Clive's New Z88

This one-page article was published in issue 61 of the ZX Spectrum magazine, Sinclair User in April 1987.

Diagrams of Z88

So what's this Z88 micro then? Well, it's the first thing Sir Clive has done since 'the troubles' and the Z88 is what Pandora portable turned into.

A portable computer has long been one of Clive Sinclair's most cherised ambitions.

The QL was going to be portable. One-Per-Desk was going to be (almost) portable.

But only the Spectrum was really portable, travelling from Cambridge to Brentwood in the back of Alan Sugar's truck.

And now here's the Z88. Unveiled at the Which Computer? Show on February 17 to muted wonderment, this 21lb, A4-sized technogimmick is in the best Sinclair traditions. It's black. It's cheap. And it's not finished.

The main features of this first sugar-free Sinclair (well, Cambridge Computer, ackcheloi are the super-twist liquid-crystal display, the Z80 processor, the keyboard, the built-in software, the storage modules and the price. The main non-features are the tape port, the compatibility, and the extra software. And, I suspect, the battery life.

Twist and show it

Let's start with the super-twist LCD. Sinclair has long been less than ardent fans of the technology. In the late '70s, they published a 'consumer report' saying that nobody liked LCDs and as a result the new Sinclair LED calculators would beat the likes of Casio hands-down. Ahem.

However, the new super-twist is really rather good. Legible, low power and fast. Even Clive Sinclair likes it. From the brief glimpse obtained at the Which Computer Show, it does seem that it ain't half bad. Super-twist, by the way, derives from the way in which the liquid crystal molecules contort themselves to block the light when a voltage is applied.

The custom chip (there are only four chips in total - like the old ZX81 really) which manages the display goes overboard a bit. Hardware windowing, sophisticated scrolling, hardware support for mixed text and graphics... if only that sort of thing had gone into a games machine instead of a business LCD micro. Sigh.

The Z80 processor itself is a super low-power version. The magic letters in this case are CMOS, a kind of electrics that takes very little current and work rather well. Of late, CMOS Z80's have been getting cheaper, too. And it's completely compatible with older, thirstier versions.

The keyboard is a bit strange. Billed as 'silent', it appears to be made out of a harder Sinclair latex than the Spectrum. It takes a bit of getting used to, but isn't actively fingerhitting bad.

So who's going to buy it? Well, the built-in software is a real give away of who Sinclair hopes will buy the beast. An integrated word processor and spreadsheet tops the list, followed by a diary, alarm clock, simple database and a calculator. There's also (whisper it) BBC Basic. No games. And at launch, which is the basis of this little article, it wasn't finished.

EPROM Cartridge

The key to the operation of the whole machine are the storage cartridges. These consist of Rom or Ram chips, encased in a black plastic box uncannily like microdrive, and which slot into the front of the machine. As many as 3 Mbytes can be stored in boxes.

And everything is powered by four Walkman-sized batteries. 20 hours of working are promised. Sceptics remember the 20 mile range of the C5 which proved to be closer to 5.

There is no facility provided for rechargeable batteries, although something could be fudged by the mains adaptor port...

And the price. £230 to you? Bear in mind the massive 32K of Ram, and the complete lack of a tape port. Bear in mind that nobody's actually got one yet. And then think about the QL.

Me, I think I'll wait...

Picture of Z88

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