Update: A newer claimed leak hammers another nail into the coffin of the Samsung Galaxy Note. But it's set to live on in the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Chances are strong that we're not going to see a Galaxy Note model this year. That's not just idle speculation, either. Samsung itself has thrown cold water on the prospects for a Galaxy Note 21 this past week, with mobile boss Koh Dong-jin telling Bloomberg that a global chip shortage could mean no new Note in 2021.
If that's the reason Samsung wants to give for no new Note, that's fine by me. But the company would do just as well to announce that we've seen the last of the Galaxy Note this year and beyond.
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Don't dismiss me as some wild-eyed Galaxy Note hater. It's been a fine phone over the years, setting the standard for phablets that other phone makers have tried to live up to. But its time as a distinct and recognizable product at the head of Samsung's phone lineup has come on gone.
Big screen standout no more
When the first Galaxy Note debuted a decade ago this fall, it was derided as an unwieldy behemoth by rivals and a not insignificant chunk of the tech press. And people still bought it. The Galaxy Note may have been the first big-screen phone, but it certainly popularized the concept. These days, it's hard to find a phone with a screen that's less than 6 inches, and a lot of that's a result of the Galaxy Note's popularity.
But that last sentence cuts both ways. Because there are a lot of big-screen phones now, the Galaxy Note is just one of many and no longer the standout. Samsung's own smartphone lineup is packed with big screen options, with the 6.8-inch Galaxy S21 Ultra providing almost as much display real estate as the 6.9-inch Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. And if you've got the extra cash lying around, you can go even bigger with Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2.
Put another way, every phone in Samsung's Galaxy S21 lineup is 6.2 inches or bigger. The midrange Galaxy A72 just announced by Samsung is as big as the Galaxy Note 20. There's nothing particularly special about the Galaxy Note's screen size any more.
S Pen comes to other Galaxy phones
The Note can still claim a special feature in the form of the S Pen that ships with every model. The S Pen is no ordinary stylus, featuring Bluetooth connectivity that enables remote controls. It's also handy for jotting down notes and helping with precise photo editing.
But as linked to the Galaxy Note as the S Pen may be, it's no longer exclusive to Samsung's phablet. The Galaxy S21 Ultra added support this year, and while you need to buy a separate case to house the stylus, I can easily see future Galaxy S models including a slot for the S Pen just like the Galaxy Note does. It's rumored the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3 is going to add S Pen support as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if other phones join the S Pen party further down the road. And if the S Pen isn't strictly a Galaxy Note add-on going forward, then what really is the point of that phone existing?
It's certainly not to deliver breakthrough features. Recent Notes have simply adopted the camera features Samsung introduced earlier with that year's Galaxy S models. The processor powering the Note is generally the same one that debuts in the Galaxy S. Just about the only thing unique about the Galaxy Note these days is its name.
Samsung’s future is foldable
If you're looking for something innovative these days, you're looking at Samsung's foldable efforts, whether that's the Galaxy Z Fold 3 or the upcoming Galaxy Z Flip 2. Those devices have the extra screen space productivity-minded users demand, and features like Samsung's flex mode take advantage of the foldable screen design to split the display between a viewing area and dedicated controls. The biggest knocks against foldable phones up until now have been durability and price, and Samsung's rumored to be looking at boosting the former while lowering the latter (or at least, making foldable phones less ridiculously expensive).
There's an argument to be made from a business standpoint that Samsung needs a marquee phone release later in the year, not only to help with holiday sales but also so that it doesn't cede the spotlight to Apple and its annual fall iPhone refresh. But that's easy enough for Samsung to address. A schedule showing rumored product releases for the next six months leaked this week that indicates Samsung will have a lower-cost Galaxy S21 FE to highlight in August; we could also see those foldable phone updates, Samsung's reportedly working on. That's a lot of potentially interesting phones, with no superfluous phablets taking up any space.
The Galaxy Note enjoyed a good long run, but with its major features adopted and parroted by other devices, it's no longer a unique sight on the smartphone scene. Samsung would be better served retiring that product name in style and turning its attention to the next big thing now that the last big thing is already reflected in its other phones.
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Any rumours of a tri-fold design coming before the end of the year? A foldable that transform from a 1:2 phone screen to a 3:2 tablet form factor would be my ideal device.
Every year, the Note pushes the state of the art a little further ahead.
I have used and enjoyed the series since the Note 2. As soon as the next version comes out, I will buy it. Meanwhile, I will continue enjoying my Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, a phone that still rises above almost all others and has a better DXOMARK camera score than the newer Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Samsung would be leaving a lot of money on the table to not continue the series
David Elliott Lewis, San Francisco.
I agree 100% with your assessment.
If Samsung ditches the Note they are making a mistake. The note is the perfect size for a large phone, it is tall yet not too wide. Get a case to house a stylus for the S21 and the phone will be too wide and uncomfortable to hold.
The last thing I want is a foldable phone. If they drop the Note line there is nothing keeping me from exploring other manufacturers.