10 Gadgets & Toys That Defined The 90s

Nostalgia grabs in the media tend to follow a progressively linear track, and, with shows like King of the Hill coming back and movies such as Hocus Pocus getting sequels, there’s no denying that the 90s are back. The decade was a transition period that saw home technology start to morph from the clunky experiments of the 80s to the slightly sleeker, more user-friendly products of the 2000s tech boom, and some undeniably iconic gadgets came out for kids and adults alike.

While some technological experiments are better left in the annals of history, others stand out as undeniably iconic staples of their time. From video games to cell phones to (sometimes terrifying) toys, this exclusive club of timeless gadgets is unlikely to ever truly die.

Home Alone Popularized The Talkboy

Home Alone 2 Kevin Makes Hotel Reservation with Talkboy

There’s no doubt that many movies exist simply to sell toys, but the Talkboy recorder is much more organically ingrained into the Home Alone franchise than many other future hit toys. Kevin, both while stuck at home and in New York City, utilized the recorder to clever effect, most notably to mislead the Wet Bandits into thinking there’s an adult with a gun in the house.

While the Talkboy looks like a generic, chunky voice recorder, it became a popular gift for children that wanted to emulate Kevin McCallister. The audio quality was poor, and the speaker was quite faint, but none of that really mattered to 90s kids.

The Nintendo Game Boy Popularized Gaming On The Go

Wario and Kirby surround a Game Boy on a header for its best-looking games.

The Game Boy actually released in the last year of the 80s, but its influence was still going strong well through the 90s. There were other mobile video games available as early as the 1970s, but mobile gaming truly took off with Nintendo’s handheld console. While it ate through batteries with fervor and sported an unimpressive screen by modern standards, several Game Boy games still hold up today.

The system was later joined by the also memorable (but ultimately less successful) SEGA Game Gear in 1990 and Nintendo’s follow-up system, the Game Boy Color, in late 1998. The only way to be cooler as a kid in the 90s than having a Game Boy was to have a screen magnifier or light.

Furby Both Delighted And Terrified

With computer technology physically shrinking and growing in accessibility, many children of the 90s found themselves with electronic toys that could do things that were previously not possible. These creatures feigned a sort of artificial intelligence through the use of infrared communication, microphones, and speakers, and the result was equally impressive and unintentionally terrifying.

There were several factors that turned Furbies into something out of a horror movie for many children (and parents). For one, they could store small amount of electricity, which let them keep talking after their batteries were removed. They also had a penchant for shouting in the middle of the night, and their voices turned surprisingly spooky if they were ignored.

The Nokia 5110 Was Indestructible

A Nokia 5110 ad featuring Snake

Modern tech enthusiasts are excited about the iPhone 14s new, exciting features, but the 90s were a time in which it was the simple things that elevated a phone to fame. The Nokia 5110 wasn’t the first cell phone (or even the best Nokia phone), but there’s no doubt that it was absolutely built like a brick.

Not having a touchscreen or other large panels of glass clearly made older phones more durable than modern ones, but the rugged build of the 5110 continues to live on as a gold standard. Furthermore, the phone (among others of the era) could play Snake, which was a huge moment in the history of mobile gaming. It also featured customizable, colored faceplates and an impressive 11-day (standby) battery life, all of which were pretty great.

Tamagotchis Taught Kids Responsibility

Four Tamagotchis being held in someones hands

There is a bevy of modern video games about dogs, cats, farming, business management, and other topics that teach kids responsibility, but that wasn’t always the case. While they’re quite simplistic in retrospect, Tamagotchis were an amazing way for kids to either prove that they could handle some responsibility or learn that there are consequences for not having any.

The virtual pets started as eggs and grew depending on how well they were taken care of, and kids had to monitor three main meters – hunger, training, and happiness – to keep things going well. Failing to take care of these characters could result in them getting sick or, if subjected to extreme negligence, even death.

iMac G3’s Looked Straight Out Of The Future

A Teal iMac g3

Apple has always been defined by paying more attention to aesthetics than most other brands, and, even if it looks clunky now, the G3 was a landmark in the history of home computer design. The G3 eschewed the rectangular, blocky shape of its competitors, and traded in off-beige for a myriad of eye-catching colors.

There were also several other user-friendly features like a handle built right into the device that made transporting the admittedly-heavy device a bit easier. Seeing one of these at a school library or friend’s house was a big deal for any kid in the 90s, and it was definitely something to show off for adults that could afford one.

HitClips Skipped To The Good Parts Of Music

A product image of Hit Clips

From hip hop to boy bands, music in the 90s had an inarguably distinct sound that still triggers nostalgic memories for many. While the transition from cassette tapes to CDs dominates most discussions of physical music media, HitClips were, for a short while in 1999 and into the 2000s, extremely popular with kids.

It may seem bizarre now, but HitClips players, which were either a small speaker or a single headphone, played only 60 seconds of various popular songs. While strange and clunky by today’s standards, it was a fun way for kids to travel with music in a less-bulky way than a CD player and binder of discs.

The Sony Discman Continued The Walkman Legacy

A Closeup of a Sony Discman.

The Sony Walkman was an iconic piece of portable music hardware, but, as cassettes gave way in popularity to CDs, gadgets had to evolve. Enter the Sony Discman. While the first versions launched all the way back in the mid-80s, the 90s saw the device become a pop-culture staple.

The brand was seen as higher-end than much of the competition for boasting catchy features like bass posting and anti-skip protection (the latter of which was famously unreliable).

Palm Pilots Paved The Way For Smart Phones

Cell Phones in the 1990s were notoriously basic (though impressive for their time), but the Palm Pilot gave users a peak into what was coming years later with smart phones. The screen was basic, but it was interactive and used a stylus, which were both pretty big deals.

The device came in two lines, the PalmPilot Personal and PalmPilot Professional, which were largely separated by internal power (and, fittingly, price). There was no name more synonymous with the PDA market than Palm, and, while the brand wouldn’t ultimately be able to adapt with the market in the late 2000s and 2010s, it will forever be an iconic 90s and early 2000s gadget.

The Sony PlayStation Redefined Gaming

PlayStation Consoles Ranked PS1

The modern video game console market is dominated by the “big three” of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, and one of those, Sony, got its start in the 90s. Nintendo and Sega were in the midst of a classic rivalry, but the original Sony PlayStation entered the market with a bang and changed the industry forever.

The system launched in North America in 1995, and it was immediately well-received for getting the most out of its hardware and boasting a much deeper library of games than most expected from a brand-new console brand.

Next: 10 Funniest Movies Of The ’90s, According to Ranker


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