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Who wants stuffing? The best and worst smartphone gimmicks this year

For this Friday Debate we discuss what we feel are the worst gimmicks to make their way into phones this year, as well as some that we actually appreciate.

Published onNovember 28, 2014

samsung galaxy note edge review aa (23 of 26)
The Note Edge wasn't mainstream either.. but it had implications on the future.

There have been a number of excellent new Android-powered handsets introduced in 2014, but at the same time we’ve also seen quite a few gimmicks as well. Last week we focused on the best smartphone and tablet of the year, but for this Friday Debate we discuss what we consider the best and worst smartphone gimmicks of the year. This not only includes gimmicky sensors and hardware, but also gimmicky software, gimmicky designs and just about anything that you feel screams “gimmick”.

First, we’ll hear from our community. While there are a few more responses to be found on the forums, two posts in particular stood out above the rest, and so we showcase them below:


Worst gimmicks this year? Heart rate sensor? Maybe. Slightly curved display? Perhaps. A phone that has eyes and different personalities? That’s definitely horrible, but it still doesn’t take place #1 in my book. No, there must be something else, something that absolutely nobody liked…The infamous Fire phone with the oh so amazing 3D thingy!

With over 3,000 reviews in Amazon’s store, this thing was certainly loved. Or not, as the average of the ratings is 2.4 out of 5 stars. The 32GB model was $649 and the 64GB one was, in a good old Apple style, $100 more expensive. That price for a phone that’s worse than its competition in every possible way, for the unique feature called 3D that nobody has been interested in since 2011? Sounds magnificent!

It’s really no wonder that 4 months after its launch it dropped to $199 unlocked and you can get it for $0 on contract. But let’s focus on the gimmick: “Dynamic perspective sensor system”.

Four infrared cameras so that at least 2 can always be focused on your face? That doesn’t sound creepy at all. But it’s not the creepiness that makes it horrible. The 3D it tries to trick your brain into seeing doesn’t look as good as 3D done with “real” 3D technology, and it only works on a handful of apps. They did release the SDK for app developers, but for some “mysterious” reason, there was no interest. But wait, there’s more! The cameras can also make your head work as some kind of a remote (they should have looked at Samsung’s attempts and realized that that doesn’t sell phones). Yet again, no developers, nobody cares.

The phone also had a button on its side that basically was there so you would buy more stuff from Amazon, but let’s not go there.

What they should have done, in my opinion, is scrap the idea the first time some genius came up with it and focused on what they do best: cheap stuff. If your whole phone is basically based on a gimmick, it just isn’t going to sell (not for that price at least). Well at least you don’t have to wear glasses!

As for the ‘best’ gimmick? No hate on this one please, but reachability in iPhone 6 Plus. Could definitely come handy with the big, round and slippery Nexus 6.

Tl;dr: The whole Amazon Fire phone is a huge overpriced gimmick and Apple actually does something good.


Haha, you know, whenever I hear the word “Gimmick”, Samsung comes to mind. There has been quite a number of gimmicky smartphones this year, Samsung Flagships in particular. But I wanted to praise a few gimmicky features from this year in no particular order.

Best 3

KnockOn Password(G3):

I must say, even as a Samsung fan, I really wanted this feature on my Note. Not only is it original, but LG have taken a good idea introduced on the G2, and enhanced it on the G3. I would have friends saying ” Wow, can I see your G3 for a second” just to play with the lock screen.

Snap Note (Note 4):

This feature makes annotating a photo,yesterday’s news. There comes a point in life when note taking just gets tiring and you want to take your lecturer’s perfect notes, but you realise that nobody is perfect and you find several mistakes on the board. Snap Note solves this problem, of editing notes, especially when annotating notes can be a bit messy.

Note Edge Curved Display:

Last year, when Sammy introduced the Youm protocol thing, i found the curved side curve display an interesting innovative idea. Fast forward a year, and it is now a limited edition Note 4 that allows you to preview notifications without lifting the cover or looking above the phone. Especially when you just wake up I’m the morning and your bed is level with the table that your phone is on, now we don’t have to lift our heads uncomfortably or use a lot of strength to pick the phone.

Worst gimmicks:

Note Edge Curved Display:

There was this phrase, “You have to agree, to disagree.” I’m not sure if I’m using the term correctly, but although the curved edge is a good idea, it’s also a bad idea. The reason being is that any person texting will eventually accidentally tap an action on the edge of the screen, not only that, but the idea of extending the screen means that the device is more fragile than a piece of china. Additionally, this phone is expensive!

Duo 4Ultrapixel Camera (HTC One m8):

I’m not entirely sure why HTCtried to reinvent the Desire Evo 3D, at least this device doesn’t have a self proclaimed 3D screen. Nonetheless, I really see no need for a duo camera. It’s a stupid idea if you think of it, especially since it was designed to support one function, and even I could get those similar effects of Lens blur with the Google camera. No HTC, No!

Honestly, I have no third worst gimmick unless you count the iPhone 6 plus’ failed bendable display, smart phones have really uped their game this year and i feel like there are a lot more positives like Smart Notice, panorama selfie, Pen Selection etc. than negative in my opinion.

