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The five worst tech products of 2009

Despite the economic climate, 2009 was a great year for tech innovation. But, there were still some stinkers. See the five worst products of the year.

While 2009 was a rocky year for the global economy, the technology industry continued its relentless march forward, especially in the areas of mobile Internet, smartphones, laptops, Web applications, and the virtualized data center. But, wherever there's progress you'll also find a boneyard of failed experiments, over-hyped products, and perennial under-achievers.

Here is my list of the five worst products in the tech industry in 2009. As you'll see, the list is dominated by products in the mobile space but that's only because mobile is where a lot of the innovation and investment is happening.

Let's count them down.

5. Android 1.0

It may seem unfair to put Google's Android operating system on this list because Android 2.0 - which powers the Verizon Droid that launched in Q4 - has developed into a competitive smartphone platform. However, before the launch of the Droid, the Android OS was high on hype and low on product development. The Android 1.0 devices, the T-Mobile G1 (below) and the myTouch 3G (which technically runs Android 1.5), were awful to use. The software was slow, clunky, and just generally felt unfinished. Android 2.0 is much better, but still faces the danger of forking the way other Linux and open source projects have.

4. The 7-inch netbook

During the first half of 2009, computer makers sold a lot of netbooks, powered mostly by a tough economy that drove budget-conscious consumers to these inexpensive systems. However, consumer complaints piled up about the first generation of netbooks, which featured scaled-down 7-inch LCDs and squished keyboards that were difficult to use (see ASUS Eee PC 701 below). Computer makers responded in the second half of 2009 by expanding the dimensions of most netbooks to feature 10-inch screens and more standard keyboards. In essence, the 7-inch netbook has been phased out, and thankfully so. Netbooks are now just slightly smaller and cheaper laptops. That was the point I was trying to make in my article Netbooks are dead. Long live the notebook.

3. Samsung Omnia

I tested and reviewed a lot of different smartphones in 2009. Some of the best ones I used were the iPhone 3GS, the BlackBerry Tour, the Palm Pre, and the Verizon Droid. The worst smartphone that I tested in 2009 was the Samsung Omnia. In fact, it's the worst smartphone I've ever used. The Omnia was a Windows Mobile device with Samsung's TouchWiz UI running on top of it. So, it had the out-dated software and speed limitations of Windows Mobile combined with the overcomplicated and unresponsive TouchWiz interface. Samsung recognized the folly of the Omnia and quickly replaced it with the Omnia 2 before the end of 2009. Still, if you want a Windows Mobile touchscreen I'd recommend the HTC TouchPro2 or HTC HD2.

2. AT&T 3G coverage

While iPhone sales exceeded expectations in 2009 and helped AT&T add a lot of new wireless customers, the reputation of AT&T's network - it's primary asset - took a huge hit in 2009, and rightfully so. With so many iPhone users in New York and San Francisco, the AT&T network buckled in those two metros under the strain of all the data traffic. The result was diminished speeds for 3G Internet service and lots of dropped calls. Since New York and San Francisco are where most of the tech press is located, AT&T really took it on the chin for its performance problems. Next came Verizon's full frontal attack on AT&T's network issues with its map ads (see below). Thus, it's likely that 2009 will be remembered as the year that AT&T's cobbled-together network and under-investment in 3G infrastructure were laid bare for the eyes of the world to see.

1. Google Wave

With its mission to replace email, or at least be what email could have been if it were invented in the 21st century, Google Wave launched on to the technology scene with grand ambitions in 2009. Announced at the Google I/O developer conference in the spring, Google Wave became a hot topic in the fall when Google's policy of making the Beta available via invitation-only created a feeding frenzy on social networks for people clamoring for Google Wave invites. From the very beginning I said that this was one of those products that looks great in a presentation but makes no sense in the real world. After trying Google Wave when the product was released into the wild, my opinion hasn't changed (and others such as Robert Scoble have come to the same conclusion). Google Wave is basically a super-chatty IM client, and a badly overhyped one at that. The only use I can see for this product is for geographically dispersed project teams collaborating and brainstorming on documents and product development ideas in real time. Email has nothing to fear. Google Wave will not be stealing its throne.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

