We’d like to think that each year is a bonanza when it comes to smartphone releases, but some years are definitely worse than others.
We’ve already chosen 2014 as the best year of the last decade, but what about the worst years in modern smartphone history? Well, we can think of a few middling or even disappointing years in our book. Whether it was a general trend that was adopted by everyone or just several companies releasing bad phones in one year, you can check out our five picks below. Don’t forget to take our poll at the end of the article!
As bad as 2020 is so far (i.e. ludicrously expensive phones, power-sapping 5G and screens, oh… and delays caused by a global pandemic), we’re excluding it from the list as the year isn’t over yet. But it’s definitely a dishonorable mention.
- This was the year that saw manufacturers and networks play hard and fast with the term 4G. From Wi-Max to HSPA, there was no shortage of brands claiming that their technology was indeed 4G. For what it’s worth, LTE and HSPA+ were generally considered to be proper 4G at the time.
- Microsoft also launched the promising but ill-fated Windows Phone 7 platform, with the firm going so far as to hold a mock funeral for the iPhone at the time. If that wasn’t bad enough, the company also released two smart feature phones dubbed Kin that were terrible and mercifully became discontinued after only two months.
- The iPhone 4 release was marred by “antennagate” after it emerged that the phone drastically lost signal when you held it… like a phone. It didn’t help that Apple initially told customers to stop holding it in the lower-left corner, before eventually offering a free bumper case to users.
- It was a tough time to be a Nokia fan as the firm still stuck with Symbian for the most part. Sure, you had the Nokia N8 with its fantastic 12MP camera and the slick Nokia E7, but who cared when they ran a slow, unintuitive platform that was practically held together with duct-tape? At least we got the Meego-toting Nokia N9 and the first Nokia Windows Phones in 2011.
- Samsung also launched the Galaxy S in 2010, kicking off the all-conquering Galaxy flagship range. Unfortunately, a US court ruled that the manufacturer had actually copied the iPhone’s design and software flourishes in the process. And it’s hard to argue otherwise when you look at the two side-by-side, serving as more ammunition against Android and Samsung for Apple fans.
- The Galaxy S4 may have been the best-selling Android phone of all time, but Samsung definitely made a few bad decisions regarding it. Unarguably the biggest issue was the bloated software that was TouchWiz, as the firm tossed in a ton of features without considering performance. Throw in a cringeworthy launch event stacked with plenty of awful stereotypes and it definitely makes our list.
- HTC debuted the HTC One M7 in 2013, which earned a reputation as one of the best phones of all time. The company also debuted the ill-fated HTC First that year, which was not one of the best phones of all time. The First was made in partnership with Facebook, running the Facebook Home launcher (remember that?) and offering solid specs for the time. The Facebook integration couldn’t save the phone from poor sales, reportedly moving just 15,000 units.
- BlackBerry 10 was finally released in early 2013, delivering a proper touch-focused platform that was built from the ground up. This wasn’t enough to save the company though, as Android delivered more variety and apps (even though BB10 supported many Android apps). Another major blow was the fact that the BlackBerry Internet Service (which was available as an all-you-can-eat plan in many regions) wasn’t supported on the new platform. I know tens of people who lost interest in new BlackBerry phones when it emerged that BIS wouldn’t be available.
- Apple’s iOS 7 also made headlines in 2013 for the wrong reasons, as the update introduced a host of bugs and crashes. From connectivity woes and iMessage issues to (ironically) the Blue Screen of Death, this was an update that the Cupertino company and customers would like to forget.
- The Snapdragon 810 flagship silicon reportedly suffered from manufacturing woes, with many early phones powered by the chipset said to have performance or thermal-related issues. Early testing by the likes of Ars Technica showed major performance drops as phones with the processor heated up.
- The HTC One M9 was a disappointing follow-up to the fantastic device that was the One M8, offering a less capable camera for low-light shooting and worse endurance. This also marked the third time we saw the metal design, with only minor changes compared to the HTC One M7. Truth be told, it seems like HTC never really recovered from this release.
- Samsung’s Galaxy S6 series offered an all-new glass design, but ditched water-resistance, microSD storage, and a removable battery to get there. And the tiny battery in the standard S6 only added more salt to the wound.
- This year also seems to have marked the start of LG’s bootloop issues, as the likes of the LG G4, Nexus 5X, and LG V10 all experienced this major problem to some extent. Cue the photoshopped Froot Loops images.
- Samsung’s Galaxy S7 series was one of the best phones of 2016, but the year will always be remembered for the company launching the IED that was the Galaxy Note 7. Faulty batteries and over-ambitious design resulted in phones that were susceptible to bursting into flames. No wonder the company offered an update that killed the phone entirely.
- The year also saw brands ditch the headphone port, with Android players like Motorola and LeEco doing so. Apple did the same with the iPhone 7, and we’ve seen loads of companies follow suit since then.
- LG had a run of solid to great high-end phones up until 2016, when it launched the modular LG G5. The phone’s magazine slot-style design enabled you to use add-ons like a 360 camera and a Hi-Fi DAC. Unfortunately, a combination of questionable build quality, a smaller battery than the G4, and very few Friends (as the add-ons were called) killed any hopes of major success. At least the firm also offered an ultra-wide camera that’s now become standard on almost every major phone.
- The Pixel 4 delivered a smaller battery than previous Pixels, no fingerprint scanner in lieu of face unlock only, and gimmicky Motion Sense tech. No wonder many reviewers derided it at launch. At least the company introduced a long-overdue budget phone in the Pixel 3a.
- Foldable phones were supposed to be the big thing in 2019, but the first wave of foldables made us realize just how fragile they could be. Between the Galaxy Fold’s delayed launch due to hinge/screen issues and the general trend of scratch-prone plastic screens (including the Mate X), foldables definitely fell short of the hype.
- Arguably the biggest disappointment in 2019 was the US ban against Huawei, instituted in May. This meant that phones released after this point lacked Google services. It’s a real shame, because phones like the Mate 30 Pro were definitely among the best phones of the year on paper, but the lack of GMS means it’s a no-go for many.
- Up until 2019, Samsung’s Galaxy Note series was known as the range of choice for power users looking for a quality, feature-packed phone. Unfortunately, the vanilla Galaxy Note 10 failed to live up to this ethos. Your $950 got you a battery that was significantly smaller than the Plus model and Note 9, no microSD card slot, and no 3.5mm port. The Plus variant also lacked the latter two features, but at least you got extras like a bigger battery, QHD+ screen, and faster charging.
What do you think was the worst year for smartphones? Take our poll below and leave a comment!