The Samsung Galaxy Note 21 could be coming later this year — or it could be tabled as Samsung concentrates on other devices like foldable phones. Opinion remains divided over the fate of the Galaxy Note lineup.
Should the Galaxy Note 21 debut in the second half of 2021 — when Samsung typically shows off its new Galaxy Note — this year's stylus-focussed flagship may be significantly different from last year's, and not just due to small specs tweaks.
Galaxy Note 21 rumors point toward a phone that would be a fittingly advanced send-off though, as it may be Samsung's first phone with an under-display camera. Besides that, there's a great likelihood it'll inherit features from the newly released Galaxy S21, such as the quad rear camera array of the S21 Ultra, its new contour cut camera design and the Snapdragon 888 chipset.
Read on for an in-depth breakdown of all the leaks, rumors and expectations we have so far, along with a look at the rumors that last year's Galaxy Note 20 may be the end of the line for this phablet.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21: Will it actually ship?
Late last year, rumors began to circulate that Samsung was planning to scrap 2021's Galaxy Note update. Those rumors picked up momentum when it became clear that the Galaxy S21 Ultra would be the first non-Galaxy Note phone to work with an S Pen stylus. Samsung Electronics president TM Roh also talked up his company's plans to release more foldable phones, seemingly leaving the Note 21 out in the cold.
But rumors of the Galaxy Note's demise may be premature. An unnamed Samsung employee claims there will be a Note 21, but the fact Samsung's offering the Note's most unique feature on other phones is still not a great sign for the Note's continued existence. In addition, one of leaker Ice Universe's tweets suggests that the Galaxy Note 21 may not come to market.
Another possibility: Samsung releases a Galaxy Note 20 FE, similar to the Galaxy S20 FE that came out last year. That would mean an existing version of the flagship sold for a lower price after Samsung strips out a few premium features. For what it's worth, ETNews reports that there may be one Galaxy Note coming out this year, instead of the usual two.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 price and release date
The Note 20 currently starts at $999/£849, while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's basic cost is $1,299/£1,179. The obvious guess for how much the Note 21 would cost would be to look at these prices, but that may not be the best approach, given Samsung's recent efforts with the Galaxy S21.
Samsung cut the price of the S21 range by $200 across the board, albeit by scaling back on some specs for the cheaper models. It's still likely the Note 21 will cost close to the $1,000 mark, but if we're lucky it'll be a little less.
Since the Note 20 launched in August 2020, it follows that the Note 21 would launch around the same time, which would be August 2021. That's after most of the year's big releases have already been and gone, excluding the iPhone 13 that's slated for September.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 design
The way Samsung typically differentiates its two flagship phone lines is to give the Galaxy S-series a rounder silhouette than the Galaxy Note. Just look at the corners of the Galaxy S20 versus those of the Galaxy Note 20 for evidence of that.
That trend could continue, with the Note 21 getting its own version of the S21's new “Contour Cut” overflowing camera bump design. Renders from LetsGoDigital and Giuseppe "Snoreyn" Spinelli give us a general idea of how the next-gen Note will look.
For materials, the standard Note 20 uses a plastic back while the Note 20 Ultra has glass back, a habit Samsung has showed it will continue with the plastic back on the entry-level Galaxy S21. Both the Note 20 and S21 feel different to hold, but it will still look good at least.
Rumors have long suggested that Samsung is working on adding an under-display front camera to its phones, a feature that's already appeared in the ZTE Axon 20 5G. Should the Note 21 finally adapt this feature, that would mean the front of the phone could have a completely notchless display.
Past Galaxy Note models have used curved displays, so we'd imagine that'll stay the same here too, since it helps make large devices, as we imagine the Note will use, fit better into users' hands.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 display
As noted above, the biggest change we might see on the Galaxy Note 21 is a under-display camera. That's based on an image from Samsung's CES presentation on Galaxy Upcycling that showed a phone similar to the Note 20, but without the usual camera punch-hole.
We've seen elsewhere that Samsung is working on under-display cameras, so we're hoping this is a sneak-peak for the Note 20, but it may end up just being some Photoshop trickery.
If there's no under-display camera on the Note 21, then it'll likely use the same central punch-hole for the selfie camera we've seen on Samsung phones for the last few years. While it's not as impressive looking as a hidden camera, it's still an effective way of balancing display space and selfie camera access.
The two current Galaxy Note 20 models came in different sizes. The Note 20 measured 6.7 inches, while the Note 20 Ultra measured 6.9 inches. Expect both these sizes again, but there's the possibility of the 6.9 inch model shrinking to 6.8 inches, which Samsung implemented when replacing the Galaxy S20 Ultra to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Samsung seems to be sticking with maximum 120Hz display refresh rates on its flagships, so we can expect this to appear again. The question remains however of how dynamic this refresh rate will be. The S21 can go as low as 48Hz if it doesn't need to display a lot of moving images, but the S21 Ultra can go all the way down to 10Hz, as could whatever new Note model Samsung has in the works.
