Remember when all the cool tech was lightning-fast and fit-in-your-pocket small? These days, our gadgets have become so impressive that the novelty of power and size has somehow lost its shine. Which is perhaps why the appeal of clunky, single-purpose retro gadgets is growing. So this month, forget quick and convenient, instead we’re looking at the large, awkward and slow — and in one case, not necessarily even assembled.

Pianocade chiptune synthesizer

If you grew up humming the theme to “Super Mario Bros.” then the Pianocade may be for you. Instead of a standard piano keyboard, the Pianocade chiptune synthesizer is controlled by a joystick, game buttons, and coin slots from the age of “Pac-Man.” And the Nintendo NES- and Game Boy-inspired sounds it produces (a 128-note range) are bound to be a hit with musicians wanting to add a little 8-bit magic to their compositions.

There is, however, more to the Pianocade than being an interesting retro instrument. The highly customizable nature of the device means that hardcore techies and hobbyists can alter the casing or buttons to their liking, and the sounds can also be reprogrammed. All software, firmware and hardware (which is actually made of standard arcade-game components) are open source and users are encouraged to create their own hacks. Pianocade comes with 5-pin MIDI ports and a USB MIDI, so it can be connected to your computer or DJ gear for experimental performances and recordings. Pre-orders can now be made at the Pianocade website (www.pianocade.com). They ship worldwide and you can choose from one-octave or two-octave versions for CA$250 (¥20,000) and CA$325(¥26,000) respectively, or buy the electronics only for CA$100 (¥8,000).

Tomy penlight for iPhone

Despite the bad press the iPhone 5 has been receiving lately, there’s some compensation for the horrible Apple Maps app and its other shortcomings in the infinite possibilities provided by such iPhone peripherals as the Yozora ni Oekaki (Night-sky Drawing) penlight by Takara Tomy. When paired with the free app, the pen lets you draw luminescent images within your photos similar to capturing light trails in long-exposure photography. The app takes a quick succession of images while you draw your image in the air with the penlight, which you can then place over a photo. You can also make stop-motion style videos within the app and share them all online via Facebook or Twitter. The Yozora ni Oekaki penlight is available from November and will retail for ¥2,400.

The Impossible Instant Lab

When Polaroid shut down production of their trademark instant film in 2008, it effectively left 300 million functioning Polaroid cameras utterly useless. Which is where the Impossible Project stepped in. Founded by 10 former Polaroid employees in Holland, the Impossible Project saved the last Polaroid instant-film factory from shutting down and set out to recreate the film from scratch. With that accomplished, they then began looking for ways to bring the iconic Polaroid look into the age of smartphone cameras, and so the idea for The Impossible Instant Lab was born.

By setting your smartphone into the cradle on top of the Lab, and using the Impossible app to expose an image onto instant film in the cartridge below, you can create instant photos just like back in Polaroid’s heyday — for you to watch develop right before your eyes.

While the Lab is still in development, it promises to be compatible with iPhones 4 and 5 and Android smartphones, and will work with instant film for Polaroid 600 and SX 70 camera models.

Money for the development of the Lab has been raised through the crowdfunding websites Kickstarter and Campfire (in Japan). Pre-orders on Kickstarter have just closed, but the campaign on the Japanese site (camp-fire.jp/projects/view/418) is still on until Oct.13, where those who pledge can receive a discount off the ¥25,000 price tag when The Impossible Instant Lab comes to market next year.

Impossible has also set up a Project Space in Tokyo (2F Oak Bld, 1-20-5 Aobadai, Meguro, Tokyo 1530042) as a place for people to keep the magic of Polaroid alive.

Jess Mantell conducts research on social media in urban spaces. Follow her tweets about design, technology, and urbanism @jessmantell

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