The iconic ZX Spectrum's launch on April 23, 1982, was a landmark in the home computer era in the UK, but its influence extended far beyond those shores.
At a time when patent wars were less relevant, Eastern Europe produced some of the most creative Speccy clones. Children of all ages would insert smuggled tapes into their cassette players and wait for several minutes for games such as Chuckie Egg or Manic Miner to load.
These home computers were bulkier that the original and often had faulty keyboards. However, many of today's tech professionals learned how to code on these machines.
These are some of the most unusual Eastern European ZX Spectrum replicas.
This Polish home computer had its case adapted from a toy organ. The wire stand was intended to support sheet music.
Elwro 800 Junior launched in 1986 and was made by Elwro Electronic Factory of Wroclaw. It was mainly designed to be used in schools. It runs CP/J, an operating system that cloned CP/M and was designed for network appliances.
Housed in a modified telephone case, the JET was manufactured in Romania between 1989 and probably 1992. It was marketed as a gaming device, although it didn't feature a joystick connector.
The keyboard keys had transparent caps covering printed pieces of paper bearing their identity.
Made in Brasov, Romania, hence its name, COmputer BRAsov, the Cobra featured not only BASIC but also CP/M. The official factory produced about 1,000 machines to be used by enterprises, yet the underground industry made even more.
Students at the University Politehnica of Bucharest built Cobras in their dorms using whatever they could get their hands on. Electronics dealers brought them motherboards discarded by the factory, and LEDs, and resistors in bulk. The casing was the least important feature. Some students manufactured metal or wooden boxes for their Cobras.
Some of the Romanian engineers who made the Cobra moved to the US and were part of Apple's team that designed the iPhone X.
The Slovak Didaktik M was meant to be an affordable computer. So the uncommitted logic array circuit, which generates the display and reads the keyboard, was substituted with the equivalent Angstrem T34VG1 (Ангстрем Т34ВГ1) component, produced in a factory near Moscow. This decision caused the image to be a square, instead of 4:3, the usual aspect ratio of the ZX Spectrum.
The Didaktik M had a reset button and two non-standard joystick ports.
Designed in the late 1980s and manufactured in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, until 1993 or 1994, this computer has a special key design to switch between the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Orel, also spelled Орель, which means Eagle in Russian, could work with two joysticks.
Designed in the former Soviet Union, in the city of Leningrad, the Hobbit home computer was marketed as a low-cost device for home use, schools, and offices.
It featured CP/M, as well as Forth and Logo. The Russians even attempted to sell the Hobbit on the UK market, targeting ZX Spectrum fans who might have liked to own a more powerful yet familiar computer.
Pentagon is one of a long list of Russian Speccy clones. However, it stands out as it was manufactured by amateurs who had access to open-source documentation. This provenance made the Pentagon a widespread clone and helped fuel the DIY spirit among enthusiasts, who came up with a number of creative upgrades.
This Lithuanian clone was designed in 1986 by computer scientists from Kaunas University of Technology and Kaunas Radio Measurement Technology Research Institute. Santaka-002 or Сантака-002 was one of the best-quality Spectrum clones, because it was manufactured in a former military plant.
The Spectral was produced in East Germany by Hübner Elektronik, a factory in Erfurt. It was sold in kit form for enthusiasts as ZX Spectrum-compatible. The Spectral had a built-in joystick interface and came with either 48kB or 128kB of RAM.
In 1980s Yugoslavia, only elites could afford to buy the ZX Spectrum or the Commodore 64. The Galaksija build-it-yourself computer gave enthusiasts the chance to learn how to code.
Serbian inventor Voja Antonić designed the computer during a holiday and published the DIY diagrams in a magazine. He didn't make any profit. At least 8,000 Galaksija computers were manufactured, although the creator estimated initially that at most 1,000 machines would be built.