Finally — it took, like, a whole year — 2015 is in our rearview mirror. Like years past, it dumped a bucketload of stuff on tech enthusiasts. From smartphones to wearables to laptops to most anything else big enough to house a microprocessor some company somewhere thought enough people would want it to make it happen. And we saw some really cool stuff come out of the pile.
We also saw stuff that kind of sucked. We even saw stuff that was great and sucked at the same time, depending on who you asked. That's how all this works year after year. The good stuff sticks and it gets redesigned and rebuilt and remastered by anyone and everyone, and we get even cooler stuff.
The bad stuff gets tossed aside or put on a list like this one.
1. Andrew Martonik — Wireless charging adoption
Ever since I bought my Nexus 4 and amassed a group of Qi chargers, I've been bullish on the idea that wireless charging was going to break into the mainstream and be included in nearly every phone and tablet. Year after year went by, and it was at best an afterthought in most phones. And 2015 was the first year I started to lose hope that wireless charging will catch on.
This was the year that Samsung got in the game in a big way by including both leading wireless charging standards in its phones (rather than requiring a bulky replacement cover) … and no other manufacturers followed suit. And even with the feature included on these phones I'm not sure people are opting to pick up the chargers and use it. Even Google, which was one of the biggest proponents of wireless charging, chose to leave it out of the Nexus 9, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P — only including it as a tertiary feature for charging the Pixel C's Bluetooth keyboards.
I'd love to be proven wrong and see 2016 explode with adoption of wireless charging, just as I've waited to see for a good three years now, but 2015 wasn't a year to remember in the progression of this technology.
2. Jerry Hildenbrand — The LG Urbane 2nd Edition LTE
This isn't so much about the Urbane 2 LTE thing as it is the LG-letting-it-get-so-far thing.
How in the world do you design, develop, prototype, build and release a product and then find out it has a fatal flaw and needs to be pulled off the shelf? HOW?
We talk to folks at LG. They are great people who build great stuff. Hard work and a lot of money are required to make any electronic gadget, and LG makes a bunch of really good ones. Which makes the Urbane 2nd Edition mess even more puzzling.
I've no idea what went down and how it slipped out the door as a broken product. Something went very wrong in the process, and consumers and the folks who worked so hard on the project didn't deserve this type of failure. Hopefully, things have been adjusted so that this sort of thing never happens again.
3. Phil Nickinson — Fast charging as a feature
Let's be clear: I'm a fan of being able to charge my phone relatively quickly. Say, in an hour, or 90 minutes, tops. That's a big deal. It's also the way things should be at this point. But instead we got manufacturer after manufacturer claiming to have the fastest charging, whether it was wireless or plugged in. That's like saying you stand up straighter than the next guy. It's not a selling point. And, in fact, it was used as smoke and mirrors. Samsung lauding the speed at which the Galaxy S6 would charge was a red flag nearly immediately. And, sure enough, overall battery life on the GS6 was less than impressive.
At this point if your device doesn't charge relatively quickly, it's doing things wrong. If you're shouting about how fast it charges and how excited I should be that it charges fast and that it charges faster than all the other fast-charging things that charge fast, I'm going to want to know what you're not telling me. At this point it's just a spec on the page. Either you've got it or you don't. Don't try to make it more than what it is.
4. Alex Dobie — Android battery life
In 2014, I feel like we finally reached a pretty good place with battery life in Android phones. Devices like the Sony Xperia Z3, Galaxy Note 4 and HTC One M8 could comfortably get you to the end of the day — and even beyond in some cases. This year, for a number of reasons, that progress has been eroded significantly. The initial challenges of 64-bit Android — and some wonk with Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon processors — combined with an eager willingness to sacrifice longevity for thinness, have resulted in many 2015 handsets being outperformed by their predecessors.
Take the Xperia Z5, for instance, which can no longer boast its forerunner's two-day battery life. Or the HTC One M9, outlasted by the M8. (And while we're picking on HTC, let's not forget the A9's absolutely inexcusable battery life.) Even Samsung, unencumbered by the power-hungry Snapdragon 810, sacrificed battery life at the altar of thinness in the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge. The result: Pretty dismal battery performance across much of the high-end Android landscape. Big-battery phones like Motorola's Droid Turbo 2 (Moto X Force) were a clear minority.
But there's hope for 2016. Advances in battery technology continue, pushing higher capacities into smaller physical sizes. And new processors with custom 64-bit core designs from Qualcomm and Samsung promise to make better use of that juice. Hopefully the next generation of Android phones will set things back to where they should be.
5. Russell Holley — Kwikset Kevo
I'm still entirely optimistic about the connected home, but 2015 has not been a great year for everything playing nice and working like it was supposed to. The biggest example of this from my personal experience is the Kwikset Kevo. This smart lock launched with little support for most Android phones, and additional support continued to lag throughout the year. By September we started seeing more support for not only phones but a handful of smartwatches as well, but it wasn't until October that we saw the release of Kevo Plus, a feature announced in January designed to connect the lock to the Internet and allow for remote locking. Even with Kevo's $70 upgrade to their $200 smart deadbolt, more compelling alternatives have been released that make recommending this setup even less likely to happen.
Kwikset Kevo sounded really great at the beginning of the year, but here at the end it is without a doubt one of the worst things I used in 2015.
6. Richard Devine — 4K display on the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium
I don't want this to come across as "I hate the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium." It's certainly not my favorite phone of 2015 but this isn't about the phone at all. It's about "the world's first 4K display on a smartphone." It's as ridiculous as it sounds. Where are the 4K Android tablets, for starters? I don't even have a 4K TV yet.
Eventually this will be a thing and it will be a thing we don't care about. In some cases, like VR, it will even be useful. But here's what Sony did. Put a 4K display on a smartphone then basically shut it off and not let you use it. Most of the time it's a 5.5-inch 1080p display. Not bad still, but not what's on all the billboards. You can only use it at 4K in the Album and Video apps. And it bumps up the price. If it can't run at 4K most of the time why even bother?
Seriously, what is the point of having a headline feature that you'll never use? It's bordering on the absurd.