Welcome to the first of my reports from the United States. As you may know, Sinclair Research was distributed here under the Timex/Sinclair name. Unfortunately, in February 1984, Timex left the home computer market, leaving thousands of us high and dry, without support. Following Timex's pull-out, the major source of information for Sinclair computerists in the USA, Sync magazine, ceased publication.
An American history of Sinclair computers is in order here.
The original Sinclair entry is familiar to you, the ZX-80. Sold only by mail-order through Sinclair Research Ltd., U.S.A., it did not make a big splash, but was truly a wonder for those who were handy with a soldering iron.
The introduction of the ZX-81 followed in 1982, and it was here that I became aware of Sinclair. For $99.95, you could have a fully assembled computer! If you were the do-it-yourself type, you could get the kit for $79.95. Playing on the safe side, I ordered the assembled version in July of 1982. From that point I was hooked.
In the fall, Sinclair announced that Timex, who had been manufacturing the ZX-81, had been licenced to distribute it in North America under the name Timex/Sinclair 1000. It was identical to its European counterpart in all ways but one. For the same $99.95 list price, it would contain 2K RAM.
All Sinclair compatible software and peripherals would work with the T/S 1000. However, the ZX printer which Sinclair had developed could not pass the requirements of the Federal Communications Commission (it put off radio signals which caused radio and TV interference), so Timex contacted Alphacom to produce a printer which would be small, compatible, and the same price as the announced ZX printer. The result was a slightly larger, separately powered unit - the T/S 2040 printer. Most important however, is the fact that it prints black on white thermal paper, as opposed to the silver paper used on the ZX printer. Also, the T/S 2040 is much faster, and quieter. (No longer do I have to hide in the other room if I need a print-out.) You can also get paper that produces blue writing, but that is harder to read, and does not reproduce well.
Unfortunately, Timex, so good at mass marketing its watches, went into hibernation, and the product fell victim to Timex's failure to promote it properly. While Commodore was touting its new C64, Timex placed very few printed advertisements and only two T.V. commercials. Nowhere was expandability mentioned, even though a number of 64K add-ons were available, as well as Timex's own T/S 1016 16K unit. Even Timex's T.V. spot said that you should get a Timex before you spend a great deal of money on a "real" computer!
About this time Sinclair in the U.K. announced the ZX-Spectrum. We could hardly wait for Timex to come out with the T/S 2000. It was finally shown, looking identical to your now familiar Spectrum. Timex decided, however, to improve upon the Spectrum, and delayed the format introduction. Now scheduled to be the T/S 2016 (16K), and T/S 2048 (48K), they had been updated, and redesigned. The case was now a silver rectangle with a hinged compartment, housing a slot in which to insert the solid state software (Command Cartridges) to be developed. The "chicklet" type of keyboard found on the Spectrum was replaced by the soft-touch, full-size keyboard similar to that of the Brother EP-20 personal printer. Yet, the introduction was further delayed as more improvements were made. Features such as four display modes, ON ERR statements, SOUND (in addition to BEEP) commands to utilize the four channel synthesizer, joystick capacity, bank switching, and an improved LOADing system were added. Now the newly dubbed T/S 2068 had a 16K ROM (differing somewhat from the Spectrum's) an additional 8K (bank switched automatically) to handle the cassette interface, as well as 48K RAM. (The 16K RAM version had been scrapped). The suggested retail price for this was $199.95.
Also at the same time, Timex was updating the T/S l000 into what became the T/S 1500. The 2K RAM was replaced with 16K built in. The membrane keyboard was replaced by the keyboard now found on the Spectrum. All this for $79.95.
After lengthy delays, October 1984 saw these computers become available - barely. Although I live in New York City, I had to travel to Boston to attend the first, and only Timex show sponsored by the Boston Computer Society, to get my computer. At that time both Maggy Bruzelius, of Sinclair, USA, and Den Ross, Vice President of Timex Computer Corporation, stated that Timex was to take an aggressive stance, and fully support consumers and third party suppliers. Also shown but not yet available, were the Timex modem, program recorder, joysticks, a Spectrum emulator, and the long anticipated micro-drive. A full size, letter quality printer was also in the works. However, the support was no better for the T/S 2068, or the T/S 1500, than it was for the 1000, so as the reviews were appearing in the U.S. computer magazines (all agreed that this was a superior computer), Timex was announcing its exit from the computer market.
Now all the peripherals that we looked forward to were not going to be marketed - at least not by Timex. Sinclair said that it had no intention of marketing any of the Timex line, although they were getting ready to introduce the QL here. The support you in the rest of the world get from Sinclair, we never received from Timex. However, in the months following the pull-out, many of the peripherals announced by Timex, have indeed become available.
Much of the Spectrum software may be compatible with the T/S 2068, but there are a few problems. Due to the reorganization of the ROM, machine code software will rarely, if ever, work on the T/S 2068. All basic programs written for the Spectrum will work on the T/S 2068, but there are occasional problems LOADing them from Spectrum tapes. ZX-81 software is, however, compatible with both the T/S 1000, and T/S 1500. I will be investigating software, and will report to the U.S. owners on what is immediately compatible, so here is a chance for you U.K. suppliers to get a foothold into the U.S. If you could forward me a copy of your catalogue, indicating which programs are in BASIC, (along with instructions on how to order from North America), I will compile a list of products. (If you desire to send a test/review copy, I can report on those that I know for a fact work).
I have been informed that both Scrabble and Horace and the Spiders have been tested by Timex, and are known to be compatible. Horace and the Spiders is available in the U.S., but Scrabble is not. When I tried to order from Sinclair in the U.K. I was told that it could not be sent due to distribution agreements with Timex, and I should contact Timex for availability. Come now, Timex negated those agreements, and is importing no software. Please reconsider your position, and allow North American Sinclair owners to order those titles which are known to work on the TS/2068.