Wed. Apr 1st, 2020

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Until last year, OnePlus was competing with the likes of Chinese smartphones brands like Huawei, and its siblings Oppo and Vivo in the lower end of the premium smartphones spectrum. Oh yes! And how could I forget Asus, which has been trying really hard to match up to OnePlus? Despite coming really close, it still could not become a OnePlus replacement this year, and you can read my OnePlus 7 review to learn why.

While others still want to be the OnePlus of smartphones, OnePlus has bigger ambitions.

After seeing it compete in the lower end of the premium smartphone segment with Samsung in India last year, it finally launched a more expensive variant of the OnePlus 7 in the form of the OnePlus 7 Pro. Priced from Rs 48,999 onwards, it features a 90-Hz Fluid AMOLED display stretching from edge to edge with skinny bezels. And even though it looked like an older Galaxy S8 Plus (minus the bezels), it did look good!

It did not pack in an IP rating thanks to that pop-up camera, and the camera was not up to the mark during the launch either. But OnePlus told me that they are working on it, and they have a Camera Lab in Taipei(that I personally visited) to prove the same.

On the other hand, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 has not been on a winning streak. The addition of new camera features like Super steady video, an ultra-wide-angle camera and a telephoto lens, it could not match up to last year’s Pixel, let alone take down the mighty Huawei P30 Pro.

Performance has also been less than stellar on Samsung’s S10. Samsung’s Exynos chip powering the phones is certainly not in the same league as the Snapdragon 855 powerhouse that powers the OnePlus 7 and 7 Pro as pointed out by AnandTech. The Snapdragon variant has so far never made it to India.

OnePlus’s quick software updates did make a lot of premium smartphone buyers wonder why they should spend more on a Samsung smartphone when they can get a lot more from a OnePlus device. And analyst reports showcased the same shift, OnePlus with its smart marketing and cutthroat pricing is gradually taking over the premium smartphone segment, a segment once dominated by Samsung’s Galaxy range.

So yes. Samsung needs a really good Note this year, to pull off what the Galaxy S10 Plus could not. Else it could drag the brand even lower down the premium smartphone ranks, especially when you have capable shooters like the Huawei P30 Pro and the upcoming Pixel 4 on the horizon.

Going by the numerous leaks that seemed to have revealed the phablet from every angle possible, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 looks striking and showcases a brand new design language that looks quite refreshing. But let’s just hope that the cameras are up to the mark as well.

With the launch just a few days away, here’s what I believe the new Note must pack in to get back into the ring and possibly take back the camera crown from Huawei and OnePlus.

In-display fingerprint reader… not!

If there’s one hardware detail that I loved in the Galaxy S10e vs the Galaxy S10 Plus, it was the power button which doubled up as a fingerprint reader.

The power button of the S10e not only doubled up as a standard capacitive fingerprint reader, it also supported swipe gestures to pull down the notifications bar.

Apart from being leagues faster and a lot more reliable than an in-display solution on the S10 Plus, the capacitive fingerprint reader was also a quick and secure method of unlocking your smartphone. This is more so because the 2D face unlock was not reliable on the S10 Plus.

Get rid of the S Pen?

The S Pen has been the key differentiating feature between the Note series and the S series of smartphones from Samsung. While most casual users will rarely end up pulling out the stylus, Samsung did come up with cooler ways to use its S Pen with the Note 9. A neat example was to use it to trigger the camera’s shutter, and another was to click through presentations.

But those are the only two reasons I really needed to pull out the S Pen during the review period. Which led me to wonder whether we and the Note series really need one in 2019?

The removal of the S Pen could make the Note series a lot slimmer, not to mention also make space for a bigger battery, a feature that every Note/smartphone user wants.

Bigger battery!

We really don’t want Samsung to give us a gigantic 10,000 mAh battery (not after the Note 7) in a smartphone, but we have been waiting for the Note series to offer a 5,000 mAh unit.

A bigger battery would also make Samsung’s reverse wireless charging feature worthwhile.

A bigger battery would also make the Note series a better gaming and multimedia powerhouse that it was marketed as last year.

I would not even mind Samsung removing the headphone jack and the stylus to make more space for a bigger battery.

A better camera?

A better camera?

While new video features did wow audiences at the Galaxy S10 launch this year, Samsung somehow could not maintain that momentum once reviews came out. My review of the S10 Plus was clear to point out how the S10’s camera performance was good in comparison to the older S9 but nowhere close to the Google Pixel 3 XL or the Huawei P30 Pro.

While major camera sensor updates are expected arrive only with the S11, Samsung better have an improved camera on the Note 10, as the OnePlus 7 Pro’s camera performance (after recent updates) has narrowed the gap between the two.

An identity crisis

This has been a problem of sorts ever since Samsung announced the plus-sized version of its Galaxy S series. In fact, the Galaxy S8 Plus and the Note 8 were almost on par with each other as both smartphones offered similar specifications with different designs.

With the S9 Plus and the Note 9, things again looked the same with Note 9 leading only in terms of battery life. But the Note 9 came out on top as the winner simply because it offered so much more, at a price that was little over the S9 Plus, also making the latter redundant.

While this may sound that Note series cannibalises over the Galaxy S Plus series, it is also a good indicator of how the Note series is no longer the productivity tool it was earlier marketed as.

DeX can change things

Samsung needs to clearly differentiate how the Note series is different rather than just being a more capable Galaxy S Plus smartphone that goes big on specifications and size at the same price.

It can do this by utilizing the power of DeX, in a manner that should be similar to what we have on the Galaxy Tab S5e. To do this, it will also need to introduce accessories that would deliver a powerful desktop-like experience. A cool keyboard accessory could help as DeX always remains incomplete without a hardware keyboard and a pointing tool.

Could the Fold take over the Note?

Yes, the Galaxy Fold could be the Note’s biggest threat, or the next stage in its evolution.

If there’s one sign that the Note’s time is up and that the S Pen is getting a bit redundant, then the Fold would be a good and much-awaited replacement.

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