5 futuristic phones that were ahead of their time, but still flopped

The world of tech is fast-paced and cutthroat. Smartphones, in particular, have evolved at lightning pace. Clever innovations are quickly assimilated by competing manufacturers and built upon. But the right idea at the wrong time spells disappointment. Sometimes a phone will bring something fresh and compelling to the table, but it won’t capture the public imagination until a competitor does the same thing a few months, or even years, later.

Some people mocked the original iPhone when it launched, and the Samsung Galaxy Note provoked much mirth for being too big, but both defied their critics with strong sales and spawned sequels that are still going strong. The phones we’re looking at here had a different fate. They may have pointed the way for the future of smartphones, but they failed to capitalize on it.

Palm Pre

phones ahead of their time 5

When Palm launched the Pre in the summer of 2009, it introduced an all-new platform to the mobile landscape in the shape of webOS. What was supposed to be a brave new beginning for Palm turned out to be the beginning of the end, as the company was acquired by Hewlett-Packard just a year later.

The Pre bridged the gap between old and new. It was a slider phone with a physical keyboard, but it also had a multi-touch screen. It wasn’t really the hardware that was ahead of its time, so much as the operating system. The thoughtfully developed webOS included a well-integrated system for messaging, which pulled in the likes of Gmail, Facebook, and LinkedIn. There was also a neat notification system and proper multitasking — all innovations that would soon be adopted by its rivals. Read our full review.

HTC HD2 and HTC Evo 4G

5 phones ahead of their time

Arriving in late 2009, the HTC HD2 has long been a cult classic in the development community. It had an impressive 4.3-inch touchscreen, and it was only the second phone to sport a Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. It also had HTC’s Sense UI, but unfortunately, it was running on top of the doomed Windows Mobile 6.5. The HTC HD2 has had unofficial ports of Windows Phone, Firefox, MeeGo, and even Android 6.0 Marshmallow, not to mention many other platforms.

Released in 2010, the Evo 4G was close to being an Android version of the same phone. It was the first 4G-enabled phone in the United States, one with the ability to connect up to eight devices via a hot-spot feature and support for video chat. The 8-megapixel camera with support for HD recording was popular, and there was even room for an HDMI port. The Evo 4G showed HTC’s willingness to engage in an arms race when it came to specifications.

The fact that the HTC HD2 and the HTC Evo 4G sold out quite quickly may have given the false impression that they were big successes, but WinMo was on its way out and 4G wouldn’t really take off for another couple of years. Read our full HTC HD2 review and our HTC Evo 4G review.

Dell Streak

5 phones ahead of their time

The original Samsung Galaxy Note was still over a year away when Dell launched the Streak 5 in 2010. There had been other large form factor phones before — blurring the lines between tablet and smartphone — but the Dell Streak was the first Android phablet. It had a 5-inch, touchscreen display with 800 x 480-pixel resolution, decent battery life, and a 5-megapixel camera.

A lot of the initial reviews were actually pretty positive, with many reviewers seeing the attraction of a bigger screen on a phone, but the Streak suffered from some serious performance issues. It ran Android 1.6 Donut, later upgraded to 2.2 Froyo. The immature version of Android was less than ideal for a screen this size, and Dell’s failure to build good software customizations on top essentially killed its chances of taking off.

Motorola Atrix

5 phones ahead of their time

Starting 2011 in determined fashion, Motorola was churning out innovative new Android smartphones like no other manufacturer on the market. However, looking at the lineup — which also saw the Xoom, Droid Bionic, and Cliq 2 released alongside the Atrix 4G — you get the impression it was throwing everything at the wall and hoping something would stick.

The Motorola Atrix 4G had an attractive design with a 4-inch, 960 x 540-pixel display. It also had plenty of raw power under the hood, but it was the fingerprint sensor and the innovative WebTop platform that really stood out. There were four different dock accessories, allowing you to convert the Atrix into the brains of a laptop, hook it up via HDMI with an IR remote control, or use it to navigate in a vehicle.

