Skip to main content

‘That’s it?!’ 2021 tech and games that failed to live up to their hype

Razr Zephyr Mask
Razr Zephyr Mask (Image credit: Razr)

Hype can be mentally perilous, especially after the smoke clears. It sweeps you up on a wave of high expectations, edge-of-your-seat anticipation and buoyant optimism — only to drag you down into depths of despair and disappointment. Fan bases and tech giants both work in cohesion to drum up excitement for an upcoming, hotly anticipated product, but after spending your hard-earned money to secure it, it fails to live up to the hype. “That’s it?” you say. “That’s what I was excited for all this time?"

Sound familiar? Don’t worry; the Laptop Mag staff can relate. This year, there were many tech products and games that piqued our interests, but once they hit the market, they didn’t meet our high expectations. Perhaps you’ll concur, or maybe you’ll vehemently disagree, but here are Laptop Mag’s most anticlimactic tech products and games for 2021.

Halo Infinite 

Halo Infinite was the most highly anticipated game for Xbox Series X|S, and has since received much praise for its launch. But there are die-hard fans like me that can’t help but feel disappointed by this latest entry into the Halo franchise. 

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite (Image credit: Microsoft)

Halo Infinite delivers the most boring story in a Halo game. Almost nothing important or notable happens from beginning to end. There are almost no character arcs, each character feels like a foil for Master Chief, and it completely disrespects Cortana’s character arc from the previous games.

I wanted Halo Infinite to be a direct sequel to Halo 5: Guardians — a story that sees Master Chief team up with his old foes in a fight against an old friend. It would have been an epic, sad tale about Chief coming to terms with losing Cortana to the dark side during a high-octane adventure that revolved around saving the entire galaxy. The fact that we will never see any of that saddens me.

Regardless of what 343 says or promises for the future, Halo Infinite is a shitshow right now. It’s filled with open-world content that disguises the grossly short filler-like campaign that has nothing to offer but a passive narrative told through audio logs and visual echos. Sure, Master Chief is the most fun he’s ever been to play, but what’s the point of putting the player in an aimless sandbox with almost nothing to look forward to?

— Rami Tabari

See our full Halo Infinite review. 

iPhone 13 

Every year, Apple faces the challenge of outdoing the last-generation iPhone, which isn’t an easy feat. “The iPhone 12 is packed with best-in-class components. How do we top that?” the iPhone maker must’ve wondered. 

iPhone 13

iPhone 13 (Image credit: Future)

Well, after reviewing the iPhone 13, it’s clear to me that Apple struggled to answer this question. I was excited to see Apple’s newest innovations for the iPhone 13, but after it was unveiled, I was left wanting. Sure, the Cupertino-based tech giant added more power to the iPhone 13 with the A15 chip, but the A14 SoC is already beastly. Apple claimed that the controversial notch on the iPhone 13 is “smaller,” but it’s technically not. Lastly, as I outlined in my Why the iPhone 13 upgrades suck feature, the device’s greatest selling points (e.g. Cinematic Mode) are nice to have, but they won’t excite the average Joe. Fortunately, rumors say that the iPhone 14 will bring the massive generational leap we were looking for with the iPhone 13. I’m crossing my fingers that the iPhone 14 doesn’t land on Laptop Mag’s 2023 Biggest Disappointment list. 

See our full iPhone 13 review.

— Kimberly Gedeon

Deathloop 

When I first played Deathloop, the art direction hypnotized me with its colorful and bold locations (Charlie’s Space Invader Quest is gorgeous). 

