Forbes Columnist Ryan Whitwam listed the 5 worst Android Phones ever.
Not every phone is a winner, but most of the “losers” aren’t historically bad. Some of them are, though. There are phones that stand out amid the hundreds of mainstream Android devices that have been released as being truly, exceptionally bad. After scouring the internet, reading reviews, and recalling my own long history reviewing phones, here are the 5 worst Android phones that have ever been released.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the launch of Verizon’s first real 4G LTE device in early 2011. Oh, the carrier had released a few LTE hotspots before the Thunderbolt came to town, but this was the first smartphone with LTE built-in. It turned out to be a little too early for LTE to invade smartphones. While the network was really fast in those days with so few people using it, the phone itself was as slow as a drunken snail.
The Thunderbolt was woefully under-powered, running basically the same hardware as the EVO 4G that came out the previous year. The device itself was larger to accommodate the dedicated LTE modem, but the battery was only 1400mAh—even smaller than the EVO’s cell. The result was abysmal battery life when LTE was active, which it always was. Verizon didn’t include any way to disable the LTE radio.
To say people didn’t like the Thunderbolt would be an understatement. It was widely loathed.
Motorola announced two phones in late 2009, which was still very early in the history of Android. One was the hugely successful Motorola Droid, and the other was the unsuccessful Motorola Cliq. For some reason, Motorola used this device as the basis for several other phones in early 2010 that didn’t sell well, but the Backflip stands out as a uniquely horrible one.
The Backflip had a backward-folding keyboard that was exposed on the rear of the phone when it was closed. It was just as uncomfortable to use as you’d imagine. The software wasn’t any better, either. Motorola was using hardware identical to the first few Android phones, but with a much heavier software layer. It was based on Android 1.5, and included a ton of social network plug-ins and widgets all over the home screen and settings.
The one thing that takes the Backflip from just bad to one of the worst is the way search was handled. There was no Google search on this phone—AT&T and Motorola made Yahoo the exclusive search provider on the Backflip. Google doesn’t allow OEMs to do that anymore, thankfully.
For years we heard there was going to be a Facebook phone, and it was going to be awesome. Why? Because Facebook had a lot of data about your social connections and could leverage that for a highly connected experience. We finally got the “Facebook phone” in 2013, and it was pretty terrible. The device, built by HTC, had a number of custom Facebook components built-in, but the lacking hardware and clunky software made it a flop.
The HTC First was under-powered and had a dingy display. Its 5MP rear camera was also of extremely poor quality, which was especially weird seeing as Facebook is so into people sharing photos. The Facebook Home interface proved to be confusing and buggy as well. The main problem was that the HTC First used social content from your Facebook account everywhere. Most of us have friends who post dumb stuff, and that meant you’d see dumb stuff every time you picked up the phone.
AT&T was the exclusive partner for the First, and it dropped the phone to $0.99 on contract from $100 after a few months of lacking sales. It never received any update support and Facebook later discontinued Facebook Home.
Google made turn-by-turn navigation a free feature of Android in 2009 with the Motorola Droid release. That was good enough for most people, but Garmin and Asus teamed up to release the Garminfone in mid-2010 anyway. Why? No one knows.
This phone had the already-ancient Android 1.6 installed when it launched, but it also ran a version of Garmin’s navigation software on top. The interface was almost entirely geared toward navigation, making for an incredibly awkward experience when you wanted to do anything else. It came with a car mount, but the phone was incredibly thick and unpleasant to hold.
T-Mobile carried the Garminfone in the US, but sales were poor. A price drop from $200 to $130 didn’t help. The phone eventually got an update to Android 2.1, but even that was late. Garmin has not partnered with anyone to produce another phone since.
What’s better than one screen? Two screens. This was the rationale for the Kyocera Echo, which was a Sprint exclusive in the US back in 2011. When closed, the phone had a 3.5-inch display, but you could open it to reveal a second 3.5-inch display that snapped into place next to the first one. It was an interesting idea, but the execution was horrible.
Most apps were completely broken when running in “full-screen” mode on both displays. Some apps supported side-by-side mode, but only those modified by Kyocera. There was an SDK for developers to add support for the Echo, but of course, none of them did. The device was not powerful enough to run two apps at the same time, so the feature was largely pointless anyway.
The added complexity of the Echo meant software updates were lacking—the Echo got one update from Android 2.2 to 2.3, then it was abandoned.
Dishonorable Mention: Samsung Galaxy Note 7
It wouldn’t be quite right to have the Note 7 in this list, but I should point out this phone was a substantial failure. It just wasn’t the same kind of failure as the above phones. The battery fires make it a definite bungle for Samsung, but other than that it was a very good phone. It’s too bad it had to die. The rest of these devices should never have existed.