8th December 2011
As 2011 comes to a close, we look at the best, worst and ugliest
phones and tablets to hit the market during the year.
There have been a lot of excellent handsets and tablets this
year. Starting with tablets, the Apple
iPad 2 improved on the best tablet last year and is still very
difficult to beat. However, the competition upped its game with
the excellent and powerful Motorola
XOOM (and now XOOM
2) and Sony's distinctive and capable Sony
Tablet S. One surprise hit was the HP
Touchpad.. when HP knocked 80% or so off the price to dump the
stock it is, leading to the surprising revelation that the Touchpad
was actually a very nice piece of kit, and a real bargain at the
prices it was selling for. Amazon also got in the game with the
Kindle Fire, a very different approach to making an Android
During 2011 smartphones got much cheaper at one end of the scale
and much more powerful at the other, leaving feature phones
out in the cold. The long-awaited Nokia
N9 is beautiful but was always doomed, being the first and last
MeeGo phone from Nokia. HTC haven't had such a good year, but two
stand-out devices are the HTC
Sensation XE Android smartphone which is fast and has excellent
music capabilities, and the HTC
TITAN which is definitely one of the best Windows Phone 7.5
devices out there.
DEFY and DEFY+
were designed to be more life-proof than the average fragile smartphone.
Sony Ericsson demonstrated the beautifully designed Sony
Ericsson Xperia Arc and Arc
S smartphones, proving that not all phones need to look like
a plain black slab.
Samsung had a strong showing during 2011. The Samsung
Galaxy Note is fast and has a huge screen, sitting somewhere
between a tablet and smartphone. The Samsung
Galaxy Mini is a strong contender in the Android prepay market.
Google's third Nexus handset, the Samsung
Galaxy Nexus is the first to run Android 4.0 "ICS".
A very honourable mention must be made of the Samsung
Galaxy S II, a very fast and desirable device which is only
let down by its uninspiring design.
Not the iPhone we were waiting for: Apple iPhone
iPhone 4S wasn't the iPhone 5 than people were hoping
for, the 4S is a significant upgrade in hardware and
software terms over the old iPhone 4. In particular,
the Siri voice recognition and location based alerts
are two very useful features, but there are hundreds
of tweaks that keep the iPhone 4S in the game.
Even if you are not an Apple fan, you can probably
appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into
this device, and Apple's ability to keep the wraps on
the launch and STILL have millions of units available
to sell straight away.
The launch of the iPhone 4S coincided with the premature
death of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Reports after Jobs's
death indicate that the iPhone 5 was canned just months
before launch because Jobs disagreed with several key
technical aspects.. but we can probably expect to see
the handset launched in modified form during 2012.
Motorola RAZR XT910
Motorola took a bit of a risk when they revived the
RAZR name for the ultra-thin Motorola
RAZR XT910 smartphone. But it suits the device very
well, this very slim, Kevlar clad and big screen phone
is certainly one of the best phones out this year.
Yes, some phones may be prettier, and some phones
(but not many) may be more powerful, but the RAZR is
a good mixture of both. Motorola have worked hard on
the software and have an interesting range of docks
and accessories too, making this a more accomplished
offering than the rival Samsung Galaxy S II.
Motorola have had a good year in terms of product
releases, but not so good in terms of sales. From next
year they should be a subsidiary of Google, although
whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen.
device of 2011: Nokia Lumia 800
Nokia haven't had the top spot in our list since
in 2007, but the new Nokia
Lumia 800 is certainly the most competitive Nokia
we have seen for a long time, and hopefully it proves
that Nokia is bouncing back after several years of poor
The Lumia 800 isn't the first Windows Phone 7.5 device
to market, and it isn't the most powerful. What sets
the Lumia 800 apart is a combination of an attractive
physical design along with a compelling user interface
that makes rivals look obsolete.
There is nothing else quite like the Lumia 800 on
the market, and although die-hard Apple and Android
fans may not be tempted to switch, we still expect
this to be a strong seller into 2012. The Nokia
Lumia 800 feels very fresh, and behind the smart exterior
is a very smart device. For this reason, we are pleased
to say that in our view, the Nokia Lumia 800 is the
best phone of 2011.
What makes a "bad" phone? In our view it is when something
has gone horribly wrong in product development, leading to something
that is fundamentally flawed and essentially useless as a product.
HP's entire webOS range was a disaster this year, leading to
the cancellation of HP's smartphone and tablet line-up which was
all based on the Palm business they acquired in 2010. HP's flagship
smartphone, the HP
Pre 3 wasn't all that bad in truth, but the HP-only operating
system sidelined the Pre 3 and the entire webOS range.
