About two weeks ago a good friend of mine, in the midst of the stressful process of buying a new smartphone, asked me a question I'd never before considered.
"Who makes the worst phones?" he wanted to know. I didn't have an answer for him; focusing as I do on the good smartphones that I would recommend, I had never even thought about the dreadful phones that I wouldn't. This was an interesting tack, to be sure: My friend was requesting, in essence, a list of smartphone manufacturers whose products he could simply avoid while selecting his new phone, brands he could write off as purveyors of shoddy gear, in order to narrow his focus on the good stuff.
There is a perverse kind of pleasure in identifying the losers, duds and Williams Jennings Bryans of the smartphone world -- just ask any film critic who has taken time out of analyzing "Citizen Kane" in order to discuss "Plan 9 from Outer Space." But compiling a "worst of" list can also help us to illuminate what makes the successful companies great, where the laggards can improve and why only a handful of companies receive so much of the attention of tech buyers and writers alike.
It should also serve -- most immediately -- as a fairly stark warning not to purchase the subpar phones these companies are peddling. Until there is improvement, you can consider all of the handsets here listed to be smartphona non grata, devices you should not welcome into your pocket or purse.
Superglue your credit card to the inside of your wallets, shoppers: Here's our list of The Worst Smartphone Makers In America, 2012/5773 Edition. Let's hope the new year is much, much sweeter for these mediocre manufacturers.
What we are looking for here are companies that make bad-to-mediocre smartphones and only bad-to-mediocre smartphones, companies that do not have a flagship device that could truly be called great, companies that trade only in duds and middleweights. Samsung, then -- which produces some truly awful phones (I'm looking at you, Venus fly trap that is the Samsung Doubletime) -- is excluded from this list, as it more than makes up for its Doubletimes and Rugby Smarts with the excellent Galaxy S III. We're looking for companies that make the Doubletime and only the Doubletime, in other words.
No flip or "feature" phones were considered; only smartphones. We are also only looking at smartphones available on contract at the four largest on-contract carriers in the U.S.: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.
WHO IS NOT THE WORST SMARTPHONE MAKER IN AMERICA, AND WHY
Apple is not the worst, because of the iPhone.
Samsung is not the worst, because of the Galaxy S III.
HTC is not the worst, because of the HTC One X.
Motorola is not the worst, because of the DROID RAZR MAXX. (They are the worst at egregious overuse of capital letters, however).
Nokia is not the worst, because of the Lumia 920.
Sony is not the worst, because of the Xperia Ion (and its suite of excellent Japanese Xperia phones which should be on their way soon).
A FINAL WORD OF HOPE
Smartphones change quickly: Any of these companies could reapply themselves to making a great smartphone and catapult themselves onto the "Definitely Not The Worst" list at any time in the next year. HTC turned itself around quickly, and LG is showing promise, too. Speaking of which ...
HERE ARE YOUR WORST SMARTPHONE MAKERS IN AMERICA
LG: Yes, LG is getting better, and yes, its Optimus G, unveiled in Korea this week, appears to be a giant leap in the direction of Not Being Awful. Up until now, however, LG has been content to traffic in largely interchangeable, totally unremarkable Android phones that were distinguishable only by their names, most of which sounded more like specialty condoms than smartphones ("Prada"; "Chocolate"; "Lucid"). These phones came with mediocre screens and cameras and touchscreen responsiveness and processor speeds: for years, phones made by LG were Like, Good, but not, Likely Great.
Buying an LG smartphone has long been the technological equivalent of settling. Now, LG looks (Optimus) Primed to catapult itself up to, at the very least, Samsung's level: A company whose great flagship phone obscures the regrettable, plasticky cheapies it also produces. My hunch is LG won't be on this list next year.
CASIO: No, I didn't know Casio made phones either; yes, it should probably stick to calculators. Its single smartphone (called -- and this is the real name here -- the G'zOne Commando®) is more like a walkie-talkie with an Internet connection than a modern mobile device. Its claim-to-fame is apparently that it is extremely durable and can be shot with a cannon (or something) without shattering, making it an ideal phone for those with high-impact jobs like construction work or tech blogging.
Alas, there's a catch, according to a review from Engadget:
[W]hat it boasts in battery life and sheer fortitude, [the G'zOne Commando®] lacks in call quality, core Google apps, and a responsive touch experience.
At least it gets good battery life, though!
A word of advice: Skip the Casio and get a case from GForm.
PANTECH: Sure, "Pantech" is but a small verbal slip from being called "panties" (literally the worst word in the universe, by the way), but there are other reasons it deserves your derision. Phones like the Pantech Hotshot, the Pantech Crossover and the no-seriously-what-is-this Pantech Pocket don't stop the perception that Pantech peddles pedestrian phones in the hopes that a confused shopper will accidentally purchase one. Its best phone -- the Pantech Burst -- still falls well short of the Android phone standard set by Samsung and HTC.
KYOCERA: Most Kyocera phones are flip phones, but if you're on Sprint, you can also try out the Kyocera Milano, which is a
kind of delicious Italian cookie with chocolate filling 3G Android Gingerbread phone that looks like an egg timer. It is free on contract, which will leave you plenty of money to print those photos you take with its 3.2 megapixel rear camera; better print fast, though, since you only get 2GB of memory!
RESEARCH IN MOTION: It almost pains me to write this -- almost! -- since RIM is currently reinventing itself as quickly as it can, readying a raft of new BlackBerrys (BlackBerries? BlacksBerry?) with a totally redesigned operating system for release in 2013. For now, however, its phones are woefully outdated in almost every aspect except the keyboard: Email, Internet, Maps, Apps, Camera -- you name it, it's lackluster on BlackBerry.
Here's hoping RIM can enter 2013 with a phone that doesn't act like it's competing against the Palm Treo.
Below, check out a few photos of some of the worst smartphones you can spend your money; then, go to your local smartphone store, and don't spend your money on them: