Saitek Mephisto Maestro Travel Chess Computer
Posted: 11/9/2004
By: globetechnology.com

REVIEW:

Saitek's Mephisto Maestro Travel Chess Computer showed me that I'm really, really rusty at chess.

The Maestro sells for around $100 (Cdn.) and looks a lot like a Palm computer on steroids. It's got the same basic shape (albeit a bit wider), backlit touchscreen and clip-on stylus as a Palm handheld PDA, but it's closer to the thickness and weight of a small paperback book.

That's my biggest criticism of the design. The Maestro fits well in a coat or backpack pocket, or a carry-on bag or attaché case, but it's not going to fit in the pocket of your blue jeans or slip surreptitiously into the inner pocket of your blazer. It comes with a soft protective case that adds more bulk, too, but you'll need it to keep the screen from getting scratched.

In other words, if you're a road warrior in need of something ultra-portable, keep looking (or get a good program for your Palm or PocketPC). But if the size doesn't throw you, the rest of the Maestro's features will be music to the ears of beginner and intermediate chess lovers.

The monochrome screen isn't fancy, but it's clear and big enough to see the pieces easily at arm's length. It also has a very bright, two-level blue backlight. The Maestro's display makes digital chess MUCH more enjoyable than, say, squinting to see the pieces on a PDA chess program screen.

The screen is touch-sensitive, but while the pieces are big enough visually, they're too small for all but the tiniest fingers to select easily. Instead, there's a stylus for moving the pieces around the board. It clips into a slot on the side of the unit, and stays snugly in place when put away.

The controls are simple. Other than the touchscreen, there's a power button on one side of the Maestro and the backlight slider-control is on the other (it can be set to off, normal or bright). On the face there's a four-way mini directional pad for scrolling through the on-screen menus, too. The button on the left calls up the menu or starts a new game, one on the right clears instructions or calls up strategic tips.

Mastering the Maestro is simple, and you shouldn't need to haul out the manual to get started unless you need a refresher on the rules of chess. The menu can be slightly confusing at times, though - instructions scroll across the bottom of the screen in a narrow bar, and sometimes they can be a bit terse. Until I got the hang of things, I often ended up cancelling a game and started a new one instead of just taking back a move as I'd intended.

The computer takes three AAA batteries — and AAAs are pricier than longer-lasting AA batteries. Given the fact that it wouldn't really have added anything to the unit's bulk, I'd have preferred a design powered by twin-AA cells.

To save you some money, though, the Maestro does have an auto-power-down feature in case you leave it on accidentally. I couldn't find an official power consumption rating for the Maestro, but battery life varied significantly depending on my use of the backlight. If you don't use the light, you can play almost endlessly on a set of batteries, but when I had the light set to full I typically got only a few hours of use from a set of cells.

The processor is quick and responsive, and I seldom had to wait more than a second or two for the computer to evaluate its options and make a move (my own moves took significantly longer to plot...).

Games are stored in the on-board memory. If you're playing and have to turn your attention suddenly to something else, just hit the power button. The system powers down instantly and saves your game. When you power back up, which is also instantaneous, the game will be there exactly as you left it.

You can play against a human opponent, or take on the computer's artificial intelligence (AI) program. The AI has 100 customizable playing levels — 60 listed as "fun" and 40 rated as "Competition." Choose the latter at your peril. I'm not a great chess player, but I found it to be a formidable opponent. In fact, during the entire review period, I only managed to win one game. And that was using quite a few tips helpfully offered by the computer when I was about to do something stupid.

The computer also has a training or "coach" mode with 64 study positions and the ability to use any one of 3,650 different opening gambits (apparently I should have made more use of this mode before tackling the AI...).

There's a standard chess clock, too, but for me the most useful feature is the aforementioned multi-move takeback system. It lets you back out of a jam, retrace your steps and try a new strategy if the going gets too tough. If you REALLY mess up, you can take back up to 200 moves.

In other words, you can just play to while away the hours on a trip, or use the Maestro as a study tool to learn the basic strategies employed by the world's top chess players.

I'm not a chess expert by any stretch of the imagination, I just play (badly) for fun. But chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov knows a thing or two about the game, and he thinks highly enough of the Saitek Mephisto Maestro Travel Chess Computer that he allowed his name to be slapped on the front of the unit. His endorsement is a better evaluation of the AI that my meagre chess abilities permit.

