September 1, 2014

20 of the most head-scratching moments in the history of Android

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OK, first things first. You know we love just about every aspect of Android. Be it the ultra-cool hardware, or the ridiculously helpful software, or the simple fact that it is an open source platform.

Really, we could spend an entire post gushing over Android all the wonderful things it does, but that’s not why you’re here. You want to see what we deem to be “head-scratching” moments and why, right?

We’ve gone back over the last five years and looked at all the things that have helped to make Android what it is today. Some of what you’ll find are hardware designs such as specific phones or tablets. Others, are a little more broad in scope and encompass multiple products or features. Either way, we’re sure to miss one or two things.

Lists of this sort always seem to ruffle a few feathers, especially when it comes to things that make us scratch our heads. If you have something that you thing belongs on this list, please leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to check it out. Perhaps there’s enough out there to merit another post like this? Well, we certainly hope not!

Here they are, in no particular order:

20 of the most head-scratching moments in the history of Android

AT&T lockdown

Many of you may not know this, but AT&T previously did not allow its devices to install applications from outside of the Google Play Store. Known at the time as the Android Market, it was the only place deemed safe enough by AT&T’s standards. While this didn’t affect most average users, it angered many a fanboy and put the carrier on the low end of the totem pole for quite some time. Things did change, however, right around the time the Amazon Appstore application was introduced.

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Kyocera Echo

Not the only model listed here to feature a second screen, the Kyocera Echo was a major letdown when it was introduced. Leading up to the big reveal, we had no idea what sort of “magic” Kyocera was promising in their next product. The immediate consensus was that the split screen design with large gaps was bound to fail. Kyocera tried as hard they could to push the APIs and had hopes that developers would rally around the way the dual-screen worked. Alas, the phone never gained traction and Kyocera never returned to this form factor.

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Motorola loses their flipping mind

As the first Android phone on AT&T’s network, the Motorola Backflip was but one of a series of phones with “quirky” form factors. Many of the Motorola phones at the time offered entirely different designs and the first generation of Motoblur. The problem with the phones was that they looked cheap and geared toward a much younger demographic. When contrasted with other handset makers, the Backflip, Flipout, and Flipside were never taken seriously.

Too much emphasis on hardware

The first few generations of Android devices seemed to have one thing in common: they were more powerful than the iPhone at the time. The problem was, however, that most of the chatter and emphasis on these devices was spent plugging the hardware. Apple was busy telling people what they could do with their iPhone, but Android companies were touting the specs. Why is this so bad? Most people don’t understand the difference between a giga-this or a mega-that. Average folks just want to buy “the phone that does such and such from TV.” Don’t get us wrong, this worked wonders for the Droid line and the subsequent Nexus releases.  Today, however, phone Android announcements largely, and wisely, center around experience.

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HTC Status

Really, a Facebook phone? What’s so special about the HTC Status experience? Oh, you can easily share your thoughts, pictures, and other details on the social network with the press of a button. It’s just too bad that Android has made it incredibly easy to share all this stuff to Facebook and every other social network since day one. Toss in a terrible form factor and tiny chiclet keyboard and you’ve got a doomed device.

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Garminfone

Garmin’s foray into the Android space was a $200 experience that was GPS first and phone second. Sadly, the price and two-year commitment scared off nearly everyone. It didn’t help that the experience looked so much like a GPS device. The other drawback? Android had started baking in turn-by-turn navigation into the platform starting with the 2.0 release. Who wanted to pay for all of this when Google was giving it away for free? You know the answer.

HTC’s less than Sensational 2011

Even HTC will tell you that they tried to do too much in 2011. The entire year riddled with devices that ran the gamut of low-end to high, making for a confusing customer experience. The most notorious offender in the “what’s the difference, again?” club was the Sensation. There were no less than four models (Sensation, Sensation 4G, Sensation XE, Sensation XL) to contend with in 2011 and it was not always easy to tell them apart. To be fair, these were spread across different markets. With that said, those who followed Android news somewhat closely at the time could be forgiven if they got mixed up.

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HTC Beats us over the head

Staying with HTC for a moment, it was the integration of Beats Audio that helped to differentiate between the various Sensation models.  What’s so bad about a better audio experience, you ask? Nothing really, we just don’t want to pay a premium price for your better phone only to take the  Beats by Dr. Dre in-ear headphones. Though the practice of bundling headphones didn’t last long, it was ding against the HTC brand.

Motorola Droid Bionic false start

Nearly a full year would pass from the time Motorola would first introduce the Droid Bionic until it actually arrived on the market. Sure, it went through a number of changes over the course of the year, however there was no way it would stand up to the hype. Factor in Verizon’s decision to drop the Galaxy Nexus, HTC Rezound, HTC Rhyme, and a handful of others in rapid-fire succession, the Bionic was quickly overlooked.

