But with Samsung's new S21 Ultra now coming with S-Pen support, it's thought by many that we could have already seen the last of the traditional Note phones. With the array of foldables Samsung is working on, maintaining two distinct flagship lines may feel like an inefficient use of resources.
If they do come out, they're highly likely to be known as the Note 21 series, with options for the potential for 'Plus' and 'Ultra' model as part of the lineup.
When is the Samsung Galaxy Note 21 release date?
The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra were revealed in a virtual Unpacked event on 5 August 2020, with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus first announced on 7 August 2019. That would suggest the Note 21 range would arrive during the first week of August 2021.
However, the new S21 Ultra comes with an optional S-Pen. It's the first time we've seen Samsung's stylus come to the S-line, although it's not built-in like with the Note phones. Nonetheless, it confirms earlier rumours from Reuters and many others, with 9to5Google suggesting back in September 2020 that merger of the company's two lines was being considered.
The S-Pen isn't built into the phone, and without a separate battery it doesn't support Air Gestures, but it would appear that the Note range has lost its unique selling point. There's little reason to invest in a Note phone now, especially as Samsung's two flagships have become more similar in recent years.
So, could it be the end of the line for the Galaxy Note phone? Samsung has plenty of other phones it could launch in August instead. A Galaxy Z Fold S and Z Fold Scroll are both rumoured to be on the way, alongside the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 2.
We discuss this possibility in an episode of our weekly video podcast Fast Charge, which you can watch right here:
That all said, a recent message from Samsung sent to T3 in response to a story about the phone line's demise suggests that, at least in the immediate future, Samsung still has plans for the Note range.
A Samsung spokesperson told T3, “whilst we have expanded our S Pen experience across our wider Galaxy range, this does not mean we are not committed to the Galaxy Note category. To provide the best mobile experience to all customers, we will actively listen to their feedback and reflect this in our product innovation.”
There's uncertainty in this response but it does imply we'll still see a Note phone this year, whether it's a Note 21 entrant or the rumoured Note 20 FE, remains to be seen.
A more recent comment from Samsung's CEO suggests the Note 21 may well be scrapped completely, for this year anyway.
Bloomberg reports that DJ Koh said: "[The] Note series is positioned as a high-end model in our business portfolio. It could be a burden to unveil two flagship models in a year so it might be difficult to release [a] Note model in 2H. The timing of [the] Note model launch can be changed but we seek to release a Note model next year."
From the outside, it seems this might be down to a global semiconductor shortage with Samsung saying its business is likely to be affected next quarter. Koh says it's more to do with 'streamlining', though.
How much will the Samsung Galaxy Note 21 cost?
The Note 20 costs £849/$999, with the Note 20 Ultra setting buyers back £1,179/$1,299. It’s worth noting that the regular Note 20 is 4G-only at that price, and it’s £949 if you want 5G. The Note 20 Ultra is 5G-only.
In the US, where the Notes run on Snapdragon chips rather than Samsung’s own Exynos silicon, there are only 5G models. With the 4G model ditched on the full S21 range, we expect Samsung not to offer a 4G Note in 2021, so all Note 21 models will likely break the £1,000/$1,000 barrier. A Note 21 Ultra is likely to cost around £1,200/$1,200.
What about Note 21 specs?
Thanks to the cyclical annual updates of phones, we can hazard some pretty confident guesses as to the specs of the Note 21 series.
Like with the Galaxy S phones, Samsung uses its Exynos chipsets on the Note in regions like Europe and India but uses Qualcomm’s 8-series Snapdragon chips in the US and its home country of South Korea.
While performance is usually largely the same, year after year the Exynos version of the phone struggles with battery longevity by comparison. US reviews always reflect well on the Snapdragon version’s longevity and it’s a major annoyance for people in regions where the Note has an Exynos chip. We are pretty confident Samsung will keep this strategy though, using the way it's handled the Snapdragon/Exynos split with the S21 range already.
Apart from the difference in chipsets, we should be seeing at least 8GB RAM if not more on even the lowest end model, with storage of at least 128GB. The Note 20 didn’t have microSD expansion but the Note 20 Ultra did, so that trend would likely continue - making it the only flagship-class Galaxy phone to do so in 2021.
Both handsets also have triple cameras, but the Note 20 Ultra had a mega 108Mp main sensor and 5x optical zoom, outshining the 3x hybrid zoom on the normal Note 20.
Add more to the leaks: the Note21 is the Note21 Ultra successor and (no lying) the Note21 is probably the 1st Galaxy phone to debut with UDC (or CUP, or what the hell they will call). The main reason they go development this early is because they want to release this phone earl.. https://t.co/MrirZhvJmr— Snapdrachun 888 5G (@chunvn8888) December 3, 2020
One of the more unusual Note 21 camera leaks that has surfaced has to do with its front camera. Vietnamese tipster @chunvn8888 originally suggested that, not only is Samsung potentially bringing the phone's launch forward by a month or so, but the phone is also set to serve as the debut device from Samsung's first under-display selfie camera (UDC or CUP - short for Camera Under Panel)-toting smartphone.
The fires of this particular rumour have since been stoked, with LetsGoDigital noticing that Samsung Display has registered for the trademark 'UPC (Under Panel Camera) in its native region of South Korea.
While this doesn't cement the feature's appearance on a new Note, it does clarify Samsung's intentions to implement such hardware in forthcoming devices of some kind, such as its next Blade laptop, as was recently teased.
ZTE already has a phone - the Axon 20 5G - that showcases this technology but if this rumour rings true, this will likely be the first example of a Korean smartphone utilising such hardware.
The design of the Note 20 is very similar to the Note 10, so it could be that the Note 21 is fairly tame in its design update. The Note 20 is even more austere than the Note 10, with matt bronze and a huge camera bump, where the Note 10 had a multicoloured glass option. The Note 21 is likely to carry on the industrial feel.
We’d hope that however many Note 21s there are that they all have 120Hz displays and that they’ll be able to run at full resolution. The S20 and Note 20 Ultra could only run either 120Hz or QHD+, and not both. Come on Samsung, these are expensive phones.
The Note 21 will have an S-Pen as standard, of course, but to be honest we wouldn’t mind if Samsung did away with the air gestures gimmicks that let you wield it like a magic wand and focus more on reducing latency and improving pressure and tilt response.
Samsung Galaxy Note 21 wish list
The Note 21 is probably still a ways off, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a list of things we want from it.
A lower price
The regular Note 20 would have made more sense at around £700, not £849. If Samsung is going to release a lower spec Note, then we want it to make it more accessible to those who can’t afford to spend close to £1,000 on a phone.
The way its played the pricing of the S21 series gives us hope in this regard.
Better battery life
The European Note 20 Ultra’s main flaw is its unremarkable battery life. When the most expensive Note is marketed as a do-all phone for pros, you end up using it a lot, and it’s a pain when the battery hits red before you’re done. The Note phones are big, so either get more battery out of the setup or switch to Snapdragon globally, please Samsung.
A smaller version
We’d love to see a smaller Note device as we did with the Note 10. With the Note 20, Samsung oddly turned out two very large phones with a mishmash of specs and design differences. A return to a small and large Note release would make more sense, offering a more compact and manageable device to people who don’t want a phone as big as their head.
The S-Pen is only available on the Ultra model among S21 phones, so there's still a window of opportunity for Samsung to make a smaller handset with a built-in stylus.