From Air Jordans and Duran Duran to Rubik’s Cubes and The breakfast clubthe 80s was a phenomenally interesting decade. It also led to some of the most fascinating technology ever, like the original Apple personal computer, the first home CD player, the iconic Roland TR-808, and some fun toys too. So let’s jump in and take a look at some of the most exciting and interesting gadgets the 80s had to offer (and their cringey commercials!).
Apple Macintosh 128K (1983)
Think about the time when Ridley Scott directed it 1984-themed commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer to the world (or maybe Fortnite‘s clapback version)? The iconic computer initially sold for a whopping $ 2,495 (that would be about $ 6,100 today) and sold more than 70,000 units within the first four months.
The Macintosh 128K had a Motorola 68000 microprocessor running at 7.8336 MHz connected to 128K of RAM distributed between the processor and display controller, with the boot sequence and various OS routines stored in an additional 64KB ROM chip. It also had sixteen 4164 64kx1 DRAMs. I’m not saying this isn’t spectacular, but I’m glad computers have improved over the years.
Casio Calculator Watch (1983)
Talk about one smart watch! The Casio calculator watch not only showed you the time, but it also had a built-in calculator that would allow you to do basic math at any time. It also had a stopwatch, calendar, and built-in alarm function so you can be the most organized math cool kid on the street. In addition to its myriad of functionality, the watch also showed you the time well, including the seconds, the AM or PM mark, and even allowed you to switch to 24-hour military time.
The Clapper (1984)
Clap up, clap up! The Clapper “made it easy” to turn on music, lights or your TV from anywhere in your room. All you had to do was plug The Clapper into a wall outlet and then plug the device you want to control into The Clapper. In fact, when you think about it, The Clapper was kind of the smart OG plug. While I prefer today’s smart plugs, with their voice control options and routine scheduling, it was absolutely fun driving my family members flipping their lights on and off with this ridiculous gadget as a kid.
Nintendo games and accessories
The 80s was a huge decade for video games, but no other console at the time ever managed to eclipse Nintendo’s NES. Or its huge library of arcade games. Or crazy accessories. Gamers of all ages and skill levels flocked to fun titles like Super Mario Bros. 3 The Legend of Zelda Excitebike Duck hunting Punch-Out !, and Kirby’s Adventure and still enjoy it now, decades later. It was also great to play with Nintendo’s unique accessories, including the Power Glove, the NES Zapper and ROB
Audio-Technica Sound Burger (1983)
What Sony’s Walkman did for cassettes, Audio-Technica’s AT727 did for vinyl. This portable belt-drive turntable, aptly named the Sound Burger, was the perfect solution for listening to your favorite vinyl on the go … provided you didn’t mind that there wasn’t much physical protection for your LPs. The battery-powered vinyl player has a manual turntable arm, a headphone jack and stereo L / R RCA audio outputs. Very impressive!
Polaroid Sun 660 Camera (1981)
Polaroid’s instant cameras not only saved a lot of time waiting for your photos to develop, but they were also a lot of fun to use! The Sun 660 model had a built-in flash and a sonar-based autofocus function. It can also detect when you were in a low-light area and boost the lighting to make sure your photo still looks bright and clear. The camera’s small portable size and basic image enhancement features certainly made it a great product.
Armatron Robot (1980)
With the Armatron, a cute robotic toy made by TOMY and distributed by Radio Shack, kids can have tons of fun playing. Well, it wasn’t exactly a robot – it was completely user operated and had no automation. But by using the two included joysticks, you could move Armatron’s crane-like arm and make it pick up objects, just like a robot could. Oh, and don’t forget the countdown mechanism that helped build anticipation before lifting an object!
Yamaha DX7 Synthesizer (1983)
The DX7 isn’t just any old digital synthesizer, it’s one of the best-selling synthesizers in history. The preset sounds have also become famous in some of the most famous music of the time, from artists such as Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, Chicago, Kenny Loggins, Celine Dion, A-ha, Brian Eno and Kool & the Gang. The impressive 61-key synth had velocity and aftertouch sensitivity, pitch bend and modulation wheels, and was also highly programmable. The DX7 was loved for its excellent sound.
Atari Touch Tablet (1984)
Tablets are super popular these days, with Apple’s dominating the market, but Atari even released one in the mid-80s. The Atari Touch tablet was great for drawing and scribbling, with built-in functionality for erasing, dragging and dropping images, and even supported with a stylus. The tablet came on a ROM cartridge along with Atari’s artist software, and you could see what you drew by connecting it to your TV or a compatible computer. It was fun, but never really took off.
Roland TR-808 (1980)
The Beastie Boys were absolutely right when they said, “Nothing sounds like an 808.” The mega-iconic drum machine breathed the mind of everyone who made hip-hop and pop music at the time, with its bold and futuristic sound, changing the sound of American music forever. Musicians of all kinds like Diplo, Pharrell, Damon Albarn (from Gorillaz), Kanye West, Phil Collins and, yes, The Beastie Boys have used the TR-808 to create symbolic music that is loved by the whole world.
This is a gimmie. The electronic game SIMON fascinated and frustrated children (and adults) of all ages with its simple concept and difficult to remember patterns. The “Simon Says” game would play a ton and flash a corresponding color panel, with a new addition each turn, and you should keep up by hitting the same panels in the same order each turn. The inexplicably challenging game was fun to play alone and in groups, and was great for building memory skills (or telling you passive-aggressively you didn’t have one).
Sony CDP-101 CD player (1982)
The Sony CDP-101 was the world’s first commercially released CD player, which is about as cool as it gets … at least for anyone who lived in the 1980s. Despite originally being released in Japan in 1982, the player was not launched outside the country until early 1983. The original price was about $ 700, which is quite a bit even by today’s standards, but the sound quality was great! The player was cutting-edge, with a 16-bit DAC and a sleek-looking design without buttons.
Motorola DynatAC 8000X (1983)
If you thought the world’s first commercially available CD player was tubular, the Motorola DynatAC 8000X (aka the first commercially available cell phone) is much cooler. In addition, it was nicknamed the brick! Despite offering no more than 30 minutes of talk time or 8 hours of standby, it did have an LED display and made you look like a super cool and rich trendsetter using one. And speaking of rich, it originally sold for $ 4,000.
Sharper Image Lazer Tag (1986)
Generation X and Millennials both know the great fun that can be had in an exciting round Lazer Tag. With its fun phaser guns, cool sound effects, futuristic look and tag-like gameplay, it’s no wonder Lazer Tag was instantly popular. The game is so much fun that it spawned an (admittedly rough looking) animated series on NBC called Lazer Tag Academy. You can even purchase a newer two-player version of the game from Sharper Image today.