The smartphone fails and flops of 2019

Best worst things in 2019
In general, 2019 was a pretty good year for smartphones. However, with so many manufacturers, devices, new technologies, and a race to be the best new thing on the block, we are always bound to get a fail or two every now and again. So, what were the flops in 2019? Let's check them out:

Nokia 9 PureView

A hotly anticipated device, which heated up our anticipation with every leak. Equipped with a total of 5 cameras placed in a weird pattern on the back, the new PureView was supposed to be an amazing cameraphone. Nokia also praised its capabilities when presenting the device on stage. The phone uses five 12 MP sensors that fire off at the same time when you press the shutter, and then stitches the photos together to supposedly achieve great detail and exposure.

Well, we got to use the Nokia 9 PureView. And the experience wasn't really all that. For one, the camera app was slow and processing the pictures you take took some waiting. To top it off, sometimes, the stitching would fail miserably, creating oddly misaligned shapes in the photos. And when it did work, the Nokia 9 PureView's photos didn't look all that better or different than any other mainstream flagship. And at night, it's actually worse than its competitors.

Samsung's ultrasonic fingerprint scanners

The first generation of in-screen fingerprint scanners that came out in 2018 was of the "optical" type — the sensor was located under the glass and whenever the user would place their finger on there, a small part of the screen would light up to allow the scanner to "see" and read the print. These are still in use today by various brands and have gotten quite good when it comes to speed and accuracy.

Samsung, however, chose to go a different path, which is why it arrived a bit late to the in-screen fingerprint scanner game. Sammy's tech is an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, utilizing a complex combination of components to send a sonic pulse, bounce it off your finger, and then read a 3D map of the scanned print. Reportedly, it's more secure than the optical tech, and it should also work consistently whether your fingers are wet, greasy, or smudged up.

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In reality, however, the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 lines was a mildly infuriating letdown. It often fails on the first scan and usually takes a couple of beats too long to actually register the fingerprint. We hope that a second generation would improve on those issues in 2020, but for now, ultrasonic fingerprint scanners were a disappointment.

The foldable future

The year started pretty strong with not just one but two major companies finally revealing their upcoming foldable phones. Those were the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X. Both devices had us on the edges of our seats and we braced for their launches. And that's where disappointment came.

The Galaxy Fold was just about to ship when major structural issues were discovered. See, a small number of units were sent to reviewers and influencers for early content, reviews, and promotion. It wasn't long before, one by one, these units started giving out. At first, Samsung said it's just a fluke and that the Galaxy Fold's release will proceed as planned. But when the first broken units were returned and inspected by Sammy engineers, the release was halted. We had to wait another 5 months until the Fold was re-released with a few improvements to reduce its weaknesses. But still, the hype was killed and users weren't as confident in buying the super-expensive phone. It seems that even Samsung knew this because you can't customize the colors of a re-launched Galaxy Fold — that's something that was available on the original pre-orders.

As for the Huawei Mate X... by now, we have no idea if we will ever see this phone. It was supposed to launch in September, then it was delayed all the way to November. To top it off, Huawei is having trouble selling in international markets thanks to being barred from using Google's framework on its Android forks. Reportedly, the Mate X did launch in China — it was a short, online-only flash sale, which ended as quickly as it began with the Mate X labeled as "sold out". We have no idea how many of them are out there and whether we'd ever get to see one.

Worth noting: the Motorola razr (2019) has launched recently and, thus far, there are no fails. In fact, the phone is widely praised for its construction, compactness, and nostalgia points.

Touchless navigation

Project Soli: What was promised vs What was delivered from r/GooglePixel

Both LG and Google took a stab at air gestures this year. The LG G8's "Z Camera" on the front was used to detect a user's hand when it hovers over the display. From there, you can flick your wrist left or right to launch apps or control media, or twist your wrist in a knob-rotating motion to control volume. Sounds like a feature that you'd appreciate when your hands are wet or otherwise messy while cooking, for example. Unfortunately, the G8's Air Motion feature rarely activates when desired — it's generally a hit-or-miss, mostly miss.

Then, we have Google's Pixel 4 — the phone that has a huge forehead specifically because it has a teeny tiny radar chip in there, supposedly meant to detect hand motions with intent around the phone. It's the result of Google's Project Soli — a long-running effort to develop a touchless interaction interface. Well... what we got on the Pixel 4 is far from the concepts Soli set off with. Basically, the Pixel 4's radar helps you change songs and cancel calls by waving in front of the screen. Oh, it also helps with faster face scanning because the radar will detect when you are about to pick up the phone.


Honorable mention: Google Stadia

While not strictly a smartphone thing, half of Stadia's appeal is the ability to play AAA games on your phone. Well, the potential ability, because you probably can't do it right now. Not only is Stadia running only on the Pixels right now, it isn't doing great. Google was adamant that there would be absolutely no latency issues with Stadia on launch. However, the many people that pre-ordered a Founder's Pack might want to argue that — some have reported input lags of up to 4 seconds (not milliseconds). So, it's safe to say the Stadia launch wasn't exactly a booming success.

Add to that some controversies around the picture quality — users were promised 4K but got upscaled 1080p on some games — and the weird pricing model, which will also ask you to buy your games specifically for Stadia, and we have a very shaky product. Google wants to be confident in Stadia's future, but we sure aren't.

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