This is the silly season of the smartphone, where rumors of next year’s big releases are fighting to fill the void left now that the big autumn flagships have already debuted. And a rumor about Samsung’s plans seems to be drowning everyone else out – namely that the phone maker is ready to pull the plug on its Galaxy Note series and leave next year Samsung Galaxy S21 like the real Samsung flagship.
My reaction to reports that Samsung wants to thin out the top end of its smartphone lineup a bit? Good liberation.
That probably sounds harder than I think. After all, I really like it Galaxy Note 20 Ultra ̵
Consider the arrival of Galaxy S20 FE this fall now means there are four Galaxy S20 models to be kept straight. Throw away the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the slightly cheaper ones Galaxy Note 20, and there are half a dozen top-of-the-line Samsung phones that consumers need to compare and contrast. This is good news for people like me who stay employed by comparing smartphone specifications, but I imagine it makes your purchasing decisions more complicated than they should be.
The end of the Galaxy Note
Rumors circulating right now suggest that Samsung may be inclined to bring order to the chaos. Earlier this month, delicious Max Weinbach tweeted the flagship models Samsung plans to release in 2021 – Galaxy S21, S21 FE, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra along with a trio of collapsible phones to replace the current Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip models.
Samsung flagships to expect this year: S21 FES21S21 + S21 UltraZ Fold 3Z Flip 3Z Fold FEN November 15, 2020
Notice that something is missing from this list? Yes, there is no mention of Galaxy Note 21 with subsequent reports being claimed Samsung is ending that product line to focus its development efforts on foldable devices.
Other reports add fuel to this particular rumor with tips Ice Universe suggests that there is no information on the development of next year’s Galaxy Note 21. Another rumor suggests that some Galaxy S21 models – probably the Galaxy S21 Ultra – would get support for S Pen it has so far been exclusive to the note. (The S Pen does not come with the Galaxy S21, remember; according to this rumor, Samsung will simply add support and sell separate cases that include a slot for the pen.)
Galaxy Note Vs. Galaxy S: Is there any more difference?
If S Pen support comes to the Galaxy S21 when the new phone arrives in the spring, it would be the surest sign yet that the Galaxy Note series has no future. These days, the S Pen and its productivity-enhancing features are one of the few ways to differentiate the note from Samsung’s Galaxy S phones.
Certainly, screen size is no longer a way to separate the two phone families. Once upon a time, the Galaxy Note was where you turned when you wanted a phablet, a big screen phone that offered plenty of display property to get things done on the go. But now 6.9-inches Galaxy S20 Ultra has exactly the same screen size as the Note 20 Ultra; 6.7-inch Galaxy S20 Plus and regular note 20 also have the same size.
It’s just as difficult to distinguish the cameras from each other, especially since the S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra share a 108 megapixel main lens. In fact, it’s hard to shake the feeling at every recent Galaxy Note launch that Samsung only imports the camera features it introduced to the Galaxy S series earlier that year, further cementing the note’s role as an afterthought in Samsung’s lineup.
Why the Galaxy Note could hold on
It is worth acknowledging that not everyone shares my view. Ramon Llamas, research director for mobile devices at IDC, told me he’s having a hard time watching Samsung merge its two flagship lineups into one. “Galaxy S targets a wide audience and is most popular among its flagship devices and serves mostly as content consumption,” he said. “Galaxy Note appeals to a more productivity-focused user. Think content production.”
Avi Greengart, president and chief analyst at Techsponential, sees a similar split between customers of Samsung’s flagships. “There has always been overlap, but there are benefits to maintaining different brands – and usage data shows that consumers distinguish between them,” he said.
Still, it was something that Greengart added that struck me as a sign of a potential shift for Samsung. “Where it gets difficult is with Samsung’s Z series of foldable devices – with its extra real estate and the ability to multitask or display more information, the Z Fold 2 has serious productivity chops,” said Greengart.
Samsung’s future is foldable
And that’s why I think there’s a possibility that Samsung, merging the best features in the Note lineup for future Galaxy S phones, is not a case of more smoke than fire. If you think of the Galaxy Note as a productivity tool thanks in part to its large screen, how do you categorize a phone with an even larger screen that can be folded into something more compact when you’re done working?
Phones like Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the Galaxy Z Flip may attract a niche audience for now, but it seems that Samsung sees their larger screens and multitasking features as a productivity lover’s dream. In addition, both phones support Flex mode, which utilizes the foldable phone form factor to divide the screen into display and control sections. It’s a pretty ingenious way to get the work out that is simply not available on a conventionally designed phone like the Note 20, S Pen or no.
Come this time next year, we probably both have a Galaxy S21 and a Galaxy Note 21 plus many different foldable models. “A rich, overlapping lineup makes things harder for Samsung’s brand managers, but it’s a big problem to have,” Greengart said.
But the rise in folding phones gives Samsung a new opportunity to serve both consumer- and productivity-oriented phone retailers. I hope the company is smart enough to take it.