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On my mind: Is Samsung still keen on its Galaxy Note line?
As the timeless adage goes, the pen is mightier than the sword. These days however, there is some discussion needed as for just how accurately such sage sayings may apply to Samsung smartphones. True, the Galaxy Note has been a mainstay for a number of years now, and true it serves as not only a tool for those interested in productivity, but also doubles as a second flagship with which its maker can attract customers and remain relevant in the latter part of each year.
People love dreaming of the next Note, people love using the Note, and people love reading about the Note. It’s great for customers with big hands, customers with bad eye sight, customers who like to draw…Everyone seems to love the Note. Except for maybe Samsung.
Despite all this, 2016 is a very curious time for Samsung’s second big product line. With each passing year, the Galaxy Note series is seemingly becoming less and less of a proper priority for its maker, perhaps even suggesting it might be on a path to pasture. In this piece, we will go over each of the major inverse “milestones” and try to surmise just what can be done to try and retake or even remake the Note.
Notes: about Europe
Perhaps the best way to start off, and indeed the most visible sign of the times, is that of Samsung’s decision not to release the Galaxy Note 5 in Europe last year. The sordid situation prompted some major social engineering efforts. While the company did eventually change its mind, kind of, it was seemingly the result of customer outrage as opposed to some kind of supply constraint issue. Still, the fact that a conscious decision was made to ignore an entire continent for a halo product is quite telling.
Now truth be told, no one can really say what was going on behind Samsung’s decision. To assert that the Korean OEM “hates” Europe is to attribute a human consciousness to a corporation. Companies function by way of obtaining capital and revenue, therefore any decision made is done so accordingly. There could have been problems making the curved rear glass which meant lower production numbers, for example, and thus priority was given to markets with a higher Note sales history.
What is more likely, however, is that Samsung probably examined the European market situation, considered the likelihood of its Note 5 selling enough units to justify the expenses involved with releasing it there, and either (1) planned to skip it entirely, or (2) wanted to wait a see how the phone fared in other markets first.
Whatever the case may be, however, the fact is that the Galaxy Note 5 was not given equal consideration in Europe has no doubt left a sour taste in the mouth of all those who have supported the company, and the product line, in the past.
Stepping back in time to 2014, it is also unknown as to why Samsung decided to release the Galaxy Note Edge in Japan – the first country in the world to receive it at the time – and yet did not bother to release the Galaxy Note 4 at all there. Even more odd – and parallel to Europe – the Galaxy Note 5 didn’t release at all in the Land of the Rising Sun, making 2015 the first year ever that the Note line was absent.
Sure, a case could be made regarding the company’s abysmal market share – people prefer iPhones and Xperias in Japan – and therefore a desire to reduce marketing that would likely be wasted on an unperceptive market. Whatever the case may be however, the fact remains that this was another market with many many consumers that was not privy to the Note 5.
The Galaxy S6 Edge+
Samsung’s decision to release a big-screen Galaxy S product, and the deliberate choice to make it an Edge variant no less, represented a major rethinking of its brand strategy. Here was the company launching a direct competitor to the Note 5 that was arguably even more marked for mainstream due to its curved glass. While it’s hard to fault the OEM for wanting to make such a thing, the timing was truly a questionable decision for it diluted the impact of the Note 5.
In addition, the fact that the S6 Edge Plus cost more than the Note 5 speaks even louder: it was quite clear which of the two was to be perceived as the higher-end product.
Naturally the fact that the Edge model used curved glass which costs more to manufacture is an overhead expense that comes into play with the price, but the average mainstream consumer will not even consider this when looking at the two options. If anything the idea that the Note comes with the S-Pen might serve to imply it’s the more expensive of the two, or at least should be.
Samsung could have priced the Note 5 at the same level as the S6 Edge+ yet didn’t. Samsung could have passed on an S6 Edge+ entirely, but didn’t.
The Phone “Clone”
Another sign that the Note series is becoming less relevant is the fact that last year’s model was a major departure from the usual “best of the best” approach that Samsung typically applied to the product line. Whereas the Galaxy S5 was plastic, for example, the Note 4 had a metal frame and souped up specs. Whereas the Galaxy S4 used a USB 2 port, the Galaxy Note 3 used USB 3.
With the Galaxy Note 5, the phone was basically just a larger Galaxy S6 with an S-Pen, nothing more, nothing less. There was no USB Type-C, as some rumors had suggested, there was no waterproofing, there was no 6GB of RAM. Perhaps it’s fitting that these rumors have returned once again this year in consideration of the Galaxy Note 6.
That said, it’s wrong to outright fault Samsung for keeping so close to the S6’s design, as the company arguably wanted a single cohesive design language, and/or wanted to try and keep costs in check by not doing anything too crazy with the Note 5.
The Note Edge is MIA
Moving on, the fact that there was no Galaxy Note 5 Edge but there was a Galaxy S6 Edge+ also suggests a rethinking of priorities. Samsung introduced the curved AMOLED panels with the Galaxy Note Edge, and along with it a new way of interacting with the phone. In fact, just recently we looked at the issue itself, in an opinion piece that argued the Note Edge’s two fused, yet independently-functioning displays was a better implementation of the Edge feature.
