GIVE YOUR MACHINE THE POSITIVE TOUCH
John Lambert flexes his fingers over five professional keyboards for the Spectrum.
ONE OF the first add-ons for most Spectrum users is a full-size keyboard. While the original keyboard was a vast improvement on the ZX81, it is still very limiting if you use your Spectrum a great deal. For professional use it is almost a necessity.
In the last few months six new keyboards have either been announced or appeared on the market. Of those, we managed to obtain four for review, one was seen in its prototype stage and we are still waiting for the other.
In each case we fitted a Spectrum and Interface One to the keyboards to see how difficult it was and also tried to fit a power supply inside, where there was either room or it was suggested in the instructions. We also tried to connect a Kempston printer interface, which is a fairly standard interface and did not fit on some of the older keyboards. Whether or not it fits can therefore be taken as a measure of how other add-ons will fit.
The feel and size of a keyboard are important; after all, they are the reasons for buying a new one. The sizes are given in the table but the feel is more difficult to measure, as it will differ from person to person. If possible, visit either a local computer shop or one of the Microfairs and try them yourself; if you cannot do that any of the keyboards should be satisfactory.
The Maplin keyboard, marketed under the name Mapsoft, is for the home hobbyist, in that it is supplied in kit form. It is also the only one which connects to the user port of the Spectrum. There is an extender PCB which fits on to the Spectrum and a ribbon cable to the keyboard.
It has 47 keys, the normal 40 plus Delete, Graphs lock, Shift lock, Caps Lock, single key E Mode and two space keys. There is also one extra key which you can wire up to your own requirements.
Making up the kit is straightforward, provided that you are wed to soldering; if not, it might be an idea to practise first. None of the chips is socketed and special care has to be taken with them.
The made-up board is fitted into a thin plastic moulded case, the top of which is held in place by pieces of Velcro and has the colour legends for keys 1 to 7 and 0. The legends on the keys are three colour cards which fit under a clear plastic top.
Unfortunately the keyboard was received late for review and we did not have time to test it fully. First impressions, however, were favourable, although the case appears to be fairly flexible. If you prefer making your own keyboard, this is perhaps the best, if not the only one available. The kit costs £44.95 inc. and can be obtained from Maplin Electronic Supplies, PO Box 3, Rayleigh, Essex SS6 8LR, or from its many shops.
The dK'Tronics model for the Spectrum is largely the same as the old, with the same stick-on legends. The case is made of plastic and there are extra holes in the back to allow connection to Interface One when fitted.
To fit the Spectrum in the keyboard it must be taken out of its case and screwed to the new base. If you have an Interface One, that is fitted first and the Spectrum PCB is slotted into it and then screwed down. As the PCB is fitted in the back right-hand corner, there is an extender PCB for the Microdrive lead which connects to Interface One by the solid connector supplied with the Microdrive. The lead is taken out of the case through a small slot in the left-hand side.
Also on the left-hand side are three pillars on which you can mount the power supply. To do that the power supply must be taken out of its case and should therefore be fitted only by people who have some electrical knowledge. There are a number of problems fitting this power supply - the Sinclair power supply has gone through a number of design changes. If it is marked Made in UK. on the base it will probably fit on the pillars.
When fitting Interface One it may make the back of the case bulge slightly. It is possible, however, to trim the case but that should not be necessary and is poor design. The Kempston interface will not fit unless you are using Interface One; again, it is possible to trim the case.
Despite those difficulties and the lack of a full-size space bar, the keyboard has been very popular in the past. The reviewer has used the old version for the last nine months and it has proved reliable. It is a pity that dK'Tronics did not put a little more thought into the new version, as it could have made a good keyboard even better. Overall, however, it is a good keyboard; it has a pleasant feel to it and can be recommended. It is available, price £45 plus £1.25 p&p, from dK'Tronics, Unit 6, Shire Hill Industrial Estate, Saffron Walden, Essex CRB11 3AQ, Tel: 0799 26350, or through the Spectrum chain of shops.
The keyboard which probably started the sudden interest is the Fuller FDS. It has been a long time arriving and has had more written about it than any other keyboard - not all of it good.
As well as the usual 40 keys, it has an extra 11, including a full-size space bar. The extra keys are four direction keys - they are shifted 5, 6, 7 and 8, very useful when editing or using a word processor; two function keys which put the Spectrum into extended mode - f1 gives the red functions and f2 the green; extra Caps Shift and Symbol Shift; and single-key entry for Delete, Comma and Full Stop. All the keys have their legends printed on them, the main functions in white on the top and Extended mode functions on the front in red.
Fitting the Spectrum inside proved somewhat difficult, as the screw positions did not line up exactly with those on the Spectrum PCB; with a little effort it can be made to fit if one of the screws is omitted. When trying to fit Interface One more problems arose. In this case the Spectrum is fitted at the front and Interface One at the back, with a flexible connector between them.