181 comments
acohen39
acohen39

Hiner, you wrote "Netbooks are now just slightly smaller and cheaper laptops. That was the point I was trying to make in my article. Netbooks are dead. Long live the notebook." Actually NETbooks are VERY MUCH quite alive and selling well, thank you. Also, read geekazine's comment and GET A CLUE!

ggheorghiu
ggheorghiu

You say about Google wave: "The only use I can see for this product is for geographically dispersed project teams collaborating and brainstorming on documents and product development ideas in real time" That is exactly what makes it great!

intrepidusa2008
intrepidusa2008

I am surprised that this guy still works at TechRepublic...and he is the "Editor in Chief"? What a Microsoft and Marketing slave. To say that Android 1.0 was one of the worst "Products" of 2009 is just completely wrong, it is not a product, it is an operating system or platform...the "Product" was the G1 and it was hardware challenged for a first realease product...the first iPhone was also a joke if anyone remembers having to reboot the damn thing after running an application. To say that Google wanted to replace email with Wave is just ignorance at it's finest...how about going and doing some research on what Google Wave's REAL intent for use is before you jot down whatever your "feeling" is about a product or right after you open that thank you letter from Microshaft for your previous iterations about how great they are. YIKES!

jck
jck

[b]5. Android 1.0[/b] I find it funny that an OS (one focused on the mobile market, no less...whose platform is going to have diminished performance) is one of the 5 worst tech products. Yet, Microsoft Windows 7 (which is essentially Vista with a facelift and the next service pack to fix performance issues) that on its initial release has left 10,000s of customers without a functional computer and it gets no mention? Something wrong with this picture. [b]4. The 7-inch netbook[/b] I agree, as well as think 10 and 11 inch netbooks are useless anyway and for the reasons you mention: they are just smaller than the small laptops and aren't cost beneficial in comparison. [b]3. Samsung Omnia[/b] Not heard much of it. I did hear about other phones catching fire and blowing up though. They should at least get honorable mentions. :^0 [b]2. AT&T 3G coverage[/b] Lack of vision and a command of the market you are driving is a poor thing for a corporation to use as its basis for operations, but I don't think AT&T's 3G Service was one of the 5 worst products. So their service sucked in NYC and San Fran? So what? That is 11M of 300M people they offer coverage to? Besides, 3G has limited benefit to the normal public. Most people don't pass 10MB spreadsheets over their cell phone regularly. Texting and dirty pics are about the limit for most Americans. [b]1. Google Wave[/b] Finally, we agree on something totally. Google Wave is not email. It is IM Part Deux. Mail is something you get in a box (electronic or otherwise) that you open and read. Instant Messaging is real time reception of messages as they come in for immediate consumption. Google Wave is useless, much as Google's Office Apps are. Why pay Google for apps processing and have to develop in their API in your enterprise, when you can download and configure and install OpenOffice? Google Wave does nothing for me except pose information insecurity. What are the worst tech products to me? [b][u]Intel i7 975 Extreme[/u][/b] - I know, they technically got released at the end of last year, but they went into mass sales at the very beginning of 2009. Overpriced, overhyped: Should have been a server processor instead. You can OC their other i7 CPUs to faster clock speeds for 25% of the cost and afford a RAID of 128GB SSDs for what you save. [b][u]LED televisions[/u][/b] - So far, I've seen both LCD and LED televisions offering the same refresh, size, etc. The only real difference I've seen in them is price...about $400-1000 more for LEDs. If you're hanging it on the wall and 2-3 inches of depth makes that much of a differnce, I'd suggest in remodelling and expanding your house. [b][u]Slap Chop[/u][/b] - Okay, so it's not that technical except for taking it apart to clean and putting back together. When I was a kid, my mom had a device like this. It was called a "nut chopper", and to clean it you unscrewed the top off the base (handle and all), rinsed both off in the sink, and put them in the dishwasher. It was sold by Tupperware, if I remember correctly for less than $15. I'd rather have a Sham-Wow anyway. :^0

patclem
patclem

Yes, it's in its infancy. But anyone remember how crappy first generation of email was? Wave is the first innovative communication tool to arrive on the scene in 10 years. #1 in the article is famous last words. I am an IT professional, and the president of a geographically disperse nonprofit (one of our board is in Australia!) and we have a very limited budget right now. Google Wave is the only thing we've found that lets us collaborate efficiently. Hosted SharePoint is too expensive for us. Version control is too difficult with anything else. With Wave, it's free and there is no version!

