Worst Phone Launches of All Time
It's been a rough launch for Google's Pixel 2 XL, a generally solid phone whose display problems have caused headaches for both owners of the new phone as well as Google. There have also been reports of audio issues during calls on both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. But as red-faced as Google may feel about its initial stumbles, it's nothing like the embarrassment suffered by other smartphone makers over the years.
The last decade of smartphone launches have introduced some memorable clunkers. Some were shoveled out into an indifferent marketplace with little hope of survival, while others turned out to be generally well-designed miracles of modern technology let down by manufacturing gremlins and supply-chain holdups. For those reasons and more, here are 10 phones that stalled at takeoff.
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10. Apple iPhone 3G
As much credit as the original iPhone gets, it was the iPhone 3G that ushered in the era of apps and fast data. Not overnight, mind you — quite literally because customers couldn't activate their phones. Apple’s servers and call centers were hammered upon launch, with in-store representatives instructing users to go home and attempt activation later in the evening using their PC and iTunes. Those trying to upgrade their first-generation iPhones to iOS 2.0 faced similar issues, and it would be about a day before early iPhone 3G adopters would see their new devices in working order. Thankfully, a decade later, Apple now has these smartphone launches figured out.
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9. Google Pixel 2 XL
Let’s make one thing clear off the bat: No, the Pixel 2 XL is not as poor as some other devices featured here. But it also hasn't had the best go of it since releasing just last week. Most of the issues pertain to the 6-inch handset's LG-sourced plastic OLED display, which has shown washed-out hues, graining and pronounced discoloration at certain viewing angles. Then we learned some units were suffering from burn-in. At least Google is now promising software updates to address some of these issues, even as it maintains that the Pixel 2 XL display is performing as expected.
Not to be outdone, both the Pixel 2 XL and the smaller 5-inch Pixel 2 are making "clicking" noises during speaker calls, according to some users. Google has said it is investigating all of these issues, so you might want to wait before pulling the trigger on one of the company's new phones, or at least entertain an alternative.
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8. Essential Phone
The brainchild of Andy Rubin, who oversaw development of Android, the Essential Phone was highly anticipated leading up to launch but sustained a slew of setbacks along the way, starting with shipping delays. The company then charged customer's cards about a week before the phone finally arrived. But the absolute worst came when Essential leaked the personal information — including driver's license photos birth dates, and addresses — of approximately 70 customers right as shipment began, due to a misconfigured corporate email list.
The sad result of all these false starts and head-scratching decisions? Essential reportedly only sold about 5,000 units over the first two weeks, forcing the company to slash the device's price by $200, to $499. Of course, that's not so sad if you're looking for a smartphone with a drastic price cut.
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7. Apple iPhone 4
The iPhone 4 was one of those landmark products that influenced the entire industry, raising the bar regarding smartphone design beyond anything that came before. Unfortunately, the forward-thinking device came with a frustrating flaw. Users quickly discovered that holding the phone a certain way bridged the two components of the metal frame that also served as the handset’s antenna, crippling service reception and leading to dropped calls.
What followed was a domino effect of discouraging press: Consumer Reports quickly redacted its recommendation of the hot new phone, and Steve Jobs infamously told one owner he was holding the phone wrong. The company would somewhat resolve the problem by issuing free bumpers to owners, and redesigning the antenna configuration for the iPhone 4S that came out the following year.
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6. HTC First
The HTC First wasn'’t, ironically, the first smartphone that played up Facebook integration — though it was the most ambitious. The First launched with Facebook Home, the social networking giant's attempt at replacing Android's stock interface with its own feed encompassing the lock screen and even the app launcher.
In truth, the device wasn't particularly bad — it was elegantly designed and if you wanted, you could still deactivate Facebook Home entirely for a pure Android experience. But of course that defeated the purpose, and abysmal sales in the first month forced partner AT&T to slash the price from $99 to 99 cents before dropping it several weeks later.
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5. Motorola ROKR E1
Two years before the iPhone, Apple partnered with Motorola to launch the ROKR E1, a mostly standard candybar phone similar to the then-popular RAZR with one critical feature: support for iTunes. The ROKR's music player aped the iPod's interface, and was capable of syncing music in much the same way. The only problem? The ROKR had a 100-song limit, so as to not cannibalize iPod sales. A lack of support for high-speed USB made transferring content painfully slow. The phone would be discontinued in the fall of 2007, just a handful of months ahead of the iPhone's reveal.
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4. BlackBerry Storm
Back in 2008, the BlackBerry Storm was RIM’s big chance to deliver a product that put it on equal footing with the newly arrived iPhone. If you've followed RIM's downward spiral over the last decade, you can surmise that it didn't pan out too well.
However, the Storm wasn't merely a decent phone that failed to find an audience — it was a baffling, buggy, ill-conceived effort. Cobbled together in just nine months of development, the Storm initially sold very well for Verizon, whose customers didn't yet have access to the iPhone.
But users quickly unearthed the myriad missteps. The Storm lacked Wi-Fi. Its touch screen, which physically clicked when pressed, was cumbersome, laggy and unresponsive. The battery didn't last and was subject to random reboots. Even the autocorrect failed to cooperate at every turn, shocking for a company that prided itself on a quality typing experience. BlackBerry botched its only shot at Apple and never recovered.
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3. Microsoft Kin
Forty-eight days. That'’s how long Microsoft’s pair of plucky social-minded phones lasted before being shelved. However, Kin's downfall began much earlier, as executives wrangled over the direction the project should take. Microsoft acquired Sidekick developer Danger and partnered with Verizon and Sharp to mold Kin into a separate entity from the company's Windows Phone platform. Nevertheless, halfway through development, Microsoft shifted gears and restarted development under the Windows Phone team, significantly delaying release and hampering the devices' feature sets.
The Kin One and Kin Two, as they were named, launched without an app store, instant messaging or a calendar client. To attract teenagers, the phones were supposed to benefit from a cheaper data plan than other Verizon smartphones, but the network walked back its agreement with Microsoft at the last minute. The Kin brand was dead on arrival, and sadly, Microsoft's following efforts to build a smartphone ecosystem wouldn't fare much better.
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2. Amazon Fire Phone
Few tech products have failed as spectacularly as Amazon's oft-derided Fire Phone. Billed by Jeff Bezos as a "better phone" for the retail giant's "most engaged customers," the Fire Phone's claim to fame was twofold: a quartet of face-tracking front cameras, and a Google Lens-type feature called Firefly that let you scan objects to easily locate them on Amazon.
As it turned out, the public wasn’t enthusiastic about ponying up $650 on a handset for the privilege of spending even more money at the world’s third-largest retailer. AT&T, the device's exclusive carrier partner, cut the introductory price with a two-year contract from $199 to 99 cents just two months after the phone's debut. A year later, Amazon discounted the unlocked version to just $130 before discontinuing it entirely.
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1. Galaxy Note 7
The demise of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 goes down as the greatest of the smartphone era, particularly because it was an almost-perfect phablet crippled by the most deal-breaking of flaws: an exploding battery.
Reports of combusting phones emerged immediately after the device's launch in late August 2016; within 10 days, Samsung suspended sales of the Note 7. A recall followed two weeks later, where the company replaced existing units with new ones featuring batteries sourced by a different supplier. But these, too, suffered the same fiery fate, causing Samsung to permanently discontinue the Note 7 in mid-October. According to Bloomberg, the debacle cost the company upward of $5 billion.
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