When the Galaxy Note was introduced in September 2011, it was a revelation - to some. (I, personally, did not get it, much to my disappointment in hindsight.) It was big. It was bold. It was aggressively powerful. Put side by side with Samsung's earlier Galaxy S (i9000) phone, the Galaxy Note was borderline overkill. A screen a full 1.3" larger. Twice the CPU cores, RAM, and storage. A 1280x800 resolution - scarcely believable on a smartphone at the time. The Note was, as many remember, openly ridiculed for being too much - too big, too expensive, too niche. How wrong we were.
And do you remember the Galaxy Note II? I certainly do (I also remember the awful title of this post). Its 5.5" display dwarfed the 4.8" Galaxy S III, as did its 3100mAh battery that was a full 1000mAh larger. It launched with Android 4.1, while the S III languished on Ice Cream Sandwich. Sure, it did have the same processor and cameras as the smaller phone, but its dimensional advantage was unambiguous.
The Galaxy Note 3 continued and built on that no-compromise narrative. The Galaxy S4 had a Snapdragon 600. The Note 3? A Snapdragon 800. The Galaxy S4 was equipped with 2GB of RAM. The Note had 3GB - a huge amount in 2013. Its battery was still a full 600mAh larger, it had a bigger, brighter display, and it launched with Android 4.3 (versus 4.2 on the S4). It also had that completely bizarre microUSB 3.0 type-B connector, which in turn seemed to cause Samsung to shy away from further connector changes until now, three years later.
In 2014, the Galaxy Note 4 made the bump to QHD resolution from the S5's standard 1080p. A Snapdragon 805 to the S5's 801. And again: more RAM, at 3GB, with a bump to 32GB as the standard level of storage as opposed to the paltry 16GB on the S-series phone. It was given a newer, better front-facing camera, and a rear camera with added optical image stabilization. It made the considerable change to a largely aluminum frame, not the plastic Samsung had by this time become infamous for. The Note 4 also introduced Samsung's adaptive fast charging (similar to QC2.0), which it still uses today.
With the Note 5, though, something changed, in that much less changed compared to the Galaxy S6 phones released earlier in 2015. The Note 5 used the same processor,
the same amount of RAM (edit: it actually had 4GB, the S6 had 3GB), the same storage capacities, the same cameras, and a similar display. The Note 5 was unambiguously unadventurous compared to the S-series phone that preceded it months earlier: it introduced slightly newer software and a slightly refined build (compared to the S6). This really did mark a shift in strategy for the Note series, and many have wondered what that means for the franchise moving forward.
To me, the Note7 confirms the whispers of 2015: the Galaxy Note series is no longer the no-compromise, all-the-boxes-checked, technology funhouse that many of the early Notes were. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing (especially when the S7 edge is a thing), but it does show that the times are changing, and Samsung's Galaxy Note is no longer the refuge of early adopter enthusiasts looking to see what the Next Big Thing is six months before Samsung announces it.
Like the Note 5 before it, the Note7 doesn't dare to stray from the system-on-a-chip utilized in its S-series counterpart (now counterparts). It has the same cameras, a largely similar design, and runs the same underlying Android OS version those phones now do. Sure, the software layer has changed substantially - that's not nothing - but all in all, there's nothing cynical in claiming the Galaxy Note7 is a slightly bigger Galaxy S7 edge with a pen, because that's exactly what it is.
The iris scanner is an interesting novelty, sure, and the switch to a USB-C connector was an inevitability for Samsung - not a matter of "if," but "when." The industrial design evolutions, no doubt, are praiseworthy: an even more refined edge display design, an uprated 7000 series aluminum chassis, and a new "coral blue" color that really is worthy of admiration in its own right. Samsung continues to make us completely forget about the bendy, creaky phones of its past. The Note7 is a master class in phone design, even if you find some of Samsung's practical choices (like button layout) subjectively misguided. As an object, the Galaxy Note7 is the finest phone Samsung has ever built. And while that excites the phone geek in me on some level, one look at the smaller, easier-to-hold Galaxy S7 edge - with its larger battery - makes me realize something: the Note isn't the Samsung phone to have anymore. It's just another take; a riff on an already-released product.
The Note7 is so similar in most practical respects to the S7 edge that, aside from those who truly demand the extra storage (64GB is standard) or the stylus, I struggle to entertain an especially compelling reason to pay a premium for it. Will it be a great phone? Almost certainly. But with the US MSRP looking to be $850 or so, that's no small sum to drop on a smartphone these days. With inevitable carrier discounts for the S7 and S7 edge coming soon as year-end approaches, it is exceedingly unlikely the Note7 will ever be value-competitive, either. So, if not the uncompromising, bleeding-edge technology demonstrator... with a stylus, what does the Note represent anymore? What purpose does it serve?
I think the Note is now largely a lifestyle phone: a legacy series for brand-loyalists and stylus users, with its techno-adventurism relegated to software features and a few token hardware additions. And if we think of the Galaxy Note as little more than a bigger, "premium" Galaxy S phone - maybe that makes sense. But if you were drawn to the Galaxy Notes over the years for what they offered to us, the enthusiasts, it does feel like a bit of a goodbye or, at least, a change of direction.