Last year, while the expected big hitters like the Apple iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S2 got on with hitting big, there was a less likely success story taking shape. Samsung’s peculiar Galaxy Note hit the scene in October with a classification-defying 5.3” display and, of all things, a stylus.
Nobody really knew what to make of the Galaxy Note. Although most reviewers agreed it was a well built device and some clever individual came up with the brilliant “phablet” (‘phone’ + ‘tablet’) designation, few could see who, if anyone, would buy the thing.
And then, somewhere along the line, ten million someones bought the thing.
Those aren’t the kind of sales figures any sensible company ignores so, as expected, Samsung yesterday announced a follow up to the Note, the unambiguously titled ‘Note II”. The successor is every bit the powerhouse it was expected to be, packing a quad-core 1.6 GHz processor, a whopping 2 GB of RAM and up to 64 GB of storage.
Any phone or tablet would be proud to boast those kind of figures, but for me the real achievement and selling point of the Galaxy Note and Note II is in finding the perfect form factor to bring the best out of the humble stylus.
The stylus has been out of fashion for an age, perhaps because it harkens back to a time when early tablets and PDAs came with sluggish resistive touchscreens that had to be jabbed persistently to achieve a response. When capacitive screens swept the scene, the delight of interacting with smooth, responsive touchscreens using only our fingertips made many of us throw away our styluses in relief and vow never to touch them again.
But there is a place for the stylus still, and Samsung’s Notes recognise that.
There are obvious situations where a stylus is a must. Artists have used specialist tablets for years and many have migrated over to mainstream capacitive tablets lately, using styluses to create artwork that would be infinitely more difficult using a ‘finger-painting’ technique.
And then, of course, there’s the use the Notes were named for – taking notes. Millions embraced the Note and its stylus as the perfect way to scribble down quick bits and pieces of information in a way that touchscreen keyboards just aren’t capable of.
I’ve started to use a stylus again with my tablet lately and I’ve found there are less obvious advantages, too. There’s something that feels indefinably more workmanlike about using a stylus. Maybe it’s the accuracy; or the extra distance it places between you and your page or canvas; or maybe there’s just some ancient instinct that links holding a tool with having a job to do.
There’s also the fact that I can chew the end of a stylus as I consider my work, a habit that causes far less discomfort than chewing the end of my fingers would.
So, I predict that the Note II will be a hit in its niche, like the Note was before it, and that the niche may again prove to be bigger than some might expect. And I hope the humble and helpful stylus will continue to repair its image and find its way back into the mainstream. Its time might just have come again…