Sinclair had a huge hit with their line of PCs in the U.K. with the ZX80, ZX81 and the ZX Spectrum being the most well known. Sinclair partnered with Timex to brings some of those machines to the U.S. but without nearly as much success. The Timex Sinclair 1000 was the U.S. version of the ZX81. It had the distinction at its introduction in 1982 to be the cheapest home computer available (at least in non-kit form) at $99. However, this would ultimately ignite a price war with Commodore that Timex couldn’t win.
The Timex Sinclair 1000 was nearly identical to the ZX81 that it was based on. It had a Z80 processor running at 3.25 MHZ which was perfectly reasonable for the time, maybe even above average, however other limitations made this computer undesirable for a lot of people. First, it had a calculator style membrane keyboard. If you happened to be a touch typist (which to be fair, most home computer users of the time probably were not) this would have been completely unacceptable. In addition, the Timex Sinclair 1000 was limited to only 2KB of stock RAM. Finally, the Timex Sinclair was limited to a 22×32 black and white text display and there was only RF output for a TV. In addition, it had no sound and the only other external interface is a single expansion port. Most of these limitations could be overcome through 3rd party add-ons but at that point you were paying a lot more. Some software was localized from the U.K. but there really wasn’t much commercial software available in the U.S. and most of that required the 16KB expansion. There was a 16KB expansion offered by Timex but it had limited availability and cost more than half as much as the computer.
Shortly after the Timex Sinclair 1000 was introduced, Commodore lowered the price of the VIC-20 to $99 to match. The VIC-20 was a much more capable machine with a real keyboard, a whopping 5KB of RAM, a higher resolution color display, and perhaps most importantly, custom chips for graphics and sound that made it light years ahead of the TS-1000 in that regard. The ~1MHZ 6502 based CPU of the VIC-20 was arguably slower than the Z80 in the Timex but not by as much as the MHZ would indicate and the custom chips more than made up for it anyway by offloading graphics and sound processing. Timex followed up by dropping the price of the TS-1000 to $49 but it was already too late. The Timex Sinclair 1000 had a brief period of success and Timex claims to have sold 600,000 which is pretty good considering the VIC-20 is considered to be the first PC to sell 1 million units. However, most of these were probably sold on clearance and many were probably used to trade in for a Commodore 64. Commodore had a deal where you could trade in any PC and get $100 off of the new Commodore 64 so many people bought TS-1000s for $50 and traded them in, netting themselves a $50 savings.
The Timex Sinclair 1000 was useful as a tool to learn programming or as a hobbyist machine to interface to other devices but on its own it just wasn’t capable of running sophisticated enough software to be very useful for most people in its stock configuration, certainly not when compared to other machines of the time. Its bargain basement price helped but only for a short time as prices fell rapidly across the industry. The ZX Spectrum was a much better machine than the ZX81 but by the time its equivalent came along in the U.S., Commodore, Apple, Atari and IBM already dominated the computer market with arguably superior machines.
Timex discontinued the TS-1000 in 1983 after only about a year on the market. They would introduce the Timex Sinclair 2068 in 1984 which was an improved version of the Spectrum. However, while it was improved those improvements also made it incompatible with the Spectrum in some ways so that software for the Spectrum could not be used on the 2068 without modification. The Timex Computer Corporation went out of business shortly after its introduction. Perhaps greater success could have been had if Timex had made the effort to make the 2068 compatible with the Spectrum out of the box and imported some of the available software from the U.K. (of which there was a substantial amount). But then again, it was probably already too late for Timex. The 2068 was a much better computer than the TS-1000 but it was too little and far too late.
The ad at the top is from the April 1983 issue of Videogaming Illustrated. This is kind of ironic since this was not a good machine for gaming. The other images are public domain images obtained from Wikipedia.