In order to get a full appreciation of what the Hobbit can do we thought it would be a good idea to pass it on to everyone's favourite Speccy Techie - Specman. He tried to kill it by throwing it around (and it tried to kill him by giving him an electric shock) but they ended up best of friends ...
SPECMAN SPEAKS: The package arrived from Big Al one bright and airy Wednesday morning with the note, "Have a look at this computer and see what you think". The computer was the Hobbit. The manual says it's 100% Spectrum 48K compatible (which I was a bit dubious about) and it has loads of other things to tempt you with as well. These include a built in CPM mode, Forth and Sinclair Speccy, and a whacking great disk drive which accepts standard PC format disks.
Being a bit sceptical I thought nah! Not possible, an improvement on the Speccy! And still eight bit? Al said play with it but if you want to find out what a computer does then you gotta take it apart, right?
What amazed me was the sheer build of the machine, the CIS (or the former Soviet Union) didn't have an active computer market abroad and at one time a big lack of available technology (except to the military I believe) so the amount that's actually inside on the board is amazing.
There is a 64K ROM, some 64K of RAM, disk drive interface, RGB, full expansion port using the Euro Connector (bit like a SAM), joystick port, built-in TV modulator and built-in power pack. The whole thing looks amazingly solidly built, and by solid I mean solid!
UPON POWER-UP: You are greeted by a select menu of 1) FORTH, 2) CPM and 3) BASIC. There is also a DOS option when you connect up an approved drive. Maybe a fifth option of Assembler wouldn't have gone amiss? These are, however a no-fuss way of swapping between the different modes of the computer.
Time to load a game, I think. Let's see just how compatible it really is! There was one game in my collection that I was sure wouldn't load, but the Hobbit went ahead and loaded it! It certainly didn't disappoint - it ran them all, including the SU Covertapes. In a way it's a pity it's only 48K and not 128K compatible, there could have been even more possibilities from a gaming point of view.
It also accepted my assembler, monitor and SoftRom, so it really does score massively in the compatibility stakes (beat that, Mr. Coupe!).
I couldn't find one thing it wouldn't run. Despite it's 128 incompatibility even games which select whether you have a 48 or 128 and alter themselves accordingly performed perfectly yet effortlessly.
The CPM mode supports all of the standard and hi-level CPM requestors and requirements, and it's built-in!!!
A friend of mine who understands Forth checked out the Forth compiler that's also built-in. He then asked me how much it was for the Forth program on its own as he would be willing to pay a fortune for it, it was that good!
WHAT IT ALL ADDS UP TO: The Hobbit has built-in modes coming out of its ears (or whatever the computer equivalent is), printer port, tape socket, disk drive port, TV modulator, power pack, joystick port, COMPLETE Speccy 48 compatibility, Forth, CPM, Logo, RGB socket, BASIC, massively expandable and it's under 100!
If the Hobbit had been released instead of the SAM over here it would have made a killing. This is what the Speccy should have evolved into. It fits the gap between the Spectrum and 16-bits perfectly. The SAM was an excellent attempt at a Super Speccy, but it is an indigenous design with software compatability problems, not an upgraded Spectrum like the Hobbit.
Overall this is a more of a techy computer, but it really is what people wanted and what they should have been given as a Speccy follow up. My only regret is that Big Al had to take the Hobbit back off me again! I don't have it any more and there is now a vacant gap under my TV that needs filling.