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12 Tech Gadgets Which Shaped History

Hover over the images to see how far we've come thanks to wireless technology

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The World's First Truly Portable Cell Phone

Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000x

Remember the days when cell phones used to be so bulky, that the term "mobile phone" simply meant you could carry them in a car?

Well, those days were over with Motorola’s first truly portable cell phone, The Brick.

This mind-bogglingly expensive status symbol came out for “just” $3,995 in its commercial release year, equivalent to almost $10,000 today. However, the world's first truly portable cell phone wasn’t without its limitations. After only 30 minutes of talk time, you needed to hang up even with the most prestigious clients... And sometimes for an excruciating 10 hours, until the phone could recharge. Those were some peaceful days!

Who would have thought in 1985, that this technology would become so widespread leading to such economies of scale that today we'd all access better performance for a hundredth of a price?

We sure have at DVTEST!

Movie: Wall Street (1984)
Be cool like Michael Douglas on the Motorola Brick - movie Wall Street (1984)1
Fit everything in the palm of your hand.
Fit everything in the palm of your hand with today's smart technology 2

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Car Phones

Nokia's Mobira Talkman

Those of us who couldn’t afford (or lift) Motorola’s latest gimmick, we could still show off with our Nokia Mobira Talkman and look way cool.

This talkman, although weighing a whopping 11 lbs (5 kg), was revolutionary in its design as it no longer sapped the battery of your car. It was definitely an expensive gadget, but if you owned a business which relied on fast turnaround times, you couldn’t possibly invest your money better to stay ahead of the competition.

Who would have known then that this gadget developed by the small, idealistic Finnish company paved the way to their world domination?!

At DVTEST, we suspected it from the start...

Nokia Mobira Talkman
Nokia’s Mobira Talkman, 11 lbs of pure revolutionary design. 3
Bluetooth technology
With the use of wireless connectivity, today’s connected cars allow much more for safety than simple calls. 4

3 of 13

The World’s First Graphing Scientific Calculator

Casio FX-7000G

No arithmetic problem remained a real problem in 1985, when Casio came out with the FX-7000G, the world’s first graphing scientific calculator. Its 82 (!!!) scientific functions which were programmable and completely integrated, could tackle the mathematical challenges most of us could ever face. Its 422 bytes of memory (wait, that’s less than half a kilobyte?!) made our 1985 hearts beat faster. Until it was time to change the battery, at which stage, all the content was lost. Tough luck.

Its 13-digit precision could not only benefit us for solving for basic arithmetic problems manually, it was also equipped with hyperbolic and statistical functions; binary, octal, hexadecimal, sexagesimal conversions and graph plotting. It was in many ways an engineer’s dream.

As I’m typing this, I’m glancing at my latest Apple smartwatch, which doesn’t only come with its native calculator app, but I even have the choice between several scientific calculator apps to get my fix of the only subject that counts.

Casio FX-7000G
The Casio FX-7000G, the world’s first graphing scientific calculator 5
Calculator app
Getting our maths right on the fly: the iPhone calculator app 6

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VCR Technology

VT-33E Hitachi VCR

A true blast from the past, the VT-33E Hitachi VCR video recorder was a real sought-after gadget in 1985. Now, in the age of endless streaming, we often forget how revolutionary the videocassette recorder was back in the day.

Indeed, VCR technology quickly gained momentum in the 80s. The technology itself only lasted for about 50 years, but it has truly revolutionized the entire TV and film industry. Broadcasters no longer needed to repeat programs in real time, and most of all, by the 80s, just about anyone with a little pocket money could record Knight Rider and watch David Hasselhoff to their hearts’ content.

Today it’s more than possible to record television data, only the format changed: PVRs (personal video recorders) now allow us to record our favorite shows in digital format. PVRs now offer all of the same functionality of VCRs (recording, playback, fast forwarding, pausing and rewinding). The only thing we miss from the 80s is to use our 6th sense and magically rewind right to where the program begins.

Although 3 years ago the last known manufacturer has stopped VCR production (deeming this technology obsolete), us 80s kids will definitely apply this lesson to the rest of our lives: be kind, rewind!

VT-33E
The revolutionary VCR, the VT-33E. 7
Recorder
One of today’s compact HD TV Recorders. 8

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The World's First Portable CD Player

Sony Discman

Who’s feeling nostalgic today about CDs the same way we felt about records yesterday?

The world’s first portable CD Player, the Sony Diskman gave people a true sense of liberty for the first time in 1985. Although the spinning discs were rather prone to skipping when we were going too fast or sitting in our car, Sony’s cassette-based Walkman was already a pretty hip gadget in our (rather voluminous) pocket.