Fuller does not supply that as standard. As the Spectrum is so far forward the power, cassette and aerial sockets are inaccessable when the keyboard is put back together and would therefore either have to be fitted permanently or additional leads made up and brought out to the back, where holes would have to be drilled in the case to take them. Neither is there a slot for the Microdrive lead and that would have to be cut out if required.
The Spectrum power supply is connected directly to the keyboard; a lead which goes to the Spectrum is only just long enough - if you have the Fuller Master Unit you may have to extend it. That also means that if you want to move your Spectrum, you have either to open the case to unplug it or take the power supply with you. It should be possible to fit it inside the case and Fuller has put four pillars in the back right corner for it. Unfortunately they do not line up with any of the holes on the power supply PCB on either version and would need a great deal of ingenuity to fit.
In use, the keyboard was reasonably good, the extra keys being a boon when using a word processor, particularly the arrow keys. Unfortunately it was impossible to get shifted Z, X, C and V. That would appear to be a design fault, as we had two keyboards for review and the fault was common to both. Other than that, the keys were a little stiff but that is only to be expected with a new keyboard.
All-in-all, the keyboard could have been very good but it has too many little faults and a few major ones. If you can obtain one where the keys work correctly and are prepared to spend a little time customising, it would be worthwhile buying, otherwise do not bother. It is available, mail order only, costing £49.95 plus £2.50 p&p from Fuller Micro System, 71 Dale Street, Liverpool 2. Tel: 051-236 6109. The emergency enquiry number is 051-709 9280.
The new Saga keyboard, the Emperor, is still in the prototype stage but was expected to be readily available by the latter part of April. We were able to have an exclusive preview of the new model which looks as if it will provide the first real competition to dK'Tronics.
There are 67 keys, the normal 40 in white, plus 27 beige function ones, including full-size space bar. They are four shifted arrow keys, 5, 6, 7 and 8; two unshifted ones, 6 and 7, plus 0, to be used in games; two extra Caps Shift and Symbol Shift; and single-key entry for Edit, Delete, Caps Lock and Graphics. In addition a number of keys which normally need symbol shift are now single-key entry; for mathematicians, plus, minus, divide, times and equals; for word processors, comma, full stop, colon, semi-colon and quote; and for programmers, greater than, less than, string and hash.
Fitting is very straightforward. Only the top of the Spectrum case is removed and the base, containing the PCB, is bolted to the bottom of the keyboard. In that way Interface One will not have to be taken out of its case and will fit directly to a Spectrum base. The Kempston interface will also fit if the strain relief bar is removed. On the top of the keyboard is a groove to hold pens.
Saga could well have a winner if the production modeL is anywhere near as good as the prototype. It will cost £54.45 plus £1.15 p&p and is obtainable, by mail order, from Saga Systems Ltd, Woodham Road Woking, Surrey GU21 4DL or in person at The Woking Computer Centre, 32 Chertsey Road, Woking, Surrey. Tel: 048-62 23845.
The Transform keyboard is aimed squarely at professional users. It is the only keyboard reviewed which had a metal case and also the only one with three-colour printed key caps.
There are 60 keys, including a numeric pad which has an extra Caps Shift and full stop, plus a full-size space bar. The other extra keys are Symbol Shift, Edit, Delete, E Mode, Colon, Semi Colon, Comma and another Full Stop.
Fitting is very straightforward. The base of the Spectrum is retained as an insulator and bolted through to the base of the keyboard. If Interface One is being used, the two long mounting screws have to be removed and the bolts then go through it and the Spectrum. There is provision to put the power supply inside the case and special connectors are used to wire up an on/off switch and a LED. That is also relatively easy. You need not worry about the leads shorting out as everything is well insulated; in any event the switch is on the 9V side and could not cause damage. The keyboard has a solid feel to it and it certainly the best-looking of the keyboards reviewed. The only problem which may be experienced is that some Issue 3 Spectrums are temperamental when used with it. Its price of £69.95 reflects the kind of use to which it will be put but it is certainly the top keyboard at the moment. Transform is at 41 Keats House, Porchester Mead, Beckenham, Kent. Tel: 01-658 6350.
Length Q-P: 195Space: N/ANo. of keys: 40Price: FreeSize in mm: 230 x 140 x 30Make: MaplinLength Q-P: 185Space: 75No. of keys: 47Price: £44.95Size in mm: 370 x 165 x 50Make: dK'TronicsLength Q-P: 200Space: N/ANo. of keys: 52Price: £45.00Size in mm: Make: FullerLength Q-P: 185Space: 150No. of keys: 51Price: £49.95Size in mm: 355 x 255 x 65Make: SagaLength Q-P: 190Space: 150No. of keys: 67Price: £54.45Size in mm: 370 x 180 x 50Make: TransformLength Q-P: 188Space: 150No. of keys: 60Price: £69.95Size in mm: 410 x 220 x 75The length measured across the Q and P keys is the overall distance and is included to give an idea of the pitch.