From Stylus to Self-Expression: Looking Back at the Evolution of the S Pen

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Simply pop a ‘pen’ out from your device and immediately start writing – Samsung Electronics’ innovative idea that came to life with the inclusion of the S Pen in the company’s Galaxy Note series 10 years ago has since provided users with unique and enriching device experiences.


Since then, the S Pen has undergone multiple innovations to transform it from a mere stylus into an independent device on its own. For example – you no longer need to rely on just your smartphone to take a picture; the S Pen can do that for you.


The 10 years that have passed since the debut of the S Pen have been filled with countless innovations and challenges. Follow along as we chart the evolution of this significant stylus, from its debut as a simple smartphone accessory to its latest form as its own separate device.



Identity: How the S Pen has Taken on Real Pen-Like Qualities


The S Pen is designed to provide the experience of writing with a real pen. Since its debut with the first Galaxy Note device in 2011, the S Pen has continued to provide improved pressure sensitivity from 256, 1024, and 2048 levels to a remarkable 4096 sensitivity level. Pressure sensitivity determines how much you can vary the width of the lines you draw with your S Pen; the higher it is, the more precisely the stylus will respond to your control. The S Pen’s high pressure sensitivity allows you to control the stroke weight of your stylus as you apply varying amounts of pressure to your screen, and the diameter of the S Pen’s tip has also been reduced over the years from 1.6mm to 0.7mm to allow for delicate strokes when drawing. This means that the S Pen not only feels like a real pen in your hands but also writes and draws like one.


When it comes to notetaking, every user has their own habits, be it using a specific highlighter to mark important passages in a text or preferring a slim pen tip for writing. The S Pen, which initially provided four pen types – Pen, Pencil, Brush and Highlighter – today offers a wide variety of pen options, including Calligraphy and Fountain pen options. The true-to-life S Pen experience even comes with a different writing sound for each pen option you choose, and the sound effect of a pen cap closing when the S Pen is re-inserted into the device provides a satisfying, realistic feel, too. Furthermore, the eye-dropper tool, which makes it easy to lift colours from an image or a text, has also been added for easy pen colour customization.


As the S Pen continued to evolve, a built-in battery was added for optimized usage and user convenience. Users need simply plug their S Pen back into their device to automatically charge it; Galaxy Note20 users can enjoy a fully charged S Pen in just 7 minutes, with a standby time of 24 hours.[1]



In line with all these innovations, it is the S Pen’s response time that truly grants it that life-like writing experience. In the latest Samsung mobile devices, such as the Galaxy Note10 or Galaxy Note20, the S Pen features AI technology that bolster the pen’s acceleration and gyro sensors in order to predict pen movement and improve accuracy, resulting in a response time that is 80% faster than the previous model. Combined with a 120Hz display, this faster S Pen provides a remarkably smooth user experience.


Performance: Evolving from a Simple Stylus to a Pen

Over the past 10 years, the S Pen has developed into a versatile pen with a wide range of features. One such highlight of this evolution is the S Pen’s Air Command menu. When you eject the S Pen or click its button, a series of essential S Pen feature icons appear on-screen. These days, the Air Command menu emerges in a line, as opposed to the fan shape that earlier models featured, in order to display more icons at once. Users can even customize the actions and icons that appear so as to enjoy effortless and instant access to their most frequently used features.


Colourful messages written down using the Screen off memo feature


Another notable S Pen functionality is the Screen off memo function, which was included to broaden the horizon of quick notetaking. This feature lets users write their notes down directly onto the lock screen once they have popped out their S Pen. The resulting note can then be pinned to the Always On Display, or saved to Samsung Notes, and over the years, this feature has seen more options for pen tips, colours and canvas size included to help you capture your inspiration in real time.


Following the application of various improvements and innovations since its inception, the S Pen has evolved to truly became a device on its own. The revolutionized S Pen features Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) connectivity, meaning that users can control their music, camera app and more directly from their S Pen within a certain distance[2] – similar to a remote control.



