With the Christmas weekend in full swing, and the end of 2017 rapidly approaching, it's time to reflect on the highs and lows of the year in Android. That means we get to call out some of the heroes and villains of the smartphone world — brands and companies that had a bumper year, and others that blew it spectacularly.
This is the Android Naughty & Nice list for 2017. Enjoy!
Nice: Google's hardware division
Even with some concerns around Pixel 2 XL's display (which still isn't as good as Samsung-made rivals, even after recent software updates), the second year of Google-made hardware was impressive to behold. The new phones built on the previous year's achievements, with improved computational photography capabilities, a slick UI and flawless performance. And elsewhere, Daydream and Home got even better with updated, refined hardware.
Naughty: Android tablets in general
Even Google doesn't think it's worth making an Android tablet anymore. The two-year-old reference slate, the Pixel C, still hasn't been retired, and with the shift to ChromeOS convertibles like the Pixelbook, who knows if we'll ever see another flagship Android tablet again.
A delayed retail launch, a bad camera — even months later, poor sales figures, a cancelled European carrier rollout topped off by a few weeks of bad press around the man at the top made for a dismal launch year for Andy Rubin's Essential. The phone's only worth buying now because it's cheap, and even then, persistent software issues make for an occasionally shaky experience.
HTC has its problems, for sure: Too many to list here, between frequent executive departures, and a shaky start to the year with the disappointing U Ultra. But the Taiwanese company redeemed itself later in the year with the excellent U11 and U11 Plus, besides being the vessel for the Pixel 2, the best small Android phone of the year. A challenging year awaits this Android veteran, but in 2017 HTC got its mojo back, at least in terms of its products.
The Razer Phone is, at best, a demo of tech we'll see more fluently realized in 2018. Razer swapped out my original review unit, and the replacement unit doesn't have any of the autofocus issues I first experienced with the device. But the camera is still bad in plenty of other ways, and that 120Hz display is dim in low light. Throw in Android Nougat, with no firm date for Oreo outside of "Q1", and you've got a recipe for disappointment.
This was a tough one: Huawei began the year with the P10, and the near-criminal stupidity of shipping a flagship phone without an oleophobic screen. Huawei also missed the opportunity to move its software design forward in a meaningful way in 2017, with persistent gripes around notifications remaining in the new EMUI 8. But in other areas, Huawei has made confident strides forward. Its cameras now rank among the best in the industry, and the Mate 10 Pro ranks as a champion of Android battery life. Meanwhile, the Mate series adopted a beautiful new glass-backed design language. And the company's Honor sub-brand launched the impressive Honor 9, 7X and View 10.
Naughty: LG Display
The Pixel 2 XL would've been a shoo-in for "best Android phone" were it not for its disappointing LG-made OLED panel. Who knows if there's anything to unconfirmed Reddit reports that new production lines weren't ready in time, so older facilities had to be used for the V30 and Pixel 2 XL, but it might explain the lackluster display performance of the 2 XL, and the one or two issues at lower brightness levels in the V30's panel.
Nice: LG Mobile
For all its display-related woes, the smartphone arm of LG shipped two of the best, most underappreciated Android phones of the year. The G6 was steamrolled by Samsung's Galaxy S8, but actually had a lot going for it — clean software, a compact size and a unique wide-angle camera. Same deal with the V30, which built on the foundations of the G6 with faster performance and improved video capabilities.
Naughty: Android Wear
I'm not sure Google really has a longterm plan for Android Wear at this point. The LG Watch Sport and Watch Style bombed. The pivot to fashion brands has been met with limited success, but otherwise Android Wear seems to be in limbo. The departure of VP David Singleton also doesn't look great for Google struggling wearable platform.
Forget Bixby for a minute. Though Samsung's mobile AI thing remains mostly a waste of space, the company released some of its best products yet in 2017, successfully rebounding from the Galaxy Note 7 controversy. It was the first to bring tall, largely bezelless displays to the mass market, and rehabilitated the Note brand with a strong, dual-camera equipped offering later in the year. It's also released some excellent wearables this year, including the Gear Fit2 and Gear Sport.
Naughty: Sony Mobile U.S.
Consider this award deferred until Sony announces the Xperia XZ2 series in January, which probably still won't have a working fingerprint scanner in the United States. Oh, Sony.
Apple makes a lot of nice stuff, and employs a lot of smart people. But is anyone really surprised to see the company deliberately slowing down older iPhones? Derek Kessler's write-up on iMore goes into further detail, but however many times I read explanations of why Apple downclocks CPUs and GPUs to preserve the battery life of faltering cells, the more the cynic in me just doesn't buy it. Apple's solution deliberately obfuscates the real problem with aging hardware (the battery), and degrades performance for users by — coincidentally — around the time they might just be hearing about shiny new iPhones hitting the market. Android OEMs occasionally pull some pretty dumb, anti-consumer tricks as well, but to me this just seems like Apple abusing the near infinite amount of goodwill it has from consumers.
It's not like OnePlus didn't screw up at all in 2017. Some bad press around data collection practices and a backdoor for root access saw the company retreading familiar ground. But the products themselves were solid — both the OnePlus 5 and 5T stood out as the best mid-priced flagships of 2017, topped off by a limited edition Star Wars collab to round off the year.
Merry Christmas + Happy Holidays to everyone celebrating this coming week. We'll see you in 2018!
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