Question: What phone or tech trend disappointed you the most in the 2017?
I had high hopes for the Essential PH-1 because who doesn't like to root for the new guy challenging the status quo. I even briefly considered getting one, when it got discounted by $200 (you might spot my shopping patterns if you've paid attention). Top-tier internals in a body like no other for $500? I could have made that work.
Even then, however, it would have been a serious compromise. I'm into OLED displays (even if I have 'settled' for the Pixel 2 XL's less than exceptional one) and the Essential's LCD wasn't amazing. Then there was the camera - itself far from the best on the market. And the notch - the notch that no software update would have fixed. Ultimately, reason got the better of me, for a change.
In a way, the Note8 is a disappointment too, objectively speaking. After all, it only managed to keep me hooked for a fortnight and now that I've switched to the Pixel 2 XL there is no going back.
The year 2017 mostly saw decent phones being launched. But if have to pick some disappointments, the foldable, ZTE Axon M that was launched last month is the first device that comes to my mind.
ZTE became the first company to bring a foldable smartphone to the market, but the product was far from what we all were expecting or have been dreaming of. Instead of a foldable display in the true sense, the Axon M features two screens with a hinge in the middle. The design may be useful in some scenarios (like you and someone sitting across can view the same video easily), but it's definitely not appealing. Not to mention the size and the weight of the handset. Looks like a brick. Ugh.
Moving on, although Google's Pixel 2 series has been highly admired (both critically and commercially), the fact remains the devices are heavily plagued with issues. That, for me - and many other Pixel fans I am sure - has been a big disappointment. While it's good that the company has already fixed quite a few issues and is working to fix the others, I think the damage has already been done.
Apple is selling a three-year-old design for over €800, which to borrow the popular quote is the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals, maybe ever. That's what the small iPhone 8 costs in Europe and it doesn't even have the fancy camera or the larger screen estate of the Plus to make its existence worthwhile.
In more general terms the huge price hikes that flagships got this year are rather shocking, and there's probably another similarly large jump incoming next year when the large-screened bezelless iPhone breaks through the $999 barrier in the US - chances are we'll see phones go very close to the €1500 mark in 2018.
I'm also rather disappointed that Xiaomi didn't manage to put all the pieces they have together and produce a truly great phone this year. You know, Mi 6 camera, but Mi Mix 2 bezels. A 3.5mm audio jack and an OLED screen would be nice too.
Sony taking too long to give their phones a much-needed design overhaul and HMD going overly safe with the first Nokia flagship also turned a few smiles upside down in 2017. The two companies clearly have huge engineering potential and no shortage of good ideas, so them being unable to identify the basic trends and respond to them is rather frustrating. Fingers crossed that those rumors end up correct and 2018 brings us proper flagships from both of those companies.
I'll forego the obvious and not talk about 3.5mm audio jacks. What I'm disappointed with this year is scratch-prone glass on phones. Technically it's not a 2017-exclusive issue but it seems to have exasperated this year. It took less than 1 hour for Apple's "most durable glass ever in a smartphone" to scratch and about the same for Samsung's all-glass Galaxies.
But the biggest disappointment of 2017 so far has to be phone prices. All of a sudden a €500 phone is considered midrange and that's outrageous. And next year things will probably get even worse.
The most disappointing phone for me this year has to be the Apple iPhone X. I remember last year writing how the anniversary iPhone will remind us of the Steve Jobs era, and may as well change everything while doing it. I was so wrong. The only thing that changed since the X is the iPhone jokes.
The X is the best iPhone to date, and probably the most powerful smartphone on the planet, yes, but it's the most unpolished and rushed one I've ever seen since the first iPhone. The new iOS gestures are an utter nonsense, which could have been totally avoided if only Apple made the effort to put to better use the 3D Touch they "invented" a while ago.
Then there is the notch. And the line. Numerous bugs. Lots incompatible apps. THAT PRICE! And no Jobs spirit, whatsoever.
Up next is the Google Pixel 2 XL. It's like the Galaxy Note7 fiasco, but with OLEDs. The screen lottery became a thing, and there was a moment there I feared Google might pull a Samsung here. Just like Apple, the giant Google pretty much had a whole year to polish and test just this phone. But they ended up distributing a problematic device and it was not just one issue - more are encountered each week.
It's a shame for the Pixel 2 XL, because, on paper, it's one of the best smartphones out there.
And the final phone that gets me ranting is the OnePlus 5T. What were you thinking, OnePlus? At least the 5's camera had the telephoto thing going on, but the 5T has probably the most meaningless dual-camera setup. What's worse is that the Oppo R11s has the same illogical duo of sensors, which means this is spreading through the BBK's companies. Just stop it. Drop it, scratch it, forget it, move on, and pretend this has never happened. I will.
My biggest disappointment was the iPhone X, this was the phone that I planned on purchasing this year without fail. However, two things kept me from doing exactly that.
