What Were They Thinking? 6 Most Senseless Gadgets

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Over the years, I’ve seen a number of head-scratching gadgets that made me wonder, “What were they thinking?” Remember the Twitter Peak, a $99 3G device with a QWERTY keyboard that did nothing but send and receive tweets? How about the CueCat, a feline-shaped peripheral that scanned barcodes from magazines to save you from having to do all the work of typing a Web address into your PC?

Unfortunately, despite spending millions of dollars in research and development, tech companies continue to turn out not just products but whole product categories that make as much sense in today’s market as the Twitter Peak did in 2009’s mobile space. These are today’s worst offenders.

Budget smartphones

Despite the fact that you can usually find last month’s high-end flagship phones discounted for as little as a penny, handset-makers keep vomiting up so-called budget phones that launch at low prices but provide terrible specs. There’s absolutely no reason for these hobbled handsets to exist.

For example, just last week Sprint unveiled the Force, a $50 phone with an ugly design and 2011-era staples like a 4-inch, 800 x 480-pixel screen and Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich. Meanwhile, you can find a slightly older Galaxy S III with a 720p screen and quad-core CPU for just $.01 on Amazon. Even if a higher-end phone actually costs you $50 or even $150 more, it makes no sense to cheap out on a phone you pay $80 to $100 a month to get online and will still be using 20 months from now.

More: Top 10 Smartphones Available Now

The Chromebook Pixel

How would you like to pay $100,000 for a Lamborghini with beautiful gullwing doors and posh leather seats, knowing that you could only drive it around the parking lot at the local mall? Or would you prefer to spend $1,500 on a custom-tailored Burberry suit that you can only wear at White Castle?

Google’s Chromebook Pixel has a similarly ridiculous premise. For $1,299 you get high-end hardware like a 2560 x 1700-pixel touch screen, a Core i5 CPU and a sexy aluminum body, but all you can do is run the Chrome OS, which has a series of Web apps, only some of which work offline. At the same time, you can get high-end ultraportables like the MacBook Air or ThinkPad X1 Carbon for the same price or less, and a budget PC notebook for less than $500.

For $249, Samsung’s 11.6-inch Chromebook is such a great bargain that it justifies the trade-offs of running a browser-only OS. However, for more than $1,000, you should be able to run a versatile desktop operating system like Windows 8 or Mac OS X so you can use all of that Core i5 power in serious apps like Photoshop or Microsoft Office.

More: Top 20 Chrome Apps for Your Chromebook

Windows 8 keyboard sliders

With Windows 8, we’ve seen a number of hybrid devices with keyboards that slide out of their bottoms. While this slider concept works well on 4-inch smartphones like the Motorola Droid 4, it’s a total fail on notebooks like the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and MSI Slidebook S20.

These Windows 8 sliders provide the worst of both worlds, pairing heavy, expensive slates with the worst kind of netbook-level keyboards. In tablet mode, the $1,099, 2.8-pound VAIO Duo 11 is about twice the price and weight of the industry-leading iPad. Even worse, its cramped keyboard has tiny keys and no touchpad. For the same price, users would be better off buying a $500 tablet and a $600 notebook.

More: Top 8 Windows 8 Tablet-Laptop Hybrids

Core i5 Windows tablets

For most users, tablets are still secondary devices used for content consumption, email and light productivity on the go. The key words there are “on the go.” A heavy tablet with short battery life is a useless tablet. So why do PC OEMs keep clubbing us over the head with bulky, expensive Core i5-powered tablets that expire faster than a similarly-configured notebook?

Microsoft’s Surface Pro is the chubby poster child for a product category that shouldn’t exist. With its 2-pound frame, the Surface weighs a third more than the iPad. Of course, Microsoft wants you to compare its $899 device to Ultrabooks, but it falls short there too, getting a mere 4 hours and 37 minutes of battery life when the average Ultrabook lasts for longer than 6.

More: Top 10 Tablets Available Now

7-inch and larger phablets

A few years ago, I thought that nobody would ever carry a 5-inch phone, but today 5.5- and 5.7-inch devices are commonplace and Huawei even has the 6.1-inch Ascent Mate. However, there is a limit to how big a handset can get and still be usable.

Seven inch and larger phablets like ASUS’s 7-inch Fonepad and Samsung’s 8-inch Galaxy Note 8, which can make calls with 3G service, cross that line. When your handset is bigger than the head you hold it up to, you have a product category that makes no sense.

More: Calling From a 7-Inch Phone: Hands On With The ASUS Fonepad

20-inch and larger tablets

Even if you’re as tall as Yao Ming, you probably don’t need a tablet that’s three times the size and 10 times the weight of a typical 10-inch slate. Nevertheless, OEMs like ASUS, Lenovo and Sony have the pituitarily-challenged market cornered with devices like the 20-inch, 11-pound VAIO Tap 20 and 27-inch, 17-pound Lenovo IdeaCenter Horizon, both of which can be unplugged and used as standalone slates.

When plugged into the wall and used as all-in-one PCs, both of these systems offer a lot of value, but why include a battery? Does someone at Sony really think you need an anvil-sized iPad?

More: Top 10 Tablets to Buy (or Avoid)

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • kjvsongs Says:

    What gadget at $50 or less that can have a regular USB to download music files to phone mini USB Please, give gadget name and price.
    Thank You.

  • GW Says:

    I totally agree with the Surface (chunky tablet) being senseless. I hope they loose another 900MIL on those and maybe learn a lesson. Tablets are supposed to be thin and light.

