11 Nostalgic Gadgets You Can Get Cheap on eBay

11 Nostalgic Gadgets You Can Get Cheap on eBay

You can still be the friend who gifts neat gadgets and tech even if you're on a tight budget.

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With cash flowing in mostly one direction (straight out of your pocket), the holidays can be a tough time to stay on a strict budget. But with a little help, and some perfect timing, you can still gift friends and family some elaborate gadgets and technology with cutting-edge functionality—just not for this decade.

Thrift stores are mostly just shelves and shelves of VCRs, but eBay is a goldmine of extinct and unwanted technology people are trying to get rid of (and make a buck or two in the process). It might not be as exciting as tearing off gift wrap to find a new iPhone, but who could possibly be disappointed with an electronic antique under the tree or beside the menorah?

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AT&T 1740 Digital Answering Machine System

AT&T 1740 Digital Answering Machine System

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Screenshot: eBay

There was once a time when people not only had to carry on conversations by talking into a telephone, but liked doing it, and wanted to know when one of these phone call opportunities was missed. The solution was an answering machine, a physical box that sat in your home and answered calls when no one was home. Instead of carrying on a conversation, it gave callers a brief window to plead their case for reciprocated communications. The technology has been replaced several times over at this point, but for $14, if you know someone who still uses a landline (parents come to mind), this very well may be a welcomed gift.

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Merlin the Electronic Wizard Handheld Game

Merlin the Electronic Wizard Handheld Game

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Screenshot: eBay

If you thought revisiting the 30-year-old Game Boy was a struggle for the eyes, handheld gaming in the early ‘80s was even worse. Merlin the Electronic Wizard looked like an old school telephone, but in lieu of a keypad was a screen (probably an over-generous description) with just 11 glowing LEDs. Games were limited to such classics as Tic-Tac-Toe and Blackjack, with some basic music sequencing thrown in for good measure. Even if you manage to score one for just $10, your giftee will still be incredibly disappointed at what Merlin can’t do—which is nearly everything.

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Casio SF-5790SY 256KB Business Organizer

Casio SF-5790SY 256KB Business Organizer

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Screenshot: eBay

Got someone on your Christmas list pining for a new laptop that’s well out of your budget? Even the thinnest, lightest laptop computers available now are nowhere near as portable as one of Casio’s classic personal organizers. The SF-5790SY even features a clamshell design that opens just like a laptop does, with a whopping 256KB of memory (or 0.000000256TB in today’s terms) for storing phone numbers, calendar appointments, birthdays, and even a shopping list. Email? Social media? Your giftee will thank you profusely for this distraction-free productivity device, which is a steal at just $25.

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Iomega 100MB Zip Drive

Iomega 100MB Zip Drive

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Screenshot: eBay

There was a time when cheap external storage capped out at 1.4MB, and we would all juggle stacks of floppies until the Zip drive came along. Iomega’s innovative external storage solution is the perfect gift for modern day digital hoarders, but not just because each disk can hold 100MB of data. Thanks to the company cheaping out on components, there’s also the very good chance all the precious data you copy to a Zip disk will be permanently wiped out the next time you try to reload it. No one tell this person such innovative functionality could easily fetch, $3, maybe even $4, not just a buck.

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Casio LCD Pocket Color Television

Casio LCD Pocket Color Television

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Screenshot: eBay

YouTube and streaming services allow even the most basic smartphone to access decades of TV content at any time, but why not let someone else decide what you’re going to watch? That was the beauty of broadcast TV, which made us all schedule our lives around programming schedules, but that was made much easier with a TV in your pocket. This beauty from Casio sports a 2.2-inch full color LCD screen, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed when they unwrap this $8 investment—until they turn it on and discover that all the analog broadcast signals it relies on are gone.

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Sharp VL-L280U VHS Camcorder

Sharp VL-L280U VHS Camcorder

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Screenshot: eBay

Find a parent who had kids in the ‘80s and they’re bound to still have a callus on their shoulder from hoisting the camcorders available at the time. What made some of these beasts seem like technological miracles was that they recorded right to the same VHS cassettes that worked in VCRs. Sure, any smartphone would trounce these classic camcorders when it comes to the quality of video they capture, but trying to keep your iPhone steady through an entire piano recital is next to impossible. If there’s a parent on your list, they just might appreciate being able to rest one of these on a shoulder while capturing their 6-year-old struggling through Beethoven.

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Kodak Disc 4100 Camera

Kodak Disc 4100 Camera

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Screenshot: eBay

Of the many, many reasons digital cameras laid waste to film photography was the simple fact that loading 35mm film into a camera wasn’t always easy. Kodak’s solution was to stick some much smaller frames of film onto a disc format that was easy for even kids to load, and it all but eliminated the risk of accidental exposures. Disc film was also considerably more expensive than a roll of 35mm film, which Kodak presumably loved, but consumers were less enthused about. For $20 these cameras are an interesting time capsule from the last few decades of film photography, which you’ll definitely want to point out when someone unwraps this on Christmas morning and their face starts to sour.

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Casio CMD-40 TV Remote Control Calculator Watch

Casio CMD-40 TV Remote Control Calculator Watch

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Screenshot: eBay

Before genuinely smart watches became a thing, digital wearable makers like Timex and Casio worked effortlessly to cram as much functionality into their timepieces as possible. Some features were more practical than others, but the Casio CMD-40 does something even the Apple Watch can’t—control an old-school TV. We’re not talking a streaming box or a video playing on a tablet, but a giant honkin’ CRT heavy enough to crush a Buick. So if you’ve got a family member begging for a smartwatch this holiday, it’s hard to think of a smarter investment than this $29 wearable that ensures you’ll never have to get up to change the channel or adjust the volume when watching TV in your parents’ basement.

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Motorola Pager (with Belt Clip!)

Motorola Pager (with Belt Clip!)

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Screenshot: eBay

Decades ago there was no anxiety about a mountain of unread text messages on a smartphone. Before even cellphones were a common and affordable option, the only way to really reach someone while they were away from a landline was a pager: a device that did nothing but beep and vibrate when someone wanted to talk to you. Most were so basic you had no idea why someone was reaching out, which made it all the easier to completely ignore them. That’s all but impossible on a smartphone unless it’s turned off, so for $20 this is basically gifting someone peace of mind. Also, who’s going to turn down a gift that can be clipped to a belt? Only monsters, that’s who.

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Ohio Art Etch a Sketch

Ohio Art Etch a Sketch

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Screenshot: eBay

The Etch A Sketch is more than 60 years old and remains popular with kids, but back in 1985 the often frustrating toy got an extreme digital makeover that improved the original in every way possible. An 60 x 40-pixel LCD screen made drawing with two spinning knobs much easier and more precise, and erasing your artistic creations didn’t require a vigorous workout, because the Etch A Sketch Animator replaced shaking with simple button presses. As the name implies, the device also allowed 12 frame animations to be created and played back in endless loops. For $20 you just might inspire a young kid to become a world-famous animator one day.

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Texas Instruments Handheld Spell Checker

Texas Instruments Handheld Spell Checker

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Screenshot: eBay

You have to really go out of your way to misspell a word when nearly every device with a keyboard can not only spot and fix spelling mistakes but also suggest improvements to your grammar. That wasn’t always the case, and in the late ‘80s spelling mistakes were only thwarted with either a graduate degree in English or a handheld device that looked like a calculator with letters. This marvel from Texas Instruments did its best to suggest the correct way to spell a word based on the text you entered, but users had to figure out which suggestion was the correct spelling all on their own. For $15 it’s the grammar equivalent of teaching someone to fish instead of just giving them a fish.

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