The Galaxy Note used to stand out — literally. As one of the first truly big smartphones — the original “phablet” back before giant phones became the norm — the old Note models would catch your eye when you saw them in a store or out in public, like an NBA player on a court with a bunch of middle-schoolers. But in the almost decade since the original Galaxy Note launched, the smartphone industry has changed quite a bit. Colossal phones are the new norm, especially from Samsung, and this year’s upcoming Galaxy Note 10 has the potential to get lost in the shuffle of Samsung’s other phones.
If last year’s Note 9 had the problem of not differentiating itself from the previous year’s Note 8, this year’s Note 10 lineup looks to have the issue of not doing enough to stand out from the other six — yes, six — Galaxy flagships that Samsung has announced in 2019.
There have been variants of the standard Galaxy phones for almost as long as Samsung has been making premium smartphones, going back to 2013’s Galaxy S4 Active. Since then, we’ve had Plus variants, Zoom variants, Edge variants, Edge Plus variants, and more, but Samsung has never had as many mainstream flagship models on the market as it will once the Galaxy Note 10 is announced later this week.
Rumors are still circulating about how many Note 10 models will be released. But with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus seemingly confirmed (and two more 5G variants also possible), that puts Samsung with eight top-tier phones on offer.
If you’re looking to buy the latest Samsung phone this fall, there’s a very real chance that you could walk into a Best Buy or AT&T store and be presented with the Galaxy S10E, the Galaxy S10, the Galaxy S10 Plus, Galaxy S10 5G, Galaxy Fold, the 5G variant of the Galaxy Fold, the Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note 10 Plus, and the rumored 5G variants of each of those. All 10 of these phones would offer similar internal hardware and even similar screen sizes in many cases — this year’s allegedly 6.3-inch Note 10 would actually be smaller than the 6.4-inch S10 Plus — with similar camera systems and hole-punch displays. How do you make that choice? More importantly, how does Samsung convince you that the Note 10 or Note 10 Plus is worth your money?
The lines between these phones used to be clearer: the Note was a materially larger phone with features that didn’t exist on the smaller and cheaper S line. But in 2019, there’s nothing all that special about a Note 10. If you want a giant screen, you can get an S10 Plus for what will likely be a considerably lower price than a brand-new Note 10 with few sacrifices (aside from the stylus). And on the upper end of the scale, the Note 10 isn’t even the biggest show in town. That honor goes to the flashier Galaxy Fold, which, in many ways, feels like it’s replaced the Note 10 as Samsung’s supersized testbed as an early preview of the future of phones.
And all of that is before you even get to the other Android phone manufacturers, nearly all of which also have their own big-screened phones that match or exceed the Note 10’s rumored specs. Want a colossal phone with tons of RAM, a huge battery, and a top-tier screen? The OnePlus 7 Pro has all of that and a faster refresh rate display. Huawei and Google offer better cameras than anything Samsung’s shipped this year. LG has Samsung beat on motion gimmicks that don’t require a stylus. So unless the Note 10 has some big tricks up its sleeve that haven’t leaked yet, it’s going to blend in among other Android flagships.
Note aficionados will quickly cite the S Pen as the Note’s big differentiator, even as Samsung’s own phones and those of competitors have since matched the original smartphone display champion in size. Those fans are correct: no other major smartphone in 2019 offers an integrated stylus like the Note does, and it’s no wonder that Samsung is looking to once again highlight new S Pen features, like gesture controls, at its keynote this week.
Maybe that’s enough. Samsung’s senior director of smartphone marketing, Drew Blackard, told Business Insider back in 2018 that 92 percent of Galaxy Note 8 owners actively used the S Pen, with 73 percent of Note 8 customers specifically buying that device for the stylus. Of course, given that Samsung doesn’t release specific sales numbers, we have no way to know how many Note customers there are compared to the more mainstream S10 line. But the fact that the Note 10 will feature the stylus indicates that Samsung is still interested in catering to that audience.
Gestures or not, if the S Pen is the biggest thing that Samsung can point to as the reason to pick a Note over an S10 or the (hopefully back-on-track) Fold, then the Note 10 will probably fall into the same niche as the Note 9: a great phone that doesn’t do much to push things forward.
The Note lineup is supposed to be Samsung’s aspirational phone. The S models were always the best Android phones available, but the Note looked toward the future, promising bizarre experiments in both hardware and software that may (or may not) be the next big thing. But in a world where Samsung sells phones that are just as fast, just as big, and just as good, it needs to make a case for what makes the Note 10 special. We’ll soon find out if it can.