer. By using a number of different overlays different parts of the pad can be made to represent different things and so the keyboard can almost be dispensed with.
The Touchmaster is sold as a complete package of pad, power supply, stylus, interface and a drawing program. Interfaces are available for a number of computers - Spectrum, BBC, Commodore 64, VC, 20 and Dragon - so if you change your computer you need only a new interface. As the package costs £149.95 that is a definite advantage.
The Spectrum interface is a standard black box which fits flat into the user port. An extension edge connector is provided on the back and a 3ft cable connects to the parallel socket on the pad. The pad also has a serial connector, possibly useful for a QL version, and a socket marked 'Foot Switch' but there is nothing in the instructions about that.
The drawing program, called Multipaint, has a number of features but does not compare too well with other drawing programs. On the plus side, apart from entering text and loading the program, the keyboard does not have to be used, which consequently speeds drawing. When drawing freehand you can alter the 'brush' to give different thicknesses and styles.
The usual facilities of filling areas, drawing circles, boxes and polygons and changing the attributes are available. You can load and save screens but for some reason that facility could not be made to work. What it lacks are the grid overlays, magnification, scrolling and flipping of the more comprehensive programs. You can only draw on the top 22 lines of the screen and, as there is no grid on the pad overlay, you can easily lose your position.
Touchmaster sells a number of other programs for use with the pad. Of the three we look at - Simon's Shapes, Simon Saw and Simon Says - only the last one would hold a child's attention for long.
Simon Saw entails finding the correct jigsaw pieces to make a picture. If you succeed you can feed the cat. In Simon Says you build up a cartoon style photo-fit face. The computer then moves randomly some of the features and you have to repeat the sequence. You do that by pressing either the feature or the word on the pad. Then you get to feed the by now grossly overweight cat.
Although the instructions say you can run the Touchmaster using your finger, instead of the stylus, it needed more pressure than a small child could give. That may be because it was new but try one out if you are buying for your children.
The only comparable product to the Touchmaster is the British Micro Graphpad. The Graphpad is about £6.00 cheaper and has a superior drawing program but can not be swopped from one computer to another and, as yet, does not have any additional software. If Touchmaster can improve the quality of the software it could better realise its potential. Touchmaster Ltd, PO Box. 3, Port Talbot, West Glamorgan, SA13 1WH.