Forget more advanced cameras, bigger batteries or turbocharged processors. There's only one hardware upgrade that matters in the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, and that's the S Pen.
The current Galaxy S21 Ultra includes S Pen support, but the big deal about its successor is that it'll feature an integrated S Pen dock, essentially recreating the entire Galaxy Note experience. Even the design of the S22 Ultra, based on recent leaks, looks much more like a spiritual successor to the Note than a higher-end version of the smaller S22 — right down to the squared-off edges and more boxy appearance. That's great news for Note fans after the series had appeared to have been retired earlier in 2021.
The Note-like nature of the S22 Ultra has even led to speculation that the final branding might be "S22 Note" in a nod to the decade-old series of stylus-toting handsets. (The best information Android Central has is that it's still the S22 Ultra, but there remains plenty of time for that to change before the anticipated early February launch.)
However the branding shakes out, the Galaxy Note — in spirit, at least — is here to stay, and we'll likely be seeing Samsung smartphones with built-in styluses for some time to come.
So what does that mean? Firstly, Samsung will continue to face some unique technical challenges in its high-end smartphones. Unlike other manufacturers, the company will need to make space not just for large periscope telephoto cameras à la S21 Ultra, but also an S Pen stylus à la Note 20 Ultra. Internal space within a modern flagship smartphone is at a premium — there's just a lot of stuff to fit in there. So it stands to reason that, with Samsung having to fit in an S Pen stylus, corners may have to be cut elsewhere.
The most likely area of hardware compromise is the battery. Smaller cells may have to be used in future S Ultra models compared to hypothetical versions without the S Pen dock. Or charging speeds may be slower than an equivalent device without the stylus. In any smartphone there's a three-way balance between the physical size of the battery, the capacity, and the maximum charging throughput.
If something has to give, it'll either mean larger, thicker Samsung flagships, models with smaller batteries than some big-screened competitors, or relatively lower charging rates.
That doesn't necessarily mean Samsung will be stuck playing catch-up in terms of battery life. But at the same time I wouldn't necessarily count on the company adopting the kinds of super-quick charging speeds that we've seen from some Chinese manufacturers.
Secondly, the Galaxy Note is dead.
That is to say the Galaxy Note as a separate series of products is dead. Even if the frequently leaked "S22 Ultra" goes to market as the S22 Note or even Note 22 Ultra — the days of the Note series being the autumnal "tock" to the Galaxy S's "tick" are over.
That should be a no-brainer, however in light of recent, somewhat breathless reporting from the Korean press around the future of the Note series, it's worth restating.
Instead, as we've seen over the past couple of years, Samsung's foldables will occupy that late-summer release window. The new high-end non-foldable, with stylus in tow, will be part of the Galaxy S launch cycle. If you were hoping for a successor to the vanilla Note 20 or Note 10 FE, I wouldn't hold my breath. The Note line has a far stronger track record in the high-end super-premium space.
Even if the Galaxy Note as a distinct product line is going away, the S Pen itself should be more prevalent than ever in future Samsung flagships. The stylus is already supported in the Galaxy Z Fold 3 as well as many of Samsung's Android tablets. The direction of travel is clearly towards closer integration with the S Pen in expensive Samsung gadgets like its large form factor foldables. And while it may take a couple of years before the company is able to fit an internal S Pen into the Z Fold, the concept makes too much sense to not eventually happen.
By the time that happens, the stylus might do a whole lot more than just write, draw, activate gestures, and work as a remote shutter. As a handful of recent patent filings have shown, Samsung is clearly interested in building more exotic functionality into the pen. The most creative possibility is the incorporation of an entire camera module into the pen, presumably allowing selfies to be taken over a Bluetooth or UWB connection to the phone.
This would not only eliminate the need for an in-screen front-facing camera, but also allow selfies to be taken while the pen was undocked, opening up countless creative possibilities. What's more, a removable selfie camera would also reduce the possibility of the entire phone falling to its doom as it's held at arm's length.
Despite the lack of a dedicated Galaxy Note handset in 2021, the future of the S Pen seems promising. It should be a major part of one of the best Android phones of 2022. And while the product line that gave us this feature might no longer exist in the form it was originally imagined, there's still plenty for Note fans to look forward to in the coming months and years.
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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.