KEYBOARD FOR THE ELITE
FEW KEYBOARDS have impressed me as much as the new Saga 3 Elite, from Hardware International. It transforms the humble Spectrum into an expensive-looking micro.
Looks, of course, are only skin deep, but the Elite offers a staggering 88 keys, of which 27 are single key functions.
A perennial problem with add-on keyboards is the need to cram all possible combinations of modes onto the key caps. The Elite sidesteps that by printing only the letter, and having a plastic card, angled for better viewing, at the top of the keyboard.
That means that if you are new to the Spectrum you will still have difficulty locating the correct key, although the three-colour card means that this is no more difficult than using the old rubber Spectrum.
Where the keyboard comes into its own is when using programs such as Tasword Two or Beta Basic. With Tasword you do not use any keywords and the single key functions could have been designed for it; with Beta Basic, where it is possible to type in keywords in full, the lack of clutter makes life much easier.
Every silver lining has a cloud and with Elite the size of the keyboard means that if you have an Interface 1 you will find that the lead to the microdrive is not long enough. The microdrive can either be angled out at the back to compensate, or Hardware International can supply a longer lead.
With many full-sized keyboards users have encountered problems when adding hardware to the back. That has been eased with the advent of the Spectrum Plus, as it too suffered problems, and manufacturers redesigned their cases accordingly. The Elite seems to be better than most in that respect and an old style, upright, Kempston E printer interface can be fitted easily.
The keyboard is arranged as two banks of keys. On the left are 10 keys: True and Inv, Video - single key functions - plus Load, Save, Clear, Copy, Cont, Pause, List and Run. Those are not single key functions, merely j, s, x, z, c, m, d, and r keys for ease of use.
The main body of keys, the remaining 78, are in one large block. To the left of the QWERTY section are Edit, G Mode, Caps Lock, E Mode and Symbol and Caps Shifts - which are duplicated on the right. The top row has both the numbers and the Symbol Shifted legends printed on them.
To the right are another eleven single key functions (?£"=;:$,.) plus Break (Caps Shift Space) and Stop (Symbol Shift A). On the far right is a numeric pad, with a double-sized zero key, surrounded by the four maths functions (/*-+), four shifted cursor keys, an extra comma and full stop and a Delete key.
All those keys and functions are not without price - £79.95 inc. That is very high for an add-on keyboard. Only the new Transform keyboard comes close to matching it in terms of performance, and that costs as much.
With the Saga 3 Elite, Hardware International is also launching the Saga 2 Profile. That is the discontinued AMS Lo»Profile keyboard in a new colour scheme. Just before AMS stopped manufacturing, it redesigned the back of the keyboard to resemble the rear of the old rubber Spectrum to make fitting add-ons easier. The base was changed to solid, as opposed to flimsy plastic, and the position of the Spectrum inside the keyboard was moved so that Interface 1 users could put the microdrive alongside. Those improvements are included in the Saga 2. Hardware International has retained the old price, £49.95 inc.
It has 53 keys, 41 in the main block with a full-sized space bar and an extra, unshifted, key marked Caps Shift. On the right is a numeric pad with an extra Caps Shift key and one, unshifted, marked with a full stop.
Hardware International, 2 Eve Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 4JT. Tel: 04862-22977.