Tekniikan Maailma 20/1982 Atari 400 review

Tekniikan Maailma, a high quality Finnish magazine that focused on all kinds of technical things, published an article about Atari 400 in their 20/1982 issue:

tekniikan maailma 20 1982 pages 120 and 121 atari 400

What does "Ajanvietetietokone" mean? Translated into English, it means simply "a computer for leisure time". This is probably in contrast to the large, industrial and business use computers that were used in banks, for example. So the magazine wants to make it clear that Atari 400 is a personal microcomputer designed for home use.

The review starts by describing Atari BASIC. They note that Atari is exceptional in that it validates BASIC input already at the time of writing, not delaying it to runtime. They also go on to say that Atari 400 is more expensive than its competition, for instance Commodore VIC-20, but according to them the higher price is worth it, because Atari's graphics capabilities are versatile and it has a "large amount of RAM capacity". I just looked at their specifications later in the article, and in their test machine the amount of Atari 400 RAM is 16KB! So it is not even a fully packed 48KB Atari 400!

Then they go on to mention Atari's nine different graphics modes and they give a brief description of those. The reviewer seems to be very impressed.

With regard to sound, they say that sound effects are crucial in computer games and leisure use in general. According to Tekniikan Maailma, Atari 400 sound capabilities are excellent. They mention four sound generators that can be independently programmed. Each generator is capable of a four octave range.

For programming one needs a tape recorder for storing programs and data permanently. The reviewer says that a proper tape recorder for computer use is available and that it costs approximately 1000 FIM. Wow! Back in 1982, that was a huge amount of money in Finland! They also mention that a dot matrix printer can be bought for 3850 FIM. I can assure you that you had to be pretty wealthy in order to buy stuff like that in those times. The prices were too high for the average consumer in Finland.

Tekniikan Maailma says that the Atari 400 keyboard is of a membrane type. Pressing a membrane key requires more strength than a regular, typewriter kind of key. When you press a key, computer responds with a sound. They like that feature, but according to them, entering large amounts of data using a membrane keyboard would be cumbersome. Nevertheless for the leisure use this keyboard is acceptable.

In conclusion of their review, they say that Atari 400 offers great graphics features for the price it sells for. The quality is very good when connected to a television. They appreciate the fact that there is lots of software available for Atari: games and language self-study programs. Hence they recommend it for leisure time users. It is also said that Atari 400 is suitable for studying programming even though the BASIC language is more restricted than usual, despite the great graphics capabilities. Less than perfect character string handling and integer output formatting draw some criticism from the magazine. They also complain about the expensive tape recorder and printer. Tekniikan Maailma would have liked to have a manual written in Finnish, too.

The magazine informs us that for advanced programming and utilities Atari offers a more expensive model 800, which, according to Tekniikan Maailma, is pretty similar to model 400. However, the 800 has a better typewriter style keyboard, possibility to expand RAM, better software availability and more versatile peripherals. The price of Atari 800 is said to be a whopping 7360 FIM! I cannot imagine that many people could afford that in Finland in 1982!

Finally here are the Finnish prices in 1982:

It is my personal opinion that Atari 400 and Atari 800 were exceptionally great home computers at their time. They were of a very high quality, but the rugged construction was not cheap to build. Also, at that time, computer parts such as RAM chips were quite expensive. Those factors pushed the Atari prices too high in Finland. That is why not many machines were sold. Eventually Commodore 64 became the best-selling 8-bit computer here in Finland. In fact of all countries in the whole world, Finland is where C64 was the most popular.

Despite that, I do not only like Atari 800, I absolutely love it! It is just a wonderful machine that was released much earlier than C64, and yet with 48KB RAM expansion, it was capable of competing with Commodore. Many legendary, fantastic games were in fact originally created on Atari 800 and many ported versions are worse than Atari originals. Atari 8-bit is very cool and significant indeed! Please do not ever forget that fact.