With the demise of CalComp, it would seem that Wacom could rest easy as the undisputed leader in the Mac-graphics tablet sphere. But now along comes the Taiwanese company Ace Cad to stir up the playing field at the lower end of the market, with the Flair USB graphics tablet.
So how does this sit against Wacom? It’s cheap for a start, coming in at £49 as opposed to the £85 Graphire, Wacom’s nearest competitor. It’s in the now familiar translucent blue of the original iMac (Wacom has the Graphire in a multitude of colours), and instead of being part of the tablet, as is the case with the Wacom device, the penholder for the Flair is separate. It stands freely with a helpful little hatch in the base for storing spare nibs and suchlike.
On first inspection, the Flair tablet – and especially the pressure-sensitive pen – seems a little flimsy. To fit the battery for the pen (supplied) you have to take the whole thing apart, which doesn’t really scream quality. The USB cable is mounted at a strange angle, and looks likely to suffer from stress damage after regular use.
However, the only real way to test a tablet is have a good old scribble with it using the bundled graphics package, which in this case is the excellent Art Dabbler.
After plugging the tablet into a spare USB port you can use it right away for guiding the cursor around. However, to take advantage of the pressure-sensitive features of the pen, you have to install a driver and control panel. The Flair allows the simultaneous use of a USB mouse – which defeats the purpose of its advertised “mouse replacement” tag, but is fine for this reviewer.
The pen has adjustable pressure sensitivity (512 levels – count ‘em) and three buttons: the tip button, activated by pressing the tip downward, and two barrel buttons on a rocker switch. These can be customized via the control panel. This lets you, for example, control click with one button – which is always handy for those contextual menus.
The pen doesn’t need to be in direct contact with the tablet, having a “reading height” of 0.27 inches. This means that the pen can be used to trace drawings, maps, pictures, or illustrations on the tablet. You can also trace objects placed under the clear overlay that already has a paper drawing of a cartoon cat attached for you try out your tracing skills, and get used to the pressure-sensitive pen.
In all tests, the Flair performed adequately – although the active area of the tablet is fairly small and the pen is not always the most responsive tool. That said, for a knock-down price, you’re getting a USB graphics tablet and some great software to use it with.