Timex Sinclair 2068: the ZX Spectrum’s ill-fated brother

The Timex Sinclair 2068 was the US version of the much more popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum, one of the most successful home computers of the 1980s in the UK. The 2068 unfortunately didn’t match its British brother’s success.

Timex withrew from the US computer market in February 1984, soon after the release of the Timex Sinclair 2068, one of the early casualties of the home computer wars. The 2068 proved to be the last of Timex’s home computers.

Timex Sinclair 2068 vs Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Timex Sinclair 2068
The Timex Sinclair 2068 was the US version of the very successful Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Despite good reviews, it failed to match the success of its UK counterpart, only surviving about four months on the US market.

With the 2068, Timex sought to create an improved version of the ZX Spectrum for the US market. This wasn’t a bad idea, and some of Timex’s changes seemed based on its experience selling variants of the earlier Sinclair ZX81 in the United States. Unfortunately, Timex’s execution wasn’t quite on the money.

The first problem is that Timex replaced the membrane keyboard with a calculator-style rubber chicklet keyboard like the IBM PCjr. While an improvement, this didn’t go far enough when other computers in its class had full-sized, full-travel keyboards.

The second problem was that Timex improved too much. The Basic commands it added broke compatibility with the Spectrum, and when Timex added an AY-3-8912 sound chip, it didn’t put it at the same I/O address that Sinclair used in the Spectrum+. That meant only about 10% of the commercial titles for the ZX Spectrum would run on the 2068. The workaround was to swap in a Spectrum ROM, but full compatibility out of the box would have been better.

Arguably, if Timex had left the ROMs alone and just included a full-size, full-travel keyboard, the 2068 might have stood a chance.

Timex released a total of 44 titles for the 2068, but this pales compared to the 1726-title library the ZX Spectrum boasted.

Technical specifications

The 2068 sported a Zilog Z-80A CPU running at 3.5 MHz, 48K of RAM, 32K of ROM, color graphics at a resolution of up to 256×192 and monochrome graphics at 512×192, and 3-voice sound. Timex marketed it as an 80K computer, but the 32K ROM wasn’t all that useful to the consumer. By the same logic, the Commodore 64 was a 96K computer.

Critical acclaim for the Timex Sinclair 2068

The Timex Sinclair 2068 received a good review in Infoworld in December 1983, partly due to the improvements against earlier Timex Sinclair models. It was much faster, had color graphics, and a much better keyboard. Additionally, its AY sound chip, while not as good as Commodore’s SID chip in the C-64, held its own against the chips in the Coleco Adam and IBM PCjr. It also had one of the best implementations of Basic on the market.

Popular Mechanics was a bit less kind, partly because it found a flaw in the video signal. Both magazines said it was a good value at $200.

Market reception

The market reception wasn’t as good. Timex released the 2068 in November 1983, just in time for the Christmas season. And in February 1984, Timex withdrew from the home computer market.

While reviewers didn’t object to the $200 price tag, the Commodore 64 offered a better keyboard and more memory for about $100 more. For consumers looking to the future, the C-64 had a broader array of peripherals available, including an inexpensive disk drive, printer, and a modem.

Meanwhile, Texas Instruments was selling its TI-99/4A at blowout pricing as it prepared to exit the computer market. If you wanted a cheap computer, the 99/4A offered a proper keyboard for less than $100, and boasted a library of 56 software titles.

Coleco’s offering had quality control problems, but offered significant value. For $600, it included dual tape drives and a printer and a good quality full-travel keyboard, and full compatibility with the Coleco Vision game console.

And Commodore wasn’t done. Commodore saw the 2068 and ZX Spectrum as a threat, so it designed what became the Plus/4 with these machines in mind. Commodore displayed prototype machines at the January 1983 CES. A month later, Timex retreated.

The Timex Sinclair 2068 in the international market

Timex’s Portuguese division continued to sell the 2068 even after the demise of the US division. An optional ZX Spectrum emulator cartridge solved the compatibility problem and permitted UK Spectrum titles to run, and the machine lasted until 1989 in Portugal and Poland, where the market was less hostile than in the States.

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