We continue our countdown of the best of 2013 with…well, the worst of 2013. While there certainly were plenty of highs for the year, let’s also not forget there were some pretty bad lows to go with them. For every iPhone 5s, there was a Facebook Home. For every self-driving car…there were these.
Without further ado, here are our picks of the biggest flops of 2013!
Article continues after the jump.
Lucas: The Galaxy Gear & The Sony Smartwatch 2 (Pebble too)
Amongst other things, this year was also the year of the Smartwatch. Touted to be the perfect companions to your connected lifestyle, I found that neither big name delivered on the hype. While both had their own good points, the cons outweighed them immensely. The limited usefulness and high pricetag for what, for now, is essentially just a tool to show off to your friends makes both the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Sony Smartwatch 2 two of the worst device releases this year. Worst of all, people who backed the Pebble project last year and only received it this year were the most short changed of them all.
The start of the year was bright for wearable computing and yet it fizzled out faster than a damp Chinese New Year sparkler. Here’s hoping the next generation of wearables will actually be more useful than flashy.
Dishonourable Mention: iPhone 5C
Most people out there expected C in the name to stand for “CHEAP” and at the Lowyat.NET HQ, we thought it would be Apple’s entry into the mid-range RM1,000-ish phone market. Little did we know, all we got was an iPhone 5, with a slightly drag queen-esque “makeover”. The plastic back was a shiny polycarbonate mess and the very minor bump in specs was the exact thing everyone hated Samsung for.
There is just about no reason to pick up an iPhone 5C. Spring the extra money and hit up the 5S, with its touch ID, improved camera and bumped specs making it a much better value proposition. Heck, I’d even rather just get a much better looking iPhone 5 instead. Oh wait, they discontinued that…
Huei: Facebook Home
Remember Facebook Home? No? Well, we don’t blame you either. Earlier this year, Facebook unveiled something rather exciting called Facebook Home, an Android skin revolving entirely on Facebook – specifically, your Facebook profile. It brings a brand new Facebook experience to Android users that takes over the default home screen, giving it a very beautiful look followed by your friend’s status update, but lo and behold, the reality isn’t always as beautiful as it seems. Not everyone has pleasant updates to share and having some NSFW or gory pictures pop up when you activate your phone is beyond horrible.
The service was announced in early April, before finally making its way to Malaysia on 18 April 2013. Unsurprisingly, it has been quickly forgotten ever since, amongst my peers at least: I actually wouldn’t even have remembered about it if it wasn’t because of writing this post!
Dishonorable Mention: iPhone 5c
It’s such a pity that the Apple iPhone 5c became a failed product even before it was launched to the market. Thanks to all the rumors that Apple is working on a budget and colorful plastic iPhone with a much, much cheaper price, everyone expected just that but was disappointed during the announcement of the iPhone 5c.
The thing is, Apple never said that the iPhone 5c is a “budget” product with a “cheaper” price. Everyone was and is still raging on how expensive it is and the sales figure speaks for itself just how the iPhone 5c is such a failure.
Chapree: Dropped Calls and Subpar 3G Network
While there might a lot of talk and excitement over future technology such as LTE and LTE Advanced (LTE-A), there is one persistent quality issue among the telcos in our country: the high rate of dropped calls. In fact, the amount of dropped calls have increased as of late, according to MCMC’s own tests.
Additionally, MCMC have also revealed that local telcos’ cost-effective methods have resulted in less than optimal 3G performance – which I’m sure we all can relate to at some point or another. The good thing is that MCMC have warned all the telcos to buck up and improve their services – although the fines imposed on these telcos seem to be minuscule compared to the profit that they made over the years.
As for the telcos, the companies continue to state that they are constantly working to improve their network quality. Some of their efforts are indeed visible but I believe that it is going to take some time before consumers are able to feel the improvements.
Yup, still a long way to go.
Dishonorable mention: HTC One Max
While the One Max is not the only one that carries such a high price tag (the Nokia Lumia 1020 bears the same price tag, and let’s not even talk about the iPhone 5s) but at the very least, the Nokia Lumia 1020 carries a top-notch camera and is bundled together with a helpful camera case. You don’t even get a case (which is actually a pretty nice case) with the One Max and the device’s camera performance is certainly nowhere close to the level of Lumia 1020 or even the cheaper Xperia Z1.
