The 12 worst Android phone gimmicks once hailed as ‘innovations’
It’s hard for a phone to get noticed by consumers when it looks like all the other flat black slabs out there. That has led some OEMs to try some particularly wacky things—gimmicks to set them apart. Just because a gimmick is new doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, there are a lot of gimmicks that look cool at a tradeshow, but in real life they’re terrible ideas. Here are some of the worst to make it to market.
One of the many features Samsung toyed around with when it lacked restraint was Air View. This feature lets you preview information on your device without tapping. That sounds cool, but the way you preview it is by hovering your finger (or stylus on the Note) right above the screen. It wasn’t really any faster, and you could never tell what apps or features were going to support Air View. It was limited to Samsung’s apps, and even then it was spotty. Air View is still buried in the settings of some devices, but it’s not promoted at all.
Samsung has tried a lot of things, and the projector built-into the Galaxy Beam and Beam 2 ranks among the most gimmicky. These phones were mediocre in every way, except for the projector. If you needed a phone with a projector built-in, they were the only game in town. The projector added a lot of bulk, the picture was dim, and the battery life was poor. You couldn’t even touch the phone without jiggling the projected image. The Moto Mod projector is similarly lame, but at least it wasn’t permanently attached to the phone.
HTC used to love kickstands, and I think we all are partially to blame for that. Everyone seemed to approve of kickstands when the Evo 4G and other phones came out. Buyers thought it seemed cool and useful, no one was actually using them. The added bulk of a kickstand was just unnecessary when you can hold a phone or get a stand for those times when you really can’t hold it.
Amazon was rumored to be working on a phone for years, and when it was finally unveiled we got an overpriced plain black slab that was locked to AT&T. Oh, but it had head tracking technology. Great? The so-called “Dynamic Perspective” system used IR cameras on the front of the device to follow your postion relative to the phone, allowing objects on the screen to move with you. It was kind of fun to play with for a few minutes, but was otherwise completely uninteresting. Developers did not embrace Dynamic Perspective, despite Amazon’s best efforts.
In 2014, HTC released the One M8, which followed up the reasonably successful One M7. This phone had an interesting gimmick; the Duo Camera. The two cameras worked together to apply depth information to an image, allowing (sort of) post capture re-focusing. The problem being it just wasn’t very good. The pictures looked bad generally and the blur effect was inconsistent. Dual cameras are hot again now, so HTC was rather ahead of the time. It just didn’t execute well.
Another of Samsung’s less impressive gimmicks was Smart Scroll. This feature was supposed to use head tracking to let you scroll up and down just by moving your head. It used the front-facing camera to watch for these movements, but it didn’t work very well. You had to move your head quite a bit for it to be anywhere close to reliable, and at that point it’s easier to just use your finger to scroll.
The original Moto X debuted some cool features like Moto Display and Moto Voice. Most of the features Motorola added to Android made a lot of sense. The Motorola Skip was not one of them.
The Skip was a small magnetic clip with a non-writable NFC tag in it. After associating it with your phone, you could unlock the screen by tapping it. The idea was you’d clip it on your pocket or bag, and drag the phone across it when taking it out. The main problem: it was not fast. You had to leave the phone touching the Skip for a second or two for it to work, eliminating any benefit it offered. Motorola didn’t sell many of them. Eventually, it started dropping free Skips into unrelated orders. You can do the same thing now with Smart Lock, but it’s still not very popular.
The Motorola Atrix was unveiled at CES, drawing a lot of coverage thanks to the crazy laptop dock. When the phone was attached to the dock, it powered a Linux-based computing environment, which is a cool trick. It was not very useful in practice. The phone wasn’t fast enough to make the computer interface usable, and the dock was $500. You could get a real computer for that, even back in 2011.
Nextbit started as a cloud services company, then it decided to make its own smartphone called the Robin. The software was based on the idea of smart cloud storage, which sounds very futuristic and all, but the future is not now. “Smart Storage” was designed to automatically offload your apps and photos to a private cloud drive when you ran low on space. When you wanted one of them, the data would be restored locally.
Unfortunately, it was buggy and annoying to manage all the apps on your phone. Sometimes things you wanted access to would end up in the cloud and not on your phone. If you had a poor connection, good luck opening your apps.
Playing games on phones can be great, but touchscreen controls aren’t always the best. Sony’s solution to this was to slap a gamepad on a phone. The Xperia Play had a slide-out gamepad and was supposed to have full PlayStation games. The latter never materialized in any meaningful way—just a few titles. A lot of third-party games never supported the controller, either. At any rate, do you need a gamepad attached to your phone all the time? Almost no one does.
The YotaPhone gimmick is another that sounds cool, and it certainly looks nice in demos. This phone had a rear-facing e-paper display that could display information line news and messages. The goal was to save you from turning on your phone as much. However, the effect is really just that you are constantly enticed to use the phone because the e-paper screen makes it harder to ignore things. It also makes cases completely impractical.
Ticker screens are a thing again, but Samsung did it years ago. However, it also did it in a terrible way. The short-lived Samsung Continuum had a ticker screen at the bottom of the device, but it wasn’t actually a separate panel. It was the same AMOLED used on other Samsung phones at the time, but there was a bezel across the middle to separate the main and ticker displays. As if that wasn’t odd enough, the ticker could only display content from Samsung’s built-in apps. Needless to say, Samsung did not make a Continuum 2.