Gadget Throwbacks

For this year's GASP!, our tech/games guy is going back to the future

This year featured a presidential challenger portrayed as an animatronic Ward Cleaver with robber-baron tendencies—an anachronism offering outdated ideas.

You may have disagreed with or even ignored this narrative, one of many during the campaign, but I noticed it so much that it got me thinking about throwbacks more generally. And suddenly, like the Star of Bethlehem, a theme for the Tucson Weekly's 2012 GASP! last-minute gift guide lit up my mind: All the games and gizmos listed here have at least one throwback quality, a little something that makes them seem as if they came from another time.

Let me start by saying that wood is so old timey; ancient things are made of it. A keyboard, meanwhile, is an umbilical cord connecting you to the Information Age. Making a keyboard out of wood seems like a rather unusual pairing, doesn't it? Fortunately, the Orée Board wireless wooden keyboard, available in maple and cherry, manages to meld the two with aplomb. Handcrafted in France and going for about $161, people say it's luxurious for typing. And it's bound to make an industrious individual an object of attention at the coffee shop, because it's a keyboard made out of wood.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2K Games/Firaxis Games, Rated: M) was designed by the able developers of the Civilization series, and is a reimagining of the beloved 1994 video game UFO: Enemy Unknown, the first in a chain of tactical, turn-based role-playing games. Like its forebears, this title features customizable anti-alien strike squads, which makes it especially poignant when an extraterrestrial disembowels an agent named and modeled after your significant other. You also can't go wrong with its addictive, back-to-roots game play. Available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC; $59.99.

You could just use the presets on a camera app or even import your smartphone's images to Photoshop so you can spiff them up with various filters, but you wouldn't find suggestions to do that here, duh. Do you remember a time when you had to snap a filter onto your camera lens to achieve certain effects? I do, and I also remember putting something called "film" into said cameras. They were strange days that can be re-experienced by slipping the Holga iPhone Lens Filter, with its rotary-phone-style array of lenses, over your precious smartphone just like a case; $24.99.

Marketed as "pajamas for your ears," SleepPhones made this list because they harken back to a time when headbands were all the rage. Essentially, they're tiny speakers fitted into the aforementioned headband so you can block out noise and sleep comfortably without cramming uncomfortable buds into your delicate ears. The headband itself is super-soft and available in lavender, black and gray; $39.95.

The original Star Trek premiered more than 46 years ago. Instill someone's baby with the knowledge that this beloved TV series had a lengthy and fascinating life, often overlooked these days, before J.J. Abrams and company made the franchise solely about explosions and sexy young people frenching on transporter pads. The Star Trek Enterprise Light-Up Feeding System features the period-specific NCC-1701 attached to a spoon, and comes bundled with a light-up bib displaying a D7 battle cruiser and the K-7 space station; $19.99.

There used to be a time when butterfly knives were the province of street thugs looking to cut a bitch, but then the design was apparently appropriated by street nerds. Now, when you're confronted by something resembling a butterfly knife, perhaps during a mugging, you might have to ask yourself whether the person wielding it is gonna stick you, or transfer some PDFs using one of these handy Bali-USB Drives, a 2 gigabyte flash drive that "swings, flips" and intimidates little brothers the world over; $30.

Transform that boring, futuristic iPad, iPhone or Android device into an exciting retro mobile gaming platform with the iCADE 8-Bitty. For $24.99, you get a wireless controller with the classic layout—no analog joysticks or trigger buttons—found on 8-bit gaming systems of the '80s and '90s. But wait, there's more! The 8-Bitty runs iCADE's burgeoning assortment of old-school game apps, including Pac-Man, Super Mega Worm and the Atari Classics collection. Who needs photorealistic graphics when you could spend your free time eating white dots?

Phones didn't used to follow you everywhere, or scream for attention whenever your college roommate posted a photo of food he was eating to Facebook (the frequency of which might help explain why he has put on so much weight). They patiently waited for you to engage them. If you know someone who's in the market for a demure telephone that knows its place, then the Crosley Vintage 1950s Pay Phone, available in an assortment of colors, might appeal. It even has a functional coin slot, so you can start charging for service; $66 to $90.

The Berlin Boombox brings the iconic '80s electronic device into the 21st century. Essentially a do-it-yourself kit that, when finished, would look right at home on the shoulder of any punk, this modern iteration features a headphone jack that connects it to an iPhone, an Android phone, an iPod or other standard MP3 device. After assembly, all it needs is three double-A batteries, and you'll be all ready to impose your music on everyone in the neighborhood. This boombox ships from Germany for approximately $84 at current exchange rates.

Know someone who can't get enough Rush Limbaugh or NPR—and who listens intently even during fundraising drives? Maybe a designer radio set would be a good choice this holiday season. The Spirit of St. Louis Wooden Alarm Clock/CD/Radio, with its meters and knobs and brushed-chrome finish, looks like something straight out of the personal collection of a 1960s ham-radio enthusiast. But it also has the ability to play CDs, which is sort of a current technology, or you could even throw caution to the wind and hook up an MP3 player using the headphone jack; $150 through Amazon.

Finally, the Universal Gadget Wrist Charger kind of looks like one of those watch things people used to wear before cell phones started telling time. But instead, it's a charger that will prolong the battery life of portable gaming systems, cell phones, MP3 players or other devices with a mini-USB connection. It's great for long periods of travel and not at all conspicuous as an electronic device, if such things concern you; $44.99.

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