Feature phones were launched.. and failed. The Motorola
GLEAM is a different type of RAZR and is a relic dredged up
from somewhere in Motorola's basement. Sony Ericsson failed with
the annoyingly named Sony
Ericsson txt and txt
pro - feature phones that should really have been smartphones
Nokia made some horrible devices - the Nokia
Oro is a gold plated dinosaur that was launched at the height
of Nokia's current crisis, and although it has some strong points
the launch was met with derision from many commentators. The Nokia
X2-05 and C2-05
are versions of quite decent cheap phones with all the best bits
is not always best: LG Optimus 2X
Optimus 2X was the first dual-core smartphone to
market. It has a 4" WVGA display, an 8 megapixel
camera on the back and a whole set of other feature
that made the 2X look really good.. on paper.
In reality, the LG Optimus 2X was very unstable in
use with many users complaining of random reboots and
lockups. Many of these faults were fixed in a software
update, but there are still questions over the build
quality of the device.
The faults were widely publicised, and sales of the
2X were pretty low as a result. If LG had spent more
time on their flagship device then it might have been
better, but as it is LG have struggled throughout 2011
and there are questions over their long-term future
in this business.
is Boring: BlackBerry Bold 9900
Research in Motion (who own the BlackBerry brand)
appear to live in their own reality bubble. Ignoring
the obvious fashion for large screen touchscreen phones,
Bold 9900 comes with a tiny touchscreen shoehorned
into their traditional format device. Is a 2.8"
touchscreen any use in the real world? We think not,
and in the case of the 9900 it is essentially a gimmick.
But BlackBerry fans did buy the 9900, only to find
the battery life was poor, the phone would lock up and
reboot randomly and there were numerous software bugs.
It was made worse by a major outage when the BlackBerry
network was offline for several days.
RIM are struggling to keep a foothold in the changing
smartphone market, and unimaginative and unreliable
handsets such as the 9900 are not going to help.
device of 2011: BlackBerry Playbook
RIM again.. this time with a tablet. The BlackBerry
Playbook is another device with good and bad points.
The hardware is very nice, and the QNX based OS is fundamentally
very good.. but crucially it can't run BlackBerry smartphone
When the Playbook shipped, the software wasn't finished.
Subsequent software updates made things better, but
the Playbook still lacks a native email client.. all
email has to be downloaded through a BlackBerry smartphone.
As with the HP Touchpad, the Playbook was yet another
incompatible platform that couldn't gain any momentum.
Heavy discounting by retailers has failed to help much.
Most consumers looking for a tablet tend to buy an Apple,
those that don't are drawn to Samsung, Motorola and
Sony devices because they run Android. The Playbook
is not something that the market needs, and in it#s
imperfect form we think that this is the worst device
to be launched during 2011.
..and the Ugly.
Ugly doesn't mean bad, but sometimes products are either under-designed,
over-designed or just plain wrong to look at. Some of the less attractive
phones we have seen this year include the HTC
ChaCha, which appears to have a Facebook zit on its chin, the
XP3300 Force which is as tough as nails but isn't exactly a
looker and the Samsung
Galaxy Nexus which is an incredibly dull looking phone for something
so technologically advanced.
where's my keyboard? Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
We like the Sony
Ericsson Xperia Play, it's a handset that realises
that many smartphone owners like to play games and as
a result it has a load of PlayStation goodness built
When closed, the Xperia Play looks like a normal
slabby smartphone.. but open it up and, well what *is*
that? At first glance it looks like something is missing,
on closer examination it looks like someone has glued
a gaming pad in place instead of the keyboard. It looks
By the time the Xperia Play's replacement comes out,
Sony will be fully in control of this manufacturer.
Perhaps the Sony Xperia Play 2 might be more of a looker?
in peace: Nokia X7
There's something coffin-like about the design of
the Nokia X7, perhaps this is apt given that the Symbian
platform that the X7 runs hasn't got long to live.
It's a big slab of a phone, and although the shaved-off
edges make it look more interesting, it isn't necessarily
in a good way.
Combine the striking looks with a high price tag,
and you'll not be surprised to learn that the X7 hasn't
exactly been a sales success.
device of 2011: Porsche Design P’9981 Smartphone from
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 has already featured once
in this list.. and not in a good way. But one of the
good things about the 9900 was the ergonomics - BlackBerry
devices have always been carefully designed for usability.
The Porsche Design P’9981 takes the BlackBerry Bold
9900 and redesigns the outside of it, removing all the
good design that BlackBerry put in place and replacing
it with a piece of designer awfulness that makes it
much harder to use.
Yes, this is a luxury brand on a luxury handset,
but as with many other similar "premium" devices
you would be better off with a normal smartphone if
you actually want to use the thing.