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I respect the Samsung Galaxy Note line immensely — but I won't miss it
There have been rumors swirling for years, but it’s looking very likely that 2021 will see the end of the Samsung Galaxy Note series. Recent rumors suggest the 2021 Galaxy Note could be the last. It’s even possible that we’ve already seen the swan song of the series with the Galaxy Note 20 line. Either way, the smart money is on the Note series bowing out in the very near future.
The Note line has been so influential over the past decade that many people will be sad about its rumored departure. However, I’m not finding myself sad at all. In fact, I am totally OK with the Note line proverbially riding off into the sunset.
Obviously, there are still people out there who are passionate fans of their Notes. I know many readers here buy the latest Note each year like clockwork. While I expect these folks will be very disappointed if these rumors come true, I can’t help but wonder what the Note line means to them at this point. The first few Notes were game-changers that absolutely shifted the entire smartphone industry. Over the past few years, though, the Note line has seemed to be a shell of its former self.
The Galaxy Note series: The first modern smartphones
At this point, what can be said about the Galaxy Note series that hasn’t already been said? The smartphone you hold in your hands right now is a direct descendent of the first Note. It doesn’t matter what brand your phone is or even what operating system is on there. The size and shape of your 2020 smartphone is the way it is because of the first few Note phones.
In 2011, the industry thought Samsung was crazy to release the first Galaxy Note. In comparison to its contemporaries, the first Note was enormous. It was 5.8 inches tall, 3.3 inches wide, and 0.4 inches thick. That may seem small by today’s standards, but the Note was roughly 50% bigger than the then-latest iPhone 4S. Some reviewers outright mocked how gargantuan the first Note seemed. Others simply questioned whether or not consumers would ever want a phone that big.
Considering most 2020 smartphones are physically larger than the original Note, we now know that early reviewers were very, very wrong.
The runaway successes of the first few entries in the Galaxy Note series pushed the entire industry to adopt aspects of its design. Even Apple had to finally cave in 2014 and offer a larger phone with the iPhone 6 Plus. Interestingly, the physical dimensions of that iPhone are very close to those of the original Note.
It wasn’t just the physical size of the Galaxy Note series that pushed the envelope, though. The insides of the phones also made a huge difference.
The phone that gives you everything and more
Samsung set out to make the Note line the place where the best-of-the-best specs and features lived. The first entry in the Galaxy Note series had the best (and obviously largest) smartphone display the company had ever released. It also had the largest battery capacity of any Samsung phone. Finally, it offered power users a built-in stylus known as the S Pen.
As the Note series progressed, Samsung started using the line to push the envelope of what a smartphone is and what it can do. The displays got bigger and better. The batteries got bigger and lasted far longer. The cameras became more powerful, the internal storage capacities skyrocketed, and on and on. Sure, you might have been able to find other phones with some comparable features, but no phone offered everything the Note offered.
While the Samsung Galaxy S line also deserves credit for pushing the industry forward, the Note line is largely responsible for making “better, faster, more powerful” the ambition of the smartphone industry at large. Apple certainly wasn’t taking big risks with its phones as Samsung was with the Note. LG was taking risks, yes, but with much more mixed results. HTC was already losing market share by the time the Note line came along.
The bottom line is that from 2011 to around 2015, the Galaxy Note series was where smartphone innovation was happening. Over the past five years, though, not even Samsung could successfully argue that that innovation has continued.
Now, the S Pen is all that’s left
There have been many times over the past few Galaxy Note series launches in which we’ve questioned its need to exist. Outside of a very small set of differences, a modern Note is simply a repackaged Galaxy S phone with an S Pen tossed in. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just not enough to necessitate an entire smartphone line.
When rumors started popping up that Samsung could bring S Pen support to the Galaxy S21 line, that was it: that would make there be no difference at all between the two lines.
It seems that the inclusion of the S Pen is all that's left that makes the Note line unique.
For whatever reason, Samsung shifted its innovation strategy from the Galaxy Note series to the Galaxy S series in the middle of the previous decade. It ended with the Galaxy Note Edge and slowly devolved from there. By 2018 when Samsung launched the Galaxy Note 9, the best Sammy could do was to offer a higher internal storage capacity than it had ever offered in a phone (512GB). That is literally the only thing that the Note 9 did that no other Samsung phone had done before.
Don’t miss: The ultimate guide to Samsung’s S Pen
In 2019, when Samsung revealed the Galaxy Note 10, we all were left scratching our heads. Why on Earth is there a phone with the Note branding that is actually inferior to other Samsung phones? Sure, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus offered most of the boundary-pushing specs and features fans wanted, but the vanilla model was the proverbial straw. If even Samsung doesn’t know what the Note line is supposed to be all about, why is it even making them?
The Galaxy Note series had its day, and that day is over
Far off in the future, when historians are writing books about the development of the smartphone industry, there will be entire chapters dedicated to the Galaxy Note line. Of that, I am certain. We simply can’t overstate its importance. But just because something was once a game-changer doesn’t mean it is essential that it stays active forever.
In a lot of ways, an earlier demise might have been better for the Note line. I would have loved to look back at the Galaxy Note 9 as the final phone in the series. What a way to go out! I’m sure I speak for many Note fans when I say that the Galaxy Note 9 was the best in the line, and easily one of the greatest phones ever made.
Instead, we might be looking at the Galaxy Note 20 series as the final entries. While there’s nothing inherently bad about those phones, there’s nothing that really pushes any boundaries, either. Once again, neither phone brought anything new to the table outside of minor debuts.
The true innovation in the smartphone space is happening with Samsung’s foldables, and that’s where the company should be putting its focus. Judging from rumors and leaks, that appears to be the case, which is the smart move.
The Galaxy S line will probably absorb the S Pen from the Galaxy Note series and then that will be that. People who love their Notes as they are can buy a top-of-the-line Galaxy S phone instead. People who loved the Galaxy Note series because of the innovation can move to the foldable world to get their bleeding-edge fulfillment.
The Note series fulfilled its purpose and changed the industry at large. Now it’s time for the next big thing to do the same.