Welcome back to The Weekly Authority, the Android Authority series that recaps the top Android and tech news from the week and what it all means. Tristan Rayner at the stylus, and I’m talking all about the Samsung Galaxy Note series and the S Pen. But first…
Plenty of important news this week, none more so than what you’re getting from the next-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon.
- The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 was announced over a two-day summit, now fabbed on a 5nm process, a faster and more efficient CPU and GPU, and an integrated 5G modem. Our deep dive into the specs tackled all the detail. Here’s a list of the confirmed Snapdragon 888 phones and brands so far
- Following that news, Xiaomi appears to be announcing the Snapdragon 888-powered M11 series as soon as this month (Android Authority).
- Apple was fined $10M by Italian regulators because water in real life is different to lab tests. It means Italy’s regular thinks the actual water-resistance in iPhones didn’t live up to the, er, splashy marketing. Italy’s regulator does give Apple 60 days to respond, though!
- Samsung’s Galaxy S21 might be much cheaper than its predecessor, which is a welcome prospect. It’s still starting at a supposed $849, and up to $1,299 for the S21 Ultra model, but the S20 Ultra was $100 more than that. Discounts are always welcome! The problem? The iPhone 12 starts at $829 for the SIM-free model ($879 for 128GB storage, though).
- Spotify launched its 2020 Wrapped campaign for the year, which blew up on social media. People really like to see their music stats and share insights. I’d be amazed if Spotify didn’t try to amplify this success in different ways, not just annually.
- And Warner Bros set its entire 2021 movie roster to debut on HBO Max along with cinemas including Dune, Matrix 4, the new Space Jam, and The Suicide Squad, to go with the already announced Wonder Woman 24.
There are a few leaks and rumors floating around as well:
- Here’s our first look at the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. It’s a top-rated and popular device line, and a credit to Samsung (Android Authority).
- There are also Samsung leaks around the next Galaxy F big-battery phone series: an F62, probably India-only again but hopefully these launch globally if Samsung finds good sales numbers.
The busy season for new devices is not over, but as we’re busy putting new devices through their paces, you get a light reading week.
- Xbox Series X review: The Xbox Series X is basically brilliant but you’re banking on the future being full of classic games, because there’s none yet. It’s a pretty safe bet, at least – by Ollie Cragg.
- And here’s a different one: Nurvv Run review, smart insoles that might help you with your form, if you can tolerate the slight oddness of them – by Jimmy Westenberg. (I need to ask Jimmy if they can help me get from laptop to fridge with better form…)
Features & Opinion
Our features team was pretty busy on the Snapdragon 888 front this week:
- If you only catch one piece, make it the 5 key things to know about the next-gen flagship from Rob Triggs.
- Or, make it David’s interview with Qualcomm on how the Snapdragon 888 is changing the camera game for 2021 smartphones, now with a video too.
- A good weekend read — 5nm chipset showdown: Snapdragon 888 vs Apple A14 vs Kirin 9000 also from Rob.
- And: I respect the Samsung Galaxy Note line immensely — but I won’t miss it — by C. Scott Brown.
Instant Authority: The end of the Note
The news out of Reuters this week seems to confirm reports from South Korea that have been circulating for some time: Samsung may discontinue high-end Galaxy Note smartphones.
From the report:
Instead, the Galaxy S series’ top model, the S21, will have a stylus and the next version of Samsung’s foldable phone will be compatible with a stylus, which will be sold separately, one of the sources said.
A second source said company development efforts that normally would have been directed to the Note would now be channelled into its foldable phone range.
The fall of the Note:
Once upon a time, owning a Samsung Galaxy Note felt like a statement. It was the anti-Apple, huge screen, truly bleeding-edge device that took specs to the max, and pushed your wallet’s limit to the max as well.
I owned the Galaxy Note 2, bought for $669 Australian dollars in January 2013, or about $600 in freedom bucks at the exchange rates as they were in 2013.
The Note 2 was a dream. I had an iPhone 3Gs before it, but the Note 2 had 4G capabilities, NFC, a then-huge 5.5-inch display, battery life for what felt like days, a split-screen feature for apps, and the S Pen. Of course the S Pen, with up to 1,024 levels of sensitivity pressure!