The Galaxy S6 Edge+ did not make use of such a dual-display scenario, nor for that matter, does the Galaxy S7 Edge. Which brings up the next point.
The Galaxy S7 Edge
Perhaps the greatest indication of all that Samsung is trying to downplay the relevance of the Note series is the existence of the Galaxy S7 Edge. Unlike the smaller-sized product that launched last year, Samsung has made the S7 Edge a full-on phablet. Could this be due to complaints that the S6 Edge was too small? Perhaps. And yet, as the S6 Edge Plus had launched just half a year prior to the launch of the S7 Edge, it raises concerns about timing.
Whereas the Note series was the sole premium phablet offering provided, there is now a second mainstream Galaxy S phone to deal with. It has often been argued, at times with polls to support, that the S-Pen is an often overlooked and irrelevant part of the Note experience. That is to say, many customers seemingly just want a premium phablet from Samsung, which the Note series is, but they really don’t need or care so much about the S-Pen itself.
While there will definitely be those who want the S-Pen and/or depend on it, by having now decoupled the accessory and released a standard high-end phablet, Samsung has basically cannibalized a large potential segment of its Note customer base.
A Notable second MIA: tablets
The final piece of “evidence” to support this argument is the total lack of a new Galaxy Note tablet product for over an entire year. To date, Samsung has released the original Galaxy Note 10.1 back in 2012 followed by the Galaxy Note 8.0 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 (in 2013), and finally the Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 in early 2014.
As nice as the phones themselves are, the whole idea of an integrated stylus seems to be a perfect combination with an even bigger product, hence the sheer productive power of the full-blown tablets. Make no mistake, this is clearly deemed a major selling point as one need look no further than Apple’s two iPad Pro devices, both of which are compatible with an expensive Pencil. Yet whereas Apple makes customers spend in excess of $100 to purchase said Pencil, Samsung has always included the S-Pen with the hardware itself and, even better, has made a special stow-away section to store it.
Where is the new Note tablet? While it’s understandable that tablets are far less of a priority now that there is mounting evidence to suggest a market in major decline, at the very least there should be a decent top-tier tablet to rival Apple’s offering. Last year’s Galaxy Tab A series actually did have an optional model with an S-Pen included, yet as it was clearly not branded as a Note and the specs themselves were so unremarkable, it’s hard to truly consider that as a formal offering.
Even the Galaxy TabPro S, which runs Windows 10 doesn’t come with an S-Pen. And while Samsung does intend to eventually release a stylus for it, the term “S-Pen” has not been used. It seems like an incredibly wasted opportunity, especially give that the nearby competition – Microsoft’s Surface – comes with a stylus.
Saving the Note
Some have argued Samsung should decouple the S-Pen from the Note series and thereby make it an optional accessory for any interested person and product. In a very real sense, if an S-Pen were to function with the Galaxy S7 Edge, it would literally be a Galaxy Note 7 Edge. The screen size is pretty much there, so why not allow the usability? It has actually done this already with the aforementioned Galaxy Tab A product line no less.
Rumors state Samsung may launch a Galaxy Note 6 Edge this summer. Assuming it doesn’t have the dual display functionality addressed earlier, what’s the point? How would the product be any different from the S7 Edge already on the market?
Perhaps Samsung needs to do something really bold and dynamic in order to “save” the Note, either from obscurity of else from itself. Perhaps it should take a look at LG, of all companies, and the V10 handset. LG’s second flagship of 2015 was a truly gigantic consideration. It had dual functioning displays, it had a sizable frame, it had top-quality mobile audio output, and it was virtually indestructible. Heck, it even looked totally different from the LG G4.
As if that were not enough, LG is clearly convinced the second screen is a good idea as it’s now seeking to include it on even non-flagship products to boot. Even the “standard affair” G5 looks totally different from its predecessor and the V10.
Just imagine what might happen if Samsung went truly crazy with the Note 6 and made it a completely different, unique product. The series could find its own niche again, something it once had back before rivals were churning out phablets right and left. It would give Note owners something special to look forward to, and it might even convince some mainstream users to get with the program, too.
Conclusion and Wrap Up
Despite the fact that Samsung’s Galaxy Note line has a dedicated group of loyal customers – or perhaps future returnees if the Note 6 brings back microSD support – it’s hard to believe the famous product line still has the same luster it once had over at Samsung’s HQ. Regrettably, it seems like the Note has become just another phablet in a sea of phablets, and even Samsung doesn’t seem to want to make it different.
The Note Edge was a major step forward, yet it has ostensibly been canned. The Note tablets are now more relevant than ever now that Apple has a Pencil, and yet they are nowhere to be seen. People need to covet the Galaxy Note series once more for more than it being just another Note and/or a flagship phablet.
What do you think? Has Samsung started to reduce the Note to a less-than-zero supporting role, or is it as prime and pertinent as ever? Does the product lack that something special it once had, or are things going swimmingly? Please feel free to take the surveys within this piece and then leave a comment or two below.