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.