In loving memory of the Galaxy Note line

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy Note 10+
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy Note 10+ (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

As much as it pains me to say it, it's looking more and more likely that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will be the last of its kind, as rumors continue to flood in of Samsung killing off the Note line entirely. It makes sense when you think about it; the differences between the best Samsung phones have been few and far between for years, and with rumors that the S21 Ultra will support the S Pen as an optional accessory, there's not much room left in Samsung's lineup to justify the series.

The original Galaxy Note was a paradigm-shifting device.

But the logic of it doesn't make the news any easier to take. The Galaxy Note series served as a launching point for large form factor smartphones as a whole. One of the first phones to be dubbed the now-defunct portmanteau "phablet," the original Galaxy Note was one of my first Android phones, preceded only by the Galaxy S II (which I promptly put up on Craigslist as soon as the Note was announced) and HTC Inspire 4G.

Since then, I've used and reviewed countless Note devices throughout the years, many of which have occupied space in my pocket long past the review period. I'm generally not even a big phone kind of guy (and I was certainly no fan of TouchWiz in the earlier days of Samsung phones), but there's just something special about the Note. It always packs the latest and greatest specs; it always has some of the best cameras you can buy; it always delivers a unique experience that other phones can't quite match.

Born of defiance and boundary-breaking

Samsung Galaxy Note

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Everyone — myself included — poked a bit of fun at the Note when the commercials made their first rounds. Who could ever need a phone that big? How ridiculous. And what a big phone it was, with an unthinkably large 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display! For some fun context, that's half an inch smaller than the display on the Pixel 4a, which currently tops Android Central's list of best small Android phones — though in fairness, the Galaxy Note is (slightly) larger in every physical dimension.

"Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus." — Steve Jobs, Macworld 2010

Despite the jeers, though, the Galaxy Note turned out to be a paradigm-shifting device. Of course, the S Pen was a huge deal in itself; a pressure-sensitive stylus in seemingly direct defiance of the late Steve Jobs' famous 2010 remarks that "if you see a stylus, they blew it." The Galaxy Note also succeeded where the Dell Streak had failed, establishing itself as a massive powerhouse of a phone with a sharp (for its time) 1280x800 display that negated many of the complaints endemic to Pentile Matrix displays.

Few other phones at the time could match the Note's combination of great battery life, a sharp and punchy display, an impressive camera, and support for the relatively new LTE network. It turned out that large phones with large internal clearances had their advantages after all.

To be clear, the Galaxy Note wasn't perfect by any means. The handwriting recognition software was pretty rough at its first go, as was the TouchWiz platform in general. It had pretty chunky bezels (though reasonable by the standards of its time), and the digitizer under the display supported a fraction of the pressure sensitivity levels that more modern iterations offer. But that didn't stop Samsung from selling over a million units by the end of 2011, just a couple of months into the Note's global release.

Serving Samsung's enthusiast customers

Galaxy Note 9 and Galaxy Note 5

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

Subsequent models of the Galaxy Note continued to iterate on Samsung's groundbreaking design with progressively tighter bezels, higher levels of pressure sensitivity for the S Pen, unique new features like Air View that let you hover the S Pen over the display to call up a cursor, and an increasingly more focused demographic.

With the launch of the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung began to venture away from its brazen plastic designs to better target business-oriented customers who wanted a more sophisticated-looking phone. The phone featured brushed aluminum stylings along the frame and a faux-leather backing (which, to be clear, were still both plastic), along with refined multitasking features and even better battery life than its predecessors. Unsurprisingly, it came to be one of 2013's best sellers.

The Galaxy Note has always been a cornerstone of superphone innovation.

The Galaxy Note series continued to dominate sales year after year, even when Samsung upset some of its enthusiast base when the Note 5 launched with a non-removable battery, a more fragile glass backing, and no microSD expandability. Looking back, I guess that phone turned out to be quite a trendsetter.

I don't want to get too deep into the Galaxy Note 7's absolutely disastrous launch, partially because to this day, it remains one of my favorite models the company has ever released. Not only did it reintroduce microSD support after consumer pushback, it was one of the first phones with a USB-C port, rather than the now-archaic Micro-USB standard. It also eased us into the realm of curved displays after the experimental Galaxy Note Edge mostly flopped.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

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

That's actually consistently been my favorite thing about the Galaxy Note line. The S Pen is great, but I've always loved that launching the Note in the second half of a given year allowed Samsung the opportunity to improve upon its earlier designs from the Galaxy S series and its more experimental devices like the Note Edge. I think the Note 20 Ultra serves as a fantastic example, with a dramatically better design than the S20 Ultra it otherwise matched nearly identically, and added laser autofocus to solve the S20 Ultra's focusing problems.

