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The coolest gadgets and toys of the Reagan Era

Plenty of advances arrived in the '80s, but 1987 in particular was an amazing year for technology. Here are our favorite and best-remembered gadgets and toys from that banner year.

To start, there's no way we can talk about '80s tech without paying homage to the ultimate urban status symbol of the age, the boombox. The trendiest versions were rectangular and enormous, allowing for heavier bass.

Photo by: Visions of America/UIG/Getty Images

Here's what Bill Gates was up to in 1987

Released on December 9, 1987, the Microsoft Windows 2.0 operating system introduced a number of popular computing concepts: It was the first version of Windows to allow for overlapping application windows, desktop icons and VGA (16 color) graphics.

Apple unsuccessfully sued Microsoft over the operating system, saying it was too similar to that of the Macintosh.

Photo by: Robert Burroughs/Liason/composite by Fox Van Allen

Apple IIGS

Though technically released in late 1986, there's no denying that Apple's hottest personal computer of 1987 was the 16-bit Apple IIGS. It was Apple's first computer with a color graphical user interface and a wavetable synthesis chip for sound.

The computer was introduced at $999, as compared to the Apple Macintosh's $2,495 price tag a few years prior.

Photo by: TechRepublic

What a laptop computer looked like in 1987

PC fans, meanwhile, drooled over IBM's first laptop, the IBM PC Convertible (model 5140). The 13-pound model featured an Intel 8088 CPU (4.77 MHz), 256KB of RAM, dual 3.5-inch floppy-drive storage, a 2,400mAh NiCd battery, a detachable, 640 x 200 monochrome screen and... no hard drive.

It was a poor seller, due in part to its $2,000 price tag.

Photo by: Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images

Lazer Tag

First appearing on store shelves in 1986, World of Wonder's Lazer Tag game turned pursuit and combat into a kids' game using infrared guns and body-mounted sensors.

The game was popular through April 1987, when a 19-year-old player was shot to death by a sheriff's deputy who mistook the toy for a real gun. Negative publicity hurt sales, and World of Wonder went out of business the following year.

Photo by: World of Wonder

Storytelling Alf

Storytelling Alf, an animatronic version of the popular TV alien, was one of the hottest gifts of the 1987 holiday season. It was a Teddy Ruxpin clone: Alf's ears and mouth would move when you inserted a cassette tape into his back and pressed the play button.

Photo by: Alien Productions

Tyco's Turbo Hopper

Radio-controlled cars were also wildly popular holiday gifts in 1987. The Tyco Turbo Hopper, seen here, was one of the best and most popular of the bunch. It boasted a twin joy stick, a telescoping antenna and -- most importantly to '80s kids -- a turbo power band that offered a quick burst of speed.

Photo by: Tyco

Zelda II: The top video game of 1987

The best-selling video game of 1987 was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Though the sequel was popular at the time, Zelda II is now considered one of the worst Zelda games ever made.

Photo by: Nintendo

The age of the home robot

Far from the famed R2-D2 and Johnny Five, most home robots of the 1980s were little more than programmable toys. The cassette-tape-powered Tomy Omnibot 2000 here lacked AI, but it did have a remote control, alarm clock, music playback and motorized arms that could carry a tray of drinks.

Photo by: Manchester Daily Express/SSPL/Getty Images

General Motors' first solar-powered car

The year 1987 marked the debut of the World Solar Challenge, the first solar-powered car race. The winner, General Motors' Sunraycer, used a total of 8,800 solar cells to generate a maximum of 1,500 watts, giving the vehicle a top speed of 68 miles per hour.

Now considered the grandfather of modern electric cars, the Sunraycer cost more than $2 million (in 1987 dollars) to build.

Photo by: Simon Bruty/Getty Images

As heard on 'Flight of the Conchords'...

