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Counterclockwise: taking Note of history

The new Galaxy Note was unveiled this week, so we decided to look back at the history of one of the most successful phablets. It wasn’t the first, but it’s credited with the resurrection of the stylus (the capacitive touchscreen on the iPhone gets credit for killing it).

Looking back through archives we can’t help but notice that mid-August was historically rich on rumors and leaks about the Note, though basically nothing official. That’s because Samsung reserved the Galaxy Note unveiling for IFA, except this year when it was pulled forward. We’ll get to the reason why, but let’s start at the beginning.

2011: Samsung Galaxy Note

Back in 2011 DLNA certification revealed the Samsung I9220, “expected to come running Gingerbread 2.3.3 with a 4.3″ Super AMOLED rumored to have a 1280×720 resolution.” Well, that guess at the screen size was off by a full inch.

The Samsung Galaxy Note had a 5.3″ Super AMOLED display with 800 x 1,280px resolution and Wacom digitizer. Wacom is well-known for making graphics tablets used by digital artists and Samsung was promising a great handwriting experience with its new gadget.

The phablet itself was a beefed up version of the Galaxy S II. Samsung settled on a two launch schedule – the Galaxy S will rule the first half of the year, the Galaxy Note will be the H2 update. Both gadgets build on the specs of the previous one and would introduce features to be adopted by the next one.

2012: Samsung Galaxy Note II

A year later we were hearing about the potential updates to the screen – a 5.5″ AMOLED display, built on an “Unbreakable Plane (UBP) and plastic substrate.” The display was supposedly flexible, which would allow Samsung to create a curved screen.

Well, that didn’t pan out, but looking back it’s clear that Samsung has been working on this tech for years before the Galaxy Note Edge showed up.

Back to the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It indeed increased the screen size to 5.5″ but dropped the resolution to 720 x 1,280px (moving from 16:10 to 16:9 aspect ratio). It doubled the CPU cores and the RAM, but was otherwise a fairly small update.

The S Pen was redesigned, allowing the Note II to detect it from a small distance, enabling Air View and other gestures.

Curiously, around that time it was suggested that Samsung might be interested in buying BlackBerry, which both companies denied. While it hasn’t changed its mind yet, Samsung unveiled a hardware QWERTY add-on for the new Galaxy S6 edge+, which draws some comparisons to BlackBerrys of the past.

2013: Samsung Galaxy Note III

Another 0.2″ bump in screen size brought the Galaxy Note display to its final size – 5.7″. The resolution would have been increased to 1080p (finally a bump in pixel density) and the CPU cores would be doubled again, at least in the Exynos version.

After the Galaxy S III/Note II generation, Samsung started moving away from its own Exynos chipsets and onto Snapdragons, because consumers wanted LTE and Exynos didn’t have the right modem.

The 8MP camera of the previous two models was dropped for a 13MP one. It improved on Galaxy S4’s 13MP camera with the addition of 2160p video capture. The Note III also jumped on USB 3.0, though that didn’t last. Another introduction, one that would actually catch on, was the Flip Covers with a window, allowing notifications to be shown while also keeping the screen safe.

2014: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge

The Galaxy Note III had faux leather farmed in faux metal. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 would make that real metal, shortly after the Galaxy Alpha went there first.

Anyway, the screen size stayed the same, but it was time for another resolution bump – QHD or 1,440 x 2,560px. This model improved the camera again, going up to 16MP and adding optical image stabilization (a first for a Samsung phone outside of camera hybrid novelties).

There were plenty of rumors about a second version of the Note, one with a three-sided display. That was one side too many, but the Galaxy Note Edge introduced the world to screens with a small, practical curve on one side.

Finally the rumors that have been going on since Note II times materialized. The side curve was used for notifications, gestures and shortcuts and ultimately it was a testing ground for the dual-curved Samsung Galaxy S6 edge that came out half a year later.

The curved-screens have since been moved out of the Note family and into the S edge family. Is the Galaxy S6 edge+ the harbinger of the second death of styluses? Gestures on the screen curves and hardware keyboard add-ons may prove more desirable than handwriting. Or the experiment might fail.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

We promised to talk about why Samsung pulled the Note5 unveiling forward. See, the Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge, impressive as they were unveiled too close to the iPhone 6 Plus announcement.

The 5.5″ phablet from Apple was a massive shift from the company’s previous strategy and drew a lot of attention away from the Note, which until then was the only premium flagship with significant mindshare among consumers. So now the new phablets get a month of breathing room before Apple drops its new models.


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