The rumor mill and usual leaks told me that I wasn't going to get a screen size equal to my iPhone 6s Plus, but I'd already conceded that point and was willing to wait for the 2018 iPhones. However, the show stopper for me was the complete removal of the home button with a reliance on pure gestures, combined with Face ID resulting in a device that I simply didn't enjoy using as I felt it was too compromised. We could argue this all day long but the analogy I often show people is car interior design. Not naming brands but my wives car had migrated most of its functions to a touch screen and using a touch screen whilst driving to change even the simplest thing is not only dangerous but needlessly slower. I find this so problematical that I purchased an iPhone 8 Plus instead as all next years iPhones will in all likelihood adopt this approach.
You see, sometimes buttons are good, buttons are needed and like the headphone jack, I'm concerned other manufacturers will follow Apple's example. In the quest for clawing back every millimeter of space, I guarantee that Apple will remove the volume buttons either next year or 2019. Remember, you read it here first.
Moving on, here we learn to reign in our expectations on new phones from new manufactures, but with the heritage of Andy Rubin attached to the Essential PH-1 phone, I had unrealistically high expectations. As we've all read, it wasn't quite ready to mix it up with the big boys. As a result, I'm expecting big things from the Essential PH-2 next year, and I predict it will be one the surprise launches of 2018.
Having grown up during the dawn of GSM, the Nokia 3310 is a part of my childhood. I never had one, too expensive. Now, however, I'm a grown-up with a job and can afford things... I was this close to buying a Nokia 8855 just because it's one of the most beautiful phones ever (and that's unlikely to change in the "slab phone" era).
So I would have loved a nostalgia-filled 3310 remake. Go back to a black & white screen (at least B&W graphics), a single Navi-Key, give me a monophonic Nokia tune and a manual ringtone composer.
The Nokia 3310 (2017) does none of those things, it just feels like a money grab. It doesn't even look the same! It's more of a Nokia 150 with the name on the box switched out.
It's a shame really as Nintendo, Sega, ZX Spectrum and others are making a killing by selling remakes of classic consoles. Why couldn't Nokia/HMD do the same?
This category gets harder and harder to write for every year. Most companies just don't make bad phones anymore and the ones that do, well, we avoid them altogether. Some disappointments do stick out, such as the HTC U Ultra (did they even try?), LG Q6 (way too underpowered), Nokia 2 (underpowered and underequipped, even for its price), BlackBerry KeyONE (who is this for really?), Xiaomi Redmi Y1 (SELFIES! MARKETING! CELEBRITY PROMOTIONS!), Sony Xperia XZ1 (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+ V), Google Pixel 2 ("do you think they will notice this one doesn't have the 18:9 display?"), iPhone 8 and 8 Plus (why do these even exist?) and the Essential Phone (expected better from the 'Father of Android') but none of these phones are so terrible to warrant talking at length about them.
Instead, I'll talk about some annoying trends of 2017, starting with the dual rear cameras. Or should I say triple rear cameras now? There doesn't seem to be any end to this madness. Gone are the times when companies focused on having just one great camera on the back. In case you haven't noticed, camera quality on most phones didn't really get all that better this year. It's because companies now have a second camera to distract you with, which in most cases doesn't add much value at all. At least the wide-angle and telephoto lenses have some use, but most phones only come with a secondary depth sensor, responsible for some of the fakest looking bokeh you have ever seen. These don't make your photos better. All they do is distract you from the fact that your phone takes the same mediocre photos as last year.
If that wasn't bad enough, we now even have dual front cameras. The result of these is bearable at best and nauseating at worst. The rise of the 'selfie phone' is even more nauseating, especially when you consider most of these phones don't have a good front camera, a thing you'd assume is a given considering their title. Instead, most of them focus on an absurd megapixel count, which they then render completely pointless with heavy-handed 'beauty' filters that can make a porcupine look like a Pomeranian. The selfie crazed populace then buys into this marketing to share barely recognizable versions of themselves with others.
Then, of course, there is the widescale removal of the headphone jack. Admittedly, I am a big supporter of Bluetooth headphones. I use mine every day and couldn't be more satisfied with them. There are occasions when I want to plug in my more expensive wired headphones into a phone, or just don't feel like going through the process of pairing my Bluetooth headphones with a phone, or they might be charging, a problem wired headphones don't have. At this point, I have to come face to face with the dreaded dongle, which is never where you want it to be. And if you do find it, there is the off chance the phone you are trying to plug it in is itself charging, leaving you with just one option: throw all of it out the window.
By the way, does anyone remember VR on mobile? Because it seems we are now expected to believe it never happened and just accept AR as our new lord and savior. Last year Google promised big things with its Daydream VR, which just like the name turned out to be a daydream. I'm not even sure if Samsung's Gear VR is still a thing. Apple probably saw all this coming and never even bothered. Microsoft doesn't even have a horse in this race anymore. No one else seems to care, either. I guess VR on phones is dead, then.
