A month or two ago I mentioned a cheap USB chess board. Well blog contributor Milan Ninchich was motivated to order one from the Hong Kong distributors. Once it arrived he was also kind enough to lend it to me, so I could do a review.
But before I get into my review it is only fair to publish what Milan thinks of it.
Well forewarned is forearmed and with some trepidation I opened the box. First thing to notice is the size. It isn't very big, and obviously unsuitable for anything other than solo human v computer chess. Getting out my slide rule and set square I did some measurements. The board is 23cm x 23 cm and the height of the King is 5cm. This is about half the size of a competition set, both in board and piece size. (See photo for comparison).
Next I installed the supplied software, which was as simple as inserting a CD. I then plugged to board into my computer and started the software. A screen with a board on it popped up, with some menu options. Choosing Human v Computer I was asked what level I wanted (Easy, Medium, Hard), so I chose easy and began to play.
My main purpose in playing was to discover the mechanics of the board, rather than the strength of the program (Which was a good thing as I flogged it easily). What I discovered was that the product is a set of pressure pads for each square. Press a square and it registers on the computer. Press a destination square and if the move is legal then that is the move played. Replies are shown on the screen and no action is required on the board to recognise this (ie pressing the squares for your opponent).
What this means is that the pieces are irrelevant as you need to watch the computer screen anyway. Realising this I played my second (and so far last) game simply by pushing the squares with my finger. This had the added benefit of increasing the accuracy of the device as in my first game, pushing on one square with a piece was sometime recorded as a move to an adjacent square.
And pretty much thats it. I couldn't work out how to replay games, take back moves, or save a record of the game in anything other than CCP format, which is a text format game record that only the product software understands. Any hope I had of using it to play on FICS, or live broadcasting etc has been dispelled by actually using it.
So basically Milan's description is pretty accurate. And given the current $Aus v $US exchange rate it is expensive junk. I certainly would not recommend buying it, unless you intend to reverse engineer the interface and turn it into something useful.