Everything went digital in the 1980s, even guitars. The Casio DG20 Digital Guitar, seen here, doubled as a MIDI controller, offering 20 preset sounds, adjustable tempos and a built-in speaker. Hear it here, as featured in an episode of "Flight of the Conchords."

Photo by: Nigel Osbourne

The first alphanumeric pager

Though pagers had been around since 1949, the tech made a big leap forward in 1987 with the introduction of the Motorola PMR 2000. The "Personal Message Receiver" was capable of transmitting alphanumeric messages via the SkyTel service of up to 1,950 characters, with 32 characters appearing on the screen at once.

Previously, high-end pagers were only able to display call-back numbers.

Photo by: Michael Schwartz for The New York Post/Getty Images

This is a $3,750 cellphone

The groundbreaking M2 Pocket Phone by Excell Communications was a much more expensive option to stay in touch on the go. But the first cellphone small enough to fit in a pocket didn't come cheap: It launched in Britain with a price tag of £2,500, or about $3,750.

An ownership stake in Excell Communications was sold to Nokia in 1991.

Photo by: Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images

A Reagan-era digital camera

In 1987, USA Today became the first US newspaper to publish a digital photograph on its front page. Though that photo came from an older, RC-701 model, most of the paper's photojournalists that year were armed with this, the 600,000-pixel Canon RC-760. With it, photos taken on the West Coast could be transmitted to the East Coast in just minutes.

The camera retailed for $5,500, pricing it well out of hobbyists' hands.

Photo by: Universal History Archive, UIG/Getty Images

How to turn your toddler into Spielberg, 1987-style

The Fisher-Price PXL-2000 camcorder was one of the coolest toys of 1987. The device recorded short, grainy, black-and-white videos onto standard 90-minute audio cassette tapes.

Photo by: Science & Society Picture Library, SSPL/Getty Images

Adobe Illustrator 1.0

The year 1987 was huge for Adobe: It's when the software company released version 1.0 of Adobe Illustrator for the Apple Macintosh.

Adobe Photoshop, meanwhile, wouldn't come along until February 1990.

Photo by: Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Airbus A320: The first digital airplane

The year 1987 saw a major innovation in the airline industry: digital controls. Shown here during a February 22, 1987 test flight, this Airbus A320 airliner was the first to fly using computer-driven, fly-by-wire controls.

The new digital control system offered huge safety benefits, preventing pilots from making maneuvers that would harm the plane's structural integrity.

Photo by: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty Images

The VCR age

Video rental stores drove huge industry growth in the latter half of the 1980s. According to the World Almanac, only 14 percent of TV households owned VCRs in 1985. By the end of the decade, that number had jumped to 66 percent.

Much of the market would eventually be captured by Blockbuster Video, founded in late 1985.

Photo by: Lyn Alweis/Denver Post/Getty Images

'A kind of Star Wars-type panic'

On October 19, 1987, a bad day at the New York Stock Exchange turned into one of the worst crashes in market history when Wall Street's new computerized trading algorithms blindly and aggressively accelerated selling in the face of an already sharp decline. With computers in control, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped 508.32 points in a single day, a whopping loss of 22.6 percent.

Regulators responded to the crash by creating stock market "circuit breakers" that temporarily stop all trading when the DJIA suffers a similarly large drop over a short time period.

Photo by: Maria Bastone/AFP/Getty Images

Erasable-recordable laser video discs

Pioneer had big hopes for its erasable-recordable laser video disc, seen here, which claimed to offer the digital quality of compact discs with the ability to record and erase. Though rewritable CDs and DVDs would take off a decade later, Pioneer's laser video disc tech was too expensive (and likely too large) to gain favor with consumers.

Photo by: John Mahler/Toronto Star/Getty Images

The hottest weight-loss tech of 1987?

The 1980s featured some very odd innovations in weight loss. This pink Vibrosaun machine claimed it could help users lose weight through the combination of dry sauna heat and full-body vibrations.

Photo by: Barbara Alper/Getty Images


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