My final disappointment with 2017 is this: voice assistants still kinda suck. Sure, they are better than they used to be but there isn't a single one out there that will work perfectly fine and do what you ask of it every single time without throwing the occasional error. I know this is a bit of uncanny valley territory, and the better these things get the more unforgiving we are of them but the weird faltering with even basic queries on occasion shows we are still far away from an entirely voice-operated future.
As far as disappointments go, I would have to say that Apple gets that title for the second year in a row. We were expecting a drastic physical change with the iPhone 7, and for Apple - a company that was once innovative - to release an iPhone 8 that looks pretty much like the iPhone 7, and iPhone 6 before that, it's another slap in the face to Apple fans. Apple has been pushing the limit of what it can get away with and how much it can get its customers pay for it.
The phone design trends of 2017 are my biggest disappointment of the year. Curved panels, bezel-less profiles and glass bodies are the tune of the day. It's not that these are not pretty because they are, but they are anything but practical. I still find a flat panel better suited for viewing, holding, swiping, as well as easier to protect. I also appreciate a comfortable device to hold, which for me, means having a place to rest a finger or two, or being able to grip something other than display when playing a game, or trying desperately to hold my curvy Samsung Galaxy Note8 with one hand out into the air to get a few people in frame.
That being said, I've made my peace with the "deprecation" of a lot of things I loved about phones - removable backs and swappable batteries, plastic and leather components, physical controls, or at least home buttons - the list goes on. However, I can't shake the feeling that the latest design trends are a desperate attempt to shake things up before the flexible display revolution inevitably rolls in. And that is one of the things I am most excited about in 2018. But I will talk more about that on one of the next page.
Smartphones have gotten so good lately (and I don't just mean flagships) that it's really tough to single out any one of those launched in 2017 as a complete blunder. On the other hand, my quest for the perfect smartphone is still ongoing, as every one of them still has at least one trait that will make you scratch your head in disbelief.
Here's a short list: the S8/S8+/Note8's fingerprint sensor position; the Pixel 2's bezels; the Pixel 2 XL's screen; every single Sony device's bezels; every single Nokia device's bezels; the OnePlus 5T's secondary rear camera; the Honor 7X's and the iPhone X's price in Europe; the differentiating features between the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, some of which make the Pro not look that much like a Pro; and of course the software update situation for every single handset that isn't a Pixel or iPhone.
Additionally, I want to say that while I understand why the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus came to be, they probably shouldn't have. Yes, Apple couldn't possibly make enough iPhone X units to satisfy the demand if that was the only phone it had released this year. And yet buying an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus in a world where the iPhone X exists just seems sad to me. You may say you hate the notch, or don't want to spend that much money on a phone, or come up with another excuse, but the truth is that with the 8 or 8 Plus you're just settling. Settling for a device that looks like it's from 2014.
My biggest disappointment was the Galaxy S8 - or rather, using it as a daily driver was. It's a beautiful piece of tech to behold but not so much to use. Of course, it has an impressive camera and an fantastic curved infinity display. But I wish the S8 was more user-friendly - accidental activation from the wraparound screen or the Bixby button happened way too often, and I quickly gave up on the fingerprint reader. These might be small downsides for some, but the S8 just isn't designed for me.
As a news editor, there were times when in a single day I wrote three separate leaks on the new iPhone. Everything and everyone was hyping over the magical "anniversary iPhone." Finally it came out, a month and a half later than expected, and still felt unfinished, mostly due to the updated UI. More gestures and swipes are something you least want when a phone is your entire world. It should be simpler. Sure, muscle memory takes care of the new app-switching swipe, but the bitter taste is still there.
The whole tall display trend of 2017 should inspire streaming services and game companies to offer a better cinematic experience. I fear it might take them a while to unify the new standard. Developers are currently back at Step 1 in the quest of making black bars disappear, let's see how long it takes them. My bet - longer than needed.
The iPhone X's design was definitely a letdown. I was super excited about the modernization of the iPhone and the new form factor, but when it finally arrived, the software was less intuitive than ever before and the notch just stood there, eating up screen space for no good reason.
What really pained me this past year was the continued demise of the headphone jack. You can't justify its removal because it doesn't take up that much space, there is no alternative that's truly good enough at the moment and it doesn't get in the way of increasing water resistance. Did I mention that it's the standard at any professional audio studio?
But other things about its removal do influence consumers really negatively: it forces people to pad the pockets of conglomerates in order to buy those ridiculous dongles, and more importantly, it hastens the adaption of bluetooth headsets. It doesn't matter that bluetooth headphones have mediocre sound quality, but it really freaks me out that they emit radio waves right next to your skull for hours on end every day. The technology has only recently become widespread, so we actually don't know how much they affect our brains over the long term.
I can already see people berating me for being too cautious. Yeah, it's not a lot of radiation, but over time, the negative effects (if there are any) can add up. I know safety is a dismal topic, but these are questions worth asking and companies aren't willing to do it unless something explodes, like last year. So although everyone is pushing for a wireless future, at the very least, I hope those stupid dongles stick around.