Deathloop

Deathloop (Image credit: Bethesda)

The sharp, flirtatious dialogue between Colt (the amnesiac protagonist) and Julianna (the relentless antagonist) is entertaining and humorous. However, the inherent repetitive nature of the game eventually turned me off. Admittedly, this is by design. After all, Colt is stuck inside a time loop. In the Deathloop trailer, Colt said, “This island is like a broken record,” and that couldn’t be more painfully true. If you don’t kill eight enemies before the end of the day to cease the time loop, you’ve got to do it all over again. Yikes! I also expected a better storyline. At first, I thought I was playing a game about a psychotic ex determined to take down Colt, but when Colt and Julianna’s true relationship is revealed, their seductive banter is downright sick. The wild supernatural combat was enough for the game to earn 4 out of 5 stars in our review, but I can’t help but feel slightly disillusioned.

See our full Deathloop review.

— Kimberly Gedeon

Foldable phones 

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 are outstanding phones that at least belong in the discussion for best phones of 2021, so my disappointment in foldables for 2021 may seem misplaced at first, but we were promised so much more. 

Microsoft Surface Duo 2

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 (Image credit: Future)

Samsung held up its end of the bargain with new versions of its foldables with improved hardware and more affordable pricing (OK, mainly just the Z Flip 3 on that one), but every other manufacturer let us down.

This includes those that actually managed to ship their foldables like Microsoft with its Surface Duo 2. While it is unquestionably better than its predecessor, it would be difficult to set a bar lower than that. The Surface Duo 2 is more expensive than the original, still has numerous frustrating software bugs and remains more of a quirky oddity than a product that anyone should actually buy.

However, kudos to Microsoft for actually shipping a foldable at all. While Google has never said a word about the so-called Pixel Fold, there were plenty of rumors about its development and then a final rumor that it was cancelled. TCL announced at CES 2021 that it would have a foldable later in the year, giving us hope for a truly affordable foldable, but it was ultimately scrapped completely. LG did them one better by promising a rollable phone by the end of 2021 and then closing its entire phone division.

While 2021 was a great year for Samsung foldables, it was a bitterly disappointing year for fans of the form factor as one company alone is unlikely to drive innovation for what is at least potentially the first game-changing new form factor for phones in over a decade.

See our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review.  

Razer's $100 Zephyr N95 mask 

When Razer first unveiled its plans to release a high-end, technologically advanced mask at CES 2020, I was intrigued. Mask mandates are here to stay in many parts of the world, so I thought it was pretty cool that Razer was dabbling in the luxury mask market. 

Razr Zephyr Mask

Razr Zephyr Mask (Image credit: Razr)

Dubbed Project Hazel, Razer boasted that its smart mask would include a host of cool features, including built-in microphones to amplify speech, a fast-charging case that doubles as a mini disinfecting station and funky filter pods with RGB lighting. Unfortunately, two of those features didn’t make the final cut. Razer’s $100 Zephyr N95 mask does not have microphones nor a sanitation stand. Bummer!

It’s also important to note that the smart mask has N95-grade filters, but they’re not rated for N95. In other words, the mask didn’t go through extensive testing with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to earn the N95 rating. On the plus side, the Zephyr Mask supposedly offers adequate protection due to its 99% BFE rating, but unfortunately, Razer cannot say for sure whether the wearable air purifier is effective against COVID-19. The Zephyr Mask is likely a safer bet than the cloth masks people often wear, but I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed about some of the features left out of the final production units.

— Kimberly Gedeon

Call of Duty: Vanguard 

“A Call of Duty game didn’t live up to the hype?! Preposterous!” I hear you sarcastically remark. I get it, Call of Duty has become the butt of all jokes in the first-person shooter scene, and the “CTRL+C” annual launch of a new bigger-than-ever-before entry only digs the franchise into a deeper hole.

Call of Duty Vanguard

Call of Duty Vanguard (Image credit: Activision)

With Call of Duty: Vanguard, however, I truly believed the developers over at Sledgehammer Games were onto something special; bringing back the old-school charm of the Call of Duty days of yesteryear with a modern coat of paint. I mean, a rag-tag group of kickass soldiers from around the globe taking on an army of vile Nazis in the heart of Hamburg, Germany? I’m sold.

