In the world of cellular phones, sequels have a spotty history.
This reality has been at the forefront of my thinking recently, fueled by my two most recent reviews of the Motorola Atrix HD and HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE. Both of those devices were the latest in their “family line,” each the third iteration in a venerable legacy. And each one followed a sequel device, a number-2 release that was unimpressive. As I said in each review, I found both the Droid Incredible 2 and Motorola Atrix 2 to be very underwhelming devices compared to their forebears, watered-down and uninspired versions of their pioneering predecessors.
Thankfully, not all manufacturers fall into this trap. One OEM which has successfully managed to avoid it is Samsung, whose Galaxy S II outsold the class-defining original Galaxy S after only 55 days on the market. Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus has enjoyed wider American carrier adoption than its Nexus S predecessor, and the Galaxy S III looks well-positioned to set records all over again. Like some kind of anti-George Lucas, Samsung may just be the best sequel-maker ever.
So it seems entirely likely that the South Korean electronics giant, the world’s number-one seller of mobile phones, will continue its trend of sequel successes with the Galaxy Note 2, which our own Stephen Schenck reports will be announced at the end of this month. The follow-on to the category-defining Galaxy Note has some big shoes to fill: the original Note wasn’t the first 5+ inch smartphone -the Dell Streak was its most notable predecessor- but it was the first one to make such oversized devices popular, selling five million units in its first five months on the market. It wasn’t until the Galaxy Note that people started taking the phone/tablet convergence product seriously, and it was this sudden increase in awareness that led to the coining of the term “phablet.” Like it or not, the name has stuck.
So the Galaxy Note 2 will need to bring the heat to live up to the legacy of its forebear. Here’s how I think Samsung’s going to meet those lofty expectations.
Biggest Is Good, But Bigger-Still Is Better
Probably the most-recognizable characteristic of the original Galaxy Note is its size. The device is truly massive, its 5.3-inch screen dwarfing even the huge panel on the Galaxy S III. It’s this tremendous scale which gives the original Note its special status as the king of the phablet class, and arguably lends it most of its enhanced utility.
We’ve previously reported on rumors that the new Galaxy Note 2 will probably feature an even larger screen, coming in at 5.5 inches diagonal. While at first glance that seems a needlessly excessive bit of stat-padding, the notion becomes much more attractive when the rest of the picture comes into focus. According to the same source, the Note 2’s display might feature “new OLED fabrication techniques” that could result in “much thinner” screen hardware, theoretically making for a slimmer device. In addition, the same rumor suggests that the Note 2’s width will come in smaller than the original Note’s as well, and benchmarking results from another rumor -linked below- indicate we can expect the screen to feature 720p resolution.
A bigger, HD display on a thinner, narrower phone? If these rumors are true, sign me right up.
Quad-Core Power, Built RAM Tough
The original Note features a dual-core Exynos SoC clocked at 1.4GHz. Another rumor, the same one that brought us the 720p speculation above, suggests that the Note 2 might take the step up to an Exynos 4 Quad, clocked at 1.6GHz. That’s the same quad-core power found in the Galaxy S III, which gave us plenty to like in our review of that device. While Android still isn’t in a position to fully take advantage of such horsepower, future iterations of the OS will no doubt find means of harnessing it, and some graphically-intense games and other applications already do. Coincidentally or not, those are exactly the kind of apps that run best on large-screen devices.
Depending on how many variants of the Note 2 come to market, we may also see an increase in RAM on the new device. With the Galaxy S III, Samsung (in)famously offered different amounts of memory on different models, leaving the flagship GT-I9300 saddled with “only” 1 GB of RAM, while U.S. and other versions got an eleventh-hour doubling to 2 GB. Samsung’s justification for this was that it wanted to “future-proof” some versions of the Galaxy S III for a future upgrade to Jelly Bean, so it threw memory at the problem – so much memory that it called the RAM load on the U.S. version of the SGS3 an “industry first.”
Given its status as a phone/tablet crossover, and its probable positioning as a powerhouse, I think we’ll see the Galaxy Note 2 ship with 2 GB of RAM standard. That should be more than enough to support whatever version of TouchWiz Samsung elects to throw atop Jelly Bean, assuming it doesn’t ship the new device with an older Ice Cream Sandwich build.
Playing To Strengths
One of the unique -and polarizing- features about the original Galaxy Note is its stylus. The pen-based input paradigm employed by the Note is often lambasted for recalling the era of Palm Pilots and Graffiti text input. It’s a feature I don’t much like, personally, and one I doubt I would ever use. But it’s also critically important, because it’s a differentiator.
I haven’t always been a fan of how Samsung advertises its products, least of all the original Note. Even the new Galaxy S III campaign leaves me feeling completely uninspired, not to mention confused at what “designed for humans” really means. But that doesn’t matter; the ads are doing their job, because the Galaxy S III is selling like crazy. So Samsung will need to find a way to differentiate its new Note from the buzz surrounding its latest flagship, particularly since both devices share the “Galaxy” sub-branding. Calling out the enhanced functionality that a stylus brings will do that.
We’re also likely to see Samsung pushing the Note 2 as an imaging device. That massive 720p display is begging to be marketed as the world’s largest, clearest viewfinder, and Samsung has put a lot of effort into its camera suite on other devices, as became apparent during the filming of our tutorial on taking great photos with the Galaxy S III. The Note 2 could be pitched as a camera-centric powerhouse, with the stylus offering even more specialized photo editing than it already does.
It Will Be Everywhere
After a first wave of aggressive redesign and rebranding, and a second go-around full of meddling and absurd naming, Samsung finally had the clout and the boldness to force carriers to accept its third Galaxy S series just as it was. Across nearly all carriers, the visual design aspects of the Galaxy S III are identical.
More important than that, though, is the Galaxy S III’s mere presence at most carrier outlets. Few brands enjoy such widespread retail penetration; there are always carrier exclusives or carrier demands that muck things up somehow. In the United States, the original Note is only offered by one wireless provider: AT&T. The second American carrier to offer the device, T-Mobile, is just now getting around to launching its own version. The Galaxy Nexus is only offered on two of the four nationwide networks; the Nexus S didn’t even get that far.
For the Galaxy Note 2 to blow the doors off, it needs to be offered in multiple versions right from the start, tailored to as many different carriers as possible. Sure, it’s an enthusiast’s device, a phone for the technological equivalent of motorheads, but it could appeal to a much larger swath of the population if it were offered at more outlets. Samsung needs to hit every wireless provider possible with this device.
With the momentum it’s gained from the wildly-successful Galaxy S III launch, that doesn’t seem like a far-fetched possibility at all. And even if Samsung only fulfills half of these predictions, the Note 2 is bound to be a hit. Maybe not a smash hit, and certainly not a superstar like the Galaxy S III, but it’s going to be a unique product with a powerful core, backed by one of the world’s most exciting technology companies. That’s a recipe for success if I ever heard one.