viper777
viper777

I own one of those Eee PC netbooks which just adds to my laptop collection. These were only supposed to be for the 3rd world countries but people stormed for all over the world for them and they have sold millions. They can't be used seriously for serious programs as the screen resolution without scrolling sideways and up and down can only be 800x600. Other negatives is that many Internet sites are just not suited for those resolutions and it's like viewing the Net on a Pocket PC. LOL try I-tunes on such a screen setting. BUT for Word-processing, Excel that don't want a greater resolution, they are great. If you treat it more as a utility laptop, you can program radios with it, control them, hack if you want to, get quick info from your wireless broadband, watch streamed movies without jerking and so on. If a Pocket-PC had the same capability as the Eee PC (for example my X51v) I would be happy for some things to be worked on the Pocket PC, but no real keyboard, limited screens and adaptability shunts them out for use in some cases. Because we have a market, I too would bias the stats towards 10 inch screened laptops - simply because of the larger screen and hopefully a better resolution without the need to scroll across a windows UI... memory not a problem with 2Gig; webcam is good enough on the go, with a SDHC card in the spare SD slot, it holds tonnes of information at your finger tips - I'll be keeping my Eee PC for a very long time!

binghamc
binghamc

Hahaha...I love your last comment on Google wave..."The only use I can see for this product is for geographically dispersed project teams collaborating and brainstorming on documents and product development ideas in real time" I find this rather hilarious "only" because groupware has massive potential in corporate settings...You are right though e-mail has nothing to fear...

penney_jay
penney_jay

Google Wave is the new ICQ and not even close to a E-mail killer or even E-mail buddy. Wave is a CHAT tool and not a email too. I see it being big. But it is not useful like email is. It is a chatting tool, and a very good one. People forget, email is used for Telling things and Wave is for Talking about things. There is a big difference.

geekazine
geekazine

I hate it when someone comes out with a list and puts general items on it. The 7-inch Netbook? AT&T 3G coverage? Tells me you haven't done much research. How about the H1N1 Wand? Palm Pre is NOT the best phone, no mention there. The Sidekick became the worst phone to have after the data profile server crashed. With the Psystar case, a Mac Clone by Psystar might be the worst computer to have. Put a little more thought in it.

bboswell
bboswell

The Seagate BlackArmor 440 NAS should be on this list... it is the only product I ever have had to send back to the manufacturer because it refused to talk (actually disappered-apparently the product's whole TCP/IP stack collapses) on a LAN on which a Cisco router was connected(!). Tech support (no e-mail or chat support is available on this product, BTW) said the Cisco router on our company's LAN *WAS* the problem. No firmware upgrade to fix it, either. What kind of dumbass would release a product that couldn't talk on 40-50% of the networks in small to medium businesses in America?

mydoghasworms
mydoghasworms

It's unfair to list something like Google Wave which has not even been released yet. Even though I too was unimpressed at first, I have since had dozens of snowball conversations on email at work, where I said to myself: "This is a job for Wave!". In a corporate setting, Wave could make perfect sense.

kgunnIT
kgunnIT

To add Google Wave to the list is hardly fair. The product was just launched and remains in beta. Yes, it is confusing, yes there needs to be some tweaks to the UI, yes it has a long way to go, but the product is still in beta. Google launches betas long before a final product to get feedback, and from my experience, they are good about listening to feedback. I don't think it will "replace" email, but it does add some features and functionality that can be useful, and I think we will start seeing Google Wave show up in products sooner than later as more people and developers gain access to the product/service.

