These are the improvements I’d like to see on the next S Pen
I’ve been using the Galaxy Note 10 for more than a couple of weeks now, and I must say, there’s very little I don’t like about the phone. It feels great, thanks to its premium build quality; it’s very fast, the display is gorgeous, and One UI 1.5 is close to perfect. But as much as I’ve fallen in love with the Galaxy Note 10, I think Samsung is capable of doing a better job in some areas. Coincidentally, one of these areas is, I think, the S Pen experience. It’s quite complete out of the box but, as they say, there is always room for improvement.
A recent rumor suggests the company might launch the next S Pen along with the Galaxy S11 series, all the while replacing the Note lineup with the Galaxy Fold in the second half of 2020. Time will tell if this will come to pass. Either way, we don’t expect Samsung to abandon the S Pen. There will most likely be a new edition next year. With that in mind, there are a few aspects regarding the iconic tool that I’d like to see improved in 2020.
The elephant in the room: Air Actions
Samsung’s major addition to the Galaxy Note 10 S Pen consists of an internal 6-axis gyroscope. In theory, the new hardware opens up a world of possibilities, but Samsung doesn’t seem to have pushed this fresh feature into the spotlight enough.
The S Pen’s newfound abilities are demonstrated by Samsung through what the company calls Air Actions. These are gestures that can be performed with the S Pen in several apps, but overall, Air Actions is a very situational tool and a rather anemic one at that.
As mentioned in our Galaxy Note 10 hands-on, Samsung did open the SDK (Software Development Kit) for Air Actions, meaning third-party app developers can technically integrate the feature into their apps. Samsung’s implementation was supposed to inspire prospective buyers and developers alike, but sadly, I don’t find Air Actions all that inspiring. The potential may be there, but in its current state, the feature comes across as gimmicky. As much as I dislike saying this, it’s difficult not to blame Samsung for this outcome.
Fortunately, this isn’t something Samsung couldn’t change. Unless the company decides to backtrack on its decision and remove the gyroscope in 2020 – which is unlikely – I think it should try highlighting the S Pen’s underlying hardware in more inspired ways. Throughout its ads and demos, both on and off stage.
Potentially, opening the S Pen’s motion-sensing capabilities to mobile games, therefore turning the tool into a minimalistic motion controller, could be fun. It would certainly appeal to a broader audience. And there already are ways to play mobile games on a bigger screen, so why not turn the S Pen into a minimal, motion controller? Or perhaps expand upon the Augmented Reality concept and give the S Pen an AR pointer functionality. Maybe a simple ‘bubble level’ app would be an effective way to showcase the S Pen’s hardware differently.
Whatever might become of Air Actions, Samsung should try and gain the crowd’s attention in cleverer and more inspiring ways, as far as the possibilities of a gyroscope inside the S Pen are concerned. At the least, showcasing broader use case scenarios might bring more third-party app developers on board.
Consider making Live messages a ‘real’ thing
Live messages feels like it’s only half-finished, and the moniker further accentuates what the app is lacking. In short, it can make GIFs and MP4s of your doodles and handwriting, but it is not a messaging platform. I think Samsung should go all-in with the idea behind the name and make Live messages actually live. If the app should evolve to the next step, wouldn’t it be interesting if it would let users communicate live with other Galaxy Note (Galaxy S11?) owners through digital handwritten messages and doodles? Complete with glittery, sparkly, and neon effects?
Samsung’s flagship displays are large enough for split screen view, so in theory, it shouldn’t be an issue to borrow this concept for Live messages. You could see your ‘partner’s’ live message on the top half of your screen, leaving the other half free to express yourself.
Write on calendar is a good idea implemented poorly
Samsung puts a dozen S Pen software tools in the Galaxy Note 10’s Air command toolkit, which we’ve covered broadly earlier this week. There are thirteen of them, or to be specific, there are eleven. Create note and View all notes both lead to the same app, and the same goes for PENUP and Coloring.
Technicalities aside, Write on calendar is one S Pen feature that may be in dire need of a revamp. The reason for this has been mentioned in the above-mentioned Air command guide. The basic idea behind Write on calendar is sound, but the implementation is not ideal because you’re limited to making notes only on the Month calendar screen. There’s simply not enough room to jot down notes for more than a couple of events within the same month. This limitation leads to unnecessary clutter in the Calendar app, and it ultimately makes the feature unattractive.
It could be argued that it’s already possible to add actual calendar events with the S Pen via the Handwriting keyboard. But it is Samsung who gave Write on calendar a dedicated Air command shortcut, even though the feature is already a tap away inside the Calendar app. So why not build upon this feature and truly make it its own tool?
Write on calendar would be considerably better if the next implementation would offer a fresh canvas for each day on the Month screen. And allow users to switch between canvases whenever they want by tapping on different days of the month. This would elevate Write on calendar and warrant its inclusion in my Air command list.
Make the clicker button functional. Or not?
I’ve left the S Pen clicker button for last only because I have mixed feelings about whether Samsung should change it or leave it exactly as it is. On one hand, it’s quite satisfying to push the clicker button at the top of the S Pen without expecting a particular outcome, other than getting that tactile feel and clicking sound. It lends an air of authenticity to the S Pen and evokes the memory of a regular ballpoint pen.
On the other hand, having a second functional button on the S Pen could lead to some interesting features and additions, or open up new possibilities for third-party app developers. Maybe Samsung can deliver the best of both worlds by making it optional for the clicker button to have a function; give users the option to assign the clicker button to an additional S Pen tool, and don’t let the function activate when the phone detects the S Pen has been removed from, or placed back in its slot.
Or perhaps allow users to switch between a brush and the eraser tool when clicking the button. This can already be achieved in Samsung Notes by double-clicking the existing button. However, it is a bit inconvenient, in large part because the button is not quite easy to find using your tactile senses alone. Moving this function to the clicker button would make a lot more sense in my mind. It would certainly ask the user to perform a more familiar gesture. There is, of course, a small risk concerning the button’s durability, assuming it’s going to be used more often over prolonged periods of time. But I don’t think this would be an engineering problem Samsung wouldn’t be able to tackle. After all, we’re talking about the same company that developed the Galaxy Fold.
In closing, the Galaxy Note 10 S Pen delivers a solid experience, but it could be even better with just a few extra touches and a more refined software toolkit.
A couple of the arguments above may give the impression that I’m nitpicking over the current S Pen implementation but, maybe the little details matter because they’re amplified by the lack of any major complaints. Finding shortcomings in the S Pen under the proverbial microscope may be a testament to the fact that the Galaxy Note 10 edition is, on the most part, complete.
Where do you think Samsung should push the next-gen stylus? What areas do you find lackluster in the current S Pen implementation, if any? Join us in the comment section below.