Letters Issue 29 Contents  Spectrum Software Scene

Hardware World

Touch of class

THE NEWEST keyboard on the market for the Spectrum is the Lo Profile from Advanced Memory Systems. It is visually a very attractive design and it will give your Spectrum a professional appearance.

Measuring 440 x 220 x 50mm. overall and 190mm. from the Q key to P, it has a sculptured keyset printed in three colours. The 155mm.-long space bar has a good levelling mechanism and there is a separate numeric keypad with an extra Caps Shift and full stop. The full stop and the extra Caps Lock on the main board still require a shift key to be pressed first. All the keys have a very good feel to them and the ENTER key is twice the size of the others.

The Spectrum PCB has to be removed from its case to be fitted and there are four bolts sticking up in the base for it. In the review model they did not line up correctly and had to be moved by enlarging the mounting holes slightly. The PCB is mounted on those bolts, using plastic washers to protect it. While the base seems very flimsy, when everything bolted together it is held securely.

PCBs are removed and used in the same manner as the normal two long screws - the interface is plugged in underneath the keyboard and bolted through. That raises it to a far more comfortable working angle.

As with all full-size working keyboards, fitting add-ons such as the Kempston printer interface is difficult due to its increased height at the back. The CPS connector would be a useful addition.

At £49.95 plus £2.50 p&p, the keyboard should sell well as it looks good and feels good. The addition of a few single-key entry functions would undoubtedly make it the best available. Advanced Memory Systems is at Warrington.

Spectrum has good connections

CLASSIFIED Product Services has made its Spectrum flexible edge connector generally available. It is two Spectrum-style connectors joined by a piece of ribbon cable so that when you fit an add-on it will not suffer the same effect as the infamous ZX-81 RAM pack wobble.

The basic extender is supplied in either 2in. or 6in. lengths with a female connector at either end, into which slots a double-sided male connector. CPS also supplies an extender with an additional connector in the middle so that two dead-ended add-ons can be used at the same time, for example, printer and joystick interfaces.

At £8.50 for the two-way and £12.50 for the three-way extender, extra connectors can be added to order for £3 each. They will provide an invaluable addition for Spectrum users.

Sweet chatter from Cheetah

THE SWEET TALKER speech synthesiser from Cheetah has been upgraded so that it will now work with Interface 1 and Microdrives.

It uses the popular SP0256 speech chip which contains 64 allophones. An allophone is a sound from which all words are made. They are used by outputting a number to the unit which then 'speaks' the allophone.

In that way they can be strung together to form almost any word in, as the demonstration cassette shows, French, German and English.

Unfortunately while the PCB has been upgraded the demonstration cassette has not. Users who have an Interface 1 attached will find the computer crashes when the program is RUN. To overcome that edit line 5010 to:

OUT 31,a:GO TO 5000.

Despite that, the unit worked very well. A volume control would have been an added advantage but you cannot have everything.

For more details of the Sweet Talker, price £34.95, contact Cheetah Marketing Ltd, London.

Mobile micro homes

THE Spectrum Console from Express Computers enables users who are usually surrounded by a mass of knitted wires and add-ons to put them together in one unit which can be moved about easily.

The unit has space for the computer, thermal printer, cassettes and player, joystick and other add-ons. There is plenty of space for all the wiring and it is drilled to accept a Masterplug. With that fitted you will have only one mains lead to plug in; it can be stored inside when not in use.

If you want to use an Interface 1 and Microdrive the instructions indicate where and how to make the necessary alterations. With add-ons you will need some form of flexible connector, like that from CPS, which is at least 6in. long.

At £34.95 the unit is, perhaps, rather expensive for the home user but should have many applications where ease of use and tidiness is important, as in schools and colleges. It is available from Express Computers (Rugby) Ltd, Warwickshire or from retailers.

Custom built interface

ONE OF TWO programmable joystick interfaces for the Spectrum this month is from Custom Cable International, one of the backers of the Aquarius computer. The interface plugs into the back of the Spectrum and can accept any of the standard joysticks with an Atari-style plug. In common with many of the interfaces available there is no extender card on the back, so it must be the last add-on plugged in.

Programming the interface is very straightforward. A tape has to be loaded and that asks if you wish to program each of the four directions and fire, in order, and then asks you to press the necessary key - in all, 10 key-presses plus two to confirm that everything is in order.

The program, which takes only 15 seconds to load, is written entirely in Basic, which makes it very easy to customise for your use. The instructions, however, are sadly lacking in that respect.

It is a good interface and priced very competitively at £15. It is reasonably easy to program using the given system but it could have been better if a little more thought had been paid to the end-user.

Readers of Sinclair User may remember the light pen reviewed in the April issue. CCI has now taken over its marketing and has made three improvements. First, it now works - the review model defied all attempts. Second, it has the added facility to store screens in memory and to recall them, so that animated displays can be made; and, last, the price has been halved to £15. It is still not so accurate as it could be but it is adequate.

Cheap and cheerful

THE NEW programmable joystick interface for the Spectrum from East London Robotics is the cheapest on the market at only £10 when bought with a Trick Stick. It was designed originally so that Trick Stick owners could use the stick on non-Kempston-compatible games but it also has an Atari-style socket for standard joysticks.

The interface is uncased. To program it, small metal clips are used to connect pins which represent the various rows and columns of the keys on the keyboard. That is very fiddly and time-consuming if you need to re-program it but it has the advantage that, once programmed, it is usable instantly from power-up.

If the interface is bought separately from the Trick Stick its price is £15. It is available by mail order from East London Robotics Ltd, London.

dk'tronics keyboard

Improved keyboard

DK'TRONICS has released yet another version of its popular keyboard for the Spectrum. Readers may remember that when we last reviewed its keyboard we bemoaned the lack of a full-size space bar and that is the main addition to it.

The other additions are that on the numeric pad the two shift keys have been replaced by single-key entry Delete and full stop. Note that in its current advertisement it still has the old legends on the keys.

A problem we encountered when fitting Interface 1 was that the back of the case bulged slightly and that is still so. While it is possible to trim the case it should not be necessary. One other niggle is that it is usual to have a space bar leveller, a small piece of wire which ensures the space bar remains horizontal when pressed, and that has been omitted.

Overall the keyboard is an improvement on the old version and is still one of the better ones available but dK'Tronics has been making keyboards for long enough to ensure that everything will fit properly. Also it has retained the stick-on legends which, while the keyboard was used for both the ZX-81 and Spectrum was understandable, is an unnecessary chore on a dedicated keyboard.

The keyboard is still sold at the old price of £45 from dK'Tronics, Essex or computer retailers.

Centronics for QL

DESPITE QL delays, the add-on market is turning its attention towards the newcomer. The lack of a Centronics port is first under attack and one is now available from Miracle Systems.

It plugs into one of the two QL RS232 ports and can drive any standard Centronics printer. If you have an Interface 1, Miracle Systems has another interface which will fit to the RS232 port and can be upgraded later.

The interfaces cost £49. Miracle Systems is at Cambridge.

Letters Issue 29 Contents  Spectrum Software Scene

Sinclair User
August 1984