Hands On: Sinclair ZX Spectrum Recreated

Where's the nostalgia key? This game-packed keyboard lets you relive the '80s

A fun, funky, cool piece of retro art, the Recreated ZX Spectrum lets you play 8-bit games like they were designed to be played, across almost any platform.

The things we enjoyed as children often lose their sheen over time, particularly when it comes to anything electronic. Tech moves quickly, and what seemed like sci-fi when we were 10, often feels aged and quaint today. There are exceptions, though, and the Recreated Sinclair ZX Spectrum is one of them. For a short-but-glorious time this week, I revisited the device that inspired my love of technology.

Updated on 05-07-2015 by Andy Boxall: Added in the official list of included games

Built by Elite Systems, the company behind the mobile app that brought many of the classic Spectrum games to iOS over the past few years, the recreated Sinclair started life as a Kickstarter project last year, and is now finally nearing release. I had some time with one of the only prototypes in the world. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum, for those who don’t know, was one of the first affordable, multi-purpose home computers put on sale. It was hugely popular in the UK, and attracted a strong international following too.

Hands-on video

For complicated legal reasons, Elite’s ZX Spectrum has the word Recreated in its name, but that term doesn’t do it justice. “Lovingly crafted replica” would be more accurate (though a bit wordy), but while the outside is almost identical to the original, inside it’s a very different device. At its most basic, it’s a Bluetooth keyboard that works with Android and iOS devices, PCs and Macs, Apple TV and Chromecast, and even smart television sets. If a device has Bluetooth, and can be used with a keyboard, it’ll most likely work.

It’s more than a keyboard, though. Combine it with Elite’s Spectrum game catalog and it becomes a retro games controller, perfectly replicating the experience of the original. Furthermore, it comes with the 48k and 128k BASIC programming languages installed; aspiring developers can build their own games. Initially, the keyboard was only slated to work with mobile devices, but by using Apple’s AirPlay or Google’s Chromecast, Spectrum games can be played on the big screen while you relax on the couch with the wireless keyboard.

Ideal retro gaming companion

The experience is uncanny. The Recreated Sinclair ZX Spectrum looks the same, feels the same, and even has the same rubber keypad as the original, so the games play exactly how the developers intended all those years ago. There’s feel, feedback, and a tactile pleasure from using it that simply cannot be found elsewhere.

For a short-but-glorious time this week, I revisited the device that inspired my love of technology.

From a nostalgic, aesthetic point of view, it’s a work of retro art. The familiar colorful stripe is there, along with the busy text laying out the alternate key functions. Press the buttons and there’s a comforting resistance underneath. Turn the keyboard over and the attention to detail is impressive – the screw holes and venting is in the same position as the original. Put the two alongside each other, and unless you see the connections on the rear, it’s very difficult to tell them apart. Even the packaging is going to be faithful to the original, with only a few alterations, mainly because it doesn’t need a cassette player to load software, or a massive power block anymore.

A regular Bluetooth keyboard can’t be used to play original Spectrum games, thanks to an inability to recognize the correct inputs and outputs, which is crucial for timing in these often very difficult games. The ZX Spectrum keyboard doesn’t suffer from such issues, making it essential for the retro gamer. Packaged with the keyboard will be Chuckie Egg, one of the Spectrum’s most popular platform games, plus a host of other titles Elite has already released through its iOS apps.

A total of 50 games will be available to play on the Recreated ZX Spectrum at launch, many of which will come for free, with the remainder available as in-app purchases. The complete list can be found on the Kickstarter page for the device, and it includes many old-school favorites. Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, and the aforementioned Chuckie Egg are among the biggest names, along with Batty, Cybernoid, Back to Skool, Exolon, Harrier Attack!, Impossaball, Jack the Nipper, Nebulus, Turbo Esprit, Uridium, and Zynaps.

Recreated-ZX-Spectrum-8

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

More games will be added in the future, plus support for the keyboard can be added to other retro apps emulating the Spectrum available through the iTunes App Store and Google Play. Elite is also preparing an HTML5 web app, bypassing the stores completely, and has made the system completely open to encourage other retro gaming platforms to utilize it.

Pricey, but unique

What’s it like to play games the old fashioned way? Surprisingly, it takes some getting used to. I played Turbo Esprit, a driving game that pre-dated Grand Theft Auto by decades, but features an open, explorable world, drug deals to foil, cars to chase, and pedestrians to run down. Pressing the keys felt strange at first, as I was used to using a controller or a touchscreen for gaming, but it quickly began to feel natural. I could have played for hours.

From a nostalgic, aesthetic point of view, it’s a retro work of art

The Recreated Sinclair ZX Spectrum is ready to go into production, with only the final details being applied now. Provided all goes to plan, it’ll be on sale during the summer. It’s priced at £100, which gets you the keyboard, a collection of around 100 games, and a whole lot of happy memories. Looking further into the future, Elite will continue to release compatible games, plus it’s developing a Commodore Amiga emulator that could work with the system, and there’s a chance it will make an appearance once the Spectrum side of the keyboard is well established.

At the moment, anyone interested should register on the company’s website, ready to receive details on how to buy the keyboard when the time comes. Yes, it’s an indulgence, and yes, the games can’t challenge modern examples when it comes to graphics. But nothing comes close for retro fun and playability, and the keyboard itself is a fabulous return to a time when tech was simple, fun, funky, and ridiculously tactile.

Highs

  • Perfect reproduction of the original
  • Works with most Bluetooth devices
  • Games included
  • Open platform

Lows

  • Quite expensive
  • Niche appeal
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