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Name that 80s toy computer
March 26, 2010 12:02 AM   Subscribe

What was this computer I had as a kid? It was in the early to mid 80s. It was small (barely bigger than the keyboard). It had a very small built-in display (LCD, I think). There was a membrane keyboard. It took cartridges, and some of the carts came with keyboard templates. There's one in particular I remember that had information about countries of the world, and the template had one flag for each key. I seem to recall the plastic case being beige, but I'm not 100% sure. It could play sounds, and there was a cart for composing music. What was this thing?
posted by jewzilla to Technology (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Was it something like the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100? That was the portable computer trend in the early 80's. If not, what was different?
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:02 AM on March 26, 2010


The combination of a membrane keyboard and built-in display is an interesting one. My immediate first thought after reading your question was something from the Model 100 family because they were hugely popular but none of those had a membrane keyboard as far as I can tell. The Cambridge Z88 apparently had both a built-in display and a membrane keyboard but it was introduced in 1988 which puts it in the wrong time span. Does anything on this list (or for that matter anything along the left hand column) ring a bell?
posted by Rhomboid at 2:06 AM on March 26, 2010


Also the TI CC-40 seems to fit the bill for having a chicklet keyboard, built-in display, and uses cartridges. However it has no sound output so it's probably not it either. (Although I don't think the Model 100 had the capability to produce sound either so that may rule out all of the above.)
posted by Rhomboid at 2:32 AM on March 26, 2010


Got you beat, I believe it was the Timex / Sinclair 1000
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:56 AM on March 26, 2010


oops, wrong pc. Worng again. Oh the memories though messing about with a TRS-80 CoCo and sinclair machines.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:58 AM on March 26, 2010


I could be wrong, but I don't jewzilla is referring to an actual computer as above. Google is failing me right now, but there were a number of educational toys that resembled a child-friendly computer with keyboard and tiny screen, but were limited use devices running "programs" off cartridges.
posted by iivix at 3:52 AM on March 26, 2010


Yeah, I was kind of thinking of something like a Speak-and-Spell on steroids but I didn't know how to search for that either.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:15 AM on March 26, 2010


Something made by Vtech perhaps? I remember there being another company making these things too, but for the life of me I can't remember what they're called. If anyone has an Argos catalogue from the 1980s I'm sure you'd see this thing in the toy section in there.
posted by iivix at 5:05 AM on March 26, 2010


I could be wrong, but I don't jewzilla is referring to an actual computer as above. Google is failing me right now, but there were a number of educational toys that resembled a child-friendly computer with keyboard and tiny screen, but were limited use devices running "programs" off cartridges.

Yeah, and if the display was kind of small and elevated perpendicularly from the keyboard, but off-center and to the left, then I am almost positive I know which one he's talking about; I had one and used it so much that parts of it wore out. I'm strongly leaning towards it being a TI product, but that may be because I also had a Speak & Math and I'm conflating their memories.

Google Image search is not helping, though I have found a very bizarre mix of results, including a '70s porn actress and the band Journey. Not in the same photo, of course.
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:20 AM on March 26, 2010


Hmmm, it's not the Talking Computron, is it?
posted by hip_plumber at 6:23 AM on March 26, 2010


I came here to suggest the Computron as well. I had one, and I remember the most annoying thing was that the keyboard was layed out alphabetically, rather than in QWERTY. THANKS FOR NOTHING GRANDMA.

I could play hangman though.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:04 AM on March 26, 2010


Was it a Talking Whiz Kid?
posted by proj at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2010


was vTech even around in early 80's?

I was thinking the Sinclair/ Timex also... you could code on it just as well as the early Trash80's (TRS-80)... could add a tape drive as I recall.

Hmm... I think I had one in mid 70's maybe... they were giving them away by 80's I'm sure.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 11:00 AM on March 26, 2010


AugieAugstus: yes! I was going to mention that about the screen but I wasn't 100% sure so I left it out.

For the rest of y'all, it was a membrane keyboard (like on a microwave), and not a chiclet.
posted by jewzilla at 2:04 PM on March 26, 2010


Jewzilla: I knew it! And the cartridge slot was between the screen and the keyboard. And the cartridges (mine anyway) were a darker color of brown than the unit itself. I just can't remember any names of anything.

Man, this is frustrating. I could draw the thing. If only Google Image Search could find images that resemble other images >.<>
It wasn't from Radio Shack, was it?
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:37 AM on March 27, 2010


I don't know where it came from originally, but I know that games were sold at a toy store that was not Radio Shack (it was an hour drive to buy games for that thing!). If you can make a drawing of it, you could try tineye.com, but I'm not too optimistic about that route.
posted by jewzilla at 9:51 AM on March 27, 2010


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