My one criticism is that given the computing power of the unit, it would have been easy for Saitek to build in some other games — even simple ones like solitaire and backgammon. After I got pounded several times in a row by the unrelenting chess AI, I would have appreciated a chance to play something else for a while as I went over new strategies in my head (and let my bruised ego heal). Unfortunately, chess is all this device has to offer.

But if you crave chess, chess and yet more chess, this is the gadget for you. Aside from being a bit too large to be called "ultraportable," this is a great little mobile companion for the chess lover.

More in this section:
2017 - 28 Families Participated In DOCTOR DAVE OSTFELD MEMORIAL SUMMER
West Point Military Academy Makes Presence Known At 2nd Largest ICA Saturday Qu
Plavnik Family, Jonathan, And Anthony Win Ostfeld Memorial Spring
April 23Rd, 2017 Blitz Tournament
Early Bird Deadlines For Spring And Summer Camps At ICA Approaching!
We Are OPEN For Classes Today In Both Locations
Due To Inclement Weather, Glen Rock Classes Are Canceled On Tuesday, March 14th
Due To The Winter Storm, Today February 9th ICA Will Be Closed.
2017 Feb 10Th Blitz
2017 Valentine’s Day & St. Patrick’s Day Blitz Tournaments
Grandmaster Fishbein, Mozart, Kal Penn, A Pirate, And Jon Bon Jovi ...
The ICA\'s New Year\'s Blitz Tournament Is This Saturday In Glen Rock
\"Weather Alert:\" ICA Will Be Open Tomorrow December 17th.\"
New Year’s Blitz Tournament December 31st!
ICA Winter Chess Camp: December 26th-December 30th!
Congratulations To ALL ICA Students Who Participated In NJ State Grade Champions
ICA Coach IM Mark Dvoretsky
Fall Semester 2016
Millionaire Dollar Chess Tournament Comes
Online Registration The Glen Rock
Dear Parents,
JANUARY 24 TOURNAMENTS At BCA Are Moved To JANUARY 31
Yusupov Interactive Lecture Series Schedule
Artur Yusupov Gives Second Lecture In World Champions Series
Artur Yusupov’s “Interactive” Lecture On Mikhail Tal And Blitz Tournament Result
Former World Rated #3 GM Artur Yusupov To Give “Interactive” Lecture
Four Way Tie In 2015 Fall Ostfeld Memorial Open Competition
Mathew Lerman”ator” Wins 2015 U1600 Fall Ostfeld Memorial Competition
Stripunsky Family Wins First Ostfeld Memorial Family event of the Season
2015 Fall Ostfeld Memorial Scholastic Competition Results
Summer Camp 2015 Comes To An End: Sign Ups For The Fall Semester Open!
International Chess Academy Vs. Long Island Chessmates: Match #4
Aryeh Lieb Shlionsky Pan American Champion! Wins Title In Colombia!
Registration Open For Scholastic, Master, And GM Camps ....
Results From New Jersey State Championships
DOCTOR DAVE OSTFELD MEMORIAL SUMMER 2014 Championshi
Boris Gulko Lecture May 22, 2014
Kasparov Conqueror Boris Gulko Lectured At ICA Teaneck May 8th!
GM Fishbein Lectures On Chess Psychology
03/27/2014 Fishbein, Alexander Lecture
03/20/2014 GM Ilya Gurevich Lecture
Kudrin Lectures At 2nd ICA Thursday Swiss!
Thursday Night Tournaments And Lectures:
March 6th Lecture: Black Knights Tango
Early Winter ICA Family Results: Xu, Riener, Shusterman...
GM Gelashvili Survives Charge By Katz To Win Open Section Of Dr. Ostfeld Memori
Early Winter Dr Ostfeld Memorial Scholastic Championships...
Vittal Wins Inaugural Open U1600 Section!
GM Gelashvili Tops Open Section In 1st Dr. Ostfeld Memorial Tournament Of Year
September 21st 2013 Saturday Quads Results: Pasarkar, Xu Brothers, Pavlova Win!
Three Amigos Win Dr. Ostfeld Open Section Spring Edition; Bartell, Kudrin, Katz
ICA Dr Ostfeld Memorial Spring Scholastic Championship Results
“Go Team” East Results; “Arrrrrr” “Geeee” Three Offensive Rookie Of The Year!
Ivan Ke, Josh Lerman
Triple Tie For First; Grandmasters, Stripunsky, Fishbein, And Kudrin Share First
ICA Dr. Ostfeld Memorial Winter Scholastic Championship!