The final point worth mentioning is resolution. The Note 20 Ultra used a QHD panel, while the basic Note 20 used a less detailed FHD panel. Similarly, the S21 and S21 Plus default to FHD while the S21 Ultra uses QHD. Whether Samsung goes for more or fewer pixels will likely depend on if the whole phone is positioned as a premium flagship device or something a bit cheaper.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 cameras
Should the Note 21 arrive with multiple devices, expect there to be a difference in camera set-ups. A basic one will likely use a similar or identical triple-camera set-up to the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus, which consists of 12MP main, 12MP ultrawide and 64MP telephoto sensors, with a 10MP selfie camera on the front.
An Ultra variant would like feature quite a bit more in terms of cameras. Samsung has used its enormous 108MP main sensor on the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra in the recent past, and we'd expect this will make a return. A 12MP ultrawide camera, the same as the S21's, will likely also be there.
The S21 Ultra also has dual telephoto cameras, with one capable of 3x optical zoom and the other 10x optical zoom. These could find its way onto the Note 21 Ultra too, although last year the Note 20 Ultra didn't use the 48MP 4x optical zoom telephoto camera from the S20 Ultra, but its own 12MP 5x optical zoom camera.
Finally, look out for an auxiliary sensor of some kind, likely the laser autofocus that debuted on the Note 20 Ultra. Previous Samsung flagship phones have also used time-of-flight sensors which accomplish the same job, although there hasn't been one offered since the Galaxy S20 Plus.
On the front, Samsung will likely use one of two cameras. Either the 10MP sensor it adds to most of its flagship phones, or the 40MP model it's used on the S20 Ultra, S21 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra before.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 performance
Each year's Galaxy Note usually gets equipped with the best Snapdragon chipset around the time it launches. For the Galaxy Note 20, that meant the Snapdragon 865 Plus system-on-chip, and it will likely be the Snapdragon 888 for the Galaxy Note 21, unless Qualcomm releases a Plus variant of this chip too.
Galaxy S21 benchmarks show the best performance we've seen from an Android device, even though the A14 Bionic-powered iPhone 12 still outperforms the Snapdragon 888-based Samsung phones.
Things will probably be different in the U.K. Outside of the U.S., where Samsung has a long-standing arrangement with Qualcomm, we get Samsung's own Exynos chipsets — the Exynos 2100 in the case of the Galaxy S21. We'd again expect this to be the chip found in the Note 21.
As for other key performance metrics, expect 12GB RAM as at least an option. Both Note 20 models have this much, but the S21 has shown Samsung move back to 8GB for the cheaper models, a move it could pull again for the Note 21.
Storage isn't a glamorous spec, but it is important for users who want to save all their photos, videos and apps easily. Samsung typically offers 128GB or 256GB on cheaper flagships, while you can choose between 256GB or 512GB on more expensive versions.
What we really want to know is if Samsung's kept the microSD card reader on the Note 20 Ultra. The base Note 20 didn't have one, and none of the three S21 models have one either, which is concerning news if you need the option of extra removable storage.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 S Pen
There's not a huge amount you can change about a stylus, but Samsung has been adding extras to the Note series' included S Pen over the past few generations. The Note 20's stylus, for example, can be used as a remote control for taking pictures or presenting slideshows, and can be waved around to navigate and control the phone via Air Gestures. We can expect one or two new abilities to be added while still keeping the basic shape and controls, as well as its responsive writing ability.
With the Galaxy S21 Ultra, other phones now support the S Pen, and the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3 is likely to add support as well. Still, the Note 21 will likely retain the advantage of having the stylus built-in, rather than having it sold as a separate accessory like the S21's S Pen.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 battery and charging
The S21 series all charge at a maximum of 25W, with the option for 10W wireless charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging to power up smaller accessories. Samsung has previously offered 45W charging capabilities on models like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus and Galaxy S20 Ultra, so we might see that on the Note 21, even if it's not an option on more recent phones.
If the Note 21 does come out this year, it may arrive without a charger in the box. Samsung dropped phone chargers from the Galaxy S21, confirming that those models won't be the last to ship without a charger.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21: What we'd like to see
We've got some time between now and the Galaxy Note 21's theoretical release later this year. Should a Note still be in the works, we hope the future phablet delivers on the following features.
- More unique S Pen features: The Note 21 needs a reason to entice users beyond just offering an S Pen, since you can now access this on the S21 Ultra. Samsung has historically had a problem of offering many overlapping phone models, and it could solve this by make the Note 21's inbuilt stylus more versatile, such as developing the air gesture controls we've seen on previous generations.
- The best specs Samsung can offer: It's good that the basic Galaxy S21 is now able to match or even undercut rival phones on price, but to do this Samsung has dropped specs like RAM and display resolution. Since the S21 now has the entry-level flagship niche covered, it would be nice to see the Galaxy Note 21 act as a premium device with as much memory and as many pixels that Samsung can fit onto the phone.
- Under-display selfie camera: This might be a longshot, but there would be no better way to steal its rivals' thunder, and wave goodbye to the Note series if that's going to be the case, than giving the phone a high-tech under-display camera.