The 10 Ugliest Gadgets Of The Last 10 Years6:00 PM EST Wed. Apr. 18, 2012
There have been many technology products through the years that have lacked beauty and grace -- just think of those original mobile phones. But in today’s era of sleek designs and thin, easy-to-use form factors, there have been a curious number of ugly gadgets introduced. Here are 10 of the ugliest products of the last 10 years.
There was a time when Sony was the gold standard for consumer electronics and gadgets. Now the former tech powerhouse is a company in turmoil, and even the simplest form factors seem to elude it. Take the Sony Tablet P; aside from the unfortunate name, Sony bestowed a truly baffling design for this "tablet" by splitting it in half with a dual-screen clamshell case.
The result? When held lengthwise, the device's dual screens display two narrow ebook pages. When held horizontally, meanwhile, its screens combine to form a larger display -- but with a thick, unnecessary bezel right smack in the middle of the viewing experience. And, that's if your apps and videos can use both screens -- which some don't. Sony needlessly tinkered with the already elegant tablet form factor. Let's close this clamshell, shall we?
A headset that doubles as a Rogaine treatment, the iGrow Laser by Apira Science claims that its laser technology, which is embedded in the headset, can help reverse hair loss in both men and women. The device uses 21 laser diodes and 30 LED lights to provide pain-free hair follicle stimulation, so you can get hair loss treatment via your headset while you're working at your desk or listening to music.
But, here's the problem. Even if the treatment works, it's hard to believe anyone would want to wear something this ugly for extended periods of time, considering that Apira Science says it takes about 24 weeks to receive "the appearance of thicker, fuller, healthier hair." The iGrow laser looks like a bulky, futuristic bicycle helmet -- complete with flashing lights -- that sits high atop your dome, and to unsuspecting passers-by, the device might resemble some kind of sinister mind control device from "Total Recall."
Speaking of clunky tablets, remember Microsoft's "Mira?" That was the codename for Microsoft's precursor to the tablet, which Bill Gates famously introduced at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show. A portable touchscreen device with its own operating system (Windows CE) and the ability to connect to traditional PCs, the tablet-like Smart Display was on the right track.
But, the product suffered from several issues -- a high price tag and connectivity problems, to name two. The most egregious visual offense was the Smart Display's clunky, unattractive design, which was partly to blame on ViewSonic and other OEM partners. The thick borders and odd control panels made the Smart Display have an extremely inelegant display, while the size and weight of the device basically rendered Microsoft's Mira as an underpowered notebook with no keyboard. In other words, it was the worst of both worlds for the combined display-mobile computer. Microsoft discontinued the Smart Display a year after its launch.
Motorola has made a number of great-looking smartphones and mobile devices over the years (and yes, we include pagers in that group -- they absolutely owned that market!). But the Aura is not one of them. In fact, it's one of the ugliest looking phones ever designed. You can find a great many ugly add-on cases that will cover an otherwise attractive phone, sure. But, to have a base design this ugly is another matter.
The Motorola Aura looks like a mix between a Star Trek communicator and a needlessly futuristic-designed item found in a Sharper Image catalog. Forget the outrageous price tag ($2,000!!!) or the fact that it's made with expensive materials. This luxury phone is simply unsexy, from the exterior design that makes it resemble anything but a phone to the ominous-looking red globe that dominates the device. Sure, the craftsmanship and stainless steel case are nice -- if you wanted a jewelry case or a pocket watch. But if a guy in a suit were to take this out of his pocket, you might think he was from "Men In Black" and attempting to erase your memory.
In keeping with the theme of gadgets that look like potentially life-threatening weapons, we give you the Torpedo Projector from Senario, which also has an ominous-sounding name. The portable and affordable ($169) LCD projector is aimed (pardon the pun) at consumers, gamers and kids. Aside from the fact that many reviews panned the picture quality, the Torpedo Projector looks like a toy squirt gun -- and that's without the extremely odd looking base station for the device. In any event, we'd be curious to see if you could get this device past airport security.
Nokia may have been ahead of the gadget curve with N-Gage, its mobile phone and handheld gaming console hybrid that was introduced way back in 2003. The product had solid technical specs and boasted attractive features like a built-in MP3 player and PDA functionality. So let's give Nokia a little credit for trying something new with the N-Gage.
As we now know, gadget design has never really been Nokia's strong suit, and the N-Gage was certainly not an aesthetically pleasing device. Let's start with the fact that it looked more like a gaming console designed for kids than an actual mobile phone. In addition, the oddly-shaped gray case was difficult to hold and the control pad and button were awkwardly positioned. The biggest flaw, however, may have been the distracting color pattern around the screen, which looks like a chess board and a plaid suit had a head-on collision. The N-Gage was discontinued in 2010.
Admittedly, we're grading this device on a curve. By itself, it's not a terribly ugly phone. But when you involve the maker of one of the most beautiful sports cars ever produced, well, you set expectations rather high. And Vertu Ascent Ferrari 60 phone, which was introduced in 2007, does not meet that standard.
When you hear "Ferrari phone," you'd expect the device to share some design aspects of the iconic sports car. But, we're just not seeing it. Sure, the phone has an engraved Ferrari transmission gate on the back battery cover -- but, who cares? It just looks like a weird vent has been bolted on to the phone. And, the case leather may be real, but we'll never understand why the case is at the top of the phone, like an old-school football helmet, instead of around the grip where a user holds the device. Plus, the skinny phone has an extremely narrow screen and keyboard, which doesn't exactly make it easy to use. For $25,000, you'd think you'd be getting a better looking phone.
Here's an example of taking what should be a relatively simple product and blowing it out with a lot of clutter and unnecessary features. The Finger Beats Drum Mousepad by Bluesky Designs takes the tried and true mousepad and transforms it into…well, we're not sure what it is.
The device uses "advanced sensor pads" that allow you to "create fantastic sounds" through the device's built-in speakers. So, essentially it's an electronic drum kit for your fingers that doubles as a mousepad. However, it's not a very functional mousepad, given the small amount of real estate on the pad that's sacrificed for the giant, obnoxious-looking speaker and control buttons -- though, the drum kit picture on the pad isn't much better.
The hands-free, steering wheel-attached speakerphone movement is a thing of the past, and while it was a relatively short-lived fad, it did produce some ugly products. Take the DSP Technology Bluetooth Auto Steering Wheel Hands Free Speakerphone Kit, for example. The cumbersome device was far too large to be convenient for drivers hoping to actually have two hands on the wheel; it wrapped around your steering wheel with a thick band, obstructing most dashboard readings. The device also featured an incredibly narrow and barely visible digital screen in the middle, with a tiny on/off button above it. Why the device was designed to be this large is a mystery, but we're glad that few people are driving around with what looks like a huge, black lima bean attached to their wheel.
First, a disclaimer: this is not a joke. This is an actual prototype that Toshiba unveiled in Japan back in 2006. The idea was to create a "wearable home theater" that gave you a 360-degree panoramic view of whatever video you're watching or game you're playing.
But here's the thing -- the device, along with weighing a reported 6 pounds, appears to be incredibly awkward, not to mention the fact that it looks like someone mounted a full-sized CRT television on the user's head. The picture quality and panoramic experience would have to be pretty amazing to get people to wear something this huge and ugly on their head. It's no wonder Toshiba never released the so-called "bubble helmet" prototype to the general audience. It's pretty much useless unless you want to look like Dark Helmet from "Space Balls."