But I rarely used the S Pen because… why would anyone? It was kinda fun to scribble and jot notes, and at least I didn’t lose it, but I didn’t quite make a deep connection to the stylus. I didn’t really get hooked back in on a Note after this.
After that, and while reviewing devices, the likes of the Nexus 6P just had the right Google feeling and I was tired of TouchWiz. I remember trying extended reviews with the Galaxy S6 Edge, but by the time I was looking to buy again the Note 7 happened — unavoidably mentioned here as one of the few total disasters we’ve seen in the smartphone world.
As Samsung has progressed the series in recent years, it’s increasingly felt like just iterative changes from the Note 9, to the Note 10, and finally to this year’s Note 20 Ultra. Meanwhile, the S series, which once didn’t hold a candle to the Note line, started to feel like the same phone without a stylus.
Price vs innovation troubles:
Despite the Note gradually losing its appeal, Samsung continued to raise prices.
Here’s how it felt to me, via a hand-drawn made graph of how price vs innovation seemed to go on in the series. Ironically, I wish I had a Note around to have used the S Pen:
And while innovation is hard to quantify, for actual data on those prices in an actual graph, here’s a complete list of the Note prices at launch, from the first Note in 2011 to now:
The Note has reached a natural plateau. Yes, the series is better, brighter, now has 5G, the cameras can do more, DeX is useful, the stylus has improved, and much more. But little is in the realm of true innovation. That’s now the Galaxy Fold line. Samsung didn’t try and keep the Note line going by going with a Note Fold or similar branding. Eric Zeman, our reviews editor, gave a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons which reads well and makes sense.
In short, the balance has tipped towards the Note line coming to a halt. As my colleague, C. Scott Brown said in his personal farewell this week: “The Galaxy Note series had its day, and that day is over.”
The same plateau is hitting other manufacturers too, but Samsung’s Note vs S vs Fold problem was stark.
What’s in store for 2021?
What this means is that Samsung has a lot more wood to put behind fewer arrows.
Instead of awkwardly shopping the Note and the Fold at the same time of year, the Fold line will get all the attention, the marketing dollars, and won’t have to try and justify where the Note fits vs the Galaxy S and the Fold. The Fold line will reportedly stretch to three devices this year, including a lower-cost option, which could be attractive to those put off by the high price of foldables so far.
And on the S series, the Galaxy S21 could be one of the best new Samsung smartphones in years with the promising Snapdragon 888 powering the device.
It’s good news for Samsung. While rivals won’t have the Note as competition, it won’t be easy to compete with a refined, more sensible lineup.
A little feedback from us on the deals front with a Black Friday recap! I talked to our team to find some data on the top devices that people bought or had the most interest in during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales extravaganza. This is all according to our own rough data, nothing official.
The following devices were popular:
- Smartphones: Moto G Power (which had at least a 50% price drop), Pixel 4a, Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, and the Google Pixel 5. The Galaxy S20 was the best selling higher-end flagship.
- Popular gadgets: Google Nest Wifi router 2-pack, Samsung Evo 512GB microSDXC cards, and, interestingly, the Nintendo Switch Pro controller (which I own and love, too!).
- Headphones and earbuds: Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2, Sony WH-1000XM4, and Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus.
The good news is that things don’t really go back to “normal” after the late November deal-fest.
- You’ll find a bunch of lingering deals including a saving of $250 on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, and Best Buy continues the Google Pixel 4a, 5, and 4a 5G deals for now too!
Tech Tweet of the Week
Next week is looking quiet, unless you count US states planning to sue Facebook for possible antitrust violations, said to be happening this week coming (Reuters).
- First prize: An Xbox Series X and an AA hoodie
- Second prize: A Google Pixel 4a 5G and an AA hoodie
- Third prize: A Garmin Vivoactive 4 and an AA t-shirt
That’s it, folks! We’ll have more top Android stories for you next week. To stay up to date on all things Android Authority in the meantime, be sure to subscribe to our newsletters at the link below.