Here’s the thing about new smartphone launches: no one’s ever satisfied. And I don’t just mean in terms of direct satisfaction; sure, some of us aren’t exactly blown away by the Galaxy S 4 in terms of how it measures up to the competition, but most everyone agrees it’s at least a worthy successor to the Galaxy S III. That uneasy consensus, though, doesn’t keep us from daydreaming about the next flagship smartphone in the Galaxy pipeline: the rumored Galaxy Note III.
Many will say this smartphone salivation is premature. After all, we just reviewed the current king of phablets, the Galaxy Note II, back in October, and our recent After The Buzz revisit showed the device holding up quite well over the intervening months, justifying our above-average 9-out-of-10 score for the mammoth superphone.
But despite this admirable longevity, there’s good reason to get amped about the Galaxy Note III. That’s because Samsung, having found a winning strategy, is likely to pull the same trick as it did with the SGS3-to-Note2 progression. That is to say, it will take all the enhancements built into the Galaxy S 4 and kick them up a notch for the accompanying Note version. That’s not good news in all respects if you’re not a fan of all things Samsung, but we think it’s worth a dive into Speculation Spring to examine the possibilities anyway. So, before we sink any deeper into sequel soup, jump in with us and check out three things we think the Galaxy S 4 guarantees we’ll see in the Galaxy Note III.
Air View on Steroids
One of the most awesome things the Note II brought to the table was Air View, the hovering-pen-detection technology we spent some time showing you in our S Pen Lesson last year. More recently, we delved deeper into the potential behind the technology in our story about S Pen tablet apps. If you missed those -and you’re too riveted to this editorial to click on those links, even though they open in a new tab and you totally should- Air View works like this: it projects a little dot on the display under the S Pen when it hovers just above the screen, allowing a user to execute maneuvers like scrolling a page or previewing a picture gallery without ever touching the display.
Samsung used the Galaxy S 4 announcement to take Air View to the next level. Tweaking the name slightly to a newer, fresher “Air Gesture,” the company added the ability to unlock the display, page through photos and browser tabs, and accept calls – without touching the screen. The usefulness of this added capability will vary depending on how often you get your fingers dirty and how steady your hands are, but in concert with other features like gloved-hand responsiveness, it represents a real effort on Samsung’s part to enhance the usability of the display under a wider array of conditions.
We can expect this trend to continue in the Note III, not just with hand-based hover gestures, but with S Pen enhancements. In fact, we’ve already seen at least one such improvement in a related product: the S Pen can activate the capacitive menu and back buttons on the Galaxy Note 8.0, something not possible on the Note II. It seems almost a given that other enhancements will arrive in this vein as Samsung continues focusing on display input methodology. Top on our list of the not-too-far-fetched expectations are palm rejection, simplified S Pen button-gestures, and a refined pen tip for added friction when writing on the display.
Same Physical Design
While we’re talking hardware, let’s take a moment to state the obvious. It seems clear that Samsung will not be deviating from its current design language anytime soon. We suspected as much during the reveal of the aforementioned Galaxy Note 8.0, which looks for all purposes like a blown-up Galaxy S III, and by a recent CNET interview in which Samsung Mobile exec Y.H. Lee defended the company’s decision to rely heavily on plastics in its smartphone construction. Our suspicions were confirmed at the Galaxy S 4 launch event, when the company revealed a device very similar indeed to its immediate predecessor.
Considering the above, and taking into account the strong similarities between the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, it seems clear that the same hyperglazed plastic-and-glass combo that has dominated Samsung design since last spring will continue in the new Note III. That’s good news for those who value light weight and flexible components (not to mention removable batteries and expandable memory), but something of a letdown for those expecting precision-machined metal or fancy exposed polycarbonate.
Samsung has no blushes about building impressive specifications into its smartphones, but it’s no show-off, either. You’re not bound to see any 41-megapixel camera sensors incorporated into its devices, nor are you likely to catch a glimpse of 4,000-mAh batteries. Instead, Samsung tends to iterate somewhat conservatively while maximizing the usefulness of whatever upgrades it’s including.
We’re bound to see more of that on the Note III. With the Galaxy S 4, Samsung is delivering a 1080p S-AMOLED display with a 4.99-inch diagonal measurement and a pixel density of 441ppi. We know from our time with the HTC Droid DNA that such specs -at least in SLCD3 form- produce a screen of unparalleled beauty, and we confirmed in NYC that the panel holds up nicely next to the similarly stunning HTC One. Also aboard is a 13MP camera with a bounty of software customizations aimed at making maximum use of its optics, which bear capabilities similar to those on the Sony Xperia Z – capabilities that impressed us.
Samsung didn’t build a ton of improvements into the Galaxy S III’s camera when it ported the hardware to the Note II, but it didn’t need to. The same holds true here, and that’s even more true for the display: at 1080p, the degradation in pixel density when scaled up to the rumored 6+ inches isn’t likely to be noticeable, especially when compared with the earlier-generation offerings.
In short: we should prepare for a similar launch experience from the Galaxy Note II as we just witnessed for the latest Galaxy S. Specs will be bumped, dimensions will be stretched, and features will be added. It probably won’t be as bombastic or spectacular as the launch event suggests it should be, but the conservative evolution we predict will likely usher in another era of Samsung smartphone superiority, further cementing it as the world’s most recognizable Android OEM, and further legitimizing the role of the “phablet” in today’s marketplace.
Update: Fixed SLCD-3 / S-AMOLED confusion. Thanks, all!