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Sinclair ZX81 review



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Sinclair ZX81
  • Sinclair ZX81


Our Score:



  • Blistering performance
  • Half the weight of an iPad


  • None

Key Features

  • 3.25MHz Z80 processor
  • No Screen
  • 350g weight
  • Ultra-stylish keyboard
  • Manufacturer: None
  • Review Price: £69.95

After the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January, it looked like 2011 would be the Year of the Tablet. But not everyone wants to flick around a screen with their fingertips. If you fit into this category, the new ZX81 from the UK's Sinclair Research could be just the panacea you're looking for.

The ZX81 has similar dimensions to a tablet, but it has one big difference - no screen. Instead, a comfortably sized keyboard takes its place, making data entry and touch-typing far more ergonomic. Where virtual onscreen keyboards leave your text riddled with mistakes, the ZX81's physical membrane-type keyboard gives you a permanent physical target, whilst offering the same complete lack of feedback we've all come to love about onscreen keyboards.

The 3.25MHz Z80 processor is also a revelation, zipping through software at a relaxed rate the iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom would envy, making these devices look frenetic and almost schizophrenic. The range of apps available is also comparable to the iPad or Google Android-based tablets, with a wide selection of games and productivity software now available. These can either be loaded from storage media or typed in manually - a facility no tablet offers.

The ZX81 is also extremely light. Its weight of 350g is half that of the original iPad, and still much less than the iPad 2. The unit will slip easily into any bag, or even the pockets of a really, really big jacket. The matt black soft-touch chassis provides a neutral colour to complement any outfit, particularly if it involves nylon or polyester. There's a wealth of connectivity on offer, too, with video out, headphone and microphone jacks, a 9V external power socket, plus a slot for memory upgrades.


The finger-friendly iPad and its plagiarists have really grabbed the global imagination over the last year. But if you're looking for a more radical approach to portable computing, Sinclair's ZX81 has plenty to offer, and at under £70 it's a bargain. So give Britain a chance, and choose the ZX81 instead of being a tablet fashion victim.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Design 10
  • Features 10
  • Performance 10
  • Value 10


April 1, 2011, 4:53 am

fantastic! i'm 1985 so too young to remember this, but can fully appreciate the review having learnt off a bbc in school!

scary thing is the apple newton must have existed at the same time?


April 1, 2011, 4:56 am

Wow. Looks like an ipad 2 killer if ever I saw one ;o)


April 1, 2011, 4:59 am

Where can I order one from ;-). I assume I have to order one before 12:00 tomorrow??


April 1, 2011, 5:01 am

I think the video sold it for me - the HD display looked very tempting. Although the small memory and lack of HDMI are negatives for me. But the removable storage option partly makes up for that. Although, like most things in tech, waiting for the 2nd generation ZX81 next year makes sense - things move so fast.

Ed 3

April 1, 2011, 5:07 am

I want one, looks so good!

Ally Grant

April 1, 2011, 5:33 am

Sign me up for one these right now!!!

Carl Abudephane

April 1, 2011, 5:37 am

I have to be honest, this thing seems a bit on the slow side, but still, I kinda like the look! I was gonna be getting an iPad next week but I might put it on hold for a week or two and see what I think of this 'cause seriously, just £70?


April 1, 2011, 6:16 am

Wow gotta say this looks awesome. It really complements the Sinclair C5 that everyone is going to have in the next few years. I really want to wait for the white one though does any one know when its due out?


April 1, 2011, 6:26 am

I had a peek at one of these recently. For £70 you can poke it.

Tony Walker

April 1, 2011, 6:54 am

I hear IBM are bringing out a new pocket PC called the System/360. It will be introduced at the Pollo Fair.


April 1, 2011, 7:01 am

What no camera? I think I'll wait for the ZX81+

Jason Hill

April 1, 2011, 8:23 am

April Fools!?


April 1, 2011, 8:45 am

4:44 A.M. - I should really go to bed and not read April Fool's stuff at this time of night !


April 1, 2011, 9:18 am

This really does appear to be cutting edge technology and as I am writing this from an iPad, I am torn that I didn't wait for the ZX81 when it is clearly a better product. Great review guys ... Wallet at the ready!

Nic Jones

April 1, 2011, 9:30 am

You'd be a fool not to buy one!


April 1, 2011, 10:13 am

Great, but when are they bringing out a white one??


April 1, 2011, 10:47 am

I think that the game you showed is purely pandering to the emerging 3d market, and as such may not have the longevity that the system as a whole seems to suggest.
I saw an early model of these recently in my local Tandy, and found that young children and teenagers were already beginning to engage with the touch interface, noting an impressive ability to display "Hello World" repeating down the screen.
I can see this going far.


April 1, 2011, 10:55 am

Rumour is that a rebadged version is going on sale from Apple and the fanboi's are already queueing outside the store, after all if has Apple on it ........


April 1, 2011, 11:41 am

Whats the date today?


April 1, 2011, 11:50 am

will there be an app store for this?


April 1, 2011, 12:03 pm

This is really cruel:)
This was my very first computer, on which I typed my very first "Hello World" and for a second I really thought it had been reissued. Then I saw today's date and I smiled. Well done, but still, cruel!


April 1, 2011, 12:34 pm

Made my day!


April 1, 2011, 1:11 pm

Guru meditation 4 sure, goto sub.


April 1, 2011, 1:11 pm

Ahah I was actually just playing Skool Daze on the iPad before dropping by TR.



April 1, 2011, 1:46 pm

The 16kb RAM pack provides that which most tablet manufacturers omit - expandable memeory.

Question is - will it wobble and crash 3D Monster Maze?

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