Everyone, and we mean everyone, has some sort of established smartphone series. By this, we’re talking about the many distinguished smartphones series’ that have accumulated a potent lineage throughout the years. Names like Apple’s iPhone, HTC’s One, Motorola’s DROID, and Samsung’s own Galaxy S smartphones all come to mind and have remained relevant – partly because they’ve been tuned to cater to the widest degree of people possible. However, if we’re to think of a series that defied the trends in order to etch out its own destiny, there’s one that comes to mind. And it was a big step up in every facet.

We’re talking about none other than the Samsung Galaxy Note series, the phone series that popularized the notion of what it’s like to be big phone – the kind that amasses attention due its sheer size. Before its arrival back in 2011, companies for the most part were trying to make phones smaller, more compact. So, when Samsung unleashed its new smartphone, not only did it have such an immense impact on the industry, but its also coined a new term for this new device classification.

A history of Samsung's Galaxy Note series 1

Enter the world of the phablet, a phone that seemingly filled the void left between 7-inch sized tablets and smartphones with 4.3-inch sized displays. Impressively enough, Samsung managed to strike a chord amongst smartphone users, as each iteration in the series became more widely accepted. The Galaxy Note series seemingly proved that big phones were big business, and that was just the reality!

The Galaxy Note series seemingly proved that big phones were big business, and that was just the reality!

Beyond the captivating size that the Galaxy Note series brought to the table, it managed to also reintroduce us to the stylus – or more appropriately, popularize its use with smartphones again. It was something that peaked during the Windows Mobile era, eventually being phased out to the point of extinction when capacitive screens proved to be a more reliable form of touch interaction. Samsung didn’t just bring back the stylus, dubbed the S Pen, they improved it in every single way possible.

All of this justifies the obvious here, that Samsung’s Galaxy Note series is a force to be reckoned with. And as we embark on finding out what the latest iteration in the series has to offer, we have no doubt that whatever it is, it’ll be the benchmark phone for all phones coming out during the second half of 2016. Before we get there, however, we’re going to look back on the series’ history – to see what transpired with each major device in the series. With that in mind, let’s jump right into the history of Samsung’s Galaxy Note series.

Samsung Galaxy Note: the original conversation starter

A history of Samsung's Galaxy Note series 4

Prior to its release back in 2011, people perceived phones with 4.3-inch displays as being way too big for everyday use. So when the Samsung Galaxy Note finally arrived, it defied the wanted expectations at the time, opting instead to deliver a phone that was “larger than life.” Yes, it had the specs to compete with all the other flagships at the time, more so when it featured a then-massive 5.3-inch display, but by no means was it trying to appeal to the masses to the same degree – it wasn’t, being largely panned for being niche product.

Nevertheless, it was a smartphone that established its reputation in an entirely different manner. Rather than outperforming its rivals, the Galaxy Note’s reputation was largely dispersed by how it became a phone that spurred conversation from strangers. Anyone who owned it at the time will attest to its mysterious way of being a conversation starter, one that didn’t need to utter a sound to raise eyebrows, but rather its immense size was enough to draw people in. Put it down on a table or take it out of your pocket to accept a phone, and chances are that someone would’ve asked what it was.

Another thing it did was that it brought the stylus back from the dead. Even though its functionality is a small fraction of what we’re presented with what we have now, the S Pen distinguished itself from other styli for being pressure sensitive – capable of distinguishing varying degrees of pressure. Therefore, not only was it used just like any other stylus to jot down notes, but its pressure sensitivity enhanced it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2: bigger and better

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Sammy sought out to do something different, which it did with the original Note, but for its successor, they did everything necessary to make it better – and for the most part, they did. Frankly, you can say that the Galaxy Note 2 was very much the iterative update it needed to be, boasting a slightly larger 5.5-inch display, an improved AMOLED panel, beefier battery cell, faster processor, double the RAM, and more S Pen-centric functions.

Aesthetically, it took cues from its sibling in the Galaxy S III, drawing comparisons of being merely a “bigger” version of that phone. Employing the same plastic design language that Samsung had been known for, the Note II did manage, however, to be skinnier than its predecessor. That was impressive to say the least, given that the Note 2 packed on a larger 5.5-inch screen – up from the 5.3-incher of its predecessor.

Needless to say, the Note 2 was more evolutionary than revolutionary, seeing that it managed to hit all the marks to make it a valiant and respectable successor. Out of everything it improved upon, the Note 2 really made it a priority to deliver an enhanced S Pen experience, which it did very well. Improvements made to its ergonomics and the latency when hitting the screen were all appreciated, but the addition of an Air View functionality seemingly made it mimic a mouse cursor. For example, hovering the S Pen over display while in your email’s inbox would provide a small preview window – or alternatively, appointment details and image previews in the Calendar and Gallery apps respectively.

Everything about the Note 2 was better, so it’s difficult to find faults with it. Sure, it was a great performing phone in the face of the competition it had during the time, but in the greater scheme of things, it was just a successive phone with all the improvements that come with any successor.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: seeking sophistication

A history of Samsung's Galaxy Note series 5

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 arrived in the fall of 2013, boasting the customary hardware improvements to give it that complete overhaul feel. Just as before, the specs were boosted to make it a formidable adversary in the smartphone space. The screen size jumped up to 5.7-inches, while fashioning together a chassis that was sleeker and lighter. The resolution, too, happily joined the 1080p crew – a first for the series! The camera, now at 13-megapixels, easily made its predecessor’s 8-megapixel one quaint by comparison. Nothing was left unturned with this one, including the addition of an IR blaster, which was yet another first for the series.

