As I have been reviewing other phones in the last few months I’ve also been gathering seven of the rarest strangest smartphones you have ever seen.
7. Galaxy S4 Zoom (Year-2013)
I got a bit lucky with this one, I logged on eBay and it was literally sitting in front of me. This is a special phone because while it may seem like just a standard 2013 device from the front, turn it over and you realise we’ve got a bit of an imposter on our hands. The crazy part is all of this stuff at the back is there so that this phone can have 10 times optical zoom.
The modern day Galaxy S21 Ultra also has 10 times optical zoom, it’s just that the s4 zoom doesn’t look like it’s been left loose in an “all you can eat buffet”. Samsung wasn’t wrong about zoom being a key selling point in the future, it’s just that soon after this phone came out companies figured out a more efficient way of doing it.
The traditional method and how it was done on the S4 zoom as well as just generally “point and shoot” cameras is to have a whole load of stacked bits of glass by changing the distance between them and magnify things without loosing quality. But then came the eureka moment of multiple cameras.
What if instead of just one camera, you have to put all of this movable glass in the front so it can reach all of these different magnifications. We then just have two fixed cameras; one that can capture a wide view and one that capture that zoomed view. This worked so well that in 2021 every single smartphone uses this technology.
If we test these two phones ( galaxy S21 and Galaxy S4 zoom) side by side, though it means we would be comparing 2013 phone to 2021 phone here but it’s just cool that we are now at a stage where in most aspects this clever engineering paired with a bit of software magic can outperform last gen’s pure optics.
The NoPhone clearly looks like the pinnacle of stupidity but it worked. What this company did is play on the growing sentiment that tech is ruining our lives. They said to people “do you feel the constant urge to have your phone with you?” to which most people said YES.“Do you wish you could be less attached to it?” which also got the response YES.
The solution was simple; hold our device instead. People really bought their vision, this idea that the NoPhone was effectively the anti-smartphone and how it was branded was taking 0mp photos and having 0gb of storage not negating the fact that the design of the device looked like a toilet bowl cover ( weird right?).
It was fully funded on kickstarter, the creators were invited to all manner of interviews and even a TED TALK and they’re still selling them today six years later although when I tried to get one there was a serious stock shortage and it took them like an extra month to get it to me but that’s even crazier. They’re selling in terms of bundles, the couple’s cure, the family plan,even the employee gift packs and they released a follow up device.
5.NoPhone Air (Year-2016)
I really wish I was joking but this is an actual product and I’m just sitting here trying to think what the returns process would look like on this.
Imagine this headline (Ex-Apple CEO Starts His Own Phone Company) and not just any CEO, this was John Sculley; the guy who kind of replaced Steve Jobs back in the day. His idea was interesting so much that most $200 budget devices at the time were purely functional.
They had little to no attention given to hardware design or even software design so Sculley created a company OB with the goal of producing phones that had that apple brag factor and that was designed in Silicon Valley “coolness” but for emerging markets like India and Africa.
Given the fact that Apple has got such a reputation for only doing things when they know that they are going to be huge this meant the sky was the limit for the OB devices.I would even go as far as to say that the presentation was promising. It was a great demonstration of how the company could make something both premium and practically priced.
For a fashion focus device it sure does look an awful lot like a toilet seat. The bottom is rounded with the top being flat. They generally looks like the company built around the phone first and then realized “it just looked like every other phone, how about we make it different” and I think this kind of mentality is also what led them to a screen that is raised above the rest of the phone.
The idea was to prevent your fingers resting on the display itself but yes, this is as impractical as it looks. More fundamentally though, if you are entering a new market with a new product and a new brand, the one thing that you have got to absolutely make sure you are doing is solving a problem that people are having. You could argue that they have built a cooler phone for “people who like toilets” but for majority of the markets their targeting being visually unique was far from the primary concern so it flopped.
They went back to the drawing board, relaunched and it still flopped. It wasn’t long before John Sculley just straight up started denying his involvement with the company.
3.K1 Impulse (Year-2019)
The K1 Impulse marketed as the most secure device on the planet and I got to start by saying this is easily the top 5 smartphone unboxing experiences that I’ve probably ever had. If we take off the wrapper and the sleeve we are left with two magnetic folds and inside them is everything you could possibly expect but also everything that you could probably didn’t.
We have the phone in case with the inscription “Privacy is the new order”( feels like I’m joining a cult), we have a beefy insert with a whole menu of paperwork as well as a very unusually shaped case. You can of course take the first layer of the box off for the bottom layer and including a charger and a USBC cable, you get a full three-course meal of travel adapters. Then we go back to the top layer again and you find a carbon fiber wireless charging pad, a pair of really quite high end wireless earphones with a display on top that shows battery percentage and then take off the middle part and you’ve got three private keys which will make sense in a minute ad a rather weird looking ball (have no idea what it’s for).
Long story short, this may come as a surprise after that ridiculously embellished unboxing experience that the phone was a scam. The company had built their own supposedly ultra secure crypto data OS. The keys mentioned earlier was actually meant to be plugged into the phone so you can enter your own secure vault and it’s the weirdest thing; they tried to legitimize their own security by inviting people to hack them.
First thing you see on their website is “Hackers For A Million Dollars”. Could you ever imagine any legitimate company doing this. Their number one selling point was that this was the first and only phone to run voice over blockchain protocol.
