Fifteen years ago, we all lived in a world of Ceefax, Pokemon and latin pop. Then, in April 1999, Stuff magazine was born and our lives changed forever. Here, Stuff’s writers take a trip down memory lane via our favourite 15 gadgets from the magazine’s pages. And we’re starting with a PDA. Yes, really.
1999: Palm V
Toby Shapshak (Stuff South Africa since 2007):
The V forever changed the way I work and enjoy media. I loved it in a way I do not love my iPhone, even though Apple’s “smartphone” (which, back then, meant a clever house brick) is the logical conclusion of everything my beloved Palm was. The V was the Tesla of consumer tech and laid the groundwork for where smartphones would eventually go. I read books on it long before I owned a Kindle, and bashed out notes on Palm’s nifty folding keyboard a decade before the iPad arrived.
Its appearance in the first issue of Stuff was pretty fitting seeing as both celebrate the same things: simple design and objects that are blessed with grin-inducing usability. A certain cult aura doesn’t hurt either. Yep, in every sense, the lowly Palm paved the way.
2000: Creative DAP Jukebox
Clare Newsome (Stuff 1999-2000):
Yeah, it sounds ridiculous now, but in 2000, something with the looks and battery life of a chunky portable CD player changed the way we listened to music. Apple’s iPod was still more than a year away when the DAP (Digital Audio Player) delivered a 21st-century alternative to carrying around a bag of cassettes and batteries.
It overcame the limitations of early MP3 players, which had to be fed pricey memory cards holding only an hour of music. Crucially, it also had a line-out: plugged into powered speakers, it offered an instant music system, as those working near Stuff soon learnt. We trashed two while testing (apparently hard drives hate being dropped) but we were soon crafting obscure “queues” built from MP3s ripped at the daringly high bitrate of 128kbps.
2001: Apple iPod
Rob Waugh (Stuff 1999-2002):
As tempting as it is to use 20/20 hindsight, not everyone at Stuff was bowled over by the first iPod. Some of my colleagues practically fell to their knees in awe, while our news story acknowledged its “typically beautiful design”. But anything would have beaten the Creative DAP Jukebox on looks, and the iPod’s 5GB storage was only a quarter that of its rival.
I actually stuck with Sony’s superb line of CD Walkmans for a while because the sound was so much better than 128kbps MP3s. But, eventually, higher-capacity, PC-friendly iPods won me over. And HMV, which once blocked sales of any artist releasing albums on MP3 before they hit the shops, crumbled into an irrelevant pile of dust. A big moment, then, but the iPod was a slow-burner rather than the explosion you might expect.
2002: Archos Jukebox Multimedia
Fraser Macdonald (Stuff since 2001):
Of the many hours I’ve spent tinkering with tech, the most soul-destroying were those I spent trying to be a video-on-the-go pioneer.
Determined to be ahead of the curve, and with a mission to permanently retire my VCR, I resolved to digitise my VHS collection and keep them on this video jukebox. This involved connecting said VCR to a Windows laptop, via a Plextor ConvertX video-capture USB thingy and the usual “driver not found” nonsense. Then capturing the VHS footage in real-time, then figuring out how to convert the video to the MP4 codec that the Archos supported. Entire days would disappear, and still it wouldn’t work. And then one day it did – and a 45-minute skate film played back on its 1.5in screen. Joy! I immediately threw the VHS tape in the bin. And then my VCR. I was never doing any transcoding again.
2004: Motorola RAZR V3
Michael Brook (Stuff 2003-2006):
After the V70’s circular screen, I didn’t think there was much Motorola could do to surprise me. But the two-screened RAZR V3 managed it. It was a work of mobile art, staggeringly slim and perfectly pocketable. Like the original StarTAC and the “wings” phone before it, the V3 was one of the most enduring handsets of its time.
In that hinterland between the creation of the mobile travesty that was WAP and the arrival of the iPhone, the V3 was at once infinitely desirable and horrifically flawed. For every gasp it earned by dint of its breathtaking beauty, it provoked just as many groans due to its terrible interface – you’d soon be pining for your Nokia or Sony Ericsson. But that didn’t stop it selling by the bucketload, making iPod levels of Stuff appearances and being hailed as the future of mobiles. Did we mention it had two screens?