Above all, though, Samsung finally paid a little bit more attention to its design. Superficially, it sported a similar design language to the Galaxy S4, but they were kind enough to just sprinkle a dab of sophistication to its design. While the foundation of the phone’s body was still unmistakably plastic, it was complemented by a faux-leather stitch pattern that adorned the edges of the rear casing. That alone managed to elevate its design from the otherwise, bland plastic constructed phones that Samsung has long been known for.

Other firsts in the series also include the short-lived microUSB 3.0 port for faster charging and data connectivity, as well as a slew of new S Pen related functions. Specifically, the consisted of a new Air Command view with the S Pen, the ability to recognize if the S Pen is removed from its slot, and notifications if the S Pen is placed too far away from the phone. Moving onto the software, its productivity aspect became enhanced with the addition of Multi Window for true side-by-side multi-tasking.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4: a true powerhouse during its time

A history of Samsung's Galaxy Note series 3

By the time 2014 came around, there was no questioning Samsung’s complete dominance in the smartphone world. Their strategy became more focused by announcing its flagship phone in the Galaxy S series during the first half of the year, while reserving the second half to the Note. Even through all the successes, Samsung still had one nagging reputation that was almost impossible to reverse.

Before the Galaxy Note 4 was announced, Samsung made waves by turning things upside down with a brand spanking new design language with the Galaxy Alpha – one that was premium, which was an attribute Samsung lacked in having. They took the formula they came up with the Alpha and applied it to the Galaxy Note 4, resulting in a majestic phone that featured metal trimmed frame. The Note 4 was a design testament for Samsung, who was clearly starting to turn things around in that department.

Design aside, the Note 4 was a beast of a phone that was both specs and features heavy! In fact, it was one of the few phones to feature Quad-HD resolution, ensuring it was moving ahead of the curve. There was even a finger print sensor embedded into the home button, which was still a rare feature amongst phones. Everywhere else you look seem to confirm the obvious, that it was just a stellar performing smartphone. Some have gone as far as proclaiming it as one of the best phones in the series ever!

To sum it up, the Note 4 was one of those phones you dream about – a no compromise thing that delivered on all fronts!

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: a curvy experiment

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Alongside the Note 4’s unveiling, Samsung also happened to announced a variant – one that matched the Note 4’s specs sheet, but featured one compelling standout aesthetic. That, folks, would be none other than a curved screen; the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. While some thought of the curved edge to be yet another gimmicky thing, looking back at it now, the features brought to us by this new curved edge were practical.

On top of displaying usual notifications, this edge transformed into something more when certain apps were opened. The camera app for example, offered some additional buttons to minimize the clutter with the viewfinder. Besides that, though, the phone operated and performed similarly to the Note 4 – albeit, it did cost a lot more in price.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5: the dawn of premium

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Considering all the wonders and joys brought on with the Note 4, you’d think it’d be tough for Sammy to top? Arguably ahead of the curve at its release, the Note 4’s notoriety continued to make it a force well into 2015. By the this time, however, we saw Samsung’s transformation in the form of adopted a new design language with its smartphones. Following after the receptive response found with the new premium design of the Galaxy S7, it was a no-brainer to adopt it into the Note 5 – released in the fall of 2015.

Several new changes came along with this 5th generation model, most notably the premium look and feel of the phone thanks to its glass and metal construction. Not surprisingly, this combination gave this Note a premium package that wasn’t present before. While it was nearly identical to the Galaxy S7’s design, Samsung listened to critics about the S7’s feel in the hand, by rounding the edges along the back of the phone to make it feel a bit more ergonomic.

In standard fashion, the Galaxy Note 5 was a Swiss Army knife of sorts, featuring premium amenities such as a new, more responsive fingerprint sensor, heart rate sensor, and an updated S Pen as well. Also a first time for the series, the Note 5 featured wireless charging – in addition to the “rapid charging” it was bless with. Going back to the S Pen, it adopted an auto-eject mechanism to mimic the click you get with a pen. Even better, there was also a new feature that allowed users to instantly jot down a note the moment the S Pen was ejected.

All told, the Note 5 will be remembered most for its refreshing premium design. Besides that, there was very little to complain about this phablet because it performed well in pretty much all the areas you’d expect. The battery life was long, its camera captured some amazing photos, and it continued to be a productivity workhorse with its software and S Pen.

What’s next? The Galaxy Note… 7

A history of Samsung's Galaxy Note series 2

And so we come to the sixth generation of the Galaxy Note, which is due to launch on August 2nd, and will be called the Galaxy Note…7. That’s right, Samsung itself announced a couple of days ago that the next generation of the Galaxy Note will skip the 6 monniker and instead be called the Galaxy Note 7 in order to bring it in line with the Galaxy S family.

What do we expect it to offer? Thanks to numerous leaks, including our very own exclusives, it’s likely we’ll see an iris scanner, Quad HD display, dual curved edges – like the Galaxy S7 Edge – an updated S-Pen and an awful lot more. Until Samsung reveals everything we need to know about the Note 7, which is your favourite Galaxy Note device and why? Is it the original, its successor, the premium Note 3, the powerhouse Note 4 or last year’s Note 5? Vote in the poll above and let us know your views in the comments below!

John Velasco

Storyteller, ongoing health nut, persistent complainer of running, & religious flosser.