Samsung will launch the next iteration in its groundbreaking phone family on August 5. It will be a device with a controversial and cutting-edge display, bleeding-edge technology, questionable sales prospects, and a fiercely enthusiastic fan base. The Galaxy Z Fold 2.
Oh — and there will also be a new Galaxy Note.
I worked on Samsung’s product reviews PR team when the original Galaxy Note was introduced, and I remember the blend of skepticism, wonder, revulsion, and enthusiasm that greeted it. I also remember how opinion eventually changed as customers saw the intrinsic value in a much larger screen, leading to a tidal wave that washed away smaller devices. Now, (almost) all smartphones are big. Mission accomplished.
This all means that the time has come for the Galaxy Note to pass the mantle of experimental super phone to Samsung’s Galaxy Z folding phones.
The Galaxy Note was aspirational
The Galaxy Note used to be Samsung’s experimental, cutting-edge device. With new iterations, the screen size grew larger, while the phone’s body shrank. When Samsung added curved glass for its signature look, the Galaxy Note Edge started a trend that continues to this day. The S Pen, built from Wacom technology, evolved from a basic stylus to include advanced features like remote control and directional pointing. Today, the whole phone is water resistant, including the pen and the silo.
The specs pushed beyond the Galaxy S, and the price tag was just as aspirational.
The Galaxy Note was also Samsung’s most premium option. It was positioned above the flagship Galaxy S as Samsung’s aspirational device, the phone that was better than the best. The battery was the largest, the screen was the biggest, the feature list was the longest. The camera always launched to fanfare and the highest scores from labs like DxO. The specs pushed beyond the Galaxy S, and the price tag was just as aspirational.
The Galaxy Note’s fortunes went up in smoke
Then, the Galaxy Note 7 started to blow up. Literally.
This PR disaster forced Samsung to take a more conservative approach to its Note flagship. Fans welcomed back the best stylus-packing phone as new models arrived, but the Note never really regained its former glory. The size of its battery is kept in check because battery density was a contributing factor in the explosions. The screen is only fractionally larger than the new XL-sized Galaxy S Ultra phones. And the camera is now the same one you’ll find on the Galaxy S line, albeit with a few tweaks.
The Note’s lofty ambitions went up in smoke. There is now much less air between the Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note family, and almost no altitude. Only the S Pen truly sets the Note apart from other Samsung smartphones.
The other unfortunate fact revealed by the Note 7 recall is how little the Galaxy Note brand resonated beyond its core demographic of super-phone fans. If you boarded an airplane in the year the phone was recalled, you’d hear flight attendants ask for passengers to be sure the device was not on board.
What you didn’t often hear was the correct use of “Samsung Galaxy Note 7” branding. Over the intercom, or on news reports, or in casual conversations, the phone’s name was repeatedly misquoted. That’s not a problem the iPhone faces.
The Note’s lofty ambitions went up in smoke.
If customers can’t name an aspirational device, they won’t pay more to buy it. Recent rumors suggest that the Galaxy Note 20 will cost less than the Galaxy Note 10. If true, it means Samsung understands the brand is diminishing, and has settled for a midpoint between the flagship Galaxy S and its new aspirational family, the folding Galaxy Z.
You’ve got to know when to fold ’em
It’s time to retire the Galaxy Note once and for all.
The Galaxy Note offers little benefit to consumers, and little benefit to Samsung. Instead, Samsung should roll the S Pen feature into the current Galaxy S lineup, and focus the fall launch on the new family of folding phones.
The S Pen is a perfect fit for the entire Galaxy S family. The name lines up nicely, and longtime Samsung watchers know that S Pen branding was important to the company in setting its device apart from archaic Palm Pilot devices with their pointy stylus. Perhaps if Samsung had made a more unified connection between “S Pen” and “Galaxy S,” the S Pen would be more influential today.
There is no reason to be orthodox about the Note brand and its S Pen allegiance. Samsung has offered a stylus with and without S Pen branding on several other products that don’t bear the “Note” label, including tablets, Chromebooks, and Windows laptops. Making the S Pen a Galaxy S feature, wouldn’t confuse customers in the slightest.
Samsung is working to add S Pen support to the Galaxy Z family, though we are unlikely to see the pen working with the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 2. That same innovation would translate easily to the rest of the Galaxy S line (and possibly even the mid-range Galaxy A family). Give the largest phones a silo option to hold the S Pen, but make every good Samsung screen S Pen compatible.
Samsung’s original aim with the Galaxy Note family was to incubate and experiment with new features. The time has come to end the experiment — not because it was a failure, but because it was a success. The Galaxy Note proved that big-screen phones are the future. Now, it’s time to bring all the Note’s benefits to other Galaxy phones, and let the Note retire with respect.
Disclosure: Philip Berne worked for Samsung as a product review and crisis communications lead from 2011 to 2017.