At the start of Galaxy S8 launch week, the last thing Samsung wants to do is reflect on the Note series. However, the imminent arrival of a 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ (albeit in the same sized body, roughly, as the Note 7), poses an interesting question: Do we need a Galaxy Note this year? And if we do, how can it sensibly coexist with the larger GS8?
Firstly, thanks to Samsung mobile boss DJ Koh, we know there will be a Note 8. Speaking to Reuters in the wake of the Note 7 fiasco, Koh promised fans a "better, safer and very innovative Note 8."
What will Samsung's 'better, safer and very innovative Note 8' look like?
The word "innovative" is an important clue. The Note line has jumped around a lot in terms of its role for Samsung over the years. Some years it would be this crazy technological showcase with new features or radically upgraded specs over the Galaxy S line. The original Galaxy Note was itself this crazy experiment, with an enormous display for the time, and stylus-based input that didn't suck. Notes 3 and 4 boasted technological firsts. The former was among the first with a Snapdragon 800 / 3GB RAM combo, and a new design language for Samsung that moved away from the old greasy, glossy plastic. And the Note 4, still an under-appreciated phone, was among the first to boast Quad HD SuperAMOLED, a really great camera with OIS, and further build quality refinements.
More recently, with the Note 5 and Note 7, the Note has been basically the same as that year's Galaxy S phone, with an S Pen and a bigger screen. Now, it's possible Samsung could just add an S Pen to the GS8+ and call it a day. That wouldn't be the most exciting phone but it would still be pretty good. What it certainly wouldn't be, however, is innovative.
The Note brand needs a strong re-launch, particularly in Europe, where the Note first debuted six years ago, and where Samsung hasn't shipped a functional Note since 2014's Note 4. The company needs to do more than just releasing a phone that works and is safe, and that means bringing the Note back to its origins as a phone with new technology and (meaningful) features first. (Don't talk to me about the Note 7's terrible iris scanner.)
The Note brand needs a strong re-launch, particularly in Europe, which hasn't had a functional Note since 2014.
There are a few obvious clues about what's next for the Note. A fingerprint scanner built into the display is an obvious one — a feature Samsung reportedly wanted in the GS8 but wasn't able to pull off. Dual cameras are another — in fact, Samsung's Exynos 9 announcement showed that the chip has dual camera support. If you're Samsung, you probably don't do that unless you have a specific product in mind. (The rumor mill also suggests Samsung was experimenting with this feature in early GS8 prototypes.)
And then there's the question of a 4K screen, long rumored for Note devices, and potentially a huge development for VR, eliminating the dreaded screen door effect for Gear VR users. Higher pixel density doesn't matter when you're tweeting or browsing the web, but it makes an enormous difference when you're watching a movie of playing a game in VR. Like Sony's 4K phones, a 4K Note 8 wouldn't run in 4K mode all the time — look no further than the GS8's resolution scaling features to see how that might work. The default resolution would likely be Full HD or Quad HD, with 4K mode being limited to a small number of apps where it makes sense.
Those are just a few of the features Samsung could deploy to make the next Note a really exciting phone, and a good counterpoint to the more mainstream Galaxy S8.
A few more Easter weekend musings...
My final (European) LG G6 arrived this week, in a comically large crate straight from the factory in Korea. The phone itself is basically identical to the early-production-run U.S. unit I've been using up until now, with the exception of the CE mark around the back, somewhat warmer colors on the LCD and slightly softer haptics. (And no wireless charging. Womp womp.)
We also republished our G6 review this past week, and I stand by everything in there after using this thing for almost two months. This is one of the best phones out there right now. Sure, the Galaxy S8 is going to be the default Android phone purchase for a lot of people, but the G6 is a fantastic alternative with a lot going for it. (I'm still a huge fan of the wide-angle camera.)
I'm also really enjoying the gorgeous new Midnight Black OnePlus 3T — and I agree with Daniel Bader that the company which used to be known for PR blunders is getting a lot right these days.
A lot of people are down on the first leaked photo of the HTC U, revealed by Evan Blass in the past day. (It's basically the back of a U Play and the front of an HTC 10.) And with substantial bezels top and bottom, you can't argue that it looks a little dated compared to Samsung and LG's latest efforts. That doesn't mean it won't be a great phone, as the HTC 10 certainly was. But HTC also needs something exciting to drum up enthusiasm for its high-end stuff, which the 10 arguably lacked.
On a related note, the HTC U will live or die by its carrier coverage. Being able to buy on installment through HTC.com isn't the same — there's no substitute for that in-store shelf space. In the UK, the HTC 10 picked up only two of the big four operators last year, while Huawei has all of them for its P10 line, and OnePlus has O2, the second-largest, onboard. Without carriers, HTC's phone business would look increasingly precarious. Again, even OnePlus is successfully playing the carrier game these days.
To state the completely obvious: There's gonna be a lot of Galaxy S8 coming up on the site this week as we help you answer a few key questions: Do you want one? If so, which one? And when yours arrives, how can you get the most out of it?
Hit the comments if you've got one on the way and let me know which you're picking up! (S8+ Orchid Grey here.)
And Happy Easter to everyone celebrating today! 🐰🥚
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