A 60 Hz flat display, a plastic back, an Exynos 990, and all for a thousand bucks. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 has been official for a week now and has really triggered me, but I feel like I'm the only one. One thing's for sure, if Apple had dared to release such a smartphone, the tech world would have screamed scandal. So why isn't anyone talking about the Note 20?
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 was announced at $999 for the 5G version at the Galaxy Unpacked keynote on August 5th. A 4G version costs £849 in the United Kingdom but is not available in the United States. Unpacked was an exciting conference during which Samsung also revealed its Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Watch 3, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and a teaser of the Galaxy Z Fold 2.
In the middle of this wave of interesting announcements, the basic Galaxy Note 20 left me speechless but not for the right reasons. Before I continue this rant, I have to slip in this disclaimer to Samsung's comms crew: I HAVE NOT TESTED the Samsung Galaxy Note 20. This opinion is based only on the technical specifications and the elements revealed during the keynote. This is not a review, it's a mood piece.
Because the idea is not just to grumble or show bad faith, I still wonder about the reasons for the absolute calm around what, for me, is a real little scandal. Even a week after its announcement, I still don't understand why the Galaxy Note 20 didn't raise any eyebrows.
Before you call me an anti-Samsung lobbyist in the comments, follow me in this introspection will you?
The cheek of this little bastard brother with big shoes to fill...
This marketing technique is as old as the world or as old as the first time a manufacturer sold you a Pro, Max, Ultra, Plus, Giga, etc. version of one of its smartphones.
We're lining up two or more models that have identical building blocks but the more expensive versions have enough extra features to appeal to you rather than the cheapest model. Except that since then, the market has seen constant shifts in the range, and the death of the flagship concept has been accompanied by a move from the high-end to the mid-range.
So companies have had to find a way to continue to sell us flagships for around $1,000 without passing for a manufacturer that artificially sequences its catalog to confuse consumers. Hmmm... Wait! That's it, I've got it! What if we made the base model absolutely uninteresting to force people to buy the Pro version if they want the real new features?
I am calling this tactic 'the little bastard brother approach', of which OnePlus is currently the absolute master. I'm not going to buy a basic OnePlus 8 when it offers practically the same thing as a much cheaper OnePlus 7T. Instead, I'm going to spend 200 bucks more on the OnePlus 8 Pro which is the true flagship.
Except that OnePlus did it in a more or less subtle way, all the while giving us a consolation prize with OnePlus Nord, which calmed down the most recalcitrant part of the fanbase.
While Samsung has put its feet in the flat of its big shoes, killing any trace of subtlety. So we end up with a basic Note 20 that looks worse on paper than a Samsung Galaxy S20, even when you factor in the S-Pen.
No 120 Hz display, even though you have one on the S20. The same Exynos 990 processor as on the S20 in Europe whilst the rest of the world has the latest Snapdragon 865+. And the same camera as on the S20, front and back.
Do the stylus and a bigger battery (4300 vs. 4000 mAh on the S20) justify the very existence of the Galaxy Note 20? For me, that's a big NO. Even my colleagues at Android Central had to admit: "If you follow the industry, a 60 Hz screen and a plastic back are insulting features for a $1,000 phone."
Well, they also praised, in the same article, this strategy of Samsung's calling it "smart". I find it just rude and not subtle enough at all. So I still don't understand why no one has taken it up any further. Let's dig a little deeper.
Exynos vs Snapdragon: are Europeans being short-changed?
As mentioned above, the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will keep the Samsung proprietary SoC Exynos 990 that we've already seen on the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra. No matter what the manufacturer says, this processor is inferior to its Qualcomm equivalent, the Snapdragon 865, which equips the Samsung flagship in the US.
The Galaxy Note series phones usually have an overclocked SoC compared to Galaxy S series phones that arrive six months earlier. So naturally, one could hope that Samsung would release its Exynos 992 in time to equip its latest phantoms. But no.
Unlike in Europe, the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra will be shipped with the Snapdragon 865+ in American and most other regions of the world. Right away, the pill tastes a little better. In Europe, you'll have to spend $1,500 minimum for one of Samsung's foldable smartphones if you want to enjoy a Snapdragon 865+. And maybe that's why the Galaxy Note 20 hasn't exactly been a big farce across the Atlantic.
So I can conceive that the price gap between the Samsung Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy Note 20 is more excusable in North America, as customers there are getting the most powerful chipset on the market today. Here in Europe, we're getting closer to the dynamics we had between the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy Note 10 last year.
But I don't disagree. Never mind the Snapdragon 865+, the 60 Hz screen, and plastic back should have made Americans spit their coffee out. The Galaxy Note series is Samsung's ultra-premium segment, a showcase of technology. I'm still not satisfied with these explanations.
There's only one last argument left in this inner dialogue to consider: leaks.
Did the leaks around the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 anesthetize us?
It's nothing new, keynotes and other tech product presentations are now competing with waves of leaks on social networks. So much so that almost everything is already known about a smartphone before its launch conference has even begun.
Like it or not, but leaks have their appeal and move the technosphere. I don't like the fact that they make keynotes less interesting, but I do like the idea that raw information flows outside of the classical communication channels, without being wrapped up in new marketing language. It is then up to journalists to untangle the truth from the false or to recontextualize.
But isn't it those same leaks, of which the Galaxy Note 20 has been the subject of many times, that have put us to sleep a little bit?
Let's take the case of the Note 20's 60 Hz flat screen. The information on this feature had already leaked in June, two months before the Galaxy Unpacked keynote during which the smartphone was revealed. Benchmarks carried out on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, leaked in July, suggested that the next two flagships of Samsung would keep the Exynos 990. And the German site WinFuture also predicted the plastic back of the Note 20 a few days before its presentation.
The most assiduous technophiles were therefore aware of the shortcomings of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 long before its official release. But it is precisely these users, those who are the most invested, who were the most likely to criticize Samsung. For the average consumer, these stories about refresh rates and chipsets are just details. The smartphone is new, so it has to be better than its predecessors. Period.
So maybe it was the leaks that gave us time to forget our disappointment, to grieve, acting as a kind of valve that prevented us from exploding on D-Day. But again, I find this explanation insufficient. Decidedly, I can't convince myself that the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 is not that outrageous in terms of poor value for money.
I remain convinced that if Apple had had the audacity to release an iPhone 12 at $1,000 with a Bionic A13 chip, a 60 Hz screen, and a plastic back, the Android community would have risen up. So why did Samsung get away without a scratch? Maybe we're just used to seeing uninteresting, thousand-dollar flagships go by.
I'm really looking forward to reading your comments and seeing if you too don't understand why the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 has generated so little hostility. If, on the contrary, you don't see what the problem is, I'm even more interested in your opinion!