A Hand-Held Wish List

Extract from "A Hand-Held Wish List" by Michael Floyd in Australian Your Computer magazine, December 1988, which compares Epson PX-4, Tandy Model 102 and the Z88.

IF YOU needed proof that a market exists for these type of computers, the Z88 is surely it. Cambridge Computers has developed a machine with a number of surprising features, at a much lower price than you would expect. Memory capacity starts at 32 Kbyte and can be expanded by inserting with to three RAM cartridges. Each cartridge can be 128 or 512 Kbyte in size, so, with the 32 Kbyte of RAM already installed in the machine, total RAM can be up to or 1.568 megabytes!

The Z88 has a full sized rubber keyboard, an LCD screen capable of displaying 8 lines of 106 characters. Up to 80 characters can be used for applications, wrth the remaining display area used for menus and a graphics representation of the page being edited (called the Map).


As you might have gathered from its name the Z88 uses a Z80 processor running at 3 MHz and is equipped with 32 Kbyte of RAM as standard. Technical information for the machine is short at the time of writing as the first 'official' shipment has not yet arrived, but all RAM appears to be configurable as RAM disk space and is addressed as RAMO through to RAM3. An Eprom can be installed in place of a RAM cartridge allowing applications to be developed and kept permanently.

The Z88's operating system is a proprietary one, but in this case it less likely to be a problem than it could be with the Model 102. This is because an extensive library of software is included in the already low price more on this later).


THE Z88's keyboard is one of its more unusual features, consisting of a thin PCB, overlaid with a rubber membrane which has individual keys moulded into it.

It works fine, although I don't think it would be suitable for a 100 wpm typist Nonetheless, after getting used to it, I had little difficulty in using the keyboard, particularly with the keyclick enabled - the Z88 had no trouble keeping up with my 35 wpm.

My only complaint regarding the keyboard is the poor quality of construction The keyboard membrane can be removed too easily, and this is likely to occur if little fingers get to it. But other than that, it is more than acceptable.

LCD screen

THE OTHER striking feature of the Z88 is its screen. Providing a display with more than 80 characters, and using a number of attributes such as bold. reverse and reduced size, the screen is unusual to say the least. Another unusual features the colour of the text Displayed over a screen of half-tones, the characters and graphics are blue, which provides a high contrast display.

Lights, switches and ports

THE Z88 uses the screen extensively. so There are no LEDs whatsoever. This is unfortunate, as I consider a power light mandatory for all computers (apart from the Mac II, which makes so much noise you always know when it has been turned off). Nor is there a power switch - the Z88 is turned on and off by pressing both shift keys together. Power off is automatic after a set, definable, period of time.

The Z88 has two ports, one a DB25 type serial port and the other a PCB edge. Although no specifications were available regarding this PCB edge connection, I would imagine this is used for system expansion and a disk drive.

The standard configuration of the Z88 includes batteries and a power adapter. However, as is also the case with the Model 102, if you choose to use NiCads, you will need to buy a separate battery charger. Battery life is about 18 to 20 hours and data stored in the machine will keep for up to 6 minutes without battery or mains power.


THERE can be no doubt that the Z88's software is the most powerful and extensive of the machines reviewed, and it is this that places the Z88 well above the others. There are six accessories and six applications. The accessories are a diary, which is a powerful implementation; a calculator, which is the weak link in the chain; a calendar; a clock; an alarm system, which will turn the machine on if necessary; and a control panel for configuration.

The main application is Pipedream (an interesting name for an interesting package), which consists of a word processor (the real thing), a spreadsheet and a database. Time did not permit an in-depth investigation of the spreadsheet or database functions, but I have few complaints about the word processing system. The only thing missing is a spelling checker, but this is asking too much!


THE MANUAL is 217 pages long, complete with index and five appendices.

The information is adequate and easy to find, although some obvious deficiencies include technical information about the machine and BBC Basic machine code. However, I have no doubt that Cambridge will be releasing additional manuals in the near future to take care of these minor oversights.

The PX-4 is a great machine, even though it is a few years old now. It is easy to use, flexible, and it has a number of major advantages over the other machines reviewed here: the same version of CP/M used on some of the Amstrad micros; the microcassette, which is a powerful feature, albeit a little slow. With the microcassette, however, there is safe mechanism for storing programs and data that is more portable than a disk drive and less expensive than Epson 5 own external RAM disk or RAM cartridge; a virtual, adjustable, screen; auto-power on alarms and so on. I see the Epson PX-4 as the trend-setter in this area, and the laptop I would buy if I wanted the best available today.

I wouldn't be in the slightest bit surprised if Tandy discontinued the Model 102 when the company releases its PS/2 compatibles.

The Model 102 is dated technblogy which hasn't kept up with recent trends and although I certainly recommend the machine for 80C85 machine code freaks. I don't recommend it for general, everyday use by non-computer literate users.

The Z88 is, like the PX-4, also a great machine, offering great software. Low price, and a step forward in miniature LCD screen technology. At the projected retail price, it represents exceptionally good value and is the pick for general purpose, low cost, portable computing.

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