Reviewer: Kathleen Peel

Magazine: Your Computer

Date: February 1984

Over-priced toy or bargain system? Kathleen Peel ways up the Adam from Coleco,the people who brought you the Cabbage Patch Kids.

THE COLECO ADAM is a word processor which can be used to run business programs and also the wide range of Coleco games cartridges. The Adam is currently sold in the States at $700 but the final UK price may be as much as £700.

The Adam will initially appear in March as an upgrade to the Coleco games machine. A stand alone version is expected to appear in August/September.

There are three separate hardware modules - A keyboard, a memory unit and a printer. The printer unit houses the power supply which drives the whole system.

The keyboard has a very nice feel to it with sensible positioning of keys which automatically repeat when held down. The meaning of the black 'smart/function' keys is provided on screen in word processor mode, other key legends also refer to word processing functions.

One of the games paddles may be placed in a carrier to the right of the keyboard and can be used as a numeric keypad. The logic of this will be appreciated when entering Basic programs, there is much less need for non typists to use the shift key and therefore less likelihood of typing the wrong meaning on the normal dual function numeric keys.

The memory unit houses the tape cartridge drive, the memory, processors and expansion ports.

The tape drive units are inexpensive digital drives that use Coleco formatted digital cassettes. Each cassette is capable of holding 500K of formatted data.

There is only one drive supplied although the capacity exists for two. The use of cassettes removes the problem of the special storage requirements for the Microdrive cartridges but is likely to lead to users inserting ordinary cassettes which obviously are not only unformatted, but of inadequate quality, and then complaining that they do not work.

The memory consists of 80K RAM - 16K video RAM and 64K general. On switching on the normal mode is word processing which is housed in ROM. Under these conditions, the user has the main memory as a working store and uses the cassette drives for mass storage of text.

The Adam does not have a resident Basic interpreter; that is loaded from tape which leaves a little over 220 blocks free of tape storage. PRINT FRE(X) shows the amount of RAM available as 26K which indicates that perhaps the ROM is masking a large slice of RAM. Masked memory is usually only available to data storage.

There is expected to be a 64K expansion board providing a total of 144K memory. How much will actually be usable to Basic depends to a large extent on the provision of a suitable bank memory switching mechanism.

The main unit has three expansion board slots under the top cover and a cartridge port at the top right of the main unit. And edge connector is provided at the side to the system bus as are connectors for two paddle controllers. At the rear are TV and video connections and finally the Adamnet connector which allows communication between each unit.

The bi-directional daisywheel printer uses standard Diablo cartridge ribbons and wheels. Like other prints of this type, the quality is paid for in terms of speed and noise. It is very high quality print at a rather noisy 120 char/min.

A tractor feed is planned to enable fan-fold paper to be used, especially useful for the sticky address labels.

One point which should also be remembered is that daisywheel printers besides producing wonderful text are not suitable for producing the usual range of business type graphics charts. Normally this would present no problems, but until a Centronics or RS-232 interface is produced there will be difficulties.

The Adam requires a television to complete the system. This can be any domestic television as the resolution requirements are no more than the normal teletext transmissions.

The restriction of the screen display to 40 characters is no great loss. Working with 80 characters/line for any length of time requires the use of a good professional colour monitor which would increase the initial cost significantly. The display provides a paper cursor at the top of the screen which shows exactly where the character will appear on the page and that is all that is needed.

The display was extremely stable with no dot crawl. Generally the games machines seem to have developed very much better displays than computers.

The Adam has the capability of running cartridge and tape based software, I would have preferred the Basic to be in cartridge and not tape. It might have been felt that this would be too similar to Atari, but it would provide instant access to Basic.

There are two switches, one either side of the cartridge port which would have enabled the user to conveniently initialise word processing and Basic.

The Adam is foremost a word processor, and is in wp mode on switch-on. This function is menu driven and very convenient for the occasional user.

There is a reasonably comprehensive set of functions available including block search with multiple deletes and changes. A window is provided to enable the user to continually view the sector that is currently being typed in simulated 80 column mode. The page cursor at the top of the screen is adequate but it is always wise to provide extra facilities.

The format of the print can be altered in terms of tabs, line spacing and characters per line and the finished document saved on the digital cassette drive.

The ink and paper screen colours can be altered to suit the user which is a very useful facility and the Adam will also automatically fold text in word processor mode. If the current word exceeds the 40 character line, the whole word is written on the next line.

Basic lacks structure

I would expect an enhanced version of the Basic at some stage as this implementation lacks good structure. But considering the market that the machine is aimed at, it is a more than adequate implementation.

The speed of the Adam at least three times faster than the Spectrum, that puts it on a par with all but the BBC's of the computing world.

The error messages are fairly comprehensive and with a good editor, enabled corrections to be made to erroneous data quite quickly. Each line is checked on entry for syntax which is unfortunately countered by the fact that the interpreter is space sensitive.

In text mode, there appeared to be 31 characters/line which indicates that Basic uses a 9 byte wide character and with 40 characters/line in wp, a 7 byte wide character. The maximum resolution of the display is 280 by 192, the Adam also supports 32 sprites and has a capability of displaying 16 colours.

I could find no sound facilities in the Basic command set, yet there is a very good sound capability as demonstrated in the games cartridges.

The Coleco Adam can run the Coleco range of games software. These are very high quality. arcade type games with extremely good graphics.

There were three manuals available - Getting started, Programming with Basic and Typing with Adam. They were produced about the time of the Chicago Fair launch and in the case of the Basic documentation, did not represent the true performance of the Adam.

As the Adam is now available in the States, proper documentation should now be ready. By the time it comes to the UK there will be no problem.

Future expansion is for a 64K add-on memory card and a Modem capability. The Adam uses a Z-80 processor and it is planned to run C/PM software.


Tape drive compaison

  Coleco Adam Sinclair Microdrive
Save 58 12
Erase/Delete 11 13
Load 5 5
Catalogue 18 10
Capacity 500K 90K

The format of the Sinclair Microdrive commands is significantly more complicated than those of the Adam. The timings are average times taken on a small number of test files, the only significant difference is in the time taken to save a file and in the capacity of the storage media.