That being said, Samsung along with just about every other manufacturer these days has a great handle on design, and the company will be just fine without a mid-cycle refresh on its hardware.

Where do we go from here?

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 multitasking

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

The silver lining is that Samsung won't just be bringing S Pen support to the S21 Ultra, but it's reportedly even figuring out how to integrate support into the next generation of foldable phones. That won't be an easy feat; the Galaxy Z Fold 2 has Samsung's most durable folding screen at the moment, made of the company's Ultra Thin Glass with multiple layers of protective plastic, yet still scratches far more easily than traditional glass.

In addition to integrating a digitizer layer to the next foldables, Samsung will have to completely redesign its folding glass if it wants to introduce S Pen compatibility. Of course, with three such alleged devices reportedly on their way, Samsung has undoubtedly already tackled this problem, but I'll be very interested to see the details once they're available.

S Pen support will make the company's 2021 foldable lineup into incredibly powerful productivity devices, and in that way, I suppose the spirit of the Galaxy Note lives on. Making it an optional accessory for the Galaxy S series will also make the S Pen more accessible than ever before, though I'm not terribly keen on the idea of needing a particular type of case to carry the S Pen with any of these devices, especially compared to the convenience of the Note line's internal housing.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 S Pen

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

The inevitable end of the Galaxy Note is sad news for me, but it's had a pretty great run over the last decade. The Note influenced countless other devices and sparked an entirely new category of superphones, and if nothing else, I'm thankful for the time we had together.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