You have probably heard about the blockchain. It’s the basis of bitcoin but at its core it’s just decentralized way of storing data so that it doesn’t belong to any one single person or company. The issue with blockchain is that it’s just not very well understood by most. This company basically tried to use that ambiguity to make it seem like it had almost magical properties.
They said to people things like “You get unlimited storage for free”, because of blockchain! Just before this phone came out the guys behind it were suspected of a scam involving cryptocurrency and it was bad timing because all of a sudden people started questioning if anything they said was even true. Sure enough under scrutiny it turns out that the private keys were just flash drives and almost every article covering the launch was a paid article by the company. In the name of supposed security , most basic smartphone features like Gmail, social media and even importing contacts did not work and for everyone who messaged their helpline to get some support on this they either got completely blanked or they got given a 200 word essay on how these were the necessary precautions needed for “VOBP” to work.
I’m getting the sinking feeling that what they have actually done here is they just bought a cheap phone from China and then stuck this fancy casing around and made it their own because otherwise why does this look suspiciously like a 3d printed cutout and why else would it not have not have one but two sets of bezels. Customers soon started to worry that by buying this phone and by having used it to manage their own cryptocurrency wallets , they inadvertently given the company behind this phone full access to their crypto accounts and so there was the worry that the company would effectively steal their money which they were suspected of in this other scam and then remotely brick their device with a software update (pretty scary stuff).
2.Turing Phone (Year-2015)
This phone is so rare that I couldn’t even find a single unopened one on the entire internet. The only one that I could find literally came delivered to me in a lunchbox, the ultimate and reusable packaging I guess. It’s just a shame that there are no sandwiches included. Welcome to the Turing Phone.
I’ve got to say that apart from the fact that this kind of feels like holding a pair of scissors on the wrong end I think it looks gorgeous. It’s an almost modular aesthetic with each panel having a slightly different soft touch matte finish with one of them just straight up dragon scale texture. It’s weird that it works and the the whole thing is apparently built from liquid morphium which is stronger than steel. but what it is it?\
Well picture this, it’s 2015 and we have had the Galaxy S6, the iPhone 6S built Turing robotic industries just comes out of nowhere and says we have got a phone that not just outspecs them but is encrypted to keep your privacy (I wonder where we’ve heard that one before). The phones did get made or at least a few of them did but most sources say that not a single one got delivered to customers.
Somewhere along the line I think it really hit this company just how hard it is to make a fully working smartphone and how they really needed more than the 50 employees they had to do it. Of all markets I would be willing to bet that the smartphone market is probably one of the hardest for new companies to enter. It feels like everyone wants a stab at it but at the same time 80% of the market is controlled by literally 6 companies.
Where this gets interesting is that after the Turing phone didn’t work out Turing Robotic Industries kind of started to fall into a bit of a downward spiral. They had lost some of their reputation so what do they do? they try to tease an even more extreme phone to stay on people’s minds; The Turing Phone Cadenza, with an imax 6k quad camera, a super capacitor battery paired with a hydrogen fuel cell and dual snapdragon 830 chipset which are products that never actually existed.
When that too inevitably ended up with nothing they went even crazier. They changed their name to Turing Space Industries and teased something called the Hubble Phone with.., it’s not even worth going through this spec sheet.All you need to know is it didn’t happen. The supposed encryption and the liquid morphium was very doubtful but since no one tested it because no one got the phone.
If you look at the company’s bio, they describe themselves as a mobile technology company which develops technologies based on decentralized authentication methodology using static key exchange with an anonymous key distribution infrastructure. The one thing to take away here is that if a company can’t tell you what they are doing for you in simple terms then it’s a pretty good chance that they’re trying to hide something.
Fun Fact; I found a reddit thread from someone who applied to work for this company and as part of his interview he was tasked with doing what seems an awful lot like their job for them. They basically gave him like a two week long assignment which involved building an app from scratch with a really specific set of functions (very sneaky).
1.Vivo X5 Max (Year-2014)
The thinnest smartphone in the world which has unfortunately been discontinued. It’s a pretty understated package for a phone with this prestigious a title. You get the device on top and then your earphones, charger and manuals.
For some perspective, the ROG Phone 5 is 10.3mm thick, the Oneplus 9 is 8.7mm thick, the iPhone 12 mini is 7.4mm thick and the Vivo X5 Max is 4.75mm thick. The phone feels almost two-dimensional compared to what I’m used to (pretty sure I’ve hard rulers thicker than this phone).
What is interesting is they still managed to get a headphone jack on them. You can see that the metal trim of the phone is so narrow that they have had to cut into the back plate just so it fits, which goes to show that if a company wants to put a headphone jack on the phone they can put a headphone on it, crazy for a 2015 phone. Could you imagine if we wanted to build the thinnest phone in the world now in 2021 with all our performance and efficiency improvements we could probably make a better phone that’s 3.75mm but it’s just that priorities have changed. In 2021 people want advanced camera systems and 5G big batteries and all of these things lead to bulkier phones plus I feel like the phone being this thin is a little counterintuitive .
It’s so thin that it’s more likely to break but if you put a case on it it’s not thin anymore. Still a beautiful piece of tech to look at and still engineering marvel but I reckon if a company released a really thin phone today tons of people would flock to go and see it but very few would actually follow through and buy it.