10 biggest Android flops of the decade

Android hasn't always been such a shining example of a mobile platform—it's had a fair share of flops. Let's take a look at the worst Android missteps from 2010-2019.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Android is the most widely-used platform across the globe, and with good reason: It's solid, reliable, flexible, and user-friendly. But Android and the devices that run the operating system haven't always been top-notch. 

My list of the 10 biggest Android flops of the last decade is a combination of devices and changes to the platform that I believe should never have seen the light of day. These are in no particular order--deciding which was the worst was too much of a challenge.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (TechRepublic download)

1. HTC Evo 3D (2011)

The HTC Evo 3D predates the Amazon Fire Phone, but it never matched the existential failure of Amazon's phone. The Evo 3D was the first glasses-free 3D display and included dual cameras for shooting 3D photos. The problem with the Evo 3D is that the three-dimensional aspect of the display wasn't impressive, and once you got beyond the gimmick, you discovered you had a device with a poor camera, terrible battery life, and an underpowered CPU. A follow-up device--the LTE--was originally going to be 3D-enabled, but given the horrible sales of the Evo 3D, that plan was scrapped.

2. Amazon Fire Phone (2014)

Amazon should never have decided to dive into the smartphone market--the Fire Phone was abysmal. The promise of the 3D interface was intriguing, but it failed on every conceivable level. The device was nothing more than an attempt by Amazon to make it even easier for consumers to purchase products on the world's largest e-commerce site, and even that aspect of the device was a flop. To make matters worse, the call quality of the device was beyond subpar. In fact, there wasn't one good feature to be found in the Fire Phone--other than it came and went so quickly. No one should have had to suffer with that horrible phone.

SEE: More Decade in Review coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

3. BlackBerry PRIV (2015)

Remember the PRIV? PRIV was short for Privilege and Privacy. The problem was that the PRIV focused its privacy on a built-in app called DTEC. This app measured the health of your PRIV smartphone based on the strength of your lock code--if your device was encrypted, and if you had certain options disabled. This app did nothing to prevent your data from being stolen--it only monitored how protected it felt your device was. To make matters worse, the DTEC app did nothing to prevent apps like Facebook from accessing data on the device, nor did it do anything to encrypt data; DTEK only detected if the device itself was encrypted, which did nothing about transmitted data. No matter how strong device encryption is, if you're working on an unsecured wireless network, transmitting data in plain text, there is no privacy to be had.

4. Nextbit Robin (2016)

The Nextbit Robin actually included a really cool idea: Apps you used infrequently would be removed from your device and saved in your Nextbit cloud account. Those apps would leave behind a link to the app so when you tap the link the device would download the app again so you could use it. This was an effort to save space on the device; apps aren't the biggest cause of storage consumption, so the feature was more a gimmick than something truly useful. But that wasn't the biggest problem with these devices. The Robin chassis (in that standout robin's egg blue with the sharp square edges) were made of a composite plastic that--no matter how careful you were--would break near the volume rocker switches. In the end, you realized you'd purchased a gimmicky, underpowered device that was certain to break. Pass.

SEE: Decade in tech: What stood out or fell flat in the 2010s (ZDNet)

5. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (2016)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was banned by the Federal Aviation Administration--that alone should be all that needs to be said about what was supposed to be Samsung's next big flagship device. Why was it banned? Defective batteries that were prone to catch fire, or worse, explode. Samsung recalled the devices, but their fix failed. After the fix, another device caught fire on a flight, leading Samsung to discontinue the Galaxy Note 7.

6. Essential PH-1 (2017)

I hate that this device is on the list; in fact, I had to fight back the urge to exclude it. In the end, however, the Essential PH-1 had to be listed. Why? Although the device was about as elegant a smartphone design as I have ever held, it suffered mightily from an underpowered CPU and a profoundly poor camera and that's being kind. To make matters worse, the entire time you owned a PH-1, you were certain the company would go under, and you'd wind up with a paperweight. In that regard, the Essential PH-1 would have made an outstanding paperweight, because it was heavy. Finally, the glass of the PH-1 was delicate; for instance, if you were on a call and sneezed, it wasn't beyond the realm of the possible that the discharge from your nose and mouth could scratch the display. Okay, maybe that last bit was an exaggeration. Maybe. 

7. Loss of microSD support (ongoing)

Let's migrate away from devices and address some of the failures found within the Android platform. The first of these flops is the widespread removal of microSD support. It wasn't just device OEMs removing the hardware support for external storage, it was Google's decision to make using external storage a challenge, which effectively limited the storage capacity of devices. This came at a time when devices were sold with 16/32 GB of internal storage, which isn't much. Without external storage support, devices very quickly filled up. This was the worst decision ever made for the Android platform.

SEE: Decade in Review 2010 - 2019 (CNET)

8. Upgrade process (ongoing)

This issue still haunts Android. Unless you purchased a Google Pixel phone, you understood that you would be months behind the update cycle. This doesn't just apply to the operating system but also the security patch level. Why does this happen? Carriers. Google releases the latest version to carriers, and they then must put it through their own paces to make sure the operating system works well on their devices. This causes significant delays in the release of Android to devices that aren't Pixels. But it's not just carriers ensuring the latest release functions properly on their handsets--there's a much worse issue that stands in front of an expedited release of Android. That issue is...

9. Carrier bloatware (ongoing)

Of all the flops linked to Android, none bring out the ire of users more than carrier bloat. When a carrier receives the latest release of Android, they not only make sure the operating system functions on their devices, they also add their own applications. Most of the time these applications are redundant, inferior, and otherwise a waste of precious local storage. Google should have put a stop to this a long, long time ago. 

10. Malware (ongoing)

Malware on Android is a never-ending issue. There are many reasons why this renders Android security a flop, but the two most prominent issues are poor vetting on the Google Play Store and the ability to side-load applications. No matter how hard Google works to prevent malware, the issue doesn't abate, and we still have to deal with malicious software. Because of this, Android device security lands squarely on the shoulders of the end user.

There you go--my top 10 Android flops of the last decade. Were there more? Oh yes. But these are flops that are sure to have more Android users nodding in agreement.

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