john3347
john3347

It is refreshing to find someone who has the fortitude (or is it independence?) to judge Giggle applications for what they are worth rather than blubbering about how wonderful they are only because they are Giggle. Google itself should be No.1 on worst products of the past several years. As has been pointed out by previous posters, Windows 7 positively should have made this list! SOOOOOO many features that we have become familiar with, used, and that added so much to productivity have been chopped from Windows 7. Only a couple of such items are classic start menu and inability to arrange Windows Explorer icons. Libraries have added to the confusion for the typical home user who cannot find their saved documents instead of organizing Windows Explorer to make storage and access intuitive. In eliminating dozens of features from XP and even from Vista, it is kinda like going to the spring to get a pail of drinking water and finding the pail is quite heavy when filled with water; so you pour the water out to make the pail easier to carry. When you get back home, you got no water to drink, so nothing has been accomplished by making the trip. Likewise, nothing has been accomplished by Windows 7!

mmparab
mmparab

How come Nokia N97 didn't make the list of worsts here. As a lifelong Nokia user, I was tad dissappointed with Nokia's forray into the Touchscreen Smartphone market.

kristofuh
kristofuh

Ok... you lost credibility rather quickly. #5 - you say the Droid pretty much sucks. But then in #3 - you call it out to be one of the best you tested. I wonder now: how many other articles of yours have I read that were also completely contradictory?

fred64
fred64

This product is certainly good for teams collaborating together as you say, but its unfair to judge it within an E-Mail arena at this point, because you can only use it that way with wave invitees. E-mail by definition is more global in reach.

soundy
soundy

The Omnia is a great phone... you just have to get rid of the stock interface. First thing I did with mine was to install SPB Mobile Shell, but there are lots of others available, many of them free. If I had one lump of coal to give to Samsung - and a number of other phone manufacturers, LG in particular - it would be the continued use of proprietary sync/charging ports. My HTC used mini-USB. So did my RAZR, as does my wife's KRZR and my son's Blackberry. With the Omnia, all those multitudes of existing, interchangeable sync cables, car chargers, home chargers, travel chargers, etc. become extraneous again. Get with the program, people! Brand-locked accessories are SO 2003!

mike.england
mike.england

Palm Pre...badly designed software. The Pre could have been designed so much better.

panzrwagn
panzrwagn

Verizon's skinny 3G backhauls (>80% are T1 Copper 1.5MB/Sec) means that 2 iPhones or Androids can swamp a given cell tower. Verizon's inability to do voice and data simultaneously painfully obvious, and a major disincentive for business users. Verizons pending dump of CDMA entirely for 4G LTE and resulting obsolescence of every Verizon dataphone and wireless nic they've ever sold, along with the $60-$100 billion it will cost them to do the conversion compared to AT&Ts need to up their tower count somewhat in major metro areas means I wouldn't be betting on Verizon for long. Forget the iPhone for a moment, there are reasons why AT&T is the #1 Blackberry reseller, too.

dlennox
dlennox

I read this article (link below) in yesterday's NY Times that completely refutes your low opinion of AT&T. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/business/13digi.html?_r=1&ref=technology My wife & I each have Blackberrys - hers uses Verizon and mine uses AT&T. We agree the data throughput on both is quite often unacceptably slow. However, when vacationing in the country my AT&T often gets service when her Verizon service will offer nothing.

RobD.
RobD.

I agree with you that the Omnia is not a good phone. I have one and at this point I can't wait to get rid of it. The phone itself is well made, but using it is an exercise in frustration. For example, the touch pointer is a seperate tool that does not store in the body of the phone. Instead it has a tiny loop on the cap that you are supposed to tether to the side of the phone. Major fail! I could keep going on how painful this phone is to use but what's the point? I'm not sure it's the worst smart phone of 2009, but it is vary far from the best.

stevenb
stevenb

By far, the worst technology product I have ever used is an online CRM product called Franklin Covey PlanPlus Online. The system is incredibly slow, incredibly buggy, their product support is practically non-existent, and they refuse to give refunds. It's really sad that a product with such potential is managed so poorly.

bkjrecruiter
bkjrecruiter

Great Article.. What product 5 best products from your view? Until you respond, enJOY yuor week.. Brian-

pbasehore
pbasehore

I would have to disagree with number 3. I have an Omnia and haven't noticed any speed differences with any other WinMo6.1 phone. I did turn off the TouchWiz UI, but more because it was annoyingly overcomplicated than its speed. Using vanilla WinMo 6.1 makes the Omnia a very good phone.

