Bashing the Note has become something like a national sport among Android fans. It’s too big, it’s too expensive, it’s full of gimmicks, and so on. I’ve done it myself. Where I’m from, we call this tall poppy syndrome. It’s that impulse we all feel to take anything on a pedestal down a notch or two, to put it in its place. Yet the Note remains impervious to all attempts to diminish its standing.
Even the disastrous Note 7 ended up being little more than a hiccup in the Note’s storied history. Yes, there’s a sizeable community that would stab you and leave you in the gutter should you speak ill of the Note, but the “fan-haters” out there are becoming more vocal, always ready to pick apart whatever Samsung did wrong this time. We complain because we care.
There's already a predictable list of complaints about the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus.
There’s already a predictable list of complaints about the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus: too expensive, no headphone jack, no microSD card or QHD display in the smaller version, “the Note 10 is a Galaxy S10 Plus with an S Pen,” and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with every one of these gripes — my point is that it doesn’t matter. The Note 10 will still be among the best phones of the year.
Why is this so? What makes the Galaxy Note the perennial “best” among such fierce competition?
We can’t lazily fall back on the presence of the S Pen here. There have been other attempts at a stylus-equipped smartphone but none have come close to competing with the Note. If a stylus was an essential feature beyond this product line, there would be lots of other phones with one. But the stylus has always been a Note thing, not a general “smartphone” thing.
You could say it’s the “kitchen sink” approach to specs Samsung takes. The Note is always crammed with the best of everything and leaves nothing out. But past Notes have omitted a wide-angle camera, this one leaves out the headphone jack, and this is the first one to adopt an in-display fingerprint reader — something other phones have had for a year and a half. You can get pretty much the same specs as the Note 10 on the OnePlus 7 Pro and several other phones for a lot less.
The Note is always the standard against which all other phones measure themselves.
It’s not about having a big screen anymore either. The Note line introduced the world to the concept of a large-screened phone. In time, the rest of the industry fell in line. Most major flagships now have displays at or above the 6-inch mark.
“No compromises” no longer holds true either. With the introduction of a smaller model, necessary concessions get made. The Note 10 isn’t a smaller Note 10 Plus, it’s a watered-down Note 10 Plus with much less going for it.
No, the reason each year’s Note comfortably assumes a spot in the top three phones of the year is because it represents the pinnacle of the Android world — the biggest phone by the biggest manufacturer. It may not always be the first product to introduce a spec, but once a spec makes it into a Note, that spec becomes doctrine. Like the iPhone for Apple fans, anything the Note does becomes the new standard against which all other phones measure themselves.
That is why it’s so much fun to poke holes in Samsung’s strategy. We want to find flaws with the decisions made, to throw stones at that beautiful glass house. We all want to justify why we won’t be buying one or why you should buy something else instead. Yet, people will buy the Note as they always have and given the chance, the vast majority of us would own one as well.
The Note, love it or hate it, is the standard-bearer for Android. Google may be pushing the Pixel as the new default, but for many O.G. Android fans, the Pixel line strays too close to the iPhone to be the Android ambassador. The Note, however, is full-blooded old-school Android, full of crazy specs, clever gimmicks, and divisive decisions worth debating.
The Note reminds of us of the good old days, that’s why we love it. But, like all things, it must evolve — that’s why we hate it. The headphone jack is the culmination of a process we’ve been watching in slow motion, knowing it was inevitable. The now-endangered microSD card will likely be the next to go. These are vestiges of a different time, a time that has largely now passed in flagship land.
The Note reminds of us of the good old days, that's why we love it. But, like all things, it must evolve — that's why we hate it.
The problem with evolution is that there’s a lot about the Note 10 that makes it feel just like every other phone now. All phones have large screens. All flagships have the same crazy specs. Triple camera systems are standard fare. In-display fingerprint scanners, near bezel-less displays, super-fast charging, flashy glass colors; there’s precious little here that makes the Note 10 stand out the way it used to.
But evolve as it must, the Note 10 will still be one of the best phones of the year, because that’s one part of the Note’s DNA that doesn’t change. Where it goes, others will follow. In those instances where it follows, there’s officially no going back. Until the Note isn’t the biggest phone by the biggest manufacturer anymore, it will continue to matter. Whether you like the Note 10 or not, it will remain the lightning rod it has always been, for better or worse.