8 Gadgets and Devices We’d Travel Back in Time For
The constant march of technological progress is inevitable. New gadgets and devices come out all the time—each generation faster and more impressive than the last. And as the newest, shiniest products are released, the old stuff gets left behind.
In most cases, that’s a good thing. Most old technology can’t keep up with modern demands. Floppy disks, for example, might have been good in the 1980s, but they’d be useless today—other than as retro-themed drinks coasters.
But there are some old gadgets and devices we miss. Not just because they’re old, but because they were actually good. Here are some of our favorites.
Looking like a cross between a floppy disk and a CD, MiniDisc was a popular audio format created by Sony. There were several different MiniDisc capacities, ranging from 60 to 80 minutes, which was enough for the average album.
Not only could you play music on your MiniDisc player, but you could also record audio. You could only do a manual recording from an analog or optical input, as opposed to just putting music files on a MiniDisc. You could record over a MiniDisc as much as you liked, and—unlike CDs—they couldn’t be scratched.
Ultimately, MiniDisc was too expensive and too limited. As MP3 players, iPods, and then streaming became more popular, it just didn’t have a market anymore; Sony made its last MiniDisc player in 2013.
2. The iPod Classic
By the time Apple released the first iPod, several other companies had already brought out MP3 players. The iPod didn’t have the most storage or the most features, either. But it was easy to use, it looked good, and later, it would integrate well with the iTunes app.
The first iPod offered 5GB or 10GB of storage, depending on your choice. That seems almost laughable now, but in 2001, it was plenty. Being able to carry hundreds of songs in your pocket was a big deal back then.
Perhaps our favorite thing about the original iPod was the scroll wheel. These days, you can get to tracks on your smartphone just by touching the screen or asking your voice assistant to do it. But that wasn’t possible back then, and the iPod’s scroll wheel was a fast, easy way to look through hundreds of songs at a time.
3. Pocket TVs
The first pocket-sized TV was the Panasonic TR-001, which came out in the 1970s. Self-contained and battery powered, it enabled TV addicts to get their fix no matter where they were. It was quite large, though, considering it only had a 1.5-inch screen.
Between the 1980s and 1990s, pocket TVs got much, much better. The screen sizes became bigger, while the body of the devices became more compact and truly pocket-sized.
These days, you can still buy pocket TVs, but they look more like tablets with aerials attached to them. They’re obviously much better quality than the ones of the past, but arguably, they have none of the charm.
Walk into any games arcade, and you’ll find lightgun games. They’re simple, accessible fun for anyone who can point a plastic gun and pull the trigger.
Believe it or not, they used to be popular for home games systems too. Classics like Duck Hunt on the Nintendo Entertainment System eventually led to more advanced titles like House of the Dead, which featured on the original Xbox.
But then, they just disappeared. Shooting games on the Wii and now for VR systems, like Oculus Quest offer a similar experience—but it’s not quite the same. So, what happened?
LCD panels happened. Lightguns are designed to work with old CRT TVs, and they simply don’t work with the new technology that powers modern televisions. There was, however, a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce a gun that works with new TVs, and those have started to ship.
5. The Casio CMD-40
The Casio CMD-40 is probably more commonly known as "that watch that controls TVs and stuff". A fully programmable infrared remote control jammed into a wristwatch, it enabled you to control all manner of devices like TVs and VHS recorders.
That was great, but the best thing about the CMD-40 was the mischief it enabled. There are few things more joyous than watching your high school teacher trying to work out what’s wrong with the TV while a kid at the back of the class manipulates it with their watch.
You can still buy remote control watches today, but the Casio CMD-40 remains a favorite.
6. The SEGA Game Gear
When the SEGA Game Gear came out, Nintendo’s Game Boy already had a two-year headstart and a firm following. But the Game Gear was more powerful, and it had a full-color screen—unlike the blocky monochrome display of the Game Boy.
It failed in the end, largely due to its bulky size and poor battery life. But the Game Gear still had a lot of plus points. We’ve already mentioned the screen, of course. But it was also basically a pocket-sized SEGA Master System.
You could even get an adapter to plug in the oversized Master System cartridges and play them on the move. And there was an add-on that would let you use your Game Gear as a portable television.
In many ways, it was ahead of its time. And that’s why we miss it, even if it couldn’t beat Nintendo’s iconic handheld devices.
7. Car Phones
Somewhere between massive, impractical brick-sized Nokia cell phones and fixed-line phones, there were car phones. They became completely unnecessary when cell phones went mainstream, of course, but they were great for a few years.
Not everyone had a car phone, though. They were status symbols, generally seen in movies about Wall Street executives—or in the cars of your wealthier friends’ parents.
And that, to be honest, was the main attraction of car phones. They were found in luxury cars, with high-grade leather seating, climate control, and other decadent features. These days, it’s hard to imagine being impressed by something so simple.
8. Audio Cassette Recorders
Today, every smartphone and tablet can record hours of audio in high-quality digital formats. But before the digital age, one of the best ways to record audio was with a tape recorder.
We’re not talking about dictaphones here (although they were cool too). We mean those flat audio cassette recorders, which required you to press record and play at the same time to start recording. The ones you and your friends would record yourselves singing pop songs with down in the basement.
Part of the appeal was also the permanence of tapes. It’s easy to just delete an audio file from your phone, but tape recordings remain until you record over them or throw out the tape. And so, your terrible rendition of Material Girl by Madonna lives on forever.
Travel Back to the Past
Unfortunately, you can’t travel back in time to actually experience this stuff again. But if you’re interested in retro technology, you could maybe start a collection. A lot of these old gadgets and devices can be found on auction sites or even in flea markets.
You might also want to have a go at a bit of retro gaming. There are tons of retro games consoles, as well as free emulators that run on everything from PCs to cell phones. So, why not check them out and take a misty-eyed trip back to the past?
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July 14, 2021 at 07:06AM