dbecker
dbecker

My family used to have Verizon. It was very costly. As I stood in line for changing certain elements of service, I overheard people trying to work through their challenges with the Verizon representatives. All of those I heard in front of me, and the few behind me, universally left dissatisfied. For many of them, the phone broke just after the first year of warantee, but still within the two years of contract. Their choices were to either pay for another phone or pay off the year of contract. It's a nice scam if you can get people to buy into it. It was also the case that the phones needed to be reprogrammed periodically, and somewhere in the middle of the two year contract, the reprogramming services magically disappeared because the phone was replaced with a new model and wasn't compatible any longer. It wasn't just that. Renewing contracts, and little surprises like some little innocent looking change near the end of the contract automatically added two years to your contract popped up. And of course, the wait in line at Verizon, just like every other provider these days, is an exercise in developing patience -- which is fine for saints, but not so good for customers. Which, in itself, should be one of the items on the list of "worst tech products of 2009" -- and while we all have to admit that *technically* customer service isn't a tech product, it really is because of its association with the tech product itself. As long as there is an alternative of any kind, it is neither Verizon nor AT&T for my family ever again.

sudeep.nambiar
sudeep.nambiar

Totally disagree on Android in this list. Android 2.0 is an 09 release. So I don't think its even fair to talk about Android 1.0 in isolation. Try out a droid. It blows the Iphone out of the park in pure speed and features. Agree on the sucky AT&T network though

gordon.nussey
gordon.nussey

Yes I do remember the first generation of "e-mail". Lets see, it was approx. 30 years ago, when everything was done on the CLI (command line interface), and was totally text based. E-mail was a system whereby you could sent a text "letter" to someone via the "Network". At the time it wasn't CRAPPY, it was innovative, and a boon to those who could use it to communicate with others. I have not tried Google Wave, but it too is very much in it infancy, and maybe it has a place in the fabric of the internet, or maybe it will just fade away. Wee will have to wait and see.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

do you think make sense for Wave?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

has long been a questionable tactic. Google Mail was classified as 'beta' for several years, and didn't come out until this year. This perpetual psuedo-beta status is seen as Google's way of getting people hooked on their apps while being able to deny support; "Hey, what do you want from us? It's a beta, remember?" Based on their history, I think it's fair to evaluate any Google product after it's been available for six months.

TechnoDoc
TechnoDoc

John3347, great comments. I am so tired of having to adapt to dysfunctional "features" so that the lowest common denominator will not become confused. In the future the Windows 8 "look and feel" will degrade all the way to merge with OSXI. Then even "Mac People" will be able to use Windows, while the hands of "the rest of us" will cramp from clicking on the inane cuteness demanded by the lowest common denominator.

dprows
dprows

I don't see a contradiction here. #5 is blasting the Android 1.0 OS, not the Droid running Android 2.0 OS.

RobD.
RobD.

I would still disagree with you on the Omnia being a great phone. SPB Mobile might be a great replacement shell for the Omnia, I might even check it out. But why should anyone have to replace the shell on their phone to make it useable? Would the iPhone be a great phone if out of the box you needed to drop $30 bucks to buy an updated shell for it?

greggwon
greggwon

The iPhone is 40% of the phone count on the AT&T network last I heard and is using 80% of the capacity of the network. So how do you suppose that we should forget the iPhone when considering the AT&T network and how it is performing? If the iPhone didn't exist, there wouldn't be a conversation happening. If AT&T loses the rebid for exclusive iPhone sales, this conversation will be about someone elses network. If I was guessing, I'd bet that we'll actually be talking about the sprint network next...

kgunnIT
kgunnIT

I'd have to disagree with some of your comments. I have heard Verizon switching to LTE/4G, but nothing I read said they were leaving CDMA. As for Data/Voice simultaneously, I have Verizon and doubt that I have done both at the same time. With some phones, email is cached on your phone, so if by chance you need to reference an email, it could already be downloaded, but I haven't even needed this yet. Another thing to consider is that 4G LTE will slowly be rolled out, just as it has always been with any carrier. Overtime, yes, it will be a large investment. As of now, Verizon's network is very stable. AT&T needs large sums of money to invest today in their own network just to meet the current demands. Verizon will be making changes in anticipation of future demands. I WILL be betting on Verizon for quite some time yet.

halfdriven
halfdriven

Only one T1 to a tower? And if I am not mistaken you have been able to used voice and data simultaneously since the first Treo came out

jgmankos
jgmankos

Where did you ever see that Vzw is going to ditch CDMA Altogether? Hmmm? Their phones will still utilize CDMA for Voice/3G data....and will use LTE for 4G data speeds. Take that to the bank.

