At first glance, there was no obvious reason why HTC's U12+ -- which turned out to be its only flagship of the year -- wouldn't be a good smartphone. The spec sheet's impressive, it's got a big, high-resolution display, a bunch of cameras and there's even an attractive translucent model. While HTC might not be as popular as it once was, surely it's an established enough company that we can trust it to create a handset of fine repute, right?
Well, using the U12+ on a daily basis turned out to be a recipe for disappointment. The phone has pressure-sensitive sides, a trait HTC calls Edge Sense. The features these enable are gimmicky at best and frustrating at worst. No surprise there really, as HTC and other manufacturers have yet to find any compelling use cases for squeezes. The mere action is just uncomfortable on a phone of this size, too.
The biggest issue, however, was that HTC also made the power button and volume rocker pressure-sensitive nubs. They had a mind of their own. If they weren't ignoring your presses, they were responding to phantom ones from inside your pocket. Such a simple decision completely ruined the core user experience, and to an unforgivable degree.
Something that felt inherently broken was the standout feature of the device. And with a $799 starting price, the U12+ was nigh impossible to recommend as a phone anyone should be buying. Not only was the handset a rare flagship bomb, but perhaps worse, a tangible totem of HTC's continuing fall from grace.
RED Hydrogen One
One might expect RED, the company behind groundbreaking cinema cameras like the Epic, to deliver a decent smartphone with exceptional imaging. Instead the company's much-hyped Hydrogen One arrived late to the market with a processor from 2017, loads of bloatware, a sub-par screen and, worst of all, a mediocre camera.
The Hydrogen One's stand-out feature is a camera array in the front and back that can capture 3D photos and videos. Problem is, you can only view them on a Hydrogen One's 3D display, which also isn't great. All of this would have been interesting in 2011, and it was: HTC's Evo 3D produced novel 3D pictures that you could look at on its autostereoscopic display. But today smartphone cameras produce incredible 2D pictures, and the stretch goal is a decent portrait mode. Isn't that ambitious enough?
Pro-tip for new or expecting parents: smart baby gadgets rarely are "smart." Most are expensive and don't offer any advantages over their traditional counterparts. But, ultimately, they're pretty harmless. A few however, are actual nightmares. Case in point: Fisher-Price's Sproutling. It's a $250 wearable baby monitor that does so little, you'll still need to buy a separate, proper baby monitor. Its app is buggy and its alerts are basically useless. It does have a really nice selection of ambient noises and lullabies, though. That's gotta count for something, right?
The worst part, though, is that the band caused my son to have constant, severe eczema outbreaks. Washing it frequently, swapping legs every night... nothing helped.
No surprise then, that the Sproutling received Engadget's lowest review score ever -- 41. And, not to brag, but we're pretty sure it's one of the things that led Fisher-Price to not just discontinue the device, but also erase every trace of its existence from the internet.
Retro consoles done wrong
The NES Classic was a must-have item back in 2016, and last year the SNES Classic refined the concept to critical acclaim. With nostalgia-hungry hordes of gamers eager to see childhood favorites repackaged into adorably tiny, high definition-friendly packages, mini versions of other systems should have been a home run. Emphasis on "should."
Instead, we got a bunch of also-ran disappointments, because not every company has Nintendo's level of detail and massive back catalog of quality games. We don't know how many people were all that eager for another revival of the Commodore 64 but Retro Games still gave it a shot, releasing the C64 Mini with very few of the titles that made people love the system in the first place. Even if you put in the time and effort to side load some of your actual favorites, the system's software was a mess and the stiff, unresponsive joystick was bound to leave you screaming in frustration.
Far more heartbreaking, however, was the recently released PlayStation Classic. With Sony itself taking the reins, this looked like an easy win. But the games selection included a lot of also-rans instead of the classics we loved, while others were available only in their PAL versions, largely unsuited for NTSC sets. Those disappointments place this one firmly in the loser column.
Sega also has its own retro Genesis/Mega Drive system in the works, but it's been delayed until next year and we don't even have an inkling of the games list yet. We can only hope that when it finally does come out, it'll be better than the plug-and-play consoles that companies like AtGames used to litter discount stores with.