The Worst Gadgets of 2012

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As the reviews editor at Laptopmag, I have the honor--and sometimes the horror--of evaluating and testing hundreds of products each year, from the utterly fantastic to gear with minor but welcome spec bumps. Then there are gadgets that are just destined to fail, whether it’s an ill-conceived concept or spectacularly bad execution. While some of these gems will live on to see the new year, others were mercifully put out to pasture to join the likes of the Kin and Peek. Here’s my list of the top 10 gadget fails of 2012.

The Worst Gadgets of 2012

Toshiba Excite 13
With smartphones and waistlines ever expanding, why not tablets? That seemed to be the thinking behind the Excite 13, a “family friendly” 13-inch Android tablet that sold for $649. Unfortunately, the 1600 x 900-pixel display had a lower resolution and brightness than smaller, less expensive tablets. And, you think stretched-out Android phone apps look bad on a 10-inch screen? They looked even worse here.
Google Nexus Q
Looking like a Sentinel from “The Matrix,” the Nexus Q was meant to be the next generation of Internet-connected set-top devices. Too bad this $299 orb was almost twice expensive as the competition, but did half as much. Where was the Google TV integration? Why could you only stream video from the Play store and YouTube? Who would want to compete with friends to que up music on this thing? Mercifully, Google never released this device to the general public.
Sony Vaio Duo 11
No one really knows how consumers will use Windows 8, so it’s no surprise that PC makers took a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. One of the ideas that fell to the ground are sliders such as the Sony VAIO Duo 11. Not only was it hard to slide up the screen to reveal the keyboard, the Duo 11’s screen is always exposed. Yes, it’s made of Gorilla Glass, but has that saved your smartphone from getting nicked and scratched? Also, a notebook that comes with a stylus should have a place to store it. Add in a cramped keyboard and short battery life and you have a not-so-dynamic Duo.
Acer Aspire S7-391
Here’s a truly gorgeous notebook with one fatal flaw. The Acer Aspire S7’s 0.47-inch-thick, 2.8-pound aluminum and glass chassis, 1080p screen, and dual 128GB SSDs make this Windows 8 ultrabook a real looker. We’d even be willing to cough up for its $1,649 asking price, if but for one thing: You’ll be lucky to get 4 hours of battery life out of this Ultrabook. A $150 sheet battery will be available in the near future, but Acer should have included in the box for free from day one.
Arnova ChildPad
What’s the one thing a child-friendly tablet should have? How about decent parental controls? Sadly, that, and a lot of other things—such as good battery life, audio, and performance—were also missing from the Arnova ChildPad. No kid will want to use a slate with a dim and muddy screen, tinny sound, and less than five hours of endurance. No adult will want a tablet that can’t access Google Play, and whose only parental controls let you block web sites. As a company with lots of experience designing tablets, Archos should have known better.
LG Intuition
I get it: People like their phablets. As much as I pooh-poohed devices such as the original Samsung Galaxy Note, I won’t deny its popularity. But there’s a big difference between the Note II and the LG Intuition: the former has a dock for its stylus and lasts almost twice as long on a charge. Also, if you’re going to include note-taking software, shouldn’t handwriting recognition be a given? The awkwardly wide design of the Intuition was the true deal-breaker. This ironically named device was one of the most unintuitive phones of the year.
Motorola Laptop Dock
This smartphone accessory made its debut with the Motorola Atrix in 2011, but never really caught on. Why? How about the fact that it didn’t work with every Motorola phone, its keyboard was hard to type on, the touchpad was finicky, and the thing cost more than $200? And at a time Google was pushing Chromebooks, the Motorola Laptop Dock ran the Firefox browser. Maybe people just want their phones and notebooks to be separate devices.
Nokia 808 Pureview
It was the world’s best smartphone camera on the worst smartphone. Outfitted with a 41-megapixel sensor, the Nokia 808 PureView took amazing photos, but everything else about this device was woefully outdated, from its low-res display to the creaky Symbian OS. Fortunately, the idea lives on: Nokia’s camera technology has made it into phones such as the Lumia 920, and the Samsung Galaxy Camera has also melded a phone and super-camera into a single device.
Sony Tablet P
It’s hard to believe that the Sony Tablet P came out in 2012. Perhaps we were just trying to forget. While this device had some clever apps that took advantage of its two 5-inch screens, it was too bulky as a phone-like device, and too cumbersome as a tablet. And, this $399 device couldn’t even tap into AT&T’s LTE network. Ironically, before the year was out, there would be several 5-inch phablets on the market.
Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook
While Google has made great strides with its desktop operating system, it still doesn’t justify paying $550 for a device that needs to remain connected to the cloud, yet only supports 3G. And, although we liked the design of the Chromebook 5 550, it ran hot--122 degrees!--and had a last-last-last generation Celeron processor and a measly 16GB of storage. The new $249 Series 3 Chromebook, powered by an ARM processor, is a much better deal.

Reviews Editor Michael Prospero oversees every product reviewed by LAPTOP Magazine. Read his regular column at www.laptopmag.com/labrat, and follow @mikeprospero on Twitter.

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