Clarification: Yes, it is 5 million sold to end consumers, officially confirmed by Samsung to Phone Scoop.
The Galaxy Note - it's a device that stirs up passions among many technology enthusiasts. It's big - so big that is just looks silly held up to your face. But its gorgeous, 5.3" HD display (1280x800) has owners absolutely loving the phablet (alright, I won't use it again - promise).
Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Note
It was panned by critics, and online magazine Slate even called it a "disturbing trend," saying Samsung should "take a lesson from [Apple's] success and realize that bigger isn’t necessarily better and that a phone’s utility decreases as its screen inflates." The Galaxy Note debuted with an MSRP of $800, and while carrier subsidies have seen many consumers avoid that price, it's worth mentioning that still means the Note is pricier for carriers than the iPhone 4S.
Samsung has now sold 5 million of the large devices, with a limited international launch (most of Europe, parts of Asia, and a much more recent American launch) expanding into the Japanese market next month.
The sales aren't unprecedented for a smartphone, and next to Apple's "4 million iPhone 4S's in three days," it doesn't actually sound all that impressive. In the same time period the Galaxy Note has been on sale, Apple has sold well-over 40 million iPhones. And Samsung sold about 10 million Galaxy S IIs, the company's flagship device, in that time (given a released figure of 20 million over 10 months). But that's where the numbers get interesting.
The Galaxy S II is, hands down, the world's second most-popular model of high-end smartphone, with the top spot being held by Apple's iPhone 4S (exact sales figures unavailable). While the Galaxy Note is only half as successful as the S II, it's also available in fewer markets, sold on just one carrier in the lucrative US market, has a higher price, and isn't even the first Android phone with a 5"+ display (admittedly, the Dell Streak was pretty terrible).
It hasn't hurt that Samsung's advertising efforts (especially on US TV) have been absolutely unprecedented for an Android smartphone, including a 90-second Super Bowl ad that was absolutely terrible my god why was it so bad? But then they go and come out with stuff like the vide below of an elephant playing with the Note - and if you don't find that so-cute-it's-actually-making-me-uncomfortable, you just aren't human.
Samsung has sold 5 million of a phone that everyone in the tech journalism world (myself included) immediately defined as a "niche device" for "enthusiasts," and that was even openly ridiculed by many (once again, myself included). But clearly, the Note has shown that there is a real, substantial demand for a "tweener" device that everyone else seems to have missed.
How did they miss it? Dell's massive commercial failure with the Streak probably didn't give manufacturers warm, fuzzy feelings about the market for tablephones. Either Samsung missed the memo on that one, or it realized what a horrible phone the Streak was, and knew it could do better. The Note is actually a really great piece of hardware, too. There's also the fact that phones are just getting bigger in general - HTC's new flagship, the One X, has a 4.7" display. And Motorola's upcoming Verizon device codenamed "Fighter" is sporting at least a 4.7" screen.
While the iPhone has proven that a 3.5" LCD is something a great many people are content with, the Galaxy Note is showing that a different trail can be blazed in the smartphone market - something no other Android phone has really done. That's not to say it was for a lack of trying, either - big flops like the Kyocera Echo, Dell Streak, and Xperia Play all tried to break the form-factor mold. None were successful. And don't forget the dying breeds of slide-out keyboard and candybar phones, riding off into the sunset with the first decade of the 21st century.
If there's one thing you have to give the Galaxy Note, it's that it's unique in the marketplace. And when unique things succeed, they're inevitably copied. I'm excited to see where this trend takes us in the next couple of years, even if it means I'll eventually have to buy a gigantic phone to be on the "cutting edge" of Android.