Ah, New Year’s Day. A time for reflection and resolution, and in many cases, staying up too late in the company of good friends and large amounts of alcohol. Here at Android Community, we like to ring in the new year sitting quietly in wingback chair, staring contemplatively into a roaring fire and guzzling a $5 gallon of brandy while watching the Times Square ball drop on our Android tablets. Before we start getting the old DT’s, we’ll wrap up the best – and worst – devices of 2011.
Give me the bad news first, doctor:
5. Kyocera Echo
Ambition and risk go hand in hand. Kyocera learned that lesson when they released the Echo, the first Android phone with a dual-screen design. As much as we’d love to double our pleasure and our fun with an extra screen (most of us are dedicated multi-monitor users on the desktop side) the reality turned out to be awkward and at times downright frustrating. The multi-tasking possibilities and custom apps were overshadowed by hardware that simply wasn’t up to the task. There’s no reason that the idea couldn’t work, and we’d love to see another try. By someone else. Anyone else. Preferably a long time from now.
The Springboard, T-Mobile’s rebranded version of the Huawei MediaPad, is a study in how bad software can ruin great hardware . And it is great – a dual-core processor, 720p screen and HSPA+ connection running Honeycomb on an aluminum-clad 7-inch body makes for one of the most solid tablets in its class. But meddling with the software (we suspect T-Mobile) makes it sluggish, crash-prone, and just plain frustrating to use. The decision to block the video section of the Android Market seems to have had multiple detrimental effects. On more than one occasion, we found Honeycomb apps that just wouldn’t show up, despite the fact that the SpringBoard is running Android 3.2.
Oh, BIONIC, we had such hopes for you. As Motorola’s first Verizon 4G LTE phone, and the first to carry the storied DROID name with LTE, the BIONIC had a lot riding on its shoulders. But a redesign that did nothing for its chunky body, a long-delayed release and multiple recurring bugs soured what was supposed to be a star-studded release. The BIONIC was announced at CES 2011 (almost an entire year ago!) but was delayed until September. Add to that the almost instant buyers remorse that new owners felt after the svelte DROID RAZR was released just a month or so later, and you get what’s easily the worst superphone release of the year.
2. LG G2X
The “T-Mobile G2X by LG”, a rebranded version of the Optimus 2X, looked pretty good when it was first released. A dual-core phone (a big deal early this year) with a big screen and vanilla Android? What’s not to love? A lot, as it turned out – the more we used the G2X, the more we came to loathe it. The problems with extended use went way beyond the minor bugs and foibles you’d expect from a new device. Massive screen bleeding, unexplained reboots accompanied by a maddening BEEP (not a great experience at three in the morning) and a confusing, protracted Gingerbread update makes the G2X one of the most frustrating high-end phones out there.
1. Samsung Dart
We hate the Samsung Dart. If you didn’t get that the first time around, let us reiterate it: we hate the Samsung Dart. The low-power, low-expectation “smart” phone hardware is decent enough, but the one thing we really can’t stand is the tiny 3.14-inch, 320×240 display. It’s so dark and low-resolution that using the phone for more than a few moments at a time is headache-inducing. The build quality is actually okay, but bare-bones software that’s still encumbered by TouchWiz makes for a achingly slow user experience. Appropriately, we’d be completely comfortable hurling the Samsung Dart at the nearest wall.
Now that a year’s worth of ranting is over with and the healing can begin, let’s get it off to a good start. Without further ado, Android Community’s pics for the best phones and tablets of 2011:
The first of HTC’s dual-core phones is also one of its best, and a great pic for T-Mobile’s network. HTC’s typically awesome build quality is highlighted by some remarkable performance, and though we always prefer clean Android, HTC Sense doesn’t drag down the user experience thanks to high-end internals. Gingerbread was thankfully included at launch, which was far from a sure thing in June. A new 8 megapixel camera beats out the other HTC phone cameras on the market, at least until the Amaze 4G came along. One of the first 4.3-inch QHD screens rounds out an excellent package that should please just about anybody.
The Galaxy Tab series of tablets is solid through and through, but one model stands out: the 8.9-inch version. It keeps all the charm of the original Galaxy Tab 10.1, including a razor thin profile and a 1280×800 screen, but manages to find a size that (to us at least) is the perfect middle ground between size and portability. A Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM make for a snappy Honeycomb experience, even with TouchWiz running on top of it. Sure, it’s not as expandable as other tablets, but the overall performance is excellent. If you want a mobile connection, AT&T’s got an LTE-flavored version… for some extra cash and a 2-year contract.
You knew this one was coming. The first Ice Cream Sandwich device has earned a spot on this list, because Android 4.0 really is that good. A gigantic Super AMOLED screen and solid aesthetics make the Galaxy Nexus one of the best choices for any user, and pretty much the only one for dedicated Android modders who are eligible for a new phone. So, why isn’t the Gnex higher on this list? Aside from some software-related bugs, the phone that’s supposed to be the standard for Android is only available on Verizon in the US at the moment. That’s a major bummer for anyone who’s happy with their current carrier… or stuck with them for the next two years.
The original Transformer was a great Honeycomb tablet, but the Transformer Prime is nothing short of amazing. Stellar build quality, a fantastic screen and blazing performance thanks to NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor make it the best tablet on the market by far. At $500 it’s a better deal than most of its competitors while beating every one of them in hardware, fit and finish and software performance, and that’s only likely to continue when Asus delivers its promised Ice Cream Sandwich update. And if you’re in the mood to get some work done, you can always attach the external keyboard for some good old-fashioned QWERTY input. Tegra 3 will be popping up in a lot of hardware next year, but for 2011, the Transformer Prime just can’t be beat.
The Galaxy S II, in all its variants, isn’t the fastest phone around. It isn’t the thinnest or the biggest, and it doesn’t run the latest software. The international version is almost six months old. But it still stands out as the best all-around Android device available today. Reliable performance, stellar build quality, an amazing Super AMOLED 4.3-inch screen (or 4.52-inch despite its relatively low resolution) and great battery life make it an excellent choice for almost any new buyer, and 16GB of storage and a great 8MP camera round out the package. The GSII is available on three out of the four major US carriers, plus an unlocked version, and AT&T has the excellent Skyrocket 4G LTE variant. No matter which flavor you choose, the Galaxy S II is a worthy phone for any Android user, or just about anyone else.
If you’ve got some extra time while you’re recuperating from your hangover on Sunday, be sure to check out our Yearly Wrap Up. Feel free to leave angry responses in the comments section, and Happy New Year!