Hands-on with upcoming Windows Phone's first generic ZX Spectrum emulator - MetroSpec

You can now enjoy the classics while on the go

Can we have a drum roll? Announcing the upcoming Sinclair ZX Spectrum emulator for Windows Phone - MetroSpec. This current work-in-progress by Starquake Mobile (website) is the first generic ZX Spectrum emulator for Windows Phone which isn't tied to a single title. 

The gist of the app is to enable Windows Phone users to download, load and enjoy Spectrum titles to either bring back memories or to defeat that all-impossible last boss that one could never beat. Head on past the break to see why you should be interested in MetroSpec, as well as some hands-on footage from the recent WPUG meetup.

Headed up by Glenn Edwards, MetroSpec is still in active development with the goal to be in beta within the next few days (more on that later), but the working build we were taken through last night at the WPUG event in London was stable enough in our eyes - we had to hide our giggly excitement as the drooling began. 

Before we crack on with the app coverage, let's share a quick background check on the ZX Spectrum. It's an 8-bit PC released in the UK by Sinclair Research Ltd back in 1982. Most of the software available for the Spectrum are games, but a number of other products were released. Actual titles included the likes of Elite, Manic Miner, Luna Jetman, and many, many more. Many fans are able to recreate such experiences through emulation, which is soon to be possible on Windows Phone.

On a basic level MetroSpec is exactly what it says on the tin... or splash screen in this case. It's a ZX Spectrum emulator, which boasts an array of features ensuring the user experience is rich while sporting the Metro polish. First off, loading up the app brings us to the main screen. The app supports the creation of Spectrum BASIC using the on-screen keyboard, which enables users who know (or desire to learn) the language. But should you not be up for the task, fear not as there's much more on offer - including actually playing games.

MetroSpec dives deeper into the console by offering a history of both Sinclair and the Spectrum itself, should the user find the need to learn about its makings. As well as both Spectrum BASIC and the history, the app offers links to settings and the about section from the main screen. We were told there's a little easter egg in the about section, so be sure to keep a watchful eye out when the app is released.

Wrapping up the main screen, which features a familiar tile layout, is SkyDrive access (for importing titles) as well as options to view the last played game, history, and of course the list of loaded games. Note that MetroSpec will not feature any published Spectrum titles (due to copyright reasons), but will instead feature a number of Homebrew built games. A solid way of supporting the community.

Actual importing of games is simple and easy, supporting both SkyDrive and any location on a known webserver. For the emulation itself, sound is supported (a huge plus), not to mention a number of statistics and features to follow suit. History, state saving / loading, favourites, game list filters (genres, publishers, developers, years, most played, etc.), and more are available. It's a superb way of keeping a catalogue of games neat and tidy, which allows MetroSpec to never appear cluttered.

The UI is all coded in Silverlight, but is a Silverlight / XNA mutated beast with the emulation ran in the latter. When choosing to play a title, data is displayed, including accumulative play time, accompanied by sharing options and related functionality (screenshots anyone?). The controls are highly customisable, and gameplay is butter smooth. Unfortunately, due to CPU intensity, some first generation devices (or Windows Phones with weak chips) may suffer performance issues. This can be rectified by lowering sound quality and / or the frame rate.

As mentioned above, saving and exporting the game state is supported in case you wish to continue playing on a larger screen. But we'll quit rambling on and allow you to watch the demonstration where Glenn Edwards walks us through MetroSpec.

Here's a quick glance at some of the features included in MetroSpec:

  • Download compressed titles from webservers and SkyDrive accounts
  • Features sound emulation
  • Configurable game controls
  • Landscape and portrait mode support
  • Save / load game states with export functionality
  • Pin favourite games to the home screen for convenient access
  • Code in Spectrum BASIC using the provided console
  • Virtual keyboard included (excluding rubber keys)
  • Bundled with Homebrew titles
  • Supports 'pokes' (cheats)

MetroSpec will have a free version, as well as premium. The free version is ad-supported with the limitation of only three save state slots. Premium version, which is confirmed to be £0.79 ($0.99), will remove the advertisements and open up more save slots for further use. To close off this exclusive preview of MetroSpec, we leave you with a quick demo of Manic Miner.

We're excited for the upcoming release, as should you be once you've finished reading this teaser article. Be sure to follow Starquake Mobile on Twitter for more updates, and - of course - keep an eye on Windows Phone Central for future announcements as to when MetroSpec is set to be released. We expect beta to kick off shortly, which will hopefully see a thread open up on our forums for testers.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.