With the high price of docks and less than perfect performance, the Atrix never hit the big time, but it was certainly influential. Fingerprint sensors are now ubiquitous and Microsoft is still trying to nail the PC/phone crossover with Continuum. Read our full review.

Nokia Lumia 1020

5 phones ahead of their time

The Symbian-based Nokia 808 PureView was unveiled at MWC in February 2012. With a 41-megapixel camera, it took mobile photography to previously unscaled heights. It was also the first smartphone to feature Nokia’s pixel oversampling technique for better image quality, improved low-light performance, and lossless zoom. It also benefited from Nokia’s long-term partnership with Carl Zeiss optics.

Sadly, this amazing camera disappeared quite quickly because it was tied to the sinking Symbian platform. Nokia tried again with its successor in 2013, the Lumia 1020, but Windows Phone turned out to be sinking as well. Despite many plaudits, the 41-megapixel shooter proved to be a leap too far and today’s smartphones still haven’t caught up. Read our Lumia 1020 review.

It’s too early to call, but if we had to pick the next phone that may be ahead of its time, we’d probably opt for the LG G5. The modular design seems set to take off at some point, but we’re not sure it will be 2016.

Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Mobile

The Motorola Razr may return as a foldable phone — for $1,500

The Motorola Razr V3 is one of the world's most iconic phones, and it could be making a stylistic return in the form of a foldable Motorola smartphone -- but it may cost around $1,500. Is the nostalgia worth it?
Mobile

On a budget? We found the best affordable smartphones you can buy

Here are the best cheap phones for anyone working with a tight budget, whether you're a fan of stock Android or marathon battery life. Find out what you can get for under $500 or far, far less as we round up the best budget smartphones.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Mobile

Android vs. iOS: Which smartphone platform is the best?

If you’re trying to choose a new phone and you’re not sure about the merits and pitfalls of the leading smartphone operating systems, then come on in for a detailed breakdown as we pit Android vs. iOS in various categories.
Mobile

Verizon’s deal could get you a free iPhone XR — but there’s some fine print

Verizon launched a new deal for its smartphones aimed at encouraging customers to open a new line. If you're willing and you want two new phones, you could get a free Samsung Galaxy S9, iPhone XR, or Pixel 3.
Mobile

OpenTable points can now be used to whittle down cost of a hotel stay

Have some OpenTable Dining Points built up? Now those points can also be used to make your own hotel discounts. OpenTable is teaming up with Kayak to use points as discounts on participating hotels.
Photography

From DIY to AAA, here's how to take a passport photo in 6 different ways

If you're applying for a passport or renewing one, you need to submit a photo in your official application. There are strict guidelines, but fortunately, it's something you can do at home. Here's how to take a passport photo.
Mobile

Get $100 discount on the Razer Phone 2 for a limited time

The Razer Phone 2 is finally here, and it's got upgraded specs, that super-smooth 120Hz display, and an updated design. Here's absolutely everything you need to know about the Razer Phone 2.
Deals

REI slashes prices on Suunto, Garmin, and Fitbit Versa smartwatches

Though fitness trackers and smartwatches can get pretty pricey, REI is offering some sweet discounts on top brands. Right now, you can get a new smartwatch from Fitbit, Suunto, and Garmin for up to 35 percent off its normal price.
Social Media

Twitter suffers privacy scare as bug reveals tweets of protected accounts

If you set your Twitter account to private and you have an Android device, you'd better check your settings now. Twitter says it's just fixed a four-year-old bug that flipped the privacy switch to make the account public.
Wearables

Check out the four cool Swatch watches you can use for mobile payments

Swatch has announced its Swatchpay technology is now available in Switzerland, enabling mobile payments from your Swatch watch. It works in a similar way to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Here's everything about it.
Mobile

How to jailbreak your iPhone on iOS 12: A beginner’s guide

The latest jailbreaking tools for iOS 12 make freeing your iOS device easier than ever. This guide will teach you how to jailbreak your iPhone or iPad, and explain what jailbreaking will do for you.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.