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The biggest smartphone fails of 2021

This year saw some epic triumphs in the world of smartphones, but there were also some disastrous smartphone fails in 2021.
By
December 21, 2021
OnePlus 9 Pro vs OnePlus 9 low angle camera modules
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

I’m pretty sure 2021 didn’t turn out quite how some envisioned it might. We entered the year with plenty of hope, that’s for sure. Practically anything at all should have been better than 2020, right? Unfortunately, 2021 failed to live up to its potential. Covid continues to plague the globe despite the arrival of vaccines in late 2020. Moreover, a handful of companies in the tech industry managed to lose their way with hardware, software, and other aspects of their businesses.

In this article, we explore the myriad ways technology firms screwed the pooch over the last 12 months. Here are the biggest smartphone fails of 2021.

Life’s no longer good for LG’s mobile biz

LG Wing screens standing up open
David Imel / Android Authority

Here at Android Authority we like competition. The more companies making and selling smartphones, the better. That means we hate to see any firm pack it up and call it quits, but that’s exactly what LG — a longtime stalwart of the industry — did.

More reading: The best LG phones you can buy

Citing years of financial losses for the mobile unit ($4.5 billion!), LG announced on April 5, 2021, that it would exit the smartphone business for good by July 31. The writing had been on the wall for some time — it simply took LG a long time to read it. The company explained that it would instead focus on its remaining business units, including white goods, televisions, smart home gear, and other verticals.

LG’s mobile ambitions reach well back into the 1990s. It launched into the public mind with popular feature phones such as the ENv and Chocolate and later entered the smartphone space with notable devices including the G series and Nexus 4.

LG was always intent on forging its own path.

If there’s one thing for which the company should be remembered, it is taking chances. LG was always intent on forging its own path, despite fierce competition from in-country rival Samsung. We need only look at the modular LG G5, the dual-screened V20, or the swivel-mounted display of the LG Wing for evidence of its ambition.

Despite its best efforts, we sadly bid adieu to LG this year, making it one of the top smartphone fails of 2021.

Microsoft Duo take two

Microsoft Surface Duo general UI 1
David Imel / Android Authority

It takes something special to land on Android Authority’s list of smartphone fails two years in a row, and yet Microsoft managed to do just that.

The original Microsoft Duo, a dual-screened folding phone, was a disaster from front to back. The hardware was missing major features and the software was even worse. In fact, the phone still hadn’t received Android 11 by December 2021, despite the availability of the phone and the software in the market for more than a year!

More reading: Microsoft Duo review

The company looked to rectify its wrongs with the Microsoft Duo 2 but still managed to fall really short. Microsoft did update the hardware in just the right ways with notable improvements across the board. No real complaints there. What’s supposed to make the device unique, though, is the dual-screen arrangement. Two 5.3-inch panels combine to make a larger 8.3-inch screen for an expanded workspace. The issue is that the large gap between the two halves of the phone interrupts this workspace. Few apps have been updated with true support for the larger display footprint. Moreover, relying on the individual screens for anything leaves you feeling cramped due to their smaller footprints. In other words, there’s still no compelling use case for the Duo 2.

Rounding out the cons are the hefty $1,499 price tag and the extra $129 you have to spend to score the compatible stylus from Microsoft. The Duo 2, despite its improvements, is simply no Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 competitor.

Samsung’s move to fold the Note

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra with S Pen

The Samsung Galaxy Note series is one of the Korean firm’s most popular each year. Hordes of stylus-crazed mobile device owners look forward to updating their monstrous slates with every iteration. It was not to be in 2021.

See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review

To be fair, Samsung sort of prepared us. The company hinted for nearly a year that it might have moved past the Galaxy Note. The phone, typically announced in August or September, failed to materialize this year and we know exactly why: Samsung is wholly invested in its line of foldables instead.

Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 with lots of fanfare this past summer. Now on their third-generation hardware, the Fold and Flip have matured quite a bit. What’s more important than the updated specs and performance of the 2021 models, however, is the Z Fold 3’s new support for the S Pen and Samsung’s standard spate of Note-specific features. For example, Samsung ported over the Note’s Air Command, note-taking templates, and doodling tools. These make the Z Fold 3, with its large internal screen, a natural replacement for the Note — despite its lack of space to house the S Pen.

Check out: Best S Pen apps for Android

What remains to be seen is where Samsung takes the Fold and the Note in the future. Will the Note reappear? Or is it well and truly dead in favor of the Fold? Either way, with no Note 21 in 2021, it’s one of our biggest smartphone fails of the year.

