Back in 2017, I was pretty excited about the ZX Spectrum Next crowdfunding campaign and the whole idea of the modern retro computer. However, I remember to tell people that the “Next” part of the project wasn’t that interesting to me. As a “purist” retro collector, I didn’t care too much about a modern computer with modern capabilities but with the heritage of the original Speccy features, almost an alternate reality where the ZX Spectrum had survived and gone through an evolution. An interesting idea, but not for me.
The Next attracted me more because of the possibility of having a reliable hardware “emulation” machine where I could finally play with Speccy programming and games without using software emulators or precious original hardware. Of course, the overwhelming success of the campaign made the idea even more exciting.
Three years had passed before the ZX Spectrum Next arrived in our hands. It was a road full of bumps, but honest and competent people made it happen.
When I got mine, around Feb 22nd, I had just moved to a new house and decided that I would finally have a decent retro computer room to display all my collection and with space for projects, I might get involved now and then. With all that work in front of me, I committed (to myself) to not open the cardboard box that the Next was sleeping until I had my retro room ready. I knew that if I open that box, I wouldn’t be able to give proper attention to the computer nor dedicate my time to organize my collection.
After around one month, my room was ready, all my computers on display and my workbench setup. Finally, it was time to let my Next serial number 7799 to see the light of day. The event was so important to me that I did live streaming on Twitter (https://twitter.com/VintageNewOld/status/1244455348465020930). I knew I would probably use it almost exclusively in the originals 48K or 128K modes.
The out-of-the-box experience was a rollercoaster. First, I’ve got super impressed with the box, and of course, with the build quality of the machine. But after plug it in, the experience was quite the opposite. I took the SD Card that came with the computer, downloaded the newest version of its software, but the only thing I saw on the screen was a sad red frame with a message saying that it couldn’t mount the SD Card.
After many frustrating attempts, I was able to make it work using an old 2GB SD Card that I found at the bottom of my desk drawer. I thought I had been one of the “lucky” backers that had received a faulty unit. Thankfully that wasn’t the case!
I spent the next hour snooping around the SD card files, running the pre-installed demos and games for a while as well as type some 2-lines BASIC programs to see how that worked. It was already bedtime, so I decided to give the manual a good read to figure out the basics of the machine’s operation that I couldn’t figure out just exploring it – you all know how that works: try first and (maybe) read the user guide later!
That was the turning point of my relationship and expectations about the little black computer.
As I went through the initial pages of the manual, I felt a fire lighting up inside of me. Suddenly, I had the same experience I had as a kid with my CP-400, where everything is new and ready to be discovered. The Next was a brand new computer full of new concepts to be learned. Because only a few thousand around the World own one, I could also be the first to find something different to do with the computer, mostly with the programming aspect of it with the NextBASIC language, and that excited me.
The BASIC is indeed similar, an evolution of the Sinclair BASIC. Still, with the new features that the computer brought, new commands were created to manipulate these concepts, like sprites and layers.
The feeling of being part of something new yet so “retro” made me happy. The experience of reading the manual and typing in some examples was also surreal. No copy and paste from the internet and I like d it!
Some of you know that I said that 2020 would be the year that I would be dedicating my time to the Atari 8-bit computers, and this commitment is still in place. Still, now I confess I am more than happy to reserve some time for the ZX Spectrum Next and all the new things that it is waiting for me to discover.