The ZX Spectrum is one of the best-selling computers of all time: a British-made, 8-bit machine that shifted around 5 million units across Europe after its launch in 1982. It's one of the few computers that helped earn its creator a knighthood, and along with contemporaries like the Commodore 64 and BBC Micro, it helped kickstart the British video game industry. Now, the ZX Spectrum is being resurrected as a Bluetooth keyboard that lets you recreate the Spectrum experience on your smartphone or tablet.
"Emulations of ZX Spectrum games just don't work as well you'd like on modern devices. They were designed for use with a keyboard," says Steve Wilcox, founder of Elite, a British company that made games for the original Spectrum and is now rebuilding the Spectrum. "We've been recreating these old games as apps for modern devices for some time now, but we came to the conclusion that the only way to experience the games the way they were designed was to rebuild the device itself."
a flawless copy of the original device
The recreated ZX Spectrum is a flawless copy of the original device, and will ship some time later this year with a companion app for iOS and Android, as well as a number of ZX Spectrum games such as Chuckie Egg — one of the machine's greatest hits. The games work on both smartphones and tablets, but the device itself also functions as a straightforward Bluetooth keyboard.
Wilcox's device isn't the only recreation of the Spectrum that's coming to market however. The computer's original creator, Sir Clive Sinclair, is backing a similar venture called the Vega that will ship later this year with a stripped-down keyboard (just arrow keys and a few buttons) and 1,000 games pre-installed. The number of games available for Wilcox's own device is still being decided upon but he says there'll eventually be "several hundred" that can be downloaded. He adds that 10 games will come free with the device while the rest will sell for 79p (around $1.17) a pop. The recreated Spectrum itself will be priced at less than £100 and is available for pre-order via Elite's website.
Wilcox says the main difficulty in making the device was that the original ZX Spectrum was designed using wooden models. "All of these were lost," says Wilcox. "So what we had to do was go to eBay, buy a half-dozen of the original models, and get them scanned." The result is a slice of pure nostalgia, lovingly recreated. In the future, machines like this (or, indeed, the original computers themselves) might be thought of as typewriters are now — obsolete but somehow authentic. At any rate, you can't deny they've got style.
- The original ZX Spectrum at the front, and the recreated device on the back.
- The back of the recreated Spectrum (top) has a cleaner look than the original.
- The original Spectrum is on the top, the recreated version on the bottom.
- A close-up look at the soft-touch rubber keys.
- There's an on/off switch, a Bluetooth pairing button, a switch to toggle between full keyboard and an optimized game mode, and a charging port for internal, replaceable batteries.
- The companion app is available on iOS and Android for tablets and smartphones. There's an on/off switch, a button to pair via Bluetooth, a USB slot, and a switch to toggle between full keyboard and an optimized game mode.
- Chuckie Egg is one of the games that comes free with the recreated ZX Spectrum.
- Steve Wilcox gets to grip with Chuckie Egg.
- The keyboard can also be paired with certain smart TVs.