Skip to main content

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has convinced me that the Galaxy Note is obsolete

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 S Pen
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 S Pen (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

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Or, to put it another way, the Galaxy Note, in its current form, is obsolete.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.

With the arrival of 'Ultra'-sized Galaxy S phones, the writing has been on the wall for the Note.

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.

Spigen Liquid Air P Galaxy S21 Hero

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

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.

Samsung no longer has to ship two almost identical phones that both cater to mostly the same audience.

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.

When the Galaxy Note returns, it should be as a foldable or rollable.

TCL rollable concept prototype

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

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.

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.

50 Comments
  • I think utilizing the major innovations made possible by screen tech will give the Note “brand” a little bit of it’s swagger back. Surely, a tricky stroke in that composition is that, while a certain premium is always expected of a Note, can that premium be ~$1000 or more without alienating customers on price?
  • I disagree. I don't want a foldable or rollable. Give me a new traditional flat screen Note. Disagree with the author. You assume everyone wants foldable phones. We don't! I want a newer traditional phone with a flat screen. You assume much.
  • Flat screen here too!
  • Ummmm, I really don't think so. Jedi mind tricks don't work on me.
  • Ooh! It's popcorn time! The Note has been mostly pointless for the last couple of years. With the S21 ultra supportive the S-Pen, it's basically entirely pointless besides a minute number of niche users and, of course, fan boys.
  • I thought so at first but the experience is different enough that I sold my S21 Ultra and went back to the note. Having a wider body and a dedicated placeholder for the spen makes all the difference
  • I don't think its a factor. I barely ever use my s pen. The phone was bought mostly for the battery life. And they when the iPhone 11 pro dropped i switched to a smaller phone because why deal with the bulk when you can get such good battery life out of a small phone + amazing support?
  • The S21 doesn't fully support the S-Pen. It also has no slot to store it without a special case.
  • Define "fully support". I think in a few months they are releasing a more robust S-Pen for the S21U. The phone supports it, we're just waiting for the pen to catch up. 😁
  • Don't hate on us fanboys Fuzzy!
  • I either don't use a case (gasp!) or use a very thin one. That means no s-pen for me if I had an S21.
  • Same here, I prefer very light cases or non and nothing beats having an inbuilt pen. If the foldables come at an affordable range, I'll love them. But if Sammy thinks I'm going to part with $1,800 - $2,000 for a phone, joke's on them. I'll be holding my Note 20 Ultra tightly, lol.
  • I agree, I would love to see it come back as a Foldable, Maybe call it the NotePad.
  • I think the Note line is dead unless the 2022 Galaxy Note is a foldable because the S21 Ultra having S Pen support now has made the Note in its current form rather pointless and the Note 20 Ultra will be the last Galaxy Note as we know it and that's fine by me, I just worry about the Exynos version of the S Ultra as that's what we get over here in the UK. With that being said, I really like the Note 20 Ultra, its just a shame it had the Exynos 990 instead of the Snapdragon 865+ version like in the US.
  • The note is dead because anyone can get a cheap iPad with pen support. Why would anyone use a phone for that? The spen was always pretty niche and the people who went for the note did it largely either for better specs (stopped being applicable years ago) or for the battery life.
  • i love the s21 ultra but the one thing that does bother me is that there are all of.. 5 cases out there with any kind of reasonable pen holder. part of the reason why i got hte s21 ultra was for the s pen when i have to modify pics or be a lot more precise than my fat fingers.
    i wish there were more premium cases that has a built in pen holder out there.
  • I use the Spigen case with S Pen slot and love it. The fit also makes it feel more like a flat screen as it lessens the curved edge feel.
  • Until the s range brings out a version that actually houses the pen I don't think so, I've been a Note loyalist since the first and owned them all bar the 3 and the one that went on fire. I won't be forking out for a foldable, I've tried one hate the small closed screen, and opened up you still see the crease in the screen. I'm already looking elsewhere for something else if it is the end for the note.
  • You won't find a better alternative if the Note line dies because the S21 Ultra gaining S Pen support means the Ultra is effectively the Note replacement.
  • Oh I know I'm in the Samsung Eco system own a Note 20 Ultra, Galaxy Watch 3 and Tab S7+ so I'm good for a number of years and don't need to upgrade anything for a while. But when the time comes to upgrade if there's no Note range I'm gonna look elsewhere, I love Samsung products but not not a fan of the copying Apple direction they've been heading lately.
  • I'm also in the Samsung ecosystem, I have S20 FE 5G, Tab S7+ and Galaxy Buds Live and will soon add a Galaxy Watch 3 to that, I love Samsung products having switched fron iPhone and I'm also not happy with Samsung copying a lot of Apple's anti consumer decisions of late but the alternatives are far worse and will probably get an Ultra as my next phone.
  • So you don't care if the functionality is the same, you just want the box to say "Note", or you're gone? That seems less than reasonable, but that's your right.
  • The note series imo is in a class all its own... people upgrade into that device for a reason, it has its core group. And I really don't think making it foldable makes sense to me, cause the foldable screens seem too gimmicky. And the 21 ultra is a nice phone, it's no Note unless you buy the pen and a case ... but that's just my thoughts.
