The Galaxy Note 3 could mark the end of an era for Samsung’s design language

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After a summer full of waiting, we made it to Berlin today just in time to check out Samsung’s latest Unpacked event, where the company introduced the world to its latest stylus-based phablet, the Galaxy Note 3. While the handset didn’t deliver on every rumored feature, it still looks like a totally solid update over the Note II, keeping the things we liked and pushing processing speed, memory, and display resolution higher than they’ve ever been before on the Note series. We’ll still need a lot of hands-on time before we have a full appreciation for what Samsung’s done here, but our first impressions are very much good ones.

Speaking of such impressions, it’s hard to look at the Galaxy Note 3 without immediately being reminded of the Note II – from the front at least. Heck, see the Note 3 without any sense of scale, and it could just as well act as a stand-in for the Galaxy S 4.

It’s just the latest iteration of the same design language Samsung has been returning to over and over for a while now – the simple, plastic design, the limited color options at launch, that iconic physical home button – all elements we’ve seen before. Normally, I’d follow-up an assessment like that with “… and will likely see again,” but this time I’m not so sure.

foxconn-lineCould the Galaxy Note 3 really be the last of its kind, one final hurrah before Samsung really starts playing around with some new options for the design of its future smartphones and tablets?

The idea’s not so crazy; while Samsung is comfortably on top of the market, if it wants to stay there it’s going to have to keep innovating – hence, introducing riskier products like the Galaxy Gear. That also means avoiding the perception that the company’s efforts have become stagnant, and as superficial as a phone’s facade may be, a simply tweak to its products’ looks could be just what Samsung needs.

More than just speculating, though, we’ve been hearing rumor after rumor that the time could finally be arriving for Samsung to embrace a premium metal look for its mobile hardware.

Back in June, one rumor got specific about Samsung’s design goals for the Galaxy S 5, insisting that trusted sources close to the company had information suggesting that we’d be seeing an aluminum GS5, rather than one all plastic. Considering how enamored we were with the HTC One specifically due to its construction, that sounded pretty promising.

Problem was, Samsung’s been very clear about just why it loves plastic phones so much, and the reasons it favors the material – durability, ease of manufacture, and correspondingly, fast production times – aren’t just going to stop mattering overnight.

hardware ativ sBut then those rumors came creeping back, and late last month we heard a much more elaborate tale of Samsung’s supposed flirtation with fabricating metal smartphones. This time, the story was specifically about Samsung’s efforts to both come up with a metal design that wouldn’t be overly difficult to manufacture, as well about the efforts the company was making to revamp its production facilities, creating a new assembly line from scratch optimized for producing metal-bodied phones with minimal trade-offs.

While we still don’t have anything in the way of hard confirmation for this tale, the evolution of the details we’re hearing definitely sound like the sort of lengths Samsung might go to if it really were to go down this metal road – that it doesn’t want a high-profile metal design to come off as inferior to its plastic ones, or hit production issues that would seriously undermine Samsung’s ability to deliver the model to consumers in the quantities they demand.

We may see a few surprises over the next several months, but knowing Samsung like we do, its next major launch is likely to be the Galaxy S 5 in spring 2014. If there’s the slightest bit of truth to these rumors, that could mean that the Note 3 we saw debut today really could be the last glimpse we’re getting of this old look.

If that’s indeed the case, will you be sorry at all to see it go? Has Samsung’s look become more of a generic smartphone design in your eyes, and the company really needs to do something different to bring that spark back to its phones? With any luck, we might just start seeing the first leaks of this new Samsung design as we start getting into the end of the year.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!