20 gadgets that defined the decade

23rd Dec 2009 | 11:00

20 gadgets that defined the decade

How far our pocket contents have evolved over the last 10 years

20 best gadgets of the decade

What were you doing at the end of 1999? Paying for the internet by the minute on a PC as large and noisy as a cement factory, using a 14" screen that was as big as a bathtub?

Considering spending £625 on an imported region free DVD player? The world has changed beyond recognition.

Compare Nokia's monochrome 3310 from the year 2000 with an HTC Hero of today and you'd be forgiven for thinking 100 years have passed, and the designers have been employing alien technology NASA's Mars Rovers dug up and posted home.

We play video games by waving sticks now, take photographs with our telephones, buy laptop computers so cheap they're virtually disposable and, well, here's how else we've changed, courtesy of the 20 best gadgets that have defined the last decade.

1. BlackBerry Bold

Oh, you iPhone users look all cool with your "always on" web connections, but RIM's BlackBerry series has been giving power business users the chance to check their emails and synch their virtual lives between rounds in the pub for years.

The Bold is the pinnacle of the serious "email phone" and BlackBerry the company that first made us worry about network data speeds. If only BlackBerry had stuck cameras on the things sooner.

Blackberry bold

2. Samsung LN-R328W

It was 2005, give or take six months or so, when sales of HD TVs finally exploded. Samsung led the attack, aggressively undercutting the likes of Sony and Toshiba with its pointy-chinned LCD range, bringing HD to the masses.

Not that we had anything HD to watch on them - the main purpose of HD TVs back then was to free up a bit more lounge space by letting us chuck the old CRT over the neighbour's fence.

Samsung ln-r328w

3. 3G "dongles"

The last few years have seen the UK's 3G network finally find itself a sort of purpose, thanks to the networks getting in on the dongle scene. Freeing you to use your mobile connection to reload Twitter anywhere a mobile signal could be had, we, as a nation, could stop fretting so much about not being able to use our laptops at the airport.

3G dongle

4. MacBook Air

The razor-sharp metallic laptop was an undeniable design and manufacturing masterpiece, but, even for an Apple product, it was staggeringly over-priced and under-connected.

A few more USB sockets surely wouldn't have hurt Apple's bottom line, and, arriving at the same time the "netbook" scene kicked off, the Air made Apple look extravagant and slightly insane, like power-crazed Roman emperors. Bloody nice thing to have, though. So solid you could use it as a sledge out there.

MacBook air

5. Nokia 3310

The mobile phone that's still serving your mum and dad perfectly well to this day. Nokia's chunky portable wasn't pretty, but it could survive being flushed, dropped and used as a weapon in nightclubs, plus it came with Snake II.

It was also the multimedia powerhouse of the time, thanks to having custom ringtones. Mobile phones have come pretty far in ten years, haven't they?

Nokia 3310

6. Sky+

Video tapes? Recordable DVDs? When Sky+ arrived it revolutionised TV viewing and, more importantly, helped de-clutter the entertainment area of the modern living room.

It wasn't just the live-TV-pausing technology that was stunning, the Sky+ user interface was also slick and simple enough for us to talk granddad through recording Match of the Day over the phone.

Sky plus

7. Motorola RAZR V3

Chances are you know someone who used one of these, and chances are your main memory is of them bashing the thing trying to make it work or attempting to physically harm it because it crashed again. But the RAZR hooked people because of its credit card thickness and jazzy colours.

If the primary media story of the last decade has been our obsession with celebrity culture and style over substance, the RAZR mirrors it perfectly. It is the Chantelle Houghton of technology. Sorry, got a bit deep there.

Motorola razr v3

8. USB Flash drives

Ten years ago, how on earth would you have got an enormous 530MB PowerPoint file off your work computer to take home for the weekend? Burned a CD? Spent several hours FTP-ing the thing? Tried to wire your laptop into your work network?

Whatever option you went for, there was no way you were going home on time. The pocket USB drive is a modern godsend, day in, day out.

USB flash drive

9. 3rd Gen iPod

It's a deeply personal decision having to decide on your favourite iPod, akin to making a mother pick the child she likes best - but we shall plump for the third-gen redesign. It smoothed the edges, brightened the display and made the buttons and scroll wheel as responsive as a lubed nipple.

It also worked with PCs out of the box, which helped Apple convince people it had foreseen iPod's success and not just got very, very lucky indeed with its Mac music gadget.

