Apparently when the two Atari 8-bit machines were released, the 400 outsold the 800 2 to 1, which is unsurprising considering they were priced at approximately $500 and $1000 respectively.

Indeed, the surprise is that the ratio was not higher. Granted the 800 had an extra cartridge slot; that doesn't jump out as being a very important feature; it at least looks like one in three customers were willing to pay an extra $500 largely or entirely for a better keyboard. Which would be very logical for a productivity machine, but more surprising for a machine whose primary selling point was games.

Were those one in three customers really paying for the better keyboard, or did the 800 have some other selling point I'm not taking into account?

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    The 400 came with 16k RAM and initially it was not that simple to upgrade like the 800 was. I remember upgrading mine by soldering on a daughterboard. Eventually Atari released an “official” upgrade board. – mannaggia Jun 26 '18 at 23:41
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    Did the 400 have basic? I seem to remember basic being on a cartridge... – Geo... Jun 27 '18 at 1:38
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    @Geo... the 400 and 800 needed a cartridge for BASIC, but IIRC it was provided with the computer (i.e. not an extra purchase). – Stephen Kitt Jun 27 '18 at 5:28
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    Don’t underestimate the keyboard factor. Having grown up with an Atari 400, I can testify that its membrane keyboard is truly awful, and I would have been delighted to have an 800 instead... – Stephen Kitt Jun 27 '18 at 6:57
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    I had a 400 and didn't mind the keyboard at all. I didn't find it all that different from modern low-profile keyboards and could type quite fast on it. My particular machine had the added bonus that the glue under the area of the control and left shift came undone and those "keys" bubbled upward to form domes. – Maury Markowitz Jul 31 '18 at 15:03

There are a few improvements that made the 800 more valuable

                           Candy     Coleen
                           (400)     (800)
RAM (original design 1979)   4 KiB     8 KiB
RAM (first delivered 1980)   8 KiB    16 KiB
Maximum RAM               (48) KiB    48 KiB (*1)
RAM (later models    1982)  16 KiB    48 KiB
ROM Slots                    1         2     (*2)
Expansion Slots              1         3
Free Slots                   0         2
Keyboard                   Membrane  Full Stroke

*1 - RAM on the 400 could only be extended by replacing the existing board after opening the case.

*2 - ROM cartridges where meant to carry (up to) 8 KiB each. The 'left' slot was mapped at $8000, while the 'right' was mapped at $A000. A 'left' cartridge could also fill the whole 16 KiB.

When speaking about sales numbers, it might be worth noting that according to Curt Vendels book only about 35,000 400 and 800 where sold until December 1980. So the 'big' difference shrinks to more reasonable numbers - not enough to really show a trend.

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    That last line can't be emphasized enough. The Atari 400 "chicklet" keyboard was gawdaful. Ever seen anyone selling one of those for a consumer PC clone? No? There's a reason why. – T.E.D. Jun 28 '18 at 13:44
  • @T.E.D. Membrane keyboards (chicklet is the pocket calculator style as shown with the PET) were a lot. Just think the incredible numbers of the ZX80/81 and TS1000 sold. – Raffzahn Jun 28 '18 at 13:53
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    Not in the US they didn't. I never quite understood why folks elsewhere were willing to put up with those horrible keyboards. Perhaps money was just a lot more tight there, or perhaps they just wanted to play games and didn't want to program. Whatever it was, ick. – T.E.D. Jun 28 '18 at 14:03
  • @T.E.D. The Timex Sinclair was only sold in the US. And there where others, like Magnavox Odyssey2 and several other in/for the US market. – Raffzahn Jun 28 '18 at 14:48
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – T.E.D. Jun 28 '18 at 16:43

The Atari 800 allowed a maximum of 48k of RAM, vs the 16k maximum in the Atari 400. After 1980, both models shipped with maximum RAM - so you were getting three times as much memory with the 800. (Details are on Wikipedia.)

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    Plus a better keyboard, an additional ROM slot, user-accessible RAM slots, and better video output options (per the wiki). The 400 was marketed as a home computer/game machine and the 800 as a professional computer. – Alex Hajnal Jun 26 '18 at 23:43
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    @AlexHajnal: Was the 400 a computer, or a Star Raiders console? – supercat Jun 27 '18 at 14:56
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    @AlexHajnal: To what extent were people able to overcome the limitations of the Atari 400's keyboard, making it a practical computer, and to what extent was the keyboard mainly usable for Star Raiders, a game which could use even a crummy keyboard to great effect? In theory, the Atari 400 could do most of the things the 800 could, but how many machines ended up being used that way in practice? – supercat Jun 27 '18 at 18:01
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    @supercat, the 400 keyboard was fully functional, it was just “uncomfortable” to use. The 400 was my first computer and I typed in many programs from Compute and Antic on that keyboard. I wrote many of my own programs, in Basic and later Action! and C/65 and assembler. And I learned how to touch type in school so I was pretty fast. You just felt like you had no fingerprints after a long session... – mannaggia Jun 28 '18 at 12:26
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    The additional ROM slot was effectively useless. I believe there were a total of three or four cartridges for it, ever. Monkey Wrench II was the best. – Maury Markowitz Jul 31 '18 at 15:05

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