  • What is "gimmicky" about innovative features and form factors? People throw that word around too much.
  • When the Note first came out, it was Samsung's "experimental" phone. It was the model where Samsung would try out new ideas and wild possibilities. Somewhere along the line, the experimental bits became what a lot of people wanted and the Note became essentially another flagship with incremental improvements, but basically the same feature set. Shortly thereafter, the Fold line became the experimental line.
    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.
  • The Note stopped being an experimental like half a decade ago, if not more.
  • I for one would never change from my Note 20 Ultra to a S21 Ultra with its lack of SPen silo, no Bluetooth support etc..Pointless..
    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..
  • Samsung is foolish, as are everyone else, to write off the Note. (Pun intended).
    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.
  • Well said! Sledgehammer!
  • MicroSD is heavily overrated. And they're so slow. Unusable with the type of video recording these phones are doing. 256 storage is good enough IMO for the vast majority of users. Lol @ 2 sim cards. I'd rather use an iPhone and Samsung than put two sims in either of those, personally.
  • I have 32+ GB of music on my SD card. I don't stream and I don't want pay extra for the 256 GB of storage. There's some use for SD cards.
  • Samsung is having a sale right now on the S21 Ultra where you can get double the storage for the same price. I just bought one with 256 GB for the price of 128 just to see if I like it better than my Note 20 Ultra.
  • I don't know what cheap, crappy
    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.
  • Spot on Sledgehammer
  • So it begins, the injection of someone's opinion.
  • I do not want a foldable phone. I love my note. If they need to go that route, then I thing the rollable phone makes the most sense and the s-pen could me in the roll of the phone, I do not want the noticeable fold appearing in my mid screen! I think the rollable would make for a less noticeable (fold) and give us a larger screen size if desired . With all of that said I am still perfectly happy keeping the note as is squeezing it out to an even 7 inches lol.
  • I'll never buy a foldable phone. The battery size is solved by making the note phones thicker... The camera already sticks out, so make the new Note flush to the camera, and the battery size problem is solved.... And the camera lens is protected without an Otterbox.
  • I agree with you!
  • The note was obsolete the minute Samsung started making S Ultra phones. The S Pen is a novelty. Most Note users bare, if ever use it. I never used mine with the Note 9, and they're running out of gimmicks for it . I would not buy a mote bid just get an S21 Ultra, instead, now that Samsung has the updates down pat. That being said, I'd still get an iPhone Mac over any Samsung phone.
  • A phone that did not skimp on features, and wasn't afraid to be different. A phone that allowed me to not carry multiple devices, including my laptop back then - that was the Galaxy Note to me. It is why I imported my first Galaxy Note in 2011 before T-Mobile started carrying it in 2012. Unfortunately, the Note has been looking a lot different in recent years, which is why I haven't replaced my Galaxy Note9 yet. The Galaxy Note has consistently lost features to the point that it is becoming unrecognizable to me. If Samsung decides to re-invent the Note as a fold-able, I may be okay with that, but not at the expense of continuously losing Note staples such as a Micro-SD card, spO2 sensors, headphone jack, LED notifications and even Samsung Pay. The Note was a no-compromise device. My Galaxy Note9 still receives security updates for now, but it is gradually dawning on me that it may very well be my last Samsung smartphone.
  • Jesse, I'm with you. Still holding onto my Note 9 for as long as I can. And like you, this may be my last Samsung phone.
  • I bought the Note for the s pen. Without it there is no reason for me to buy the product, I can buy other phones that are all equally difficult to use for less. 50 years ago dexterity wasn't a problem. Now it is the difference between a usable phone and not. I enjoyed being able to text and write email when I was out of the house, but nothing lasts forever. I shudder to think how anyone with more serious accessibility issues deals with phones today.
  • I think Samsung knows that they couldn't just think about the core user base of the Note line, which are a niche group of users where as the S line sells more for Samsung and maybe Samsung is gradually phasing out the Note line, as evidenced by the S Pen support for the S21 Ultra and wants its foldable phones to be its ultra premium phones now. I'll be sad to see the Note line die as I really liked the Note 20 Ultra which was my phone of the year last year in the premium flagships space.
  • The Note series is a niche product but the foldable garbage they are trying to peddle isn't??? Some of you need to smell what you're shoveling. Like I said, this may be my last Samsung. But I'll hold onto my Note 9 until it no longer powers up.
  • Get the 20 to make it last for a couple of more years.
  • Still using my Note 9, with new battery, my third, running great! I'm currently looking at an upcoming replacement but I for one will miss the 3.5mm Jack that works and sounds phenomenally.
  • I want to continue using the S Pen. And the S21 doesn't hold the pen inside and I will not buy an extra case to do so. When the S is capable of storing the pen inside, I may consider the Note obsolete. Until then, I'll keep using Notes
  • It's also Samsung saying "The S Pen is niche".
  • Would it have been too difficult or costly for Samsung to have 3 Galaxy S models namely Galaxy S, Galaxy S + and a Galaxy S Note ? The last model having the traditional indwelling S Pen and all best features. This would satisfy those of us that dislike foldable phones but want an indwelling S Pen but also those who want the largest candy bar flagship Samsung phone. Then Samsung could sell their foldable phones later in the year. Interestingly Samsung is taking way too long to come out with the S Pen Pro for the S21 Ultra.
  • I will never give up my pen!! And not in case as I'm always naked. Note goes away....Id probably leave for pixel :/