20 Comments
  • Personally as a note fan I will be very disappointed having owned every version released in the UK apart from the Note 3. I think its a mistake, but in the long term it's gonna save me money I own the Note 20 ultra, tab s7 plus and active watch 2 so I'm good for the next 3 years or so and won't be upgrading anything. I've no interest in a Ultra, and then buying a gimped case to hold the s pen and then having to pay for the pen as well! and likely a charger! and the fold is a no no I've tried one and the tiny screen on the front to type on is horrendous! and I don't care what anyone says you can still see the fold when opened. Rant over haha
  • I have the Fold 2, S10e as a back up, Galaxy Watch 3, Buds live and recently traded in Tab S6 since the purchase of the Fold 2. I am set for a few years as well.
  • If/when my Note 9 bites the dust, I'll buy another Note off Swappa. Which model, I don't know, depends on how long my 9 lasts. When the final Note bites the dust, I'll probably be done with the Samsung line. I've stuck with every Note iteration except the 7 so far, but having to buy a case to use a pen? Just for starters... no. Sorry. Bad enough replaceable batteries are gone, replaced by those bulky charging cases if you need the extra power. Losing the pen will be the last straw for me.
  • I wish they would end the S line instead and keep the Note. If you don't like the SPen, then you don't have to use it or remove it. But if you DO use it, then it's very conveniently stored in the phone. I currently own a Z Fold 2 and a Note 20 Ultra. The ZF2 is my primary device, but I kept my N20Ultra for those times I need an SPen, like the other day when I had to sign some documents and email them back. I sold my N10+ and my Tab S6, since the ZF2 basically replaces both those devices. As much as I loved the Tab S6 with its large beautiful screen and SPen, I just wasn't using it to take notes anymore, and the ZF2 was a more convenient tablet. If they can make the ZF3 compatible with an SPen AND be able to store the SPen IN the phone, like the Note, then I'll be extremely happy. They can even call it the Z Fold 3 Ultra Note Edition 5G if they want, since Samsung loves long device names.
  • Never gonna happen. The S line is way more popular and the S-Pen is a very niche tool. Easier to make that an optional extra than cost them more money to sell needlesly when most people would prefer a bigger battery in that S-Pen slot space.
  • To me, this whole thing feels like Samsung is trying to resolve a self-induced problem. They introduced multiple variants of phones (S series and Note series), then started complaining that their phone offerings were too closely related. One Galaxy S phone for the general public and one Galaxy Note phone for the hardcore enthusiasts per year was an excellent strategy. I'm going to miss the Note terribly and I can't guarantee that I'll stay with Samsung if they follow through with the decision to kill off the Note line.
  • I've owned every "Note" except the 1st one (had just bought a DroidX as 4.3 inch Was the biggest screen at the time...who knew!) And, I didn't get the "10" because, for the first time, it just wasn't enough of an upgrade over the previous. Also, having to return my "7" was a dark day!
    I'm still holding out hope that Sammy "sees the light"!
  • I owned every note line except first note. End of note line will end my journey with note and I will move to pixel if they release flagship versions.
  • I've owned every Note smartphone including the Edge, 5 (not released in the UK) and the 7FE (only released in South Korea). The Note 5 had the best form factor followed by the 7FE. No worries, I'll switch to the Surface Duo.
  • I remember reading about a new "phablet" that was displayed at a German electronics show called the Note and that it was coming to the US. I was so excited and bought it on day one, upgrading from my iPhone 4. I remember people making fun of how big it was but I didn't care. I loved the huge screen. Now looking at an iPhone 4 screen looks comically small.
  • I don't want to have to keep the s pen separate. Whatever they do, they'd better still have a model with an s pen silo...
  • I wish we could say goodbye to the endless articles claiming it is the end of Note ... Only to say "looks like" ... So until you know for sure, save us the cheesy CLICKBAIT article.
  • I don't believe they will get rid of the note line personally but who am I to say. I own the note 20 and couldn't be happier hope they keep making them.
  • I never bought one, was way too big (and expensive) for my smaller hands (and financial situation). However, I loved the square/boxy design much more than the rounded corners of the S-line, I think it looks more serious, less toy-like, and fits in more screen real estate and perhaps bigger battery. I wish they start adopting this design on all future Galaxy phones. Personally, I think Samsung is following Apple with the iPhone 12, offering 4 versions. (Samsung keeps copying Apple with many ideas, like dropping the headphone jack, considering dropping the power adapter, and more). I just wish that Samsung also follow the iPhone's mini version, and bring a smaller phone (5.6~5.8") like the S10e and leave the 3.5 headphone jack.
  • Man I am going to miss the Note. Had every Note since the 3. I remember when the first Note came out and it was trashed. Now every phone is a big phone. RIP NOTE!!!
  • Yeah, sucks they are ending its life... never really cared for the S line... have to see what the Fold 3 and Flip 2 deliver... not to enthused over those prices though.
  • I really don't think samsung will kill the note line....I hope not...I guess note line will shift to fold 3 with spen which makes more sense with better folding glass coming soon...
    I think next year we will see Note 21
  • First they get rid of the 3.5mm jack, that was bad enough, but to kill an entire line of phones where there is a loyal following? My Note 8 is showing signs of age, and if I can't get a great phone with an S-Pen, I might as well go Pixel. They did bring the aux port back, and my big hands appreciate the size anyhow. Samsung trying to be Apple instead of Samsung will ruin this company!
  • I have the note10+ and I have to say its been my favorite phone since the Tmo sidekick XD. Im a gamer so I had to have the ram, this is my first phone with a stylus, I never thought I would use it that much, but after getting well acquainted with it, its one of my favorite tools. I can see how the average person could overlook the S pen and see it as nothing more than a stylus. But as a Father, I use it to quickly write things into my calender, make a quick grocery list, take absolutely amazing pictures from any angle which has really rewarded us with professional quality photos of our daughter(pen shutter feature), I even use it to quickly take a screenshot in a game, edit then write on it to send via discord. Its very hard to beleive Samsung would end the S Pen considering, I mean how much battery life would you really be getting by replacing the silo anyways, another hour or 2? I figured everyone who rocked a smart phone these days carried a charger on them... or atleast has a portable. As a gamer you have to! *shrug*
  • Love my VZ Note 9, no need at present for the 5G taxed phones, 3.5mm Jack is used everyday to great satisfaction. One more year of security updates, fairly new battery, will take the time to decide on next phone. I might be needing dual sim phone but U.S. carriers like Verizon with Android have not figured out, or won't... make dual sims or e-sim combos that work with two lines. Option is an iPhone but not my fave choice. We'll see. In the interim, my Note 9 still rocks and hums along... perfectly!