  • Dirk Haar Says:

    I disagree with the Chromebook Pixel.
    It is well sutiable for Linux -
    what do I want more?

  • a-non-e-mouse Says:

    I think I'd get a Camry or Prius, which would do what I need it to do, for longer. Why would I need a Ferrari with terrible mileage and a Yaris' seating and dashboard?

  • mark Says:

    I have used an iPad for 3 years. I now have a Surface Pro. One is a computer, the other is an over-sized phone. I retired the iPad and only use the Surface Pro. Last week I was stuck in O'Hare airport for 8 hours. With my Surface I got some real work done. With iPad I would of been stuck playing games. As for battery life - a Ferraris might get 15 MPG while a Yaris gets 40 MPG. What one would you rather own?

  • hammerpocket Says:

    You want to know why Apple devices aren't in lists like this? It's not because the authors uncritically love everything Apple makes. It's because Apple's R&D and design processes are much, much more rigorous than these other companies'. It is very, very rare for Apple to come out with a "senseless gadget," because someone will point out that it is senseless before it gets to the production stage. Every aspect of an Apple product (EVERY aspect - from major features to the angle of a beveled edge) is pored over for months with hundreds of prototypes.

    Apparently some tech companies never even ask, "Does anyone need this?"

  • Oleander Says:

    Why, Phil
    Are we comparing the 10.8" Surface to the 13" Macbook Air instead of the 11" Macbook Air, with the same avg. runtime?

    Guess we are:

  • The Telenator Says:

    Yeah, no joke. I've been wondering the very same thing about Laptop Mag's treatment of the Surface tablet. Are you secretly owned by Apple or being paid by them. Time to fess up. Delete button finger growing more and more itchy.

  • dstrauss Says:

    I thought this was LAPTOP MAGAZINE, not iGadget Lovers of the Month Club. You have been on a nonstop rant against Windows 8 and the Surface tablets since day one, including them in the lists of "Biggest Mistakes" and "Senseless Gadgets." Your reviews are what is senseless, and this will be the last time I come here. This once was a reputable site for a formerly reputable magazine...now it is senseless drivel spouting iFad platitudes. I doubt I will be missed, just like I won't miss LaptopMag.

    I'm sorry I won't be around to watch you gush and cream all over yourself in 2014 when Apple announces the "hybrid Air done right" which separates into a keyboard and iPad 6, and acts like it invented convertible tablets. It will probably be about the time they release their "stylus done right" for writing on that tablet portion - of course the spin will be that "Steve never said ALL stylus's were a fail, only those we didn't invent..."

  • Man About It Says:

    This article sadly begs the question "what would their opinion be if Apple came up with any of this?" Some of these have aspects about them that clearly need a tweak or two, but with said tweaks thrown in, they'd be on to something. Give the hybrid sliders some kind of away-facing cam and lighten it, give the Pixel some kind of drive allowing the option to toss a serious OS on there, improve the battery life on the Surface Pro, etc.

    Back to my Apple point, slap that backlit logo on the back of the 20+ tab or call the iPad mini an iPhone Tab, and the tech media and consumers would justify their love for it every way you could possibly reach. Apple could probably re-release Newton right now to critical acclaim and platinum sales.

    I agree about budget phones however. With the right timing, the good stuff (of the Android and Windows variety) will be the nice price. Funny thing is, people lose and break phones ALL the time, so maybe they need something they feel less guilt about screwing off in such ways.

  • Phil T Says:

    Let's see, battery life:
    Macbook Air: 8 hrs and 10 minutes
    Surface Pro: 4 hours and 37 minutes

  • Adam Says:

    I mostly agree with this...but some of these devices are fantastic in their own niches...especially the Surface Pro. If you want to join your tablet to a domain so it pulls your email as soon as you walk into your office building...you have one option... an i5 tablet like Surface running full Windows 8. Here's a whole article with other good reasons to own a Surface or similar device from a real person with a specific need:
    I don't own a Surface tablet and have devices that run iOS, Android and Windows...so I'm not pushing anything in particular...but including what may be a niche device in a list of "Senseless" devices comes across as simple bias and poor thinking/writing.

  • nerd1 Says:

    It is ridiculous laptopmag is constantly bashing "Proper' core i5 tablets like surface - it is god darn LAPTOP MAGAZINE, not iToy MAGAZINE.

    Please compare surface pro to its equivalent, 11" macbook air. Pricing is the same, screen is vastly better with surface pro, battery life is about the same. WHY THE HELL do they compare proper x86 tablet with iToys with 1/20 the performance?

  • Max G Says:

    Useless article...

  • mxc Says:

    It is real shame that the people working for Laptop Magazine are the ones pounding the Core i5 tablets, especially the Surface Pro. All these tablets are amazing machines that blow away any iPad or Android tablet. Just read the reviews from real people, not the so called 'specialists'. Yes, they are thicker, heavier and do not have the same battery live but they could easily replace a laptop and a tablet. I played with tablets since Compaq tc1100, then I had (still have it) a Kohjinsha Sx3 - I paid for it almost the same as for the Surface Pro 64 GB, numerous laptops, Samsung Tab tablets 7 and 10 first generation, Nexus 7, and Surface RT. The Surface Pro (or Samsung Ativ T700 or Acer W500) is way better any other tablet or light ultrabook. It is ok to mention the weak points in these tablets but to consider them useless is revolting. I hope people will realize at some point that you are not a serious magazine and will start ignoring you.

  • Phil T Says:

    Couldn't agree more.

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