Pushkin Plays Chess! Highest Rated Chess Dog In America!
ICA Students Excel At 2012 NJ State Grade Championship
Hurricane Sandy Creates Make-Up Week During Winter Semester!
ICA SCHOOL IN TEANECK & FAIR LAWN ARE OPEN
The New School Year: The United States Chess League Is Coming To The ICA!
Dr. Ostfeld Memorial Scholastic Early Winter Championships!
Grandpa Kudrin Rocking His Chair To Dr Ostfeld Memorial Open Win!
Summer-In-The-Winter Camp Results: Season’s Greetings From Chess Clause
Team East - It’s Just Two Months Away!
Dr. Ostfeld
FALL 2010 ICA SCHOLASTIC CHAMPIONSHIPS
STUNNER: ICA COACH LERNER SHOCKINGLY UPSETS INTERNATIONAL MASTER MIKHAIL ZLOTNIK
STARTING MAY 1st WE WILL BE MOVING TO A NEW LOCATION IN FAIR LAWN!
PROFESSIONAL PLAY FROM ICA AT AMATEUR TEAM EAST COMPETITION!
Pasarkar, Ionita Families Win ICA Winter Scholastics Family Event!
ICA WINTER 2010 SCHOLASTIC CHAMPIONSHIPS DOMINATED BY CAPITAL KRAZY KIDS!
Army Man Arthur Feuerstein Co-Winner Of ICA OPEN!
ICA COACH ‘GM’ ARTUR JUSSUPOW (YUSUPOV) WINS FIDE AWARD FOR BEST CHESS BOOK!
Spring Schedules For Teaneck And Fair Lawn Are Available.
Winter Schedules For Teaneck And Fair Lawn Are Available
Register For Fall Semester Before 8/28 And Save $50!
ICA Celebrates Approach Of Summer With Tournament In Spring!
ICA Winter Championship 2/3/2008
ICA Winter Championship OPEN SECTION
ICA Early Winter 2007
NJ State Grade Championship 11/18/2007
ICA Spring Championship
2006 Women\'s World Chess Cup
Karpov on AI, search engines and chess
V.BOLOGAN. SWING
Russia captures world chess championship title
The real secrets of intuition in chess
Spain Names School after Bulgaria's Topalov
New chess champ has a novel way of winning
World Chess Championship had started in Argentina
Anand shocked by Kasimdzhanov in World Chess
Sending the Rook to the Opposite Wing
Russian Championship Qualifier
Congratulations to Hana Itkis
THE 106th U.S. OPEN CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP
Live 8 and chess in Philadelphia
ICA Students and Teachers at HB Global Chess, Minneapolis May 18 - May 22
Man versus Machine: the battle for supremacy
The $20,000 free-for-all chess tournament
It's checkmate for chess world's boy wonder
Bobby Fischer, anti-US chess legend, now hates Japan too
CHESS PLAYS IN NASHVILLE - MUSIC CITY!
Kasparov pulls out of world chess championship, blasts FIDE
Chess whiz at the tender age of 9
Chess Champions
ARMENIA TO HOST WORLD'S FIRST ONLINE CHESS COMPETITION
Chess legend granted residency in Iceland
Vela, Hanna dominate national chess tourney
7 year old Chess Champ
Borough fourth-graders study chess
2004 Best of Phoenix Scholastic Chess Championship
Harika wins gold in World Youth Chess
CHESS Lubomir Kavalek
Kramnik keeps chess classical world title
Calvia Chess Olympiad 2004 - Round Two Results
Chess Olympiad begins
EYES highlights the social benefits of chess
Canada's chess king is just 16
CHESS Lubomir Kavalek
Barbados set to compete at Chess Olympiad
Dr Andrew Borg new Malta champion
U.S. Women’s Team Aims for Medal At 36th World Chess Olympiad
Favorites lead 2004 Euro Club Cup
6-member Team For Chess Olympiad
Locals in SA chess friendly games
Chess association to start year at Heritage
Tiger promises no mercy for opponents
Chess Queen Matches Wits with FIDE Champ
Chess players meet their match - quietly
Paragua rules GM tourney
Brownsville student invited to international chess tourney
Students do battle in chess
Kids test chess skills in tournament
WORLD YOUTH CHAMPIONSHIP SETS RECORD FOR U.S. PLAYERS!
Genrikh Chepukaitis Died.
Monache chess team hosting tourney
APS Junior Chess Championship 2004
Chess tournament honors girl’s memory
How to prepare to the game (mentally) & Time management Placket-Sadler, 1998/99
The richest open tournament in chess history