A regular CD could pack a mind-boggling 41 songs and no rewinding was needed to listen again and again…and again… to the latest Madonna song “Like a Virgin”.

CDs quickly reached momentum since then, though CD players are slowly but surely disappearing from everyday consumer products. They're being entirely replaced by our smartphones, less clutter for both consumers and the environment. Studies suggest that CDs are here to stay, though. CD consumption isn’t far behind compared to on-demand streaming in the US: 33% to 40%.

Sony Discman
The Sony Diskman, the world’s first portable CD Player. 9
iPod
Store hundreds of songs in the palm of your hand on your smartphone. 10

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The Hottest Computer of the Decade

Original Macintosh 128K

The “hottest” computer of 1985 was undebatably the Macintosh 128K. This masterpiece was the first affordable computer to include a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and a mouse. This rodent-type interface was one of the keys to its success, replacing the traditional command-line interface.

Apple's announcement back in the day was nothing short of extraordinary: people got a first preview in the iconic Super Bowl commercial (which officially aired on TV only once). The Apple Computer was to become the juiciest choice for enthusiasts who wanted a taste of great price and great value.

Who knew that this company named after a fruit founded on April Fool’s Day back in 1976 would become the industry standard in computer technology one day?

Well, after the loud bang of the Apple Computer bursting into the market… maybe we did at DVTEST.

Macintosh 128KB 
The original Apple Computer, before the iconic Apple logo. 11
MacBook Pro
The latest MacBook Pro 35 years later: sleek and lightweight design. 12

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Modems with Breakneck Speed

Hayes Smartmodem 2400

Our kids might not know what going offline means these days, but remember the days when we weren’t sure what getting online even meant?

The Hayes Smartmodem took the market by storm at a pricey $549 (which was still quite a bit cheaper than traditional modems used to be) and required no acoustic couplers any more. Instead, they communicated with a PC using the RS-232 serial port, which was the industry standard at the time. As the use of phone lines was billed per minute in the 80s, this way we could easily get around skyrocketing phone charges while downloading emails and files at breakneck speeds.

Today in the US alone, you'd be in the rare 20% if you didn’t have such a gateway to the World Wide Web in your home, and some of us can surf at data rates up to 1.4 Gbps download and 131 Mbps upload. Which makes us think, did we gain in efficiency since the 80s?

Good thing we did at DVTEST.

SmartModem
Thanks to the Hayes Smartmodem 2400, we’ve saved some serious telco fees back in the 80s. 13
Netgear Modem
The king of smart modems, the Netgear Cable Modem CM600 more than satisfies your need for speed in 2020. 14

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The Latest Personal Computer

Commodore 128

So you thought the most popular computer ever sold had to do with a red fruit ending with ..pple? Well, you were wrong.

Released in 1985, the Commodore 128 was a real big hit. Often referred to as the last 8-bit computer released by CBM, this machine packed a whopping 80-column screen and a large disk drive, which were both considered essentials for business users at the time. It basically paved the way to the ever-popular C64, which mostly catered to gamers and private users.

The Commodore introduced the keyboard present on many IBM PCs, such as four arrow keys (the C64 only had down and right buttons).

Today’s real big hits in the computer world are actually getting real small: the Microsoft Surface Pro for example is now rivalling tablets with its completely detachable keyboard, which makes it a smart companion in your handbag.

Commodore
The Commodore 128, the last 8-bit computer released by CBM. 15
PC
The Windows Surface Pro has a detachable keyboard and can work practically like a tablet. 16

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The First Ever Commercial GPS Receiver

Texas Instruments TI 4100

Finding our place on Earth and direction in life has never been as easy before as it was in 1985.

The TI 4100 was the world’s first ever commercial GPS receiver. It was described as the ground-breaking "commercial positioning and navigation system that is rugged enough to withstand marine, land, and airborne geophysical exploration applications". It would accept the C/A and P signals over the two L1 and L2 frequencies from maximum four GPS satellites at once.

It also packed an extremely precise location accuracy at the time, about 16 feet (46 m). The device would position anything accurately within a 10th of a knot and time within nanoseconds.

Contrast it to today’s GPS-enabled smartphones which are typically accurate to within 16 ft (4.9 m) and you’ll remember what a powerful technology is sitting in your pocket.

GPS
Don’t let the weight stop you: the Texas Instruments TI 4100 setup. 17
GPS
Today’s GPS systems are 10 times more accurate. 18

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Smart(er) Watches

The Seiko Computer Watch

Youngsters today deem their smartwatch the most futuristic technology ever, but little do they know that wearable computers were already a thing in the 80s!

