Retro Tech: Gadget Gifts Go Back to the Future

VTech Cordless Answering System LS6195

VTech Cordless Answering System LS6195

Back when all phones were wired and controlled by the old AT&T, the standing joke was that you could get a phone in any color you wanted
—as long as you chose black.

Today the seemingly clunky handsets attached to those old phones have made a comeback as colorful cell phone accessories and other retro-looking gadgets are making significant inroads onto holiday gift-shopping lists.

Native Union Pop Phone wired handset.

Native Union Pop Phone wired handset.

For example, Native Union’s Pop Phone handsets resemble the ones that graced grandpa’s rotary-dial phone but Pop Phones come in an assortment of colors—including black. The $30 wired handsets plug into any cell phone or tablet with a standard 3.5mm headset/microphone jack.

Unlike today’s skinny cell phones, the Pop Phone handsets fit comfortably between the chin and shoulder. A single button picks up and drops cell phone calls or pauses and plays music on MP3 players. The Pop Phone is also available in special editions and wireless versions.

Everything ION Tourmaline Infused Silicone Retro Bluetooth Handset

Everything ION Tourmaline Infused Silicone Retro Bluetooth Handset

The Everything ION Tourmaline Infused Silicone Retro Bluetooth Handset ditches the wire, but easily links with most Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and tablets. In addition to a call pickup/end button, the $50 handset has a volume control rocker button and an LED to confirm the Bluetooth connection. According to the company, the use of a wireless handset keeps potentially harmful radiation away from your head and the tourmaline-infused silicone can “stimulate the healthy flow of vital energy throughout your body.”

The VTech Cordless Answering System LS6195 (pictured at top, starts at $60) is a modern landline phone with a distinctively retro feature: The keypad is arranged in a circle like an old-style rotary dial. The slim cordless handset, which uses DECT 6.0 digital wireless technology, has its own display and backlit keypad and can be used as a speakerphone.

The base, which can also be used a speakerphone, has a small display inside the circular keypad. The unit’s digital answering system can save up to 14 minutes of voice mail and the Caller ID memory can store up to 50 numbers.

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Tivoli Audio PAL BT Bluetooth portable radio

Tivoli Audio, best known for its venerable Model One table radio with its huge analog tuning wheel, now offers the $300 PAL BT, an innocent-looking, digital-display-free portable AM/FM radio with a modern feature: Bluetooth connectivity. The PAL BT can wirelessly stream music from the many cell phones and other mobile devices compatible with the Bluetooth 2.1+EDR standard.

The Tivoli Audio PAL BT has a single 2.5-inch speaker, three analog knobs, including the trademark large analog tuning wheel, a preinstalled rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery pack, a headphone jack and an audio-in jack for wired devices. Pairing the unit with a mobile device is no different that pairing a Bluetooth headset with a cell phone—it only has to be done once. A $260 Bluetooth version of the Model One (pictured below) is also available.

Tivoli Audio Model One Bluetooth Table Radio

Tivoli Audio Model One Bluetooth Table Radio

Radio Silenz cherry

Tivoli Audio Radio Silenz noise-cancelling headphones

Tivoli Audio also offers the $160 Radio Silenz noise-canceling headset, which exudes a retro look through its liberal use of wood. The 2.6-ounce headset uses two 40mm drivers with housings made of solid wood in walnut, cherry or black ash finishes.

According to Tivoli Audio, the unit’s noise-cancelling technology reduces extraneous noise by up to 85 per cent. A “defeat” button turns off the noise cancellation and reduces the volume so users can have conversations without taking the headset off.

So what will tomorrow’s hot gadgets look like? Look around your home and get a preview.

Text  Copyright 2012
Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

A Night at the Museum: Timeless Cool Tech at MoMA

Never underestimate the geek value of a night at the museum, specifically New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

On a recent Friday afternoon (admission is free 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays) I found myself on the third floor where MoMA houses a surprisingly eclectic and entertaining collection of old and new technology in its Architecture and Design areas.

While the Bell-47D1 helicopter in the lobby and the collection of vintage vacuum tubes were expected, the displays also include products you may have used or may be in your home right now.

The FPR2 Human Powered Radio and Freeplay Human Powered Torch from Freeplay Energy Ltd. would have come in handy during any of New York’s three major blackouts. Both units can be charged with elbow grease or via built-in solar panels. The London-based company still makes hand-crank-powered devices but they’re smaller and sleeker than these translucent 1998-vintage consumer products.

The IBM ThinkPad 701 notebook, which debuted in 1995, is a classic example of cool technology which went white hot and ice cold almost overnight. How do you fit a full-size keyboard into a compact laptop? Create a split keyboard which expands when you open the unit’s lid and collapses when you close it.

The butterfly keyboard, officially called the TrackWrite, allowed the unit’s 9.7-inch-wide case to accommodate a keyboard that could fold out to 11.5 inches wide. As laptops grew larger and more affordable, the need for such keyboard magic disappeared and the ThinkPad 701 ended up as the only ThinkPad made with the nifty folding keyboard.

Long before frills such as wireless mice, studio-quality audio or (gasp!) electronic displays came to personal computing, Olivetti’s Logos 80 Programmable Calculator provided a reasonable calculating option for those graduating from slide rules or four-function pocket calculators.

It’s not surprising when art makes its way from a museum for temporary display in the New York’s subway system, but it’s rare when things go the other way. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the folks who run New York’s subways, is experimenting with the Help Point Intercom, a highly visible customer assistance and emergency communicator.

Many stations have customer communication boxes, but they’re yellow and much smaller and sometimes hard to find. The Help Points are much larger, always illuminated and are uniquely coded so subway personnel can tell which unit was used to call in an emergency and where to send assistance.

In a pilot program, some units have been installed at the 23rd St. and Brooklyn Bridge stations on the Lexington Ave. line. Apparently the sleek, but functional design earned the Help Point a spot in MoMA even before it merited widespread adoption in the subway system.

The moral of this story: Cool design is timeless. Only time will tell if the electric toothbrush you used this morning will make it to MoMA’s third floor next year.

Text and video Copyright 2012 Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features