3rd gen ipod

10. Humax Foxsat HDR

Free HD TV through the knackered old Sky dish that came with the flat? It doesn't seem possible, yet that is the dream you could carry out of Comet or Currys Digital this lunchtime for £240.

Not only does it decode free-to-air HD channels, it also manages the stunning feat of recording live TV and buffering it so you can pause Simon Cowell to pay the pizza delivery man.

The perfect device if you're one of those people who still rates telly as a more interesting thing to do than staring at the internet. And to think we started the decade lumbered with OnDigital.

Humax foxsat hdr

Nikon D70, Nintendo Wii, Nokia N95...

11. Nikon D70

Nikon's ground breaking and semi-affordable DSLR managed 6.1megapixels, which was a lot for 2004 - but it was its compact, logical design, lightning fast start-up and operation and superb picture quality that cemented the D70 as the SLR for both amateurs and professionals.

Mint models still sell for £200, as once a gadget gets this good there's not much point in buying anything else. Cameras reached their peak and it was downhill all the way during the second half of the decade, as the miserable, smudged output of the "cameraphone" somehow became an acceptable way of recording our precious memories.

Nikon d70

12. Solid-state hard drives

Quicker to boot, don't make as many funny and slightly worrying whirring or clicking noises, don't get as warm and make our cheap little netbooks perform as well as proper computers. We really ought to write all those clever South Korean engineers a thank you note for all they have given us this last decade.

Solid-state hard drive

13. Nintendo Wii

Is it a games machine? Is it a toy? Is it a physiotherapy device that ought to exist solely in the swimming pools of old people's homes? Bizarrely, Wii managed to be everything to everyone - even selling for a decent price when it launched.

Of course, it doesn't work as well as Ant & Dec make it look, but there is fun to be had - especially if you only play games twice a year at someone else's house.

Nintendo wii

14. Nokia N95

Nokia very, very nearly cracked the smartphone dream with the N95, which it marketed as a multimedia device rather than mere telephone. Features-wise the N95 was stunning - but ask its processor to actually boot up the GPS system and you faced a bit of a wait.

A little more internal "oomph" and the N95 could've taken the world hostage and demanded whatever it wanted.

Nokia n95

15. Xbox 360

Most notable for its interface and community features than games alone, Xbox 360 managed to oust Sony's PlayStation from the number one spot (with help from Nintendo) and seize the "hardcore" gaming territory.

The groundwork was done by the first Xbox, which Microsoft used to build its Live network - an incredibly well built and user-friendly online world that's an essential extra for all owners.

Xbox 360

16. Asus Eee PC 701

2007 was an astonishing year for computers. Instead of paying lots of money for a small computer, we suddenly had the option of paying very little money for a very little computer, thanks to Asus.

The "netbook" was born and browsing PC World on Saturday afternoon meant only spending £250 on a new laptop instead of £800. It was the decade things got better and cheaper. Lucky old us.

Asus eee pc 701

17. iPhone

Didn't just do one thing right, it did everything right. If Apple just made a great touchscreen, we'd have been impressed. If Apple had only invented a good portable internet machine, we'd have been impressed.

If it had just built a decent online gaming and music store, we'd have been dishing out the end-of-year accolades. But to do all of those things? Perfectly? In one device? First time? Unbelievable.


18. Nintendo DS

Changed the way games worked long before Wii came along. Featuring games about stroking dogs, blowing into the microphone and doing your maths homework, the DS was a machine like no other. Games released in 2006 still sit in the top 10 charts of today, as more people investigate gaming for the first time thanks to Nintendo's all-encompassing, welcoming style.

Nintendo ds

19. HTC Hero

Thanks, iPhone, thanks for doing all the groundwork. The slightly shabby T-Mobile G1 was an awkward false start for Google's Android OS, with its bulky frame, empty apps list and battery life barely long enough to get it through the boot process.

Then came the Hero. With a more polished Android and HTC's own gorgeous SENSE user interface over the top, we finally had a smartphone capable of standing up to iPhone and not embarrassing itself.

HTC hero

20. PlayStation 2

Launched in the year 2000, so ought to have been discontinued and relegated to museum shelves and lofts by now - yet PS2 continues. It lives.

The first few years of the 2000s saw the likes of Grand Theft Auto III, Gran Turismo 3, SSX Tricky and quality game after quality game flood the PS2 market, as owners, unaware of it at the time, lived through a Golden Age of home gaming.

Everything we play now is merely a clone of the magic PS2 ushered in. And we've nearly forgiven it for killing Dreamcast.

PlayStation 2


Liked this? Then check out 10 gadgets that changed everything

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