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Tearing up the Note

Last updated on July 23, 2020

At Digital Trends, Samsung alum Phil Berne argues that it’s time to retire the Galaxy Note line. Phil characterizes the Note 7 exploding battery imbroglio as a turning point form which the line never recovered. He also argues that the folding Galaxy Z series has outclassed the Note as Samsung’s avant-garde smartphone offering and that the S Pen isn’t enough to differentiate the Note from the mainstream S series. As evidence, he notes that Samsung has made S Pen an option in laptops and tablets are not branded “Note”.

I don’t see the Note 7 debacle as having been quite the point of no return that Phil does. Rather, I think the die was cast much earlier as Samsung started making the Galaxy S displays larger; it became clear that the S-series and Note were on a collision course. But now that they’ve collided with all but the (paradoxically branded, as Phil points out) S Pen separating them, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, while other Samsung devices may use the S Pen without the Note branding, that’s more justifiable in large part because Samsung’s volumes in categories such as laptops and tablets are a fraction of its smartphone volumes and can’t support a distinct subbranded “Note” line. (The tablets once did.) In the case of tablets, there is less room for stylus differentiation because the market-leading competitors (iPad and Surface) feature stylus compatibility.

Second, while Phil is right that Samsung’s Galaxy Z devices now reflect the highest level of Samsung’s advanced phone wizardry, those folding phones are priced too high and are too technologically immature to be an effective enthusiast product to replace the Note, which is pushed heavily to business users that need something practical and durable. While that could change, I don’t see it happening by this time next year, which means the Note likely has at least one more iteration ahead.

It’s hard to kill product lines that aren’t outright drowning; look at how long it took LG to dispense with the separate the struggling G and V lines despite years of shake-up warnings or, per Sony or HTC, exit smartphones altogether. Samsung also needs something above the S series to more directly answer the iPhone Pro.; that’s clearly not the Z series at this point. Still, it’s getting crowded at the top of the Galaxy product line.

A final question is how Samsung might handle branding the Note’s successor within the Galaxy S line were it to discontinuesthe Note brand (assuming Samsung doesn’t make the Pen standard, which it shouldn’t). It also seems wasteful to ship an empty silo in the Galaxy S and make the S Pen a separate purchase. Does the future hold a Galaxy S40, Pen edition?