[Since 2011~] Looking