Tech Corner 2: The worst mobile phone designs and concepts

Every great innovation has risked falling flat when greeted by consumers. For every iPad there’s an Apple Newton, but not every failure is as easily forgotten. With that in mind, we’ve got a countdown of some of the most spectacular failures – some unfortunate, and some just plain stupid – to ever grace the mobile phone market.

5- Samsung Galaxy Beam

The Samsung Galaxy Beam got its name from its rather curious gimmick of having an embedded projector. But despite Samsung’s best intentions, it turned out that very few consumers needed their phone to project images and video. The phone featured all the usual hallmarks of a smartphone with a 4” touchscreen, Wi-Fi, email and web browsing, as well as a camera capable of recording 720p at 30 frames/s.

It also featured a projector capable of displaying images at up to 50 inches in size, using 15 lumens of brightness with a 640×360 display. Samsung did make the most of the extra thickness mandated by having a projector embedded, by pushing the battery size up to 2000 ma/h. While this might seem like nothing to brag about today, it meant an impressive 4 hours of projector use, or a day and a half of normal talk time.

The concept failed for several reasons, but largely because the product was too focused on a market that didn’t exist. In addition, the device was shipped with Android 2.3 gingerbread, which in 2010 was a significant downgrade for most users. Launched in February of 2010, the phone was discontinued just 5 months later, putting an end to Samsung’s project.

4- HTC 3-D EVO

While few people can honestly say they’ve ever wanted a phone with a 3-D screen, in June 2011 the HTC 3-D Evo came to deliver just that. But even with a dual camera set up to record and capture in 3-D, the Evo was largely held back by its clunky finish and temperamental display.

It featured some slightly gimmicky 3-D perks (when the phone detected rain the screen would be covered in rain drops that would then be swiped away by a digital windscreen wiper) and the home screen layout focused heavily on the novelty of 3-D. But when it comes to apps, HTC offered nothing that utilised or even enhanced the 3-D camera, which led to the phone drifting away unnoticed by consumers.

The 3-D camera was iffy at best, with the slightest loss of focus resulting in a blurry mess. The standard camera also proved disappointing, offering only 5 megapixel stills compared to many competitors 8 megapixels at the time.

But the focus of the phone- autostereoscopic 3D display (3-D without glasses to you and I) was underutilised, and even when users tried to take and view their own 3-D content the performance of the screen left them wishing they hadn’t bothered.

3- Nokia N-Gage

Launched in October 2003, the N-Gage was launched to be a smartphone, media player and most crucially a portable gaming device. This was around the time that Nokia were riding the high of being one of the most successful mobile phone developers in the market, but unfortunately this didn’t guarantee a win.

Viewed as a joke by the gaming community, and an overpriced oddity by everyone else, the N-Gage was a good idea on paper. Nokia had a win streak spanning several mobile devices, and sought to bridge the gap by combining this with a handheld gaming device, with a focus for online play. It failed miserably at creating enough games to satisfy consumers, and the online functionality was tragically ambitious.

Far from luring consumers away from the Gameboy Advance, in the first few weeks on sale in the USA it was outsold by the Gameboy 100 to 1. The N-Gage was followed by the N-Gage QD in 2004, intending to fix the design flaws with the original. But this was proved to be not enough to reengage customers, and in 2005 the N-Gage was discontinued, with Nokia shifting their focus elsewhere.

2- Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon entered the smartphone market in 2014 with some confidence from its successful kindle and tablet hardware, but this didn’t translate into a strong mobile. While there was a lot of anticipation surrounding the Fire’s release, much of this fizzled out just months after.

The Fire Phone featured 3D graphics and Firefly, which gave users the option to scan thousands of items and bar codes and then order them from Amazon’s marketplace. The four front-facing cameras allowed the screen to display images with a 3-d effect when the user moved the phone (similar to the Samsung Galaxy S6’s motion wallpaper) but, at best, this was a brief novelty.

One of the main criticisms was the lack of support for popular apps including Google Maps.  This was due to the Fire Phone and tablets running a heavily customised version of Android software, which created a number of compatibility issues with existing apps. Rather than adapt their approach, Amazon tried to create their own take on the app store, with little success.

But the true nail in the coffin of the Amazon Fire phone was its launch price of £379. Instead of following Amazon’s usual strategy of building cheaper hardware to undercut competitors, this cost put it on par with other flagship smartphones at the time and when combined with a disappointing app roster and not-so-subtle attempt to encourage purchases through Amazon, the phone fell flat.

1- LG Flex

The LG Flex, as the name suggests, is a curved phone released by LG in 2013.  Aside from the obvious curved design, notably the Flex also had a sizable 6” screen.  The phone was made largely with Gorilla Glass, now a staple in many smartphones for its durability. In addition to a bizarre and disturbing ad-campaign that featured a user kissing the phone, the Flex drew several criticisms. A curved phone is one thing, but its 6-inch screen meant many users had difficulty holding and using the phone for any extended periods.

The display suffered heavy image retention problems, with app icons often remaining visible for 20 seconds after they should have disappeared. Repeated flexing of the screen lead to many users reporting two dots appearing in the centre of the screen, the result of the phones internal components pushing too hard against the screen panel. Why LG decided to design a flexible phone that shouldn’t be flexed is anyone’s guess.

It was praised for its durability and flexibility but, by trying to create a statement, LG forgot the fundamentals of making a good phone. The curve in the screen was not intended to be merely a gimmick, as, according to LG, it was designed to make the phone resistant to being sat on inadvertently. This isn’t a big threat to smartphones, so realistically the curve was more of a chance for LG to boast its capabilities, but given the horrendous price-tag of over £600 at launch the Flex didn’t boast enough features for a following, and was forgotten quickly.

That’s it for our Top 5 Failed Mobile Phone Concepts. Have we missed out a mobile monstrosity? Drop us a comment in the box below!