Twelve Cell Phones We Love to Hate
Some cell phones really look great, but are impossible to use. Other cell phones have cool features, but are ugly ducklings. Then there are those rare mobile monstrosities that fail at both looks and usability. Some have pricing issues as well.
Now to be fair, many cell phone makers fail when they are too ambitious, adding cutting-edge features way before their time or taking a design risk. Without these noble failures, perhaps no iPhone would ever have been possible.
The phones in our dirty dozen list all suffer from either design flaws or functionality failures, or both. While we hope you never get stuck with one of these stinkers, we also hope these phones have contributed to the greater good of the mobile world by letting handset makers learn from their mistakes.
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Bang & Olufsen Serene
Launched in 2006, the Bang & Olufsen Serene mobile phone is a classic example of a phone that is all beauty and no brains--a phone suited more for a modern art museum than for your back pocket. Coming in at over $1000, the Serene sported an iPod-style click wheel with a numeric keypad around the wheel. Best of all, the phone’s display was placed under the keypad so, as Bang & Olufsen said, it wouldn’t get dirt smudges from your face.
Our favorite touch: Bang & Olufsen’s decision to position the phone’s camera on the side of the phone. That meant that if you wanted to preview your picture using the Serene’s display, you had no way to face someone while taking a picture of them.
Because this model looks more like a pocket calculator than a cell phone, we wonder if Samsung was stealing design plans from Casio’s calculator division when it came up with the P300.
This circa-2006 phone was packed with great features for its time, such as a camera, ample storage, and a 9mm-thick metal case. But the calculator-sized P300 never really had a chance because -- well, who wants to be the oddball who makes calls on his pocket calculator?
Motorola ROKR E1
Way before the iPhone, if you wanted a cell phone that Apple helped design, your only option was the ROKR E1. This phone, debuting in 2005, was the disfigured child of a marriage between Apple and Motorola. The phone was one of the first to double as a MP3 player, allowing you to store a measly 100 songs from your iTunes collection.
Part of what went wrong with the ROKR E1 was prelaunch hype followed by dashed hopes. When rumors first started to circulate that Motorola was joining forces with Apple, expectations were sky-high. But instead of delivering something that looked like an iPod-mobile phone hybrid the result looked more mundane -- just another white, plastic, bulky phone.
If you owned the Nokia 7380 and had to send a quick text message to save your life, you’d be dead by now. This handset, which looks like a fancy pencil box, has to go down as one of the most unusable phones ever made. Critics commented that the only thing you could do fast with this phone is answer an incoming call.
Narrow but chunky, the 7380 lacked any sort of physical keypad. One might have thought that this concept was a bit on the nonfunctional side, but, going further, Nokia taunted fashion-savvy buyers with a tiny mirror screen that was completely illegible in strong light or direct sunlight.
Besides the cumbersome text input via the iPod-esque navi-wheel, the 7380 featured only 52MB of storage space (with no expansion slot) -- not even remotely enough to hold a few pictures taken with the handset’s 2-megapixel camera (with flash and video) or many songs for the built-in music player (with FM radio).
Sony Ericsson W350 Walkman
Flimsy might be a bit of an understatement when it comes to describing Sony Ericsson’s W350 Walkman phone introduced last year. Mainly an entry-level music-oriented handset, targeted at the youth market, the W350 had no chance at withstanding the wear and tear it would be exposed to by the teens it was intended for.
Shortly after the phone went on sale, owners started posting to Internet forums that the ultrathin phone literally falls apart. Over the W350’s keypad was a wobbly flip cover with music playback controls on the front. Worse, the handset’s battery cover opened too easily, according to many users, who reported online that they lost this cover after only a few weeks of use.
Nokia E90 Communicator
Note to Nokia: Bigger is not better when it comes to cell phones -- that includes size and price.
Nokia’s E90 Communicator debuted in 2007 for over $1000 (and is still relatively high). It's a mammoth phone, geared, we can only guess, toward those with deep pockets. Deep pockets are required not only to pay the steep price tag, but to ensure that the phone fits in the pocket as well. The E90 measures 2.2 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches and weighs in at nearly half a pound (7.5 ounces).
Apart from its size, the E90 was designed to be one top-notch phone: It comes loaded with HSDPA, Wi-Fi, a 3.2-megapixel camera (with flash and video recording), a massive internal screen, a QWERTY keyboard, GPS, Bluetooth, FM radio, and e-mail options. But with such a big casing, Nokia could at least have equipped the expensive E90 with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a sturdier battery cover.
The Siemens Xelibri Line
The Xelibri phones from Siemens were all so odd and ugly that we decided to include the entire lineup here. Launched in 2003, the first wave of Xelibri phones were envisioned be a consumer must-have. Sadly for Siemens, they proved be successful as a spectacle, but were criticized for not coming close to being fully functioning mobile phones.
The brand lasted only about 18 months, after which the Xelibri designs went off store shelves.
In the category of “What on Earth is that?” is the Toshiba G450. This strange device is a combination USB broadband modem, cell phone, and mobile storage unit. Talk about your digital split personalities!
Basically, this is one of those all-in-one gadgets of 2008 that proves less is more. With only 160MB of internal storage, the G450 was a tad on the skimpy side for a decent storage device. The small screen and the odd split-in-two keypad made it very hard to have any sort of decent use as a mobile phone.
Left only with its metallic color (the phones came in black, silver, and pink), the Toshiba G450 proved to be used best as a wireless broadband modem, supporting 3G, HSDPA, EDGE, and GPRS connections.
Hopefully, Toshiba learned that three crappy implementations of otherwise useful tools into one device doesn’t always work.
Samsung Bang & Olufsen Serenata
Bang & Olufsen teamed with Samsung to create another museum piece called the Bang & Olufsen Serenata cell phone. Launched in 2007, It adopted the same impractical design as its predecessor, the Serene mobile phone (see slide 2).
With the Serenata, Samsung and Bang & Olufsen kept to a similarly weird design, putting the screen underneath the input area, and doing away with numerical keys as well. Only an iPod-esque wheel was left for number and text input. Where you might have expected a keypad, a high-def surround-sound speaker was added (under the sliding top part of the phone). At least one could hear the phone ringing.
The Serenata had some pluses: The phone came with 4GB of memory for storing songs, 3G (HSDPA) connectivity, a 256KB TFT display, USB 2.0, and Bluetooth A2DP support. Bang & Olufsen claimed the device could provide 3 hours of music playback through the built-in speaker. On the downside, the phone had no camera and sold for $2000.
Virgin Mobile Lobster 700TV
Who needs to kill time playing games on your cell when you have Virgin Mobile's Lobster 700 TV Phone? The name is inspired by its lobster-claw-like shape, but if you ask us, the Virgin phone--with its dreary gray-and-silver color scheme--is no catch.
Virgin does deserve some credit when it comes to features. With the unit's unlimited mobile TV, the company made the Lobster the first phone to offer mobile TV without added data costs. The only problem: Who wants a phone that resembles a crustacean?
The Lobster was first released on the Virgin Mobile network in October 2006. The phone is now no longer available, and the mobile TV service was discontinued in January 2008.
For a phone that runs both Windows and Android, you’d think Compulab’s Exeda would look a little more modern. The boxy handset resembles a squashed Palm Treo, and its multiple navigation buttons seem downright confusing. The phone will support both GSM and CDMA when released; it will also have a touchscreen and a QWERTY keypad with a mini-trackpad. Also featured on the phone are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an ethernet port, a 2-megapixel camera, and a MicroSD card slot.
You may have to wait a little bit to get your hands on this ugly duckling -- though the company's Web site says the Exeda will be available for purchase starting this month, there is no word on price or whether a wireless carrier will have the guts to offer it to its customers at a subsidized cost.
Vertu Bucheron Cobra
The undisputable king of ugliness is the Vertu Bucheron Cobra--with its sole standout feature being the ridiculous price tag of $310,000. Covered by a gold cobra with 439 rubies and crusted with one pear-cut diamond, one round diamond, and two emerald eyes, this phone from Nokia’s deluxe division is not for mere mortals.
Only 8 of these tacky monsters were ever produced, but you could get one of the 26 “more affordable” units, which were “only” $115,000, with a python instead of a cobra. If you actually shelled out the money for this grotesque piece of technology, you wouldn’t get any of the high-end specs one would expect for a (2006) phone: no camera, no Bluetooth -- just gems!
However, for the hefty price tag you do get a 24-hour remote concierge (no joke) accessible from a dedicated side-button, which will give you local insight into where to go out, eat, and drink, anywhere in the world. Us mortals could get this feature from our much cheaper and more-advanced mobile phones, thanks to Google Maps.
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