5 Retro Pastimes Tech Can Revive

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Remember flipping through photo albums? Or family game night? How about making mix tapes? The march of progress is great and all, but sometimes the digital age can feel so fast-paced and dizzying that it makes you yearn for the past. Instead of just reminiscing, you can actually use tech to rekindle old-school joys technology presumably killed off. Here are five things you can do to bring those awesome pastimes into the present.

Photo Album Fun

As a kid--and even as a young adult--I loved rummaging through my family's trunk of photo albums. Whether it was embarrassing class pictures from freshman year (yes, I had a mini mullet once) or taking a trip back in time to see my parents dress up like Darth Vader and Princess Leia for Halloween, there's something more emotional about photo albums compared to your typical iPhone Camera Roll. Today, most of our pictures just evaporate to the cloud or get posted to Facebook, but there's no narrative feel.

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If you own an iPhone or Android device, try downloading the Flayvr app, which automatically groups your pictures and videos into slick-looking collages based on where and when photos were taken. You can customize the albums and then share them with friends and family via Email, Google , Twitter, Facebook or SMS.

Samsung Galaxy S4 owners should try the pre-loaded Story Album app, which creates virtual flip-books from your pics, complete with captions. You can then order printed photo albums directly through the app. Those who prefer a physical album can also try Shutterfly (starting from $12.99) and Snapfish (from $11.99). 

More: 25 Best iPhone 5 Apps

Mix Tapes

When I was young, I constantly recorded my favorite songs from the radio to cassettes (like EMF’s “Unbelievable.” No, really.) It was kind of like a game trying to time the beginnings and ends of tracks just right without hitting that dreaded commercial. A mixmaster I was not, but I enjoyed grouping songs together for things like driving or working out. Once CDs came along and then MP3s, I pretty much nixed that hobby. But there are easy and fun ways to create mixes in the digital age.

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Do yourself a favor and sign up for Spotify. It’s a cinch to create playlists for all sorts of occasions or people and then share them. Putting together a mix for an 80s fan? Try the Search Generators feature, which lets you enter special terms right in the Spotify search bar. So, for instance, you would type "year 1980-1989" to check out the most popular tracks from the decade of decadence. And here’s something else you could never do before: Spotify lets you create Collaborative Playlists, which friends can subscribe to as well as edit. 

More: 12 Best Music Apps

Family Game Night

One of my favorite things I get to do with my kids is play games like Othello or UNO or Candy Land. But between my daughter's Kindle Fire, my son's Nintendo DS, my wife's Chromebook and my iPad mini, sometimes it can feel like we're all buried in our own screens. As it turns out, tech can actually help bring the family together.

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Lenovo deserves a lot of credit for the innovation inside the IdeaCentre Horizon 27. This table PC includes a huge touchscreen and its own battery, allowing you to place it right in the middle of the living room. The Horizon comes multiple fun accessories, including a pair of eDice and a Striker for playing games like Monopoly and AirHockey. We also love how you can pull up family photos and music with a tap of Lenovo's slick Aura interface.

Don't have $1,699 to spend on a new PC? Try Twister for the Xbox Kinect ($49.99) or other diversions like the Zapped editions of Monopoly and The Game of Life that interact with the iPad ($24.99 to $29.99).

More: Top 12 Android Games


I don't know about you, but I loved seeing postcards on the fridge growing up from friends and relatives on vacation (especially Disney World). Today, most people just post a photo to Facebook that's Liked a few times and then easily forgotten. Plus, it's not personal. Enter easy-to-use Postcard apps.

Get it Back:

Download an app like Postagram, which lets you send picture postcards for just 99 cents each or $1.99 for addresses in other countries. Your friend will receive a thick, glossy postcard within 2 to 5 business days personalized with a 140-character message. And, yes, you can select a photo from Facebook or your phone's gallery.

Also try Postcards on the Run, which will help you find postal addresses, let you draw your signature with your finger and include a map on your postcard (using your GPS location.) This app will even let you add a Scratch'n Smell scent to your card. Just be prepared to pay more per postcard: $2.49 for U.S. addresses and $2.89 for elsewhere. 

More: Smartphone Camera Shootout 2013

The Drive-in

When I was a kid, I had a chance to see everything from Grease to Lethal Weapon at the drive-in. Don't know what that is? It was an outdoor movie theater where you got to enjoy the latest blockbusters from the comfort of your vehicle. My siblings and I loved hanging out in the back of our station wagon, all decked out in our pajamas. Alas, high-tech megaplexes crushed this American institution faster than you can say 3D. 

Get it Back:

Why not turn your backyard or driveway into a mini drive-in? All you need is a big screen and a projector—and probably a long power cord. For instance, you can pick up the EliteScreens YardMaster Portable Outdoor Floor Set with folding frame for a fairly reasonable $208. You'll get 120 inches of big-screen goodness that's easy to set up and break down. Too small for you? Walmart sells a 12-foot inflatable screen for $189.

You’ll also want a bright projector with a long enough throw distance to reach the screen. A good option is Epson’s Home Cinema 750HD ($649), which offers full HD resolution in 2D and 720p resolution in 3D. Last but not least, get yourself some outdoor weather-resistant speakers, such as JBL’s N24AWII ($199 per pair). Or just splurge for a kit that includes everything like the Sliverscreen 16-Foot Outdoor Movie System ($3,199 on Amazon). 

More: 10 Best TV Apps

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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