In recent years, the S Pen has only seen more expansion of its scope. The introduction of S Pen Air actions allows users to control their smartphone’s applications by pressing their S Pen’s side button. With Air actions, you can harness intuitive actions to switch between camera and shooting modes, zoom in or out of a shot and execute a variety of other convenient functions – all with customizable gestures.


Using the very latest S Pen models, gesture control has only gotten easier with the introduction of five Anywhere actions. Users can now customize actions for the Back, Home, Recent App, Smart Select and Screen Write commands, making the S Pen easier to control.


Design: Write Intuitively, With Style


From a rounded form, a flat symmetrical design to a unibody type, Samsung has constantly been refining the design of the S Pen for more seamless pen handling and the most comfortable writing experiences possible. As a result, the S Pen has evolved to be an ergonomic pen that allows users a relaxed grip. Today’s S Pen boasts a sleek appearance thanks to its elegant, unibody design, and its very latest iteration, launched with the Galaxy Note20,  is the lightest and thinnest S Pen yet, coming in at just 3.04g and 5.8mm.


Galaxy Note9 packaging featuring S Pen imagery


An S Pen that comes in a range of colour options was developed to satisfy those users looking to showcase their personality through their devices. Each colour option even matches the corresponding device’s S Pen slot. One such change saw a clear ocean-blue device paired with a vivid yellow S Pen, with the corresponding packaging summarizing the evolution of the S Pen so far by featuring the stylus on the front of its box. This demonstrates that the S Pen truly became the key identifier of Samsung’s smartphone products.




Ecosystem: Diversifying the S Pen’s Canvas Options

The Galaxy Tab S7 series’ S Pen


These days, you can enjoy the versatility of the S Pen on larger screens like tablets and laptops such as the Samsung’s Galaxy Tab A and S series and the Galaxy Book, as well as on your smartphone. The S Pen models included with Samsung’s tablets and laptops have been developed differently than S Pen models developed for smartphones, featuring a rounded, unibody design and a glossy finish.


Users of Galaxy Tab S6 and S7 devices can easily store their S Pen on the side and back (respectively) of their tablets thanks to the magnetic storage feature, making it easier to keep track of your S Pen while also providing a simple way for you to charge your S Pen.



The expansion of the S Pen ecosystem also comes with more opportunities for pro-level S Pen usage. The Galaxy Tab S7 is the first to come pre-loaded with Clip Studio Paint, a professional drawing app for illustration, webtoon and animation production; Noteshelf, a dedicated note-taking app; and Canva, a graphic design app. Accordingly, the S Pen today is playing a key role in transforming the tablet into a device capable of servicing any user’s tastes and interests.


The S Pen has become the key identifying feature of the Galaxy Note series and Samsung’s latest tablet line-ups, but this has been taken a step further following its launch with the Galaxy S21 Ultra earlier this year. The very latest Galaxy S line device provides users with such S Pen benefits as drawing, notetaking and video editing; S21 Ultra users can take advantage of the delicate touch granted by the S Pen for precise and elaborate video editing capabilities unachievable by human fingers alone. The inclusion of the optional S Pen that is available for a S series device[3] is an innovation that improves both device portability and productivity and going forward, Samsung is determined to bring the outstanding performance of the S Pen into a wider range of categories for a more seamless mobile experience.


Since its inception, the S Pen has been a landmark innovation for Samsung. An elegant instrument that lets users create to their heart’s content on their digital screens, the evolution of this delicate stylus over the past decade has seen the S Pen grow into an independent, smart device on its own. Stay tuned to find out how the S Pen is set to develop further in the future and provide users with even better means of self-expression.


[1] Based on average battery life under typical usage conditions. Average expected performance based on typical use. Results may vary.
[2] S Pen’s operable distance extends approximately 10 meters from the device in open space. Control range may vary depending on surroundings and other factors.
[3] Sold separately.
All functionality, features, specifications and other product information provided in this document including, but not limited to, the benefits, design, pricing, components, performance, availability, and capabilities of the product are subject to change without notice. Availability may vary by market, operator and connected device.

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