DBNewbie2007
DBNewbie2007

I had an opportunity to demo a lot of phones recently and the original Omnia was the worst out of the bunch. User interface was OK but the reception (bars on phone), speaker phone and general comments from others regarding voice quality made me stay clear of it.

chuff425
chuff425

The Omnia is a good phone providing it is properly flashed with a good ROM. I currently use blazingwolf's black and blue WinMo 6.5 with the spb shell. this makes for a really nice phone. full of features. I am also on the Verizon network and i have had a whopping 2 dropped calls in about 5 yrs. In remote areas of IL, Verizon is King.

jkoske
jkoske

The Omnia II is a great phone. Fast and easy to use and easy to customize. Full of features and very responsive. After much research, I choose it over Iphone, Droid, Pre and Blackberry. I am glad I waited for the Omnia II.

DBNewbie2007
DBNewbie2007

With regards to the "added two years" I am having a similar problem with AT&T. We waited until all of the phones on our contract expired (based on the AT&T website), tried to cancel all of them. All but one was cancelled. The last phone (set to expire in Oct. 2009) is now set to expire in March of 2010 per AT&T. I noticed my AT&T login does not even show when the plan expires for the phone anymore! Personally, I think customer service is poor for both AT&T and Verizon! But I have to go with the best service (least dropped calls) for my needs, which unfortunately was Verizon.

FXEF
FXEF

I'll have to agree with you that Verizon need to improve their customer service. I was moved to Verizon as a result of the Alltel deal. Needless to say, no longer with Verizon.

leonmarais
leonmarais

Google wave is not in Beta, it is in preview or alpha stage. It is nowhere near ready to even be in Beta stage which is why they have opened it up as an invitation only preview. I agree though that Google Wave will not be giving email a run for its money anytime soon but it does have useful features for collaborating.

pbasehore
pbasehore

Not the best phone in the world? Sure, I'll grant you that. I don't think that qualifies it as one of the "Worst Tech Products of 2009" though.

soundy
soundy

So just disable the TouchWiz interface and use the stock WinMo interface. Add the free QuickMenu for a more Windows-like start menu. And don't blame the inclusion of a bad interface on Samsung - blame it on your carrier. Telus here ships the phone with their own bastardization of TouchWiz, but other carriers' Omnias have better variations of it, as some ship with entirely different interfaces. It's like saying Linux is too difficult for anyone to use simply because you installed a distribution with no GUI, or with a very poor GUI.

kblackmore
kblackmore

I would have to retool to live without cellphone if Verizon were the only choice left

IAmHe
IAmHe

I have personally experienced *enormous* quality and competence disparity from one CS or support rep to another. Some were as professional, knowledgeable and effective as any rep with whom I've dealt. Others were pissy, dim-witted drones who clearly didn't want to be there, gave misinformation, summarily answered "I don't know" to questions they couldn't answer instead of trying to find answers, or made mistakes. (One example: I once called to ask to have a certain long-distance calling feature removed. Instead, the rep somehow ended up *blowing away my voice mailbox*, resulting in the permanent loss of several saved messages which were important to me.) I'd like nothing more than to dump Verizon, but I feel stuck. AT&T? Definitely not, given their shoddy network. Sprint? I cannot in good conscience give my business to a company who has graced "Customer Service Hall of Shame" lists (e.g.: they were number 3 on msn.com's list for 2008; only Comcast and AOL were worse). They need to be incented to improve customer service by seeing less business, not more. T-Mobile? If they get better phones, then maybe. Combine this with the fact that they currently have the only phone (Droid) I'm interested in acquiring to replace my current one (I refuse to switch to AT&T for the iPhone), it looks like I have the best of a bad lot.