As tick follows tock, each year Samsung has followed up its Galaxy S handset with a new Galaxy Note. It was one of the more reliable, almost inevitable events of the tech calendar. Every 12 months the Note family has introduced a new member at the IFA trade show in Berlin, Germany. And each time it's been the gold standard for what's possible in a big-screened, high-end Android handset.
Note owners are fiercely loyal. It's been said among fans of the series that the only thing that can replace a Note is another Note.
Except not anymore. This year, Europe isn't getting a new Galaxy Note — at least not anytime soon. Americans can buy it, as can Asian consumers. But live in Europe? For the moment, you're SOL. There'll be no Galaxy Note 5 for European buyers in 2015 — instead we'll get the Galaxy S6 edge+.
In the U.S., Samsung wants to help you choose between its two big-screened phones; in Europe, it's made that decision for you.
In the U.S., Samsung wants to help you choose between a Note 5 and an edge+; in Europe, it's made that decision for you. The online reaction has been predictably negative — people don't like being told they can't have a thing. Though the edge+ may be a similar in a lot of ways, it's not a Note.
One UK retailer, Clove Technology, has even publicly voiced its desire to carry the Note 5, going so far as to set up a petition showing support for a European launch. We've heard the same sentiment expressed privately by others in the business.
A similar reaction was witnessed at Samsung's "London Unpacked" satellite event, which ran concurrently with the main Unpacked event in New York City. The star of the show was supposed to be the newly announced Galaxy S6 edge+. But once the dust had settled the Note 5, conspicuous in its absence, was the main topic of conversation among the attending press.
It's pretty clear that nobody — not media, not fans, not even the people selling phones — think this is a good idea.
It's not like the Galaxy Note line hasn't sold well in Europe — Note 3s and Note 4s are a common sight in the UK and other Western European countries. The global launch events for previous Notes have been a very European affair, taking place at IFA, the continent's biggest consumer electronics show. The demand is there, so why the hesitation from Samsung?
Well, the move isn't entirely unexpected. For more than a month we've been hearing on the grapevine that Samsung would be significantly delaying (or outright canceling) the Note 5 in Europe. The reason, according to people in the know, is that Samsung's market research showed European Note owners weren't purchasing their phones for the pen input, but instead for the large display and multitasking features.
In essence, the Note line in Europe had suffered death by focus group.
Samsung's official statement on the matter doesn't give too much away, but does hint at the idea of Europeans not being too keen on the S Pen. (Emphasis ours)
"With the launch of the original Galaxy Note series in 2011, we created a whole new smart device category that set a new industry standard, which all others have followed. For our European customers, Samsung's portfolio will be centred on the Galaxy S6 edge+, so as to better cater to their needs."
In essence, the Note line in Europe had suffered death by focus group.
As a purely logical product decision, that sort of makes sense. The curved GS6 edge reportedly sold much better than Samsung expected, at the expense of the flat GS6. So it's natural to think the same might happen with the larger handsets. With that being the case — and if your research shows that many Note owners aren't regularly using the pen — then why not emphasize the edge version this time around?
But there is a problem with simply not offering such a major product across such a vast area of the world. In doing so, Samsung seriously underestimates the value of the Galaxy Note as a global brand, to say nothing of its importance to some of its most loyal (and vocal, and influential) customers. To simply jettison it in this way is a terrible idea for a number of really obvious reasons. For one, online and social media will make a bunch of people aware of a much-anticipated product — the latest in a long-running and popular series — that they're not allowed to buy, and not all of them will decide to settle for the Samsung-approved alternative.
As much as consumers in different regions have differing needs, the success of the Note line has, perhaps surprisingly, been universal. Despite its quirkiness, it's a series with undeniable global appeal. Samsung has a popular product that millions of people want to buy, if only it'd let them. And while it's true that the company has been slimming down its portfolio significantly this year, cutting the Note 5 out of the European market seems unnecessarily severe.
It's important to keep things in perspective though. The Galaxy S6 edge+ is a fine phone, and a worthy upgrade for a lot of people coming from a Note 3 or Note 4. And yes, having to buy a slightly different expensive shiny toy is pretty much the definition of a first-world problem.
What's more, the very deliberate wording of Samsung's statement on the Note 5 in Europe — that there are no plans to offer it in 2015 — leaves the door open for a launch next year. In fact, we wouldn't bet against a reversal of this decision well before the year's end if there's sufficient opinion-airing and table-flipping in the meantime.
Until then, grey importers will benefit by selling unlocked, international Notes to Europeans outside of official channels, and that'll be how you can pick up a Note 5 in Europe if you really, really want one. The bigger question, perhaps, is what this means for the Galaxy Note brand in the long run. Samsung's actions in the coming months will tell us a great deal about the series' standing in the years ahead.
European Note fans, will you upgrade to the Galaxy S6 edge+ this year? Or will you hold out hope for the Note 5? Let us know in the comments!
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