The ten worst products of 2010

30 Dec 2010
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We’ve seen some absolutely brilliant kit this year. Stand-outs include the obvious (think the Apple iPad) and the less obvious (why hello there, Sony VAIO Z13), but this blog is to celebrate the rubbish. The stuff that, with any luck, may already have been pulled off the shelves due to its sheer stupidity.

In a very particular order, here goes:

10. HTC Smart

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Oh the irony of HTC’s naming schemes. HTC was attempting to be clever, to release what we described as “a poor man’s smartphone”, but it got everything wrong.

Wrong OS: Brew MP was designed not by a world-renowned software developer but by Qualcomm, a chipset maker, and boy it showed. Wrong price: £25 per month on a 24-month contract? Hello? Wrong sync options: jump through hoops and get nowhere. Thankfully, the HTC Wildfire came along and saved HTC’s cheap phone blushes.
9. Super Talent MasterDrive GL 16GB

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This product was so appalling we never actually put the review up on the website: only readers of issue 188 could savour its one-star review. A low price of £71 inc VAT might mean “it’s tempting to give the MasterDrive a whirl,” we wrote. “If you do, you’ll regret it. It came last or second to last in eight of our ten tests.” When we used it as a boot drive, freezes “were a frequent, unpredictable occurrence”. One to avoid folks.
8. Norton Utilities

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I’ll admit some bias: we’ve never been big fans of utility suites at PC Pro. If we had collective eyebrows, we’d raise them whenever a new one appeared on our desk. Although we have more than one desk and, between us, many eyebrows, so perhaps it’s best to leave that metaphor at this point.

There are some good ones (utility suites, that is, not metaphors). We were pleasantly surprised by TuneUp Utilities 2011 earlier this month, for instance. How disappointing, then, that Norton Utilities failed to deliver when we reviewed it at the tail-end of 2009; it went on sale “proper” in 2010, which is why it squeezes into this list.

A one-click “Optimize” button is probably the highlight, and it did knock off three seconds from our boot-up time – but in doing so dropped our available memory by 113MB. There are many better ways to spend £39.
7. iPad made simple

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In June, Apress released a 704-page book called “iPad made simple”. Let me repeat that: a book containing 704 pages of advice on how to use a device that’s universally acknowledged as being ridiculously easy to use.

Even accounting for the fact that PC Pro readers aren’t its target audience, it beggars belief that anyone would resort to a book costing more than £16 rather than just experimenting with the darn thing or picking up a much cheaper, briefer guide.
6. BeBook Club

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So it’s November 2010. Amazon has hit the headlines for all the right reasons by releasing a bargain Kindle for £109, complete with seamless integration with Amazon’s bookstore. What does BeBook do? It releases a more expensive eReader – £149 to be exact – that doesn’t beat the Kindle on any major features, doesn’t integrate with any eBook stores, and doesn’t even have Wi-Fi for direct downloads from the internet.

To add insult to injury, it uses inferior screen technology so text looks worse! We like many of BeBook’s products, but this one goes straight into the remainders bin.
5. Energy Sistem 7502

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What makes the Energy Sistem 7502 so disappointing, apart from its appalling name, is that we had such high hopes for it. This media player promised so much that the iPod touch can’t deliver, with the highlight being Digital TV playback. Sadly, it was rubbish.

“The EPG… is woeful,” wrote our reviewer. “While you can select channels and see the next week’s programmes, there’s no way to access programme information or actually watch shows being broadcast from within the EPG. Instead, you need to exit the EPG, open up the TV section, navigate to the channel and tune back in.”

Add a sluggish interface and only 2GB of storage, and another great idea was consigned to the garbage heap of dashed hopes.
4. ATI Radeon HD 5830

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ATI – strictly speaking, we should now say AMD, but we won’t because life’s confusing enough already – had more hits than misses in 2010, but the HD 5830 falls decisively into the latter category. It was ATI’s attempt to offer top-end performance for an affordable price, although by affordable we’re still talking £200. Why, we kept asking, would anyone pay that much when around £20 more could get them the faster HD 5850?

With wide gaps in performance in more demanding tasks, the answer was a great big no-one. All the HD 5830 did was create more confusion for potential buyers and eke a bit more life out of the ageing Cypress core that powered 2009’s ATI Radeon HD 5870 to A List success. We don’t know who’s more cynical, ATI or us.
3. Apple Mac mini

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Grerrk. That sound? That’s me girding myself up for the mound of criticism about to come my way for daring to list an Apple product as one of the worst of 2010.

In many ways, I agree, it’s unfair. The new Mac mini looks beautiful in its minimalist magnesium casing and includes some stunning design moves to make it so small. There’s an HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet, four USB 2 connectors, FireWire 800, 802.11n Wi-Fi: in port terms, it’s well hung.

Delve inside, though, and it disappoints. A Core 2 processor released in 2008, stingy 320GB hard disk and 2GB of RAM. What killed it for us, though, was the price. The base model was expensive at £650, but if you want to upgrade to a larger hard disk or faster processor Apple was charging double or sometimes triple the “real” price difference. Great design, but what a rip-off.
2. Dell Inspiron Duo

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Oh Dell, you great big lovable ball of hardware goodness, how could you do this to us? We so wanted to love the Inspiron Duo, and at first glance it seems so fantastic, but in the end we were more let down than a student who voted Lib Dem.

The idea behind the Duo is great. A cheap netbook that converts, with one very sexy flip of the lid, into a tablet. We were so impressed we wrote, “the Duo’s transformation from notebook to tablet is almost balletic”. Meanwhile, the “rounded, rubberised edges practically beg to be touched, and the 1.36kg chassis oozes a solidity and class that belies the budget price [of £449]”.

The first sign of disappointment came from a battery life of less than four hours under light use. The kick in the teeth, though, became obvious once we’d used it in tablet mode for a while. Over to the review to explain why:

“Tap an icon and you’re unceremoniously shunted [from Dell’s finger-friendly DuoStage software] back to the Windows desktop as it labours into view. And while we’d have expected each application to form part of a slick unified user-interface, the reality is amateurish at best.

“The Internet icon simply launches Internet Explorer; the Games icon lazily shunts you back to the paltry selection of games included with Windows 7; and the Paint icon loads up CyberLink’s YouPaint software, which regularly moans that ‘The current screen resolution is not recommended for this application’.”

As we went on to say, “when a tablet leaves you longing to return to a keyboard and a touchpad, there’s clearly something wrong”.
1. Next 7in media tablet

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Never mind worst product of the year, this is probably the worst product of the century. Normally when reviewing a product we can find something positive to say, but the highlight for the Next tablet was its eight-page Quick Start Guide.

Imagine, if you will, a product “designed” for surfing the web that makes the experience of web browsing so painfully slow you want to head butt a nearby wall.

Imagine an interface so unresponsive and poorly designed you have a better chance of reaching your intended destination by prodding randomly than trying to reason with it.

Imagine a portable device that won’t even last for two blinking hours away from the mains without collapsing in a sulky heap.

If you’ve imagined all that, then you’re very close to imagining the appalling Next 7in media tablet. If you got one for Christmas, don’t open it, just beg for the receipt. If that fails, head to your nearest Next, fall to your knees and beg for a pair of Argyll socks in exchange.

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