What Team AA has to say

Now that you’ve had a look at what some of our community members think, it’s time for Team AA to weigh in:

Eric McBride

I’m going to make this short and sweet on the best gimmick of this year. People may call me a Sammy fanboy, considering last Friday debate I called the Note 4 the device of the year, but I think when you see what I feel the worst gimmick of this year is, you may think otherwise.

Best gimmick of the year for me is a simple little feature on the Note 4 that’s oh so useful: Smart Select.

Using the Spen to highlight multiple text, photos, files, you name it is not only cool, but oh so useful, and a feature that should have been there a long time ago.

Now on to the worst gimmick.

Without a doubt, my EASY choice for worst gimmick of the year is the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge as a whole. What in the name of peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers was Samsung thinking on this one…

Allow me to quote the 25th letter of the alphabet: “Y?” Because “why?” is exactly what I think everytime I see the Edge. In an effort to try to be seen as the company always innovating, Samsung has actually went so far as to make a phone that you can’t even hold like a phone anymore. “Hey guys..let’s make a display that kinda runs alongside another display. That’ll get em”. That was the idea? People may say they are just testing the waters, but is that honestly the best they had?

So the side display is supposed to help you look at things when the phone is at its side….Ah yes, for all those people too busy to turn there phone 45 degrees in any other direction. Got it. And have you seen the notifications UI when you use the side display? They appear as a horizontal and vertical mess in the way they are displayed, which means you basically have to stand up and turn your head while shifting your body when trying to read them to the point where you look like someone trying to guard Steph Curry when looking at it from the side.

Samsung should just stop with the nonsense. I simply refuse to accept that this was the best idea they had to stay relevant.

Robert Triggs

There have certainly been a few weird and wonderful additions to smartphones this year, but most of them have probably been for the worse. I can’t say that I’m a fan of jamming heart-rate monitors or fitness tracking of any kind in my smartphone, and even fingerprint scanners are a bit pointless in my book.

I was very tempted to call out OnePlus’ invite system as the worst gimmick, as I don’t see any benefit compared with just taking pre-orders. However, the Meizu MX4 Pro’s “Retina Sound” feature has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen this year. I’m struggling to understand why anyone would choose such a name. Even if it’s to latch onto Apple’s marketing term, it only serves to lower the bar further and prevent proper discussion or comparison against the competition.

If being anatomically nonsensical wasn’t bad enough, statistics like 120dB common mode rejection ratio at 80 kHz are almost equally dubious when you consider that you’re not talking about audible content at that frequency. The focus on raw numbers without context is pointless at best and misleading at its worst. That being said, I welcome better smartphone audio components, but using dodgy marketing terms and throwing questionable numbers at consumers is not putting your product in the best light.

As for gimmicks I like, the OPPO N1 and N3’s swivelling cameras are rather useful, as are front-facing speakers. However, my favourite this year is probably the arrival of QHD displays. As someone who reads a lot on their LG G3, the little extra smoothness of text is a luxury that I can’t now do without. Viewing back pictures with that little extra detail is also a nice bonus when you have a larger display to make use of.

Bogdan Petrovan

Let’s see, when I think gimmicks, one thing that comes to mind immediately is the trend of adding selective focus to camera apps, or in the case of the HTCOne (M8) a physical secondary camera just for the purpose. A bunch of OEMs succumbed to (peer?) pressure and added some form of the feature to their products. But it was HTCthat took the cake with their Duo Camera – they added a complex and potentially expensive feature to their device just to give marketing something to talk about, which is the definition of gimmicky in my opinion.

Speaking of cameras, all the beautification modes that Asian manufactures in particular add to their camera apps are ridiculous. Amazon was just as bad with their 3D perspective interface on the Fire Phone, which made me wonder what the hell the people who approved it were thinking.

Unlike Eric, I don’t think the Edge is a total gimmick. I do think the current implementation isn’t good enough – the curvature of the edge is not steep enough, which makes the phone hard to hold, unbalanced, and limits the usability of the edge. But perhaps on the next-generation, the edge will be flatter, which would make the phone nicer to use and to look at, and it would allow Samsung to add more useful functionality.

Samsung does deserve a prize though for the massive gimmick that the entire Gear S is. It’s (subjectively) ugly, it’s clunky, and it’s stuffed full of functionality that may or may not work well on a smartwatch.

The whole trend of making smartphones thinner and thinner is a gimmick, albeit a less obvious one, as it doesn’t really add any value for users, and worse, it hurts battery capacity and endurance.

In the gimmicks that I enjoy category, I’d like to mention fingerprint scanners, which I still don’t consider a must-have feature, but at least I’ve come to accept. I can’t say that there were any gimmicky features that I love coming out in 2014, but maybe that’s because I am getting jaded…

Now it’s your turn

You’ve heard what some of our forum members think, and the thoughts of our team as well.Now it’s your turn to voice out your thoughts in the comments below, and vote in our poll while you’re at it!

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