Magazine: Electronics & Computing Monthly
Date: December 1982
The TI-99/4A is a VERY small machine, measuring 15" by 10" by 1.5"(approx). It has a full sized standard layout keyboard which doesn't feel cramped in use. The case is made from a metal covered plastic, it is strong enough to stand up to very day use but the metal does scratch if you try hard.
A major feature of the TI-99/4 is the use of plug in software modules. If you want to use a particular program all you have to do is push the appropriate program module into the slot at the front of the machine and switch on. The first thing that you see on the screen is the 'startup frame' announcing 'Texas Instruments Home Computer' and showing some very pretty colour bars. If you press any key you immediately jump to a menu asking you to select what you want to do - run TI BASIC or one of the programs contained in the software module. If you select one of the programs in the software module the response is instantaneous - you don't have to wait for a cassette, to load or fiddle with volume controls etc. This is obviously an advantage if you want to use a program with the minimum of fuss and is ideal for educational use. If you eant to save and load your own BASIC programs however then you will have to get involved with more wires and a cassette unit (not supplied).
The TV display is 32 characters by 24 lines of very clear characters. This is of course well below the number of characters and lines you would expect from a standard business machine (i.e. 80 characters by 24 lines) but is OK for a home computer. The stunning graphics that so many of the software modules produce are generated not by a separate graphics facility but simply by making use of the fact that you can define your own characters sets. As each character is made from 8 by 8 dots this gives you an effective resolution of 256 by 192. If you use a colour TV set then you will be rewarded by 16 colours that are used by most of the software modules to very good effect If you only use a black and white set then you will be able to display a reasonable range of tones - black through grey to white. Coupled with the good colour graphics is an excellent sound generator. It is capable of three simultaneous tones over three octaves plus a noise generator for the pops and bangs that are an essential part of computer games. All of the sound (including that from the optional speech synthesiser) is produced through the TV set speaker.
The TMS9000 sixteen-bit microprocessor is the work horse inside the TI-99/4A and here, at least, it is well used.
In contrast to most personal computers the TI-99/4A comes with a good beginners' manual and a reasonable advanced manual. If you find these two insufficient then you can also buy a specially written book "Programming BASIC with the TI Home Computer" by Herbert Peckman. It seems that TI take documentation very seriously.
The TI-99/4A is good value for money and makes an excellent home computer. The features of this machine are tailor made for good animated graphics, speech synthesis and game playing. Once you've acquired the machine you can hang on the peripherals to build it into one which has the capacity, though unfortunately not the speed, of lots of systems that come in much bigger cases. The TI-99/4A is as a computer that the whole family can have fun with. It will appeal to every generation and is a particularly suitable choice for introducing children to computers.