In terms of hardware, the One Max only features the mid-range Snapdragon 600 processor in a sea of competitors packing Snapdragon 800-based devices, and offers them at much lower price points compared to the One Max. It is indeed baffling to see the One Max being priced at such a high mark but I’m not surprised if it is due to the fingerprint scanner – which is not exactly a crowd puller, to be frank.
The good thing is, the One Max still carries some of HTC’s well-known hallmarks: a brilliant display and fantastic BoomSound front facing stereo speakers. Not to forget, the device also carries a huge 3300mAh battery. But all in all, the One Max is just too expensive for its own good.
A company struggling to regain its place among the giants should be the feel good story of the year. Instead, BlackBerry fell over by releasing phones that were already outdated by the time they arrived and completely ignored the main reason people buy BlackBerry phones (QWERTY keyboards in case you were wondering). Then, there was the whole fiasco with the sale of the company that didn’t happen and the revelation of smartphone models which were cancelled before release. It would actually be comedic if there wasn’t so much potential for improvement.
Dishonourable Mention: Samsung Galaxy Gear TV ad
This ad plays like the setup to a bad porn movie. Poor acting and contrived situations to show off the features of the Galaxy Gear combine to create what could be the worst advertisement of the year. It’s made even worse because Samsung managed to put together an excellent ad for the Galaxy Note 3 only three months earlier.
Pang: HTC One
This could have, and by all means should have been my choice for the best smartphone of 2013. What’s not to like about the HTC One? It was personally the most sexy smartphone since the Nokia N9 from 2011, the build quality is stunning, and HTC Sense 5.5 is more than bearable. The hardware set was pretty much perfect, too…well, almost.
Basically, the HTC One fell at the last hurdle, and arguably the most important one at that: its 4MP UltraPixel camera. It continues to baffle me to this day why HTC’s engineers chose low-light performance over resolving power. 4MP shots are fine for social media sharing, but what if you actually need to travel and there isn’t space for a compact camera? As many a photographer would tell you, the best camera is the one you have with you at all times. Sure, the 4MP UltraPixel camera paired with OIS does perform well in low-light conditions, but this is unnecessarily compensated by the lack of pixels to actually resolve a sharp image.
Click for full-res image
At a time when a smartphone camera’s performance is one of the defining factors in choosing a smartphone, HTC’s gamble with a camera sensor that was big in pixel size but small in pixel numbers blew right in its face…and one that the Taiwanese company may never recover from financially.
Dishonourable Mention: Benchmark Booster Fiasco
I’ve never been a fan of the Android specs race. In their attempts to differentiate their Android devices and make them stand out (both in marketing jargon and ego-boosting efforts), companies such as Samsung, LG, Sony and countless other companies pack the very highest end hardware into their Android devices. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 chipset is a primary example: who but a small subset of consumers actually use arguably the most powerful mobile chipset around to its fullest potential?
Regardless, that didn’t stop Android device manufacturers to churn out flagship devices powered by Snapdragon 800 chipsets and market them as the “most powerful Android device” in the market. Then there’ll be the series of benchmark scores that purportedly proves this. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to trust mobile benchmarks anymore – not after Samsung (and then several others) were found guilty of rigging benchmark scores for their Android devices.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 was found guilty of rigging benchmark scores, allowing it to score, on average, 13.9% higher than normal
When running a benchmarking app, these guilty devices will run to its maximum potential – far beyond what the most resource-hogging app requires – and provide spectacular benchmark scores…which does not matter in real life usage, since these processors are designed to be power-efficient and use as little resources as possible. It bothered us so much that we even questioned the need for benchmarking apps for mobile devices.
What about you? What were your picks of the biggest flops of 2013? Share us your thoughts in the comments section below!
Stay tuned for the rest of our Best of 2013 series, coming up from tomorrow until December 31!
Part I: Smartphone of the Year