Camera maker RED garnered attention a few years back when it announced it would release its first Android smartphone. Who wouldn’t want a RED-style camera in a smartphone? However, building phones turned out to be much harder than RED anticipated. After promising a revamped RED Hydrogen phone several months ago, company founder Jim Jannard now says he’s retiring, and the Hydrogen project will shut down.
RED started taking pre-orders for the Hydrogen One in late 2017 with prices starting at $1,300. That was just for aluminum — the titanium version was a whopping $1,600. The company talked up the “4-View” holographic display, successfully creating a mystique by refusing to let anyone even photograph the phone from the front during early hands-on events. RED’s cameras are far too expensive for the average consumer, but a $1,300 smartphone was in reach for many more RED fans.
The Hydrogen One launched in 2018 after numerous delays, but the wait didn’t make it any better. The phone was widely panned for its gimmicky 3D display, high price tag, and bad camera. Really, RED made a product with a bad camera! The RED-developed camera rig add-on that was supposed to connect to the phone’s pogo pins also never materialized. Likewise, content for the 3D display as almost non-existent.
Jannard, who was the driving force behind RED, eventually admitted that the company missed the mark with the Hydrogen One. However, he pointed the finger at the ODM hired to manufacture the phone. Jannard said the company would do better with the second Hydrogen phone, and that one would actually have the promised RED camera module.
Now, Jannard has announced his departure from the company, citing his age and declining health. With his retirement, RED will end the Hydrogen project. That at least suggests no one else at RED had confidence the company could build a competitive smartphone. RED makes incredible (and expensive) video cameras, but building smartphones is an entirely different matter.
The Hydrogen One will go down in history as RED’s only smartphone. You can still purchase the device from RED, and it’s much cheaper than it was just a few weeks ago at $645. That’s probably still about $645 too expensive, though.
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