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Goodbye Samsung Galaxy Note, hello S22 Ultra

I fully confess I was a skeptic when Samsung unveiled the first Note. And I certainly wasn’t alone among the crowd at the Messe Berlin that IFA. The 5.3-inch display was unimaginably large in a year when the average screen measured a hair over 3.5 inches. The stylus graced the phone like a vestigial organ — some strange and unnecessary relic from the days of the Palm Pilot we’d collectively (and happily) evolved away from.

Samsung rightfully points out such skepticism in reference to more recent devices that received similar pushback, early on. It’s something I think about a lot, faced with new innovations like foldable displays. You’d have a pretty great track record if you spent your time betting on new innovation to fail. It’s the nature of the beast — and this strange industry in which we find ourselves. The more radical the innovation, the more likely it is to faceplant.



But the Note was a success by any reasonable metrics. Within nine months of launch, the company announced that it had sold 10 million units. It helped inject new ideas into a category that was already starting to feel stagnant 4.5 years after the arrival of the first iPhone. It saw Samsung working to find new ways to embrace the idea of a mobile-first virtual office in a post-Blackberry world and, perhaps most profoundly, it ushered in the era of the phablet. By 2014, even Apple had to admit that the age of celebrating 3.5/4-inch as some kind of platonic screen size ideal was at an end with the introduction of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6.

Not all of the Note’s innovations were so transformational, of course. There was a period following the product’s release when it felt like the stylus was having a moment. That perhaps the input device had been unfairly maligned on the mobile form factor. A number of manufacturers experimented with them, ultimately finding far more success with larger pencils designed specifically for tablets.

Broader trends or no, the Note hung on to the S-Pen until the bitter end. It remained the one true differentiator as Samsung continually blurred the lines between it and the Galaxy S line, and in a bitter twist of irony, the smartphone S-Pen has now officially outlived the Galaxy Note as a brand. Ten years is a good run for a consumer electronics brand — particularly for a company like Samsung, which has a tendency toward the fickle, when it comes to brand names. Just look at the dance the company has done with its budget flagship brand.

Toward the end, sales began to stagnate — and even drop — according to analytic firms. Though the Note certainly wasn’t alone in that respect. The entire premium smartphone market suffered even prior to the pandemic. People simply weren’t in the market to upgrade as quickly. Premium phones were getting more expensive and also good enough to keep around for an extra couple of years. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S line kept getting bigger and, last year, added S-Pen support.

Like many amid the Great Resignation, the Note took the year off to regroup. By the time 2022 rolled around, Samsung had declared its foldable line their own flagship, another piece of evidence that the Note wouldn’t be returning. Once Samsung integrated the S-Pen slot into the Galaxy Ultra 22, the Note’s spirit left its body and floated in the liminal region of brands that sometimes get mentioned in passing in marketing materials. Which is to say, in a conversation I had with a Samsung rep ahead of launch, they added that the company reserves the right to refer to a more abstract “Note experience,” with regards to features like S-Pen note taking. I said my piece around the announcement, but it bears repeating here: the Note brand is stronger — or at least more instantly recognizable — than Galaxy S. Samsung should keep it around, even if it’s as the Galaxy S22 Note.

 

We had a little time with the device ahead of launch a couple of weeks back. That’s where a bunch of the photos in this story came from. Basically, it’s a time to get shots of the product and play around with it a bit ahead of the official review. Naturally, I beelined directly toward the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The thing that occurred to me the moment I picked up the device is that it is, indeed, the Galaxy Note 22 in all but name. It looks like a Note, it acts like a Note, it notes like a Note.

So if you’ve been wearing all black and lighting Galaxy Note-shaped candles, you can chill out now. Think of it as though the Note witnessed a terrible murder and had to go into government protection. Or it married a Galaxy S and took its last name. I dunno. Whichever makes you feel better.

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