An American perspective on the late great Sir Clive Sinclair, from Fast Company

Liam Proven lproven at
Mon Sep 27 07:14:13 CDT 2021

On Mon, 27 Sept 2021 at 03:44, Bill Degnan <billdegnan at> wrote:
> My girlfriend commented to me that Americans don't understand London"s Fleet Street scene of the 70's and early 80s and how Sinclair products were represented there.  In the US the "Timex Sinclair TS-1000" was a budget $99 computer for sale in Hallmark gift stores and its marketing represented little of the fleet Street cache.

I can't say -- my first visit to the USA was in about 1997 or so.

I know that Sinclair computers were _so_ cheap that in the USA they
were perceived as toys, not worthy of any serious consideration.

USAnians in my experience tend to not consider the flipside of that:
in Europe, even the cheapest of American computers were all vastly
expensive and only very rich people had them.

*Because* they were so very expensive, what in the home markets were
perceived as minor flaws -- such as the C64's awful BASIC -- were
deal-breakers. If you were going to spend as much as a new car on an
early home computer, then you wanted something well-rounded: decent
graphics, decent sound, a decent BASIC, a usable keyboard, and maybe
mass storage that didn't cost as much as 2 extra cars.

Therefore things like the C64 were not appealing: terrible BASIC,
terribly slow disk drives which were _also_ terribly expensive. Or the
Atari 400, which had good graphics and a passable BASIC but a terrible

We didn't choose things like the ZX-81 or ZX Spectrum because they
were AWESOME AMAZEBALLS GREAT. We chose them because we could afford
them, and they had for their time a decent balance of features.

The genius of Sinclair was that they managed to combine
absolute-rock-bottom prices with a reasonable blend of good-enough

Soon afterwards this was highlighted because, positioned in between
the unbeatably low Sinclair price points and the
desirable-but-unaffordable Commodore and Atari machines (and the
impossibly expensive Tandy and Apple ones), came a raft of other
machines from companies who were trying to get down to Sinclair prices
but the results were unusable near-junk:
• Mattel Aquarius
• Sord M5 (arguably)
• VTech Laser 200

Pretty much only Tangerine/Oric managed to successfully compete with
Sinclair at the lower end, with the Oric-1 and Oric Atmos.

And a few companies who comprehensively outdid Sinclair's
specifications but which resulted in uncompetitive prices. Of these,
Acorn thrived for a while, had a partnership with Apple, and its
offshoot ARM is now the biggest-selling CPU family in history, now
used by Apple, Microsoft and Google.

Amstrad briefly thrived (especially with the CPC and PCW ranges) and
then brought cheap PC clones to Europe, but failed to keep up as the
PC market moved to better-spec higher-end machines.

Ones that failed because they cost as much as a Commodore or Atari but
didn't have the range of games:
• Elan Enterprise
• Memotech MTX 512
• Camputers Lynx
• Tatung Einstein
• Dragon 32/64

I suspect that I've named 10 models of widespread 1980s home computer
there that most readers in the USA will never have seen.

I didn't own all of them, but I've played with every single one of them. :-)

Liam Proven – Profile:
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