Jon Bentley on the 20 greatest gadgets ever

11 Oct 2016



The Gadget Show

It was more difficult than I expected agreeing on a top 20 gadgets with my fellow presenters for this week’s show. More of it involved lying down in a darkened room and having a serious think than you might expect.


An early conundrum was whether we should rate whole categories of gadgets or individual models. Should it be microwave ovens in general or the particular brand and model that started it all or revolutionised the market? In the end we went with individual models, though this wasn't without its difficulties. Flat screen TVs from various manufacturers all appeared on the market at around the same time, for example, and it was hard to single out one particular iconic model.


Concentrating on distinct models did help with another difficult problem, though; deciding how far back to go. Looking in general it would be easy to see important but relatively old technologies like radio making an appearance in the top 20. But who’d remember any of the models from the pioneering days, or even early DAB sets? One radio, the Ogle-designed Bush TR82, an early transistor set and probably the world’s most iconic and replicated one, made the shortlist but didn't survive the final vote.


It was slightly harder with cameras. Kodak’s Box Brownie might have been one of the most revolutionary ever, selling millions and bringing photography to the masses, but in the end we settled on the digital photo enthusiasts’ equivalent, the Canon EOS 300D. It was included because it made high quality digital photography affordable for the first time and encouraged keen photographers to make the switch from their film SLRs.


The selection process also meant leaving your own personal gadget buying decisions behind. I fully endorsed the iPhone’s second place, for example, though I’ve never actually owned one. While I appreciated its revolutionary design from the start, in the early days I stuck with Nokias for their better cameras, and in recent years I’ve favoured Android for its greater flexibility.


In fact I could easily create an alternative top 20 comprising just my own personal favourites. This would include rather eccentric choices like the 1967 HMV Colourmaster 2700, the world's first all-transistor colour TV and, in my view, an under-celebrated British invention. My personal camera choice might be my own first digital SLR, the Nikon D3, which was the first digital camera I felt was as responsive as the best film ones.


There's one thing I have no doubt about, though. We definitely chose the correct gadget for the top slot. The Motorola Dynatac 8000 we all agreed on changed everyone's lives forever. I can remember what life was like before mobile phones this really was the biggest gadget revolution of them all.