Tablets with contracts

Who in the world wants to buy an Android tablet with a two-year service agreement? Nobody. This was one of the biggest problem facing hardware makers in the early days of Android tablets. The problem was compounded in the first generations as there was no Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich optimization. Clunky experiences, high prices, and long term commitment proved to be a perfect storm for these early doomed tablets. Things would get better over time as carriers move to no-contract and shared data options.

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Samsung Continuum

Like the Kyocera Echo, Samsung tried to tell us that a second display would make for a good Android experience. Called the “ticker” it was a simple row of text and links that pulled from news sources, messages,  and social networks. The form factor would not subsequently return and developers never got a chance to write cool or compelling apps or features.

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Dell’s entire Android portfolio

While we cannot fault Dell for trying to climb aboard the Android train, we can fault them for never getting things right. The Streak, Streak 7, Aero, and Venue were all overpriced missteps that mostly forced users to go with AT&T for service. Sadly, Dell would not be around to join the onslaught of 5-inch phone experiences as it killed of Android endeavors. Whispers suggest Dell may be readying somewhat of a return to Android with the Ophelia stick.

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Samsung Behold II

One of Samsung early Android devices, the Behold II was an exercise in UI gone wrong. The gimmick 3D cube interface was awkward to use and did not allow users to customize the apps. The TouchWiz software design felt overly intrusive and was one of reasons fanboys came to loathe anything but stock Android. Priced too high and paired with T-Mobile, we were glad to see this one die.

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3D

Try as they might, some hardware makers refuse(d) to give up on 3D for smartphones and tablets. Carriers would tell us that it would be these handsets that drive adoption of 3D TVs but we knew better. Whether tied to the display or camera on Android phones, 3D was a fad we hope to see never return. Chief offenders include HTC EVO 3D, LG Optimus 3D, and LG G-Slate.

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LG Optimus Vu

You know what doesn’t feel comfortable in your hand? A 5-inch display with a 4:3 aspect ratio, that’s what. Arriving as LG’s take on the Galaxy Note experience, the large and awkward device  (AKA Verizon Intuition) looked like a book and had no sexiness in the design. Sure, it was supposed to feel more natural to those who like to read, but people use their phones for photos, games, and social networking. LG, for whatever reasons,  would opt for the same form factor for the successor.

Unconventional naming conventions

There’s a few things worse in the Android space than having to break down the difference between different, albeit similarly-named devices. Call it the Droid effect, it has often been difficult in getting the average person to understand what sets one apart from another. On the other side of the coin, it is equally maddening when a company releases the same device across multiple carriers but with varying names. Remember the Samsung Galaxy S? No you don’t. You might, however, recall the Captivate, Vibrant, Fascinate, and Epic 4G – all the same generation.

HTC Rhyme

HTC Rhyme

Hey, here’s an idea! Let’s create a smartphone experience that is centered around the female demographic. We’ll make it really obvious too… we’ll make it purple and have it include a “charm” that plugs in and dangles out of your purse so you know when you’re getting a call. For good measure, we’ll make it underpowered as compared to other devices on the market and charge females for the bundled accessories instead.

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Motorola Devour

Motorola would follow the release of the Droid with another sliding QWERTY experience for Verizon that ultimately died a quick death. Powered by Android 1.6 when the Droid ran Android 2.0, the Devour felt like a prototype device.  It also didn’t help that it featured the Motoblur experience that dumbed it down to a younger demographic. Strangely, every other Motorola release at Verizon since has carried a Droid prefix. Three years removed, the only memory we have of this phone is the commercial that featured Megan Fox in the bathtub.

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Sony Xperia X10 mini (pro)

Neither this nor its keyboard-toting brethren, the Xperia X10 mini pro would find a home in the United States, though that’s not why we’ve listed this model here.  It doesn’t matter what version of Android you are using, a 2.5-inch (320×240 pixel) display ruins the experience. These two models ran outdated versions of Android and never got with the times.  Sony’s custom touches, which meant well, did not work well on the pint-size screens

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Bloatware

Not so much of a particular moment in Android, this is the one thing we’ve been hating on since the early days. Look, we get that carriers want to load some branded apps and services to create a particular experience. You’re not wrong for that. You are wrong, however, for not giving users an easy way to uninstall the apps, widgets, and features. Along those lines, few things frustrate the average user more than being given apps like Blockbuster or Netflix with unlimited capabilities and then pairing them with limited data plans.

 What did we miss?

Is there something that has bothered you about Android that did not make the list? Let’s hear about it in the comments! Further, we’d love to hear which of these affected you personally.