Forget the Galaxy Note 21 — it's time for the Galaxy Note to die

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen upgrades
(Image credit: Future)

Before I begin to bury Samsung's phablet, I should say that I’m a long-term Samsung Galaxy Note fan, and a Samsung user more generally. I owned the Samsung Galaxy Note II back when my friends told me it was ludicrously oversized and akin to holding an iPad to my head when I made calls.

But rumors suggest that Samsung is planning on killing off the Galaxy Note line — even if it’s not happening this year. As much as it pains me to say it, I think that’s probably the right decision. And not just for the reasons touted elsewhere, either. 

To recap, common wisdom is that Samsung will be culling the Galaxy Note line because the company simply has too many flagship offerings. While things used to be relatively simple with a Galaxy S in February/March and a Note in October/November, the new batch of foldables – the Galaxy Z series – has complicated matters. And if you’re going to kill off flagship product line, then the relatively niche Note line is the obvious candidate.

This seems right in my eyes, but there are other reasons, too. For me, the Samsung Galaxy Note is no longer he unique, standout product it once was. Or to put it another way, it has been a little too influential. It’s served its purpose enough that what was once unique about it has become commonplace.

Big screen phones are everywhere now

First off, let’s remember that when the original Samsung Galaxy Note launched in 2011, it was considered so big that a whole new term had to be coined: ‘phablet’. Thankfully, the word — "phone" and "tablet" clumsily crunched together — has died a death now, as small phones just aren’t as popular as they used to be. Big devices are just phones, now.

But here’s the thing: look up the original Samsung Galaxy Note now, and you’ll see it’s actually pretty small by today’s standards. It’s just 5.3-inches across the screen. To put that into perspective, Sony’s last consciously small phone —the Xperia XZ2 Compact — is 5.5-inches across. The iPhone 12 mini is also bigger at 5.4-inches.

Yes, Galaxy Note phones have gotten larger, with the recent Note 20 Ultra hitting 6.9-inches, but similarly sized phones just aren’t as hard to find in 2020 as they were nine years ago. Not only can you buy the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max for $1,099, but Samsung’s own Galaxy S20 Ultra shares the same 6.9-inch display as the Note 20 Ultra. You can even buy a phone with a screen the size of the Nintendo Switch’s if you want.

On prices and S Pens

It may be my memory playing tricks on me, but I also seem to remember the Galaxy Note offering more raw power too. Whether that was imagined or not, it’s certainly not true nowadays. Recent Galaxy Notes have shared the same processor as pretty much every Android flagship each year, whatever Snapdragon Qualcomm has just released. And that includes the Galaxy S flagship that, thanks to a six-month head start, has inevitably enjoyed a discount or two, making the Note feel even more "optimistically priced."

One of the remaining reasons to maintain the Galaxy Note is the S Pen, but if the rumors are correct, you’ll still be able to get your stylus fix with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which will add support for Samsung's stylus. 

No, the S Pen won’t dock as conveniently with the rumored S21 model, apparently requiring a special case, and yes it will cost you more as an accessory, but that’s probably the sensible way of doing things anyway. Back when I had my Galaxy Note II, I could count the number of times I actually needed the S Pen on one hand. And nowadays I find my iPad mini, Notability app and the Apple Pencil a more valuable journalistic note taking combo, at any rate. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 will apparently get S Pen support, too, and Samsung's decision to roll out more foldables in 2021 leaves even less space for the Galaxy Note lineup to flourish. 

Galaxy Note outlook

In short, if the rumors are correct and Samsung is indeed planning on culling the Note series, it’s probably the right decision, but not because the Note was a dismal failure. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Over nine years, the Galaxy Note helped shift smartphone design goalposts and can retire a huge success. Quite something given the 2016 model had a problem with explosions… 

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.