I have seen the future
of Spectrum home computing and its name is the 128K+2.
It looks good and it feels right. The Spectrum
128K+2 is everything it was hoped the Spectrum 128 would be
Although it is Amstrad's declared intention
to push it as a home entertainment (=games) machine the 128K+2
actually looks serious and businesslike. There has never been
a Spectrum machine more suitable for serious uses, but equally
there has never been a Spectrum machine more suitable for
It costs £149 and that's very cheap.
Grey is a new colour for Sinclair. Pre-Amstrad machines could
be any colour as long as it was black. The new machine is
smart battleship grey. The expected tape recorder resides
in approximately the same position as on the CPC464 - on the
right-hand side of the unit. There are, obviously, no volume
or tone controls; theoretically at least you need never fiddle
with the levels because every load will be at optimum. We'll
The machine feels surprisingly light although,
apparently, a thicker plastic has been used than in previous
Spectrum designs. This causes a few minor interfacing problems
but makes the casing sturdier. (See the section on compatibility
for more details.)
The keyboard is different from any previous
Spectrum. It's neither funny rubber key or funny pushbutton.
Instead at last we have a real typewriter keyboard. Full-travel
keys that click and an incline to make touch-typing possible.
Another aspect of the keyboard strikes you instantly - each
key has only one or two legends on it. Almost all of the single
keyword entry command words have been removed, those that
remain are the most significant ones - Run, Code, Load etc.
There are specific keys for functions like Delete, Break,
and Extended Mode as with the Spectrum Plus, but each is chunky
and substantial. As I say, this is a real keyboard.
The display is almost exactly the same as
on the 128K Spectrum. There is the same option to switch between
Roms, the same calculator option. Just one category is missing
on the menu - no tape test - you don't need it.
There is only one other difference you might
notice, a changed copyright notice - © 1986, © 1982
Amstrad Consumer Electronics Plc.
Here is a summary of the key points for
those who already have Spectrum equipment:
Inside the case
It's easy enough to open up the 128K+2.
Undo six screws, unhook the ribbon cables connecting the keyboard
and the lead that connects the tape recorder (held on the
upper shell) and with a bit of judicious sliding it comes
Amstrad claims the +2 should be more reliable
than previous Spectrums, partly because of heat-sink changes.
The external heat-sink on the Spectrum 128 (there partly to
distinguish the machine) is now tucked inside and the ULA
chip has been given a heat sink all of its own. Time will
tell if this machine is more reliable, but with Amstrad's
track record it certainly ought to be.
Curiously enough, the only physical evidence
that this is a machine manufactured by Amstrad (the Sinclair
label is the only one used on the outside) is a large chip
in the middle of the new circuit board - the new Rom (with
changed line!) which has the Amstrad name stamped on to it.
The circuit layout is neat and orderly, the only dramatic
differences having to do with the joystick ports.
The upper shell contains the tape recorder
and some circuitry to interface it with the machine. Despite
a highly visible and possibly vulnerable band connecting the
motor to the tape drive, it looks sturdy, better than the
tape machine found on the CPC464 in fact.
With a grey cover to match the machine the
manual combines the best of the original Spectrum programming
manual with extensively rewritten features to cover the sound
facilities and the extended 128K Basic in some detail. It
seems to cover the ground well, doing for the new machine
a similar job to that done by the original manual for the
good old pregnant calculator itself. I was particularly pleased
to see that despite the redesign, the tape, the joysticks
and everything else, the programs to throw the I Ching and
play Pangolins remain in residence and unchanged - almost
brings a tear to the eye.
Will it load all my games? Can it deal with
hyperloads? The answer is yes, mostly. The tape deck should
be no more or less reliable than loading with any other properly
aligned, correctly set up datarecorder. It should load just
about everything the professional software houses put out,
but where a game previously needed odd volume or treble settings
to compensate for Saving deficiencies you might have problems.
There is a small hole through which you can adjust the alignment
of the tape but no other controls.
The back of the machine has all of the ports
found on the old 128 including, surprisingly enough, the BT-style
sockets for MIDI RS232 and, more bizarre still, the numeric
keypad. The MIDI is still OUT only, which means it is only
50 per cent useful, but it's welcome nonetheless. Next to
these is the RGB Din-type socket, a TV connection and a new
sound output port.
The reason for the new sound port is simple.
Because of the built-in cassette deck there are no Ear and
Mic sockets and if the computer is used with a monitor, sound
output has to be taken from somewhere. The standard Spectrum
edge connector I/0 port is placed centrally on the back of
the machine. It is absolutely as normal so the only problems
will be to do with the shape and layout of the back of the
+2 (see Compatibility).
On the left-hand side of the machine is
a proper reset switch, ie, it doesn't stab your finger when
you use it and, behold, twin joystick ports bearing the curious
warning "Use only Sinclair SJS1 joysticks". You
won't be surprised to hear that Amstrad is marketing the said
joystick. Unfortunately, that warning means what it says -
your existing joysticks will not work on the new machine because
whilst the connection is the standard Atari-style D-shaped
plug, the pins are wired up differently. So for the moment
you are stuck with Amstrad's SJS1 joystick which has an expected
retail price of £14.95 and doesn't look all that substantial
- although to be fair I haven't tested it to destruction.
Expect better, cheaper +2 compatible joysticks
within a month or two of the machine's release from other
Another slight blow is that from the program
end of things, the configuration of the new joysticks is Interface
2 standard not Kempston. Games therefore need Interface 2
or "define keys" options before you can use them
with joysticks on the 128K +2.
Exactly the same as the Spectrum 128. You
can switch between the 48K single-keyword entry mode or the
extended 128K editor where commands are typed in letter by
letter. Since the keyboard no longer contains the mass of
commands assigned to each key, if you want to program in 48K
mode you'll need the manual open in front of you at the same
time to remember where everything is.
Clearly Amstrad intends everyone to start
using 128K Basic and didn't want to mess up the look of the
slick new keyboard.
An excellent machine. Very attractively
styled and for £149 you get effectively a Spectrum 128,
plus tape drive, plus twin joystick ports.
On that simple equation alone it has to
be terrific value. But more than that, somehow it feels like
a winner. I think the software houses will support it because
I think it'll sell in huge numbers.
Those who bought the Spectrum 128 can take
heart. If this machine is a success it means much, much more
exciting and innovative software that really uses the greater
If the machine does half as well as it deserves
to, it means a longer future for everyone who has one edition
or other - from rubber key to 128K - of Sir Clive's little
There isn't a machine on the market to match
it on price and performance. Not from Atari. Not from Commodore.
Not from anyone else - even Amstrad!
The 128K+2 is a new beginning.