Gadget review: Recreated ZX Spectrum
FOR those who grew up during the halcyon days of the 8-bit era, the humble ZX Spectrum is a source of fond memories, especially for Dundonians who were able to procure a unit from the nearby Timex factory, trades that were often conducted in pubs and back doors. It has been 33 years since the idiosyncratic machine was launched and it remains one of the most enduring and iconic computers of all time.
Revisiting its vast and influential catalogue of games has, until now, been the preserve of retro enthusiasts with original devices at home, or those with emulators which, though passable, never quite recapture the authentic experience. For that, you need the physical keyboard, with its so-called dead flesh rubber keys and inimitable rainbow flash. Thankfully, the wait is now over and the good news is you don’t need a cassette deck to revisit the likes of Chuckie Egg.
The device allows you to play some of the Spectrum’s best known games
When married out to a compatible app, downloadable from the Android store or iOS, the machine acts as a gateway to some of the most lauded games to grace the platform. The undoubted highlight is Manic Miner which, decades later, remains a formidable challenge and a shining example of clever level design. Further games will be made available over the coming weeks and months as licensing deals are struck with developers, and the package even includes a version of BASIC, allowing to you do some programming of your own.
The brainchild of Elite Systems, a firm which has brought many classic Spectrum games to modern mobile platforms in recent years, the keyboard itself is like stepping back in time. Care and craft have gone into its creation. Its stumpy plastic chassis looks just as you remember and pressing its keys offers the same resistance. The only difference is when you flip the unit over. Gone are the 1980s inputs, replaced with the likes of pairing lights, a power button and a mini USB port.
The keyboard is responsive and well suited to everyday computing tasks
These additions point to the new Spectrum’s best function. It is a Bluetooth keyboard which can be connected to the likes of an iPad and used for everyday purposes, such as sending email or word processing. The device is responsive and sturdy and although it does not come with rechargeable batteries, it has a good range when in operation. A wired connection is also available for those who plan to use it in the office or at a desk at home.
The machine may have been devised with a particular audience in mind, but it is no mere exercise in nostalgia. After a lengthy and times fractious Kickstarter appeal, Elite have realised their dream of reproducing one of the best known machines in gaming, while also giving a nod to the 21st century by ensuring it is not a one trick pony.