Seiko took Japanese precision to new heights when they released this watch which was practically a programmable calculator. However, when it was coupled with its docking station, it got a crazy boost to be turned into a miniature portable PC using its small thermal printer, keyboard, 4 KB of RAM, and a 26 KB ROM including Microsoft Basic programming software, a Japanese/English translator, and even games!

Who knows which device will come back as a big hit in the next decade or two!

At DVTEST, we’re always on the watch.

smartwatch
The Seiko Computer Watch and its docking station (never worn like this, of course). 19
Smartwatch technology
Find anything anywhere today with the Apple Watch. 20

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Nintendo's Most Popular Video Game Console

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Who could ever possibly forget the Family Computer that started it all?

Although it wasn’t Nintendo’s first model, the NES (being one of the best-selling video game consoles ever) went down in history as the ancestor of modern-day video game consoles.

Do you remember Jumpman? Even if you don’t, Mario will certainly ring a bell. Who wouldn’t have stayed up playing games like DuckHunt, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, or Punchout?!

It’s a little-known fact that according to the original design of the console, it would have come together with a keyboard and floppy disks, but CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi finally decided to incorporate a less expensive 8-bit machine. This allowed to run games off cartridges to gain momentum with non-techy types!

The world of wireless technology might have transformed the way we played in 1985 but it hasn’t changed a bit about our enthusiasm for Nintendo games!

NES
The Nintendo NES, a real classic. It sold more than 60 million copies over 10 years of production. 21
NES Classic Edition
The Nintendo NES Mini, a miniature replica of the NES, released in 2016. 22

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The Latest Automotive Technology of the 80s

Chevy Corvette

The Chevy Corvette C4 was released just in the right time to make it into our garage by 1985.

This front-engine rear-wheel drive sportscar was admittedly one of the sexiest cars you could possibly own. Its sleek exoskeleton designed for superior strength and endurance resembles to the latest Tesla almost 40 years later.

4 engines made their way under the hood of this masterpiece, which were all based on Chevrolet’s tried and true small-block V8 engine. Although this baby shared an older chassis and suspension design, the 1984 Corvette was the first true redesign of the Corvette since 1963. Naturally, this made us all flock to car dealerships back in the day.

The Chevy C4 was still a bit far from today’s dream – the connected car – as it would only house your radio and CD player as the highest level of tech on board. Contrast this with today’s vehicles boosting Internet connectivity enabled by WLAN to access and send data, update software and patches, communicate with other IoT devices, and provide wireless Internet access for passengers.

Chevrolet Corvette C4
The sexiest car to own in 1985: the Chevy C4 23
Automotive technology
Today's reality and STRIKETHROUGH back to the future 1985-style STRIKETHROUGH into the future 2020-style: the connected car 24

References

1. Spotern. “The Phone Motorola 8000X Dynatac, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Wall Street.” Spotern, Spotern, https://www.spotern.com/en/spot/movie/wall-street/75210/the-phone-motorola-8000x-dynatac-gordon-gekko-michael-douglas-in-wall-street.

13. Ellery, and Ellery. “Should You Toss out That Dial-up Modem?” A Wild Duck, 9 Aug. 2019, https://awildduck.com/?p=6145.

3. Imgur. “Nokia's First Hit: The Mobira Talkman.” Imgur, 3 Aug. 2019, https://imgur.com/gallery/8rlUakc.

15.the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. “1984 Corvette.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 11 June 2007, https://auto.howstuffworks.com/1984-corvette2.htm.

16. Blake, Alex. “The Fabled 16-Inch MacBook Pro Could Launch in October.” Digital Trends, Digital Trends, 23 July 2019, https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/new-apple-macbook-pro-coming-in-october-2019/.

5. “NES-Console-Set.” File:NES-Console-Set.jpg, Wikipedia, 2 Sept. 2010, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NES-Console-Set.jpg.

17. “Sony D50 Discman Controls.” Wikipedia Commons, Wikipedia, 24 Mar. 2016, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sony_D50_Discman_Controls.JPG.

7. “Before Smartwatches, There was the Seiko UC-2000 Wrist Computer, Here are 5 Cool Facts.” TechEBlog, 24 July 2015, https://www.techeblog.com/before-smartwatches-there-was-the-seiko-uc-2000-wrist-computer-here-are-5-cool-facts/

19. “Hitachi VT 33E Video Deck.” HiFi Engine, https://www.hifiengine.com/gallery/images/hitachi-vt-33e-video-deck.shtml.

22. Padhiyar, Jignesh, et al. “Best Apple Watch Calculator Apps of 2020: Get Your Maths Right Even on the Fly.” IGeeksBlog.com - All About IPhone, IPad, IOS and Apple Watch, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.igeeksblog.com/best-calculator-apps-for-apple-watch/.

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