Five Android smartphones you should avoid buying

by Marty Gabel

Not all Android smartphones are created equal. Unlike the iPhone, which is generally updated by Apple once a year, there are literally dozens of smartphone models on the market powered by Google’s mobile operating software.

While there are a handful of fan favorites like the Nexus S 4G and Motorola Atrix, there are also plenty of dogs that suffer from poor performance issues, weak batteries, and stupidly unnecessary features. Based on input from our readers, personal experience and poor reviews, we detail here five Android phones you should avoid buying.

Huawei m835 Ideos

Sometimes you get what you pay for, which is the case with this Metro PCS-branded Android smartphone. While we love the fact that Android phones can now be purchased without a contract for less than $100, the tiny screen size, spotty performance and poor battery life of the Huawei Ideos makes it an inferior device than even most feature phones. The appeal of its compact dimensions (4.1 inches tall and 2.2 inches wide) are overshadowed by a 2.8-inch touchscreen that makes typing and navigating through websites and applications awkward at best. This problem is amplified when you consider that most prospective users of this “starter Android phone” haven’t owned a smartphone before. There are certainly smarter ways to try out an Android.

Garminfone

Releasing a phone based on state-of-the-art navigation technology was a good idea at first. But Garmin’s first (and only) entry into the crowded Android device market suffered from poor sales and a generally directionless marketing approach. The idea was to bring Garmin’s expertise at GPS satellite navigation into a smartphone. The trouble is, most regular Android smartphones include Google Maps already installed. For the vast majority of consumers, that app and the hundreds of other navigation-oriented Android apps produced by independent developers is all that will ever be needed. While there is no denying that the Garminfone works well as a standalone GPS device, for those wanting a true Android smartphone experience, it certainly doesn’t cut the mustard. As Google Maps now works offline too, which was one of the Garminfone’s original advantages, the device is becoming even more obsolete.

Dell Streak

Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? The Dell Streak somehow combines the worst qualities of each. What’s the point of having a portable device that places phone calls but doesn’t comfortably fit in your pocket? In terms of computing, the comparatively small Dell Streak is clearly inferior to the iPad and other tablet offerings. But don’t just take our word for it. Wall Street Journal tech guru Walt Mossberg listed the Streak as one of the worst devices he reviewed in 2010. Android software updates to the Streak have made it a more usable device than when Mossberg published his original review. However, not even the most advanced mobile operating system in the world can make up for the Streak’s clumsy form factor.

Motorola Citrus

Verizon subscribers have a serious beef with the Motorola Citrus, which has an average two-and-a-half star rating (out of five) based on 392 reviews. Among its drawbacks are a slow web browser that is difficult to read text on because of the small screen size. Many users complain about constantly having to manipulate the screen size in order to read text. The Citrus is also known to revert to Airplane Mode by itself and freeze without warning. For search and navigation, the Citrus pushes users to pre-installed Bing applications rather than providing easy access to Google and other applications. While it is common for smartphones to include this kind of "bloatware" upon purchase, for tasks as essential as search and navigation users should be free to make their own choices. There may be worse Android smartphones available, but Verizon subscribers who insist on buying a Motorola phone are better off paying for the superior Droid models. The Citrus is free to purchase with a two-year contract and readily available. But you’re still going to pay thousands of dollars for the duration of your deal, so it’s better to pony up earlier for a superior phone and let this lemon spoil.

HTC Thunderbolt

OK, before you start with the angry emails for including this one, hear us out. The Thunderbolt is a great device with plenty of power. It has been well reviewed, sold well, and offers the advantage of blazing-fast connectivity on Verizon’s 4G network. But -- and we’re certainly not the only ones to point this out -- the Thunderbolt has been beset with quirks and problems since its launch. Randy Arrowood, from enthusiast blog Android Headlines, even went so far as to put it at number one in his Top 10 Android Phone Letdowns of 2011. Arrowood cited issues when transferring from a 4G to 3G network, constant restarts, and the most common issue of all: horrendous battery life. For sure, the Thunderbolt (and many others like it) are great devices with loads of style and power. But if you need an extra battery just to see you through the afternoon, or can’t use the phone to its utmost potential because of a lack of juice, then what’s the point of having all those features?