We're expecting the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20+ to be announced by the end of August, just a few months away. And the rumors we have to work with are pointing to another year where the Galaxy Note does little to justify its existence, beyond simply having the tried-and-true S Pen stylus. Now I recognize that the S Pen, in itself, is a selling point for longtime Note fans. But it also seems clear at this point that Samsung isn't really picking up any new Note fans, particularly since the Galaxy S line has expanded to sizes matching Notes.
Samsung's last two generations of the Galaxy Note have frankly been snoozers. The Galaxy Note 9 introduced new wireless S Pen functions, but nothing fundamentally groundbreaking on the stylus front, and most importantly not substantially different from the Galaxy S9+. Then the Galaxy Note 10 series simply added more fringe wireless S Pen features, expanded the Note series to two sizes (exactly like the Galaxy S series since the S6), and was most notable for what it removed: the smaller Note 10 didn't have a headphone jack.
Expectations are that the Note 20's design will be very similar to the S20 Ultra, in two sizes, but word has it that the displays will be no larger than the S20+ and S20 Ultra. The cameras seem unchanged from the S20 Ultra, except Samsung will no longer let it zoom to 100X — which is just an admission that "Space Zoom" was marketing, and nothing more. The battery of the Note 20+ will be smaller than the S20 Ultra, like previous generations; you have to make room for the S Pen. And yes, the headphone jack is finally gone for good.
All the while, the pricing of the Galaxy S20 Ultra at $1400 points to a Galaxy Note 20+ that could hit $1500, which is just an absurd price for many people to consider. So, who's going to buy a Galaxy Note 20 or Note 20+?
The Galaxy Note series used to be the do-it-all phone for those who didn't want to compromise on specs, features, and capabilities. Oddly enough, the Note line now has more compromises than the S20+ or S20 Ultra — and in turn, you only get one difference: the S Pen. That doesn't feel like a great deal, and it shows just how much of the original Note DNA is gone.
Samsung has cast a wide net with the Galaxy S20 series, building on a couple years of expanding the overall appeal of the Galaxy S line with larger screens, longer battery life, and more features. Seeing this change, it turns out that a lot of Samsung's early success with the Note was tied to the size of the phones, and the extra features like battery life and cameras that the size enabled, rather than the stylus. Because as soon as the Galaxy S line started becoming "a big Galaxy Note-sized phone without the stylus," interest in the Note itself waned — and continues to do so.
The addressable market for a stylus-laden phone (and the compromises it brings) is just getting smaller and smaller, and when that's the case, simply adding little features to the S Pen experience obviously isn't going to move the needle. The gulf in popularity between the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note is only widening, and what we know about the Note 20 doesn't point to a change of direction this year.
Admittedly this is based on imperfect information, and it'll be a little while before we see the typical deluge of Samsung rumors hit shortly before the Note 20's launch. So I sure hope that those rumors bring some noteworthy changes — because what we have now points to another disappointing Galaxy Note release.
Big stylus power
This is the one phone to consider if you care about a stylus
Samsung's S Pen may not have wide-reaching appeal, but those who love it wouldn't be caught using any other phone. The Note 10+ is the biggest and best stylus-toting phone; at least, until the Note 20+.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.