Newcomers to the Spectrum will be faced with a difficult choice. To Spectrum or to Spectrum+, that is the question here.
The ZX 81 membrane keyboard complaints had not even faded, when the Spectrum rubber keys were already getting the full treatment from not too happy users. Given the fact that most competitors have a typewriter style keyboard, there was no way that this situation could continue. True enough, Sir Clive has had to give in to the complaints and provide the Spectrum with a better input facility. His main objective obviously is to bring the Spectrum in line with the likes of Commodore and MSX. By doing this he has eliminated one of the major arguments against the purchase of the Spectrum, but at a cost. The price of the Spectrum+ has nearly reached the Commodore level, and the question is whether the extra fifty pounds are wisely invested. Anybody expecting to have got away from the membrane style keyboard will very soon be disillusioned. A look at the construction of the keyboard will soon verify, why the action of the new keyboard does not live up to the cosmetic improvements. Hidden beneath the excellent double injection moulded keys is a modified version of the rubber mat which is responsible for the soggy return force of the keys. The collapsible domes are actuated by a nylon plunger, which provides guidance for the long travel. The early complaints of keytop losses is due to an error in tooling, which does not provide a pressfit between the plunger and the keytop. There should be no problem in correcting this problem on further production. The new key lay-out with the extra keys has increased the layers in the membrane. The extra keys improve program input tremendously. Of significance are especially the extended mode, the edit and delete and the punctuation keys. The special cursor keys are especially useful for the edit mode. Anybody considering upgrading the standard Spectrum with an add-on keyboard will find that for the same extra cost the quality of the key action will definitely be better, but that very few add-on keyboards will offer the extra key facilities provided with the Spectrum+ and if so, at a higher cost. The annotation of the keys is excellent and the doubleshot technique guarantees unlimited life and no fading of the lettering. None of the add-on keyboards can match the Sinclair version. Criticism has been raised for the lack of colour coding as with the original Spectrum keyboard, but the various modes are clearly defined by the positioning of the legends.
In conclusion, it will be very difficult to make an outright decision as to whether to go for an add-on keyboard or to go for the official Sinclair version. Touch typists won’t have trouble in reaching a fast decision, but I suspect 99% of Spectrum owners don’t fall into this category. For these it will be a matter of personal choice.