We’re big fans of all-things tech here at Review Geek. While we tend to spend our days drooling over the latest gadgets, we occasionally like to pause and pay respect to the tech that paved the way for the devices we enjoy using today. Today, we’re looking at some of our favorite tech gadgets from the ’80s.
From Air Jordans and Duran Duran to Rubik’s Cubes and The Breakfast Club, the ’80s were 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 a few fun toys as well. 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!).
Update, 2/8/22: Verified links and videos still good.
Apple Macintosh 128K (1983)
Casio Calculator Watch (1983)
The Clapper (1984)
Nintendo Games and Accessories
Audio-Technica Sound Burger (1983)
Polaroid Sun 660 Camera (1981)
Armatron Robot (1980)
Yamaha DX7 Synthesizer (1983)
Atari Touch Tablet (1984)
Roland TR-808 (1980)
Sony CDP-101 CD Player (1982)
Motorola DynatAC 8000X (1983)
Sharper Image Lazer Tag (1986)
Remember the time Ridley Scott directed the 1984-themed commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer to the world (or perhaps Fortnite‘s clapback version)? The iconic computer initially sold for a whopping $2,495 (that’d be about $6,100 today) and sold over 70,000 units within the first four months.
The Macintosh 128K boasted a Motorola 68000 microprocessor running at 7.8336MHz that was connected to 128K RAM split between the processor and the display controller, with the boot procedure and various OS routines stored in an additional 64KB ROM chip. It also had sixteen 4164 64kx1 DRAMs. I’m not saying that isn’t spectacular, but I’m glad computers have improved over the years.
Talk about one smart watch! The Casio calculator watch not only showed you the time, but it also had a built-in calculator that’d let you do basic arithmetic whenever you wanted. It also had a stopwatch, a calendar, and a built-in alarm function allowing you to be the most organized math-doing cool kid on the streets. Besides its myriad functionality, the watch also did a good job showing you the time, including the seconds, the AM or PM marking, and even allowed you to switch to 24-hour military time.
Clap on, clap off! The Clapper “made it easy” for you 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 socket, then plug the device you want to control into The Clapper. In fact, if you think about it, The Clapper was kind of the OG smart plug. Although I much prefer today’s smart plugs, with their voice-control options and routine scheduling, it was definitely fun to drive my relatives crazy clapping their lights on and off with this ridiculous gadget as a kid.
The ’80s were a huge decade for video games, but no other console at the time ever really managed to eclipse Nintendo’s NES. Or its enormous library of arcade games. Or weirdly awesome accessories. Gamers of all ages and skill levels flocked towards fun titles like Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Excitebike, Duck Hunt, Punch-Out!, and Kirby’s Adventure and are still enjoying them now, decades later. It was also a blast to play with Nintendo’s unique accessories, including the Power Glove, the NES Zapper, and R.O.B.
What Sony’s Walkman did for cassettes, Audio-Technica’s AT727 did for vinyl. Aptly named the Sound Burger, this portable belt-drive turntable was the perfect solution to listening to your favorite vinyl on the go … provided you didn’t mind there not being much by way of 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. Pretty impressive!
Polaroid’s instant cameras not only cut down massively on the time you spent waiting for your photos to develop, but they were also tons of fun to use! The Sun 660 model had a built-in flash and a sonar-based autofocus feature. It could also detect when you were in a low-light area and boost the lighting to ensure your photo still looks bright and clear. The camera’s small portable size and basic image enhancing abilities made it an awesome product for sure.
With the Armatron, a cute robot toy made by TOMY and distributed by Radio Shack, kids could have tons of fun during playtime. Well, it wasn’t exactly a robot—it was fully user controlled and had no automation. But, by using the two attached joysticks, you could move Armatron’s crane-like arm and have it pick up objects just like a robot could. Oh, and don’t forget its countdown mechanism that helped build the anticipation before an object was lifted up!
The DX7 isn’t just any old digital synthesizer, it’s one of the best-selling synths in history. It’s preset sounds also famously ended up in some of the most famous music of the time, from artists like 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 highly programmable, too. The DX7 was well-liked due to its outstanding sound.
Tablets are super popular today, with Apple’s dominating the market, but Atari actually released one way back in the mid-80s. The Atari Touch Tablet was great for drawing and doodling, with functionality built in for erasing, drag-and-drop images, and even supported using a stylus. The tablet shipped along with Atari’s artist software on a ROM cartridge, and you could see what you’d drawn by hooking it up to your TV or a compatible computer. It was fun, but never really took off, however.
The Beastie Boys were absolutely right when they said “nothing sounds quite like an 808.” The mega-iconic drum machine blew the minds of everyone creating hip hop and pop music at the time, with its bold and futuristic sound, and forever changed the sound of American music. All kinds of musicians like Diplo, Pharrell, Damon Albarn (of Gorillaz), Kanye West, Phil Collins, and, yes, The Beastie Boys have used the TR-808 to create emblematic music loved the world ’round.
This one’s a gimmie. The SIMON electronic game both mesmerized and frustrated kids (and adults) of all ages, with its simple concept and tough-to-memorize patterns. The “Simon Says” game would play a ton and flash a corresponding color panel, with a new addition each turn, and you’d have to keep up by touching 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 memorization skills (or passive-aggressively telling you that you didn’t have any).
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 living in the 1980s. Despite being originally released in Japan in 1982, the player didn’t launch outside the country until early 1983. Its initial price point was around $700, which is quite a bit even by today’s standards, but boy was the sound quality amazing! The player was cutting-edge, with a 16-bit DAC and a slick looking knob-free design.
If you thought the world’s first commercially-available CD player was tubular, the Motorola DynatAC 8000X (a.k.a the first commercially-available cell phone) is way cooler. Plus, it was nicknamed the brick! Despite the fact that it didn’t offer more than 30 minutes of talk time or 8 hours of standby, it did have an LED display, and it made you look like a super cool and rich trendsetter if you were seen using one. And talk about rich: It originally sold for $4,000.
Gen X and millennials both know the profound fun that can be had in an exciting round of Lazer Tag. With its fun phaser guns, cool sound effects, futuristic feel, and tag-like gameplay, there’s no wonder Lazer Tag was immediately popular. The game is so fun it spawned an (admittedly rough-looking) animated series on NBC called Lazer Tag Academy. You can even buy a newer two-player version of the game from Sharper Image today.