Nokia’s big renege

Nokia 9 PureView in hand, showing the rear of the phone

HMD Global, maker of Nokia-branded phones, did its fans dirty with some bad news just recently, landing it a place on our list of smartphone fails. The company said it cannot update its early 2019 flagship, the 9 PureView, to Android 11 as it promised it would. This leaves the device stuck on Android 10 and, more critically, leaves the buying public’s trust in HMD Global broken, scarred, and in ashes.

Related: Nokia 9 PureView review

What happened here? HMD Global has, since 2016, mostly fostered goodwill with fans of the Nokia brand. It offered a range of affordable, mid-range, and high-end Android phones that appealed to a wide variety of consumers around the globe. Further, HMD Global managed to execute on things such as timely software updates. That all seems to have changed, however, and not for the better.

Android 11 appears to have thrown HMD Global for a loop. The company was slow to deliver the update to its Nokia 8.3 5G flagship and has been even slower to seed the software to its more affordable handsets, leaving it at the bottom of the trust rankings.

Of the Nokia 9 PureView specifically, HMD Global said that “incompatibilities between the camera and the software would have led to a compromised experience that does not meet our high standards.” The company threw a bone at its 9 PureView owners, saying they could get 50% off the newer XR20 if they wished. The XR20 is a fine rugged phone, but it’s not in the same league of premium hardware as the 9 PureView.

More reading: HMD Global’s handling of Nokia is a tale of squandered potential

Bottom line, HMD Global has stumbled, and stumbled badly. It sorely needs to right the ship heading into 2022.

Google leading the charge

Google 30W USB C Power Charger resting on Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

I’m not going to lie: It stinks that Google made our smartphone fails of 2021 list, but it did. What led the almighty search giant astray? Of all things, charging speeds for its Pixel 6 flagship phones. Here’s the current situation.

Tested: Pixel 6 charges slower than Google implied

When Google announced the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 6, it was keen to mention its adoption of the USB Power Delivery PPS charging protocol. Moreover, it recommended that consumers use its latest 30W USB-C adapter (sold separately, of course) to obtain peak charging speeds. Based on the language Google used, it was logical to assume the Pixel 6 family charged at the 30W rate. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Our testing showed the phones topped out at just 22W, with the average rate coming in at just 13W.

Google didn’t lie, technically, because it never actually said the phones would charge at 30W, though it did strongly imply the faster speeds were supported. The company later confirmed our findings and admitted that, no, the Pixel 6 series does not charge at 30W, even when using the 30W charger.

Lie or no lie, the whole thing just felt icky, which makes it one of our smartphone fails of 2021.

OnePlus’ lost OPPOrtunity

OnePlus 9 Pro right rear profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

OnePlus is a brand in flux. Like a caterpillar, it is going through changes thanks to its DNA. The end result, which is almost here, won’t be a beautiful butterfly, however. Instead, the company will more likely emerge a moth. That’s not to say moths are bad, but OnePlus had the potential to be something wonderful, and it looks as though it will settle for simply being average.

Related: Everything you need to know about OnePlus

OnePlus started life aiming to be an enthusiast brand. It had a clever marketing department and relied upon its savvy each time it released a new phone. The result was a company that built a solid fan base and stood apart from its owner, Oppo, under the larger BBK umbrella. By the end of 2021, however, it has become clear that OnePlus’ time as a stand-out is coming to a close.

In July, for example, the company announced that OnePlus and Oppo would merge their hardware research teams. The end result will be OnePlus and Oppo phones that are more like one another. Further, the company blended its software development operations. While OnePlus’ beloved Oxygen OS will continue to appear on OnePlus phones sold outside of China, OnePlus phones sold inside China will run Oppo’s Color OS instead. The code base will be shared between the two platforms, leaving less room for OnePlus’ software to stand out.

If that weren’t enough, OnePlus’ hardware strategy has taken a turn. The company used to debut one flagship-class device each year. In 2020 and 2021, however, it diluted its brand with more affordable, re-badged BBK hardware. This further eroded OnePlus’ standing with its long-time fans.

More reading: The end of Oxygen OS and the start of ‘OnePlus 2.0’

OnePlus has inferred that its 2022 flagship smartphone will arrive relatively soon. When it does, we’ll know just how moth-like the company has become.

Which was the biggest smartphone fail of 2021?

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