The Galaxy S21 Ultra has convinced me that the Galaxy Note is obsolete
It's been a good couple of years since I last used a big-screened Samsung phone for any length of time. When I have used a Galaxy S, it's usually been one of the smaller models. That said, I've also used and enjoyed the Galaxy Note series over the years, many of which have ranked among the best Android phones. But spending more time with the Galaxy S21 Ultra over the past week or so has convinced me that this, and not the Note, is the future of big-screened, slab-shaped Samsung phones.
Or, to put it another way, the Galaxy Note, in its current form, is obsolete.
It seems that Samsung itself might be of that same opinion, as the boss of the company's smartphone division has basically told us not to expect a Galaxy Note 21 this year, with the Note instead expected to make a return in 2022. As for why that's the case? Well, I don't want to go too far down that particular rabbit hole. Samsung indirectly blamed this year's missing Note on the current worldwide chip shortages; however, the best information I have from my sources is that the decision to hold back on a Note 21 predates the current global supply issues.
Regardless, having used the S21 Ultra as I have done over the past few days, it's become clearer than ever to me that we just don't need the Note in its current form anymore. That's not to say previous Notes were bad, or that the entire Note brand should die. It's just that I think when the Note does return, it won't just be the "Ultra" Galaxy S model with an S Pen. The time for that sort of phone, I think, is over.
Ever since Samsung started developing larger Galaxy S phones, it's had a hard time differentiating the Note in any meaningful way besides the S Pen. And including the pen inside the phone comes with its own set of engineering challenges. Every square millimeter of space inside a smartphone is precious, and the S Pen dock eats into that. This is why the S20 Ultra has a bigger battery than the Note 20 Ultra, as with the Note 10 Plus and the S20 5G, and so on. All other things being equal, a phone without an internal S Pen silo will always have a bigger battery.
This kind of undermines the Note's image as the ultimate enthusiast phone. In fact, if you take a look at last year's Samsung phones, were it not for the widespread autofocus issues with the S20 Ultra's main camera, there would be almost nothing that the Note could do better. The kind of mid-cycle hardware upgrades that made earlier Notes worthwhile just aren't showing up as often.
Instead, the combination of Galaxy S21 Ultra plus an optional, standalone S Pen makes more sense for Samsung. While some of the early cases to attach the stylus to the phone are undeniably a bit janky, that's a problem case makers will eventually solve. And having an external S Pen means the pen itself can be bigger, making it more comfortable to use for long periods.
It's true that, with the current external S Pen, we're missing out on the Bluetooth features we first saw in the Note 9. But powered features like remote shutter and wavy gestures will eventually be returning in the form of the S Pen Plus later in 2021, just in time for new S Pen-enabled foldables like the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 3.
With a standalone S Pen, the Galaxy S21 Ultra makes for a pretty great Galaxy Note replacement, doing most of what previous Notes could. What's more, it lets Samsung include a competitively sized battery and sidestep all the annoyances and competitive disadvantages of hollowing out a silo inside the phone itself — while also not competing with itself by shipping two precariously positioned big-screened, high-end smartphones that mostly cater to the same audience.
But let's hold up a second because we already know the Galaxy Note will be returning in some form in 2022. And while it's certainly possible Samsung will go back to making basically a cut-down Galaxy S Ultra to accommodate the internal S Pen, I don't think that makes much sense when you look at the direction of travel for Samsung's premium handsets.
At the very high end, Samsung is pivoting more towards foldables and more novel form factors. We've already seen clamshell and fold-out models from Samsung in the form of the Z Flip and Z Fold line, and there are rumors of a rollable phone in the works too.
This kind of unique handset, I think, would be a perfect way to reinvent the Galaxy Note — still a premium phone, but with its own unique form-factor separate from Samsung's other premium offerings. The expandable screen would be perfect for a flagship phone built around the S Pen. And while Samsung would still have to make space inside for the stylus silo, let's also remember that this kind of phone would be bulkier by default, so you'd likely have more internal space to play with.
This kind of thing wouldn't be unprecedented. Years back, Samsung used the Note line to experiment with the first curved OLED displays in 2014's Note Edge. And the screen curve eventually became a major design feature of future Notes, though in a less dramatic way than we saw with the Note Edge's single-sided curve.
So, with the S "Ultra" series really emerging as the very best traditional smartphone Samsung can offer, including standalone S Pen support, it's time for the Note itself to fundamentally change. That's what I hope and believe Samsung will offer when it resurrects the Galaxy Note in 2022.
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Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.
i wish there were more premium cases that has a built in pen holder out there.
Then just recently, Samsung added the distinctives of the Note line to the S line and, of course, there isn't any reason to have two phone lines that are basically identical except that one comes with an internalized pen and the other can have add one and keep it in a special case.
On the one hand, I'd agree that Samsung no longer needs a Note line. On the other, I think they could still benefit by having an experimental line to try out new ideas and see which are what customers really want. I can hear the rebuttals already. "Who wants an experimental phone?" Ask anyone who bought the Note early on. Ask anyone who bought the various Folds. If people see a feature they really want, they'll buy it. Not everyone, of course. Only those who have a ground-breaker mentality. But enough to get the features out there and see which ones should be in all phones.
I don't want a wider more unattractive case to store an SPen either and the case choices are far more restricted too.
I accept the Note may loose a small amount of battery capacity by having a pen silo, but for me this is a non issue, as the perfect form factor and sheer capability of the Note 20 Ultra outweighs that issue by far.
I sincerely hope Samsung evolves the Note 22 series next year..but not into a super expensive foldable device I don't need..I want the current form factor, with all the latest hardware and software included to again make the Note series Samsungs premium flagship phone ahead of the S series..
It allows Samsung to have two major tech reveals every year. It allows them to make a hardcore user phone and a consumer phone with separate developments where needed. That they chose to highlight the regular S series and not the Note is a brain embolism on Samsung's part.
Note users don't play a lot of games, and are more productivity focused. They should keep it that way and align the development accordingly. Give the note a flat screen, more ram, two sim slots and a MicroSDslot, fast tracking of the S-Pen, more of a pro camera array, and a bigger battery. Really emphasize the Dex setup with a custom dock. The problem isn't that there isn't a lot to differentiate the Note from the regular S series, it's that Samsung has chosen not to differentiate the Note.
MicroSD cards that you've been using but there are plenty of high speed cards available and high capacity that are very capable of recording whatever is thrown at them. Also as another user pointed out not everyone wants to pay extra for extra storage that's not removable, that's also assuming the high capacity phones are even available. As far as SIM cards, one is enough if they continue to expand their esim support.