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2010 in Review: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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23rd December 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, we present our traditional line-up of what we think are the best, worst and ugliest handsets to be launched this year.

The Good..

Honourable mentions

It's been another pretty good year for new phones, but some of the standout devices that we have seen this year include the very different Samsung I9000 Galaxy S and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Android phones, and although it wasn't strictly a phone the Apple iPad certainly got people talking. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 finally offered what many BlackBerry fans have been waiting a long time for, and the Nokia C3 Touch and Type combined a small touchscreen with a very traditional monoblock handset layout.

Runners Up

 Nokia N8 Not all touchscreens are the same - Nokia N8

Probably the best Symbian device to date, although not without its faults.. especially when it comes to reliability on some batches. The Nokia N8 is a huge improvement over Nokia's previous efforts, it comes with a very high quality camera and it is one of the best looking touchscreen handsets on the market.

Nokia's re-commitment to Symbian has come out of necessity after the stalled development of the MeeGo operating system, and although it lacks the polish and usability of some rivals, the N8 is a big hit with Nokia fans.

Although it's not a replacement for last year's N900, the N8 shows that there is plenty of life left in this veteran operating system.

 Apple iPhone 4 The one to beat: Apple iPhone 4

Another phone with faults, the Apple iPhone 4's ultra high resolution "retina" display and massively improved features all round make this one of 2010's stand out devices.

Taking a break from the design of previous models, the iPhone 4 is a flatter device with a distinctive external antenna that nobody else has thought to use.. but perhaps that is for a reason.

The iPhone 4 comes with a much improved operating system which finally allows multitasking, and also it comes with a proprietary Apple video calling system which has yet to take off.

Love them or hate them, the iPhone range is an impressive and highly polished offering that has had massive sales success, and is the model that all other manufacturers try to beat.

 HTC Desire Best phone of 2010: HTC Desire

A huge sales success for HTC, the HTC Desire combined a fast processor, beautiful display and ever improving Android operating system in an understated design that looked just a little bit distinctive. Probably the most likely smartphone that you willl see other than the iPhone, the Desire has been a significant boost for both HTC and the entire Android platform.

It's hard to fault this particular device, and because we think that it has brought positive benefits to the market as a whole, then we are pleased to say that we think that the HTC Desire is the best phone of 2010.

..the Bad..

Runners Up

Most phones this year have been really good, but we found the Samsung Galaxy Tab to be a huge disappointment in practice - in use it was just an oversized and overpriced Android phone that completely lacked the appeal of the iPad. The Sony Ericsson Vivaz and Vivaz Pro were deeply flawed attempts to produce a Symbian smartphone and effectively killed off Sony Ericsson's engagement with that platform. The entire Samsung Shark range looked like a relic from the past and failed to make any significant market impact.

 Apple iPhone 4 Antennagate: Apple iPhone 4

It's not the first time that the iPhone has featured as both one of the best and worst handsets in our list.

In most respects the iPhone 4 is an excellent device.. but a significant and rather silly fault in the antenna design got completely out of hand earlier in the year, with Apple first denying that there was a problem, and then trying to divert attention by bad mouthing competitors.. before finally admitting that there WAS potentially an issue and taking steps to fix it.

Apple's truly awful management of the problem made the problem much worse, and it serves as an object lesson on how NOT to do it. Even die-hard Apple fans were shocked at Apple's attitude to the easily demonstrable problem, although by the end of the year the whole "antennagate" issue has more-or-less faded away.


 Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 Needs more effort: Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10

On paper the XPERIA X10 should have trounced the opposition and been one of the best handsets of 2010.. after all, the hardware specifications are even more impressive than the Desire. But the shipped operating system was out-of-date, and the X10 has lagged behind when it comes to upgrades. Sony Ericsson claim that the X10 doesn't support multitouch either, a major omission.. but hacked firmware for the X10 shows that it is indeed possible. With more effort, the XPERIA X10 would have been a winner, but in our view this phone completely fails to meet its potential.

 Microsoft KIN Worst phone of 2010: Microsoft KIN

A pair of phones, the Microsoft KIN ONE and KIN TWO stand out as possibly the most disastrous handset releases ever. Despite a massive marketing campaign in the US, sales remained stubbornly close to zero. The units were over-priced, under powered and it was impossible to add applications to them.. even the least tech savvy consumers seemed to understand that rival handsets were a better deal.

After a few short weeks of disastrous sales, Microsoft pulled the product line, and killed off the entire division responsible for this disaster. what's worse is that the effort put into KIN also effectively killed off the T-Mobile SideKick at the same time. Added to that, the KIN disaster shook people's confidence in the new Windows Phone 7 operating system which was launched shortly afterwards.

The cost to Microsoft must have been enormous, and this will probably be remembered for many years to come as one of the biggest nightmare launches ever. If you live in the US, you can probably pick up a KIN as a curiosity from the bargain bins in your local phone store.

..and the Ugly.

Cheap and not particularly cheerful, the Vodafone 150 did have the advantage of being very cheap indeed. The Microsoft KIN ONE was not only a huge disaster, it wasn't exactly a looker either. The Nokia X3 Touch and Type is a good idea, but the keypad layout is just plain wrong. The Sony Ericsson Aspen is a peculiarly mis-shapen attempt at a messaging phone. The Motorola Flipout is a radical design for an Android phone.. but perhaps just a bit too radical.

 Samsung Omnia 735 Ugly: Samsung Omnia 735

In what must have been a supreme lack of effort, Samsung pushed out this Windows Mobile 6.5 device long after other manufacturers had stopped bothering and were looking forwards to Windows Phone 7 instead.

The cosmetic design reflects this lack of anything interesting going on, making the Omnia 735 a pretty dull device to handle as well as use.

There is perhaps a redeeming feature with the Omnia 735 though. The new Windows 7 operating system is incompatible with previous offerings, so corporate customers who have built applications on older versions of Windows will need to follow a different upgrade path, and one that the Omnia 735 does offer.

 Dell Venue Pro  

Uglier: Dell Venue Pro

Ugly doesn't have to mean bad, the Dell Venue Pro is by all accounts a really excellent bit of kit. But for some reason, Dell put the slide out-keyboard on the short "bottom" edge making the already oversized device almost comic to look at.

Somehow Dell managed to take a truly massive handset and give it a tiny little keyboard that doesn't add much value. When opened, the Dell Venue Pro is probably the biggest mobile phone on the market.

If Dell had gone down a more traditional route and placed a big QWERTY keyboard along the long edge of the phone, as most rivals do, then this could have been a winner. As it is, the Dell Venue Pro smacks of design by committee, or one too many strong beers for lunch.


 Black Slabby Phones Ugliest: Generic Black Slabby Touchscreen Phone

Not a single phone, but a whole class of almost identical black slabby touchscreen phones that manufacturers churn out in massive numbers. Our wallchart this year looks a little like a catalogue from a monumental masons.

Yes, there are limited thing you can do with what is basically a touch-sensitive screen, a few buttons and some metal and plastic housing, but the Nokia N8 and LG GT540 show that not all touchscreens have to look the same. It's a bit of a shame that the rather lovely white iPhone 4 never came to market this year, but perhaps Apple will take the lead in 2011 with whatever their next version of the iPhone will be.

So, for this reason the award for the ugliest phone of 2010 has to be shared between pretty much every manufacturer going.. so step forward Apple, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Nokia and many others.


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