Once I got a feel of the direction Sledgehammer Games was taking with its latest WWII entry after playing for a couple of hours, I came to realise I had been duped. After all the talk about an invigorating campaign taking place across “four major theatres of war,” I was met with barely- strung-together flashbacks that took just over four hours to complete. Oof. Say what you want, but the Call of Duty franchise has some killer campaigns — from classic Modern Warfare to the surprisingly thrilling Infinite Warfare. Vanguard had glimpses of a stellar campaign, but ultimately failed to make a mark.

Don’t get me wrong, I gave Vanguard a 3.5 out of 5 stars thanks to a brilliantly fun and fast-paced multiplayer that I still play today. You won’t catch me replaying the campaign or dabbling in the haphazard Zombies, though. With it being the first truly next-gen Call of Duty, using the graphics engine of 2019’s Modern Warfare, the time was ripe for Call of Duty to regain its status as the reigning FPS — especially with Battlefield 2042 bombing. Oh well, I'll wait patiently to be fooled again next year.

See our full Call of Duty: Vanguard review

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — Definitive Edition

In a list of duds, of course that GTA remaster is going to make the list. This trilogy is one of the greatest in gaming history and holds a lofty reputation in the minds of millions. Instead of treating these with the respect they deserve, we got a half-baked cash-in that feels lazy at best, and downright deceptive at worst.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — Definitive Edition

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — Definitive Edition (Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Let me give you a little behind-the-scenes insight into my Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — Definitive Edition review. Normally, game studios work closely with the media and provide review codes before launch date. This time however, neither we or many other publications heard a peep about getting advance copies of this game. Neither did we see any real gameplay trailers before launch. All of these are red lights, which I regrettably ignored by buying this game.

Yes, since I wrote my review, Rockstar has been busy fixing the problems, including the rain effects that can cause motion sickness, spelling mistakes caused by AI-driven texture upgrades and the game-breaking glitches, but come on. How was this approved in the first place? Who at these studios could have possibly looked at this mess of a mobile port update and said “yea, this is good to go”?

It means that one of two things is true: either Rockstar, Take Two and Grove Street Games need to seriously re-evaluate and bolster their QA testing departments, or they just didn’t care. Whatever the answer, this left a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who played. It tarnished the legacy of this trilogy. This is an inexcusable release that makes even Cyberpunk 2077’s launch look smooth.

See our full Grand Theft Auto: The Triology –– Definitive Edition review.

— Jason England

Devialet Gemini 

I love cheap stuff, but I’ve learnt to appreciate the audiophile qualities of more expensive true wireless earbuds. That’s why I got really excited about the Devialet Gemini — the makers of some of the most impressive (and expensive) high-end speakers are stepping into the world of portable audio. 

Devialet Gemini

Devialet Gemini (Image credit: Future)

These should be a slam dunk but in a strange series of missteps, from the uncomfortable earbud design and poor call quality to the massive case that is not going to fit in many pockets, they are a disappointment.

And at a wallet-destroying $300 (£279), these bizarre choices turn into fatal flaws in a disappointing pair of buds that don’t match the hype levels caused by the Devialet name stamped on them. Hopefully, these kinks are worked out for the next-generation Geminis.

See our full Devialet Gemini review

— Jason England

Google Pixel 5a  

Given my overall positive experiences with Google products, I expected greatness from the Pixel 5a. I’ve owned Samsung phones for a decade now, ever since the Conquer 4G. I was hoping this would be the year I buy an Android device from the source. Ultimately, pitting the Pixel 5a’s specs against last year’s Galaxy S20 FE led to disappointment. 

Pixel 5a review

Google Pixel 5a (Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Side-by-side, the Pixel 5a has a lower refresh rate, older chipset and less color options than the S20 FE.I was hoping Google’s budget option would sway me away from Samsung, especially with the leaks and rumors surrounding it before its release.  


I’m still looking forward to the day when Google will release an Android phone that’s more on par with the competition.

See our full Google Pixel 5a review

— Hilda Scott