One sign that smart phones may be reaching an evolutionary plateau is that more so-called cool and innovative features become less useful. Another sign: Features such as large displays and good cameras are "improved" to the point where they actually interfere with the device's primary function.
This seems to be the case with some of the latest models in our Ratings from Samsung, Nokia, Google, and others. For example the Nokia Lumia 1520 stretches the concept of "bigger screens are better" to 6 inches, leaving you with a device too big to hold comfortably with one hand. And the Samsung Galaxy Zoom, one of the first smart phones with an optical zoom lens, is too thick and bumpy to be used as a phone.
Even KitKat, the latest version of the very popular Android operating system that debuted on Google's Nexus 5, may have gone too far in its attempt to merge cellular-based messaging accounts with the Google ecosystem.
This Android phone offers a high-quality, high-definition display, the convenience of wireless charging, and a fun option for taking 360-degree panorama stills. But since Nexus phones traditionally provide a no-frills showcase for the Android OS on which they run, it doesn't have the interface tweaks, camera tricks, or unique wireless-sharing options that phone makers throw on top of Android to leverage their brands. Nor does it have the nifty gesture and hands-free controls we've seen on the most recent models from HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung.
That wasn't a problem. But some of the new features built into Android 4.4 (KitKat) did prove frustrating to use. For example, Google's Hangouts app can now also handle your SMS and MMS messages so that your carrier-serviced messages and Google account can mingle on the same screen as your Google-based conversations and video calls. But we found that the screen clutter this sort of mingling produced actually made it harder to find text messages. And the enhanced Caller ID feature, which is supposed to show you the name and a photo of the business from where calls were placed, often lacked those details.
KitKat does add some useful touches. These include a shortcut to summoning widgets, wallpapers, and Google settings by long-pressing a clear spot on the desktop, and new built-in support for the step detectors and step counters of fitness apps.