With several wildly successful Android smartphones under its belt, Samsung has naturally become a poster boy for Google’s mobile platform, at least in the mainstream. The misunderstood and misused DROID branding – that used to be synonymous with practically any phone running Android prior to 2011 – has effectively been replaced by “Galaxy”.
We hear it all the time: “Is that the new Galaxy phone?” or “I think I’m going to get one of those Galaxy phones when it comes out.”
As such, not only have the press and enthusiasts come to look to Samsung to deliver the latest groundbreaking device, but so have average consumers who don’t know the Galaxy S III from the Note II. We have come to expect great things from Samsung, for it to build on its past successes, to bring forth truly compelling software, hardware and specifications, for it to truly wow us and leave the competition in the dust. To be more precise, Samsung is expected to make great leaps and bounds, not moderate, incremental updates.
Alas, to many, that’s exactly what the Galaxy S 4 is, an incremental update to the Galaxy S III. The design, for the most part, is the same, with only slight changes which, depending on your preferences, may be better or worse. The specifications are marginally better: a quad-core chipset for U.S. customers over the dual-core last year and octa- over quad-core for non-LTE customers, a 5-inch 1080p display, 13-megapixel camera, etc.
Excluding the Exynos Octa, there isn’t anything truly new with the Galaxy S 4 in terms of hardware, design or specifications. Instead, Samsung opted to differentiate its brand more with software than anything else – Smart Pause, S Pen-less Air View, Air Gesture, S Health, S Translate and a host of other new features unique to the latest version of TouchWiz.
Oddly enough, the Galaxy S 4 launch has been reminiscent of the iPhone 5 launch. There is plenty reason to be excited over a brand new smartphone, and for us to say that this is a marginal upgrade over the Galaxy S III only shows how spoiled we as wireless consumers have become.
Yet with the Galaxy S 4 slowly rolling out around the globe, the HTC One already in the hands of many and most other smartphones announced earlier this year beginning to slip into the shadows cast by Samsung’s and HTC’s flagships, we’re already beginning to wonder about what’s next. Among the upcoming devices we’re all but certain we’ll see is the Galaxy Note 3. The question that remains, however, is: will it be as marginal and disappointing as the Galaxy S 4 was to so many?
Odds are, yes. It’s much easier to be disappointed than excited these days. And Samsung will do what Samsung does best: continue to pump out practically the same design in every size imaginable while only differentiating with specs and names.
But let’s pretend for a second that the rumors are true, that Samsung is “worried” about the design and build quality of its products. What would it take for the Galaxy Note 3 to be a worthy upgrade to the Note II?
From a subjective standpoint, the Galaxy S 4 and most other Samsung phones aren’t truly lacking in design. Sure, the design language is a bit played-out, and we’d love for the company to change it up a bit, rather than stemming from the same template each time. But at the core of our disapproval of the S4 is not necessarily design. It’s the materials used.
For all intents and purposes, plastic gets the job done. And not all plastic is bad. It’s the type of plastic Samsung uses that gives the company such a bad rep. It feels cheap, lightweight and insubstantial – none of which are qualities you would want associated with one of the most premium mobile devices currently available for purchase.
In short, the plastics Samsung is notorious for using make its flagship devices feel more like entry-level phones and tablets. It’s not about durability, resilience, cost or looks. It’s about the feel in the hand; Samsung’s plastics make an otherwise premium device feel cheap and toy-like.
The HTC One X was also made of plastic, as well as the Nokia Lumia 900 and 920, yet all three of those devices felt just as premium as the marketing and spec sheets implied. Even if the Note 3 adheres to the same design language as all other Galaxy phones before it, we’re at least hoping part of the rumors are true, that Samsung will at least reevaluate the materials it uses and make a more substantial chassis.
Other rumors point to the next-gen Galaxy Note being even larger than the current 5.5-inch model. While I’m not keen on shying away from or prematurely debunking a yet-to-be-released product, a 6-inch device just seems like a bit much, at least for the Note line. Use the Galaxy Mega line to experiment with gigantic phone sizes, and pick one size and stick to it with your staple brands. I digress …
Even if the display on the Note 3 is larger, like the Galaxy S 4, the physical size of the phone needs to remain approximately same. I personally love the size and shape of the Galaxy Note II, but it most definitely is the upper limit of a phone size I’m willing to carry. And neither my pockets or hands are getting any bigger.
If the screen size remains 5.5-inches, it’d be nice to see the physical footprint shrink … just a hair.
The fact of the matter is, the Galaxy Note 3 doesn’t need to be anything impressive or groundbreaking any more than the Galaxy S 4 did. Samsung could apply the very same upgrades to the Note 3 – a newer chipset, more storage, bigger battery and software features galore – and people will still find something to complain about.
But if the company truly wants to turn heads and blow consumers’ minds, it needs to break from the mold and introduce the Galaxy Note 3 with better hardware. The hurdle the company has to overcome in order to do that is figure out how to incorporate metal or Nokia-style polycarbonate while maintaining its two most distinguishing hardware features: removable batteries and expandable storage.
What will it take for the Galaxy Note 3 to not be a disappointing upgrade for you? Should Samsung keep doing what it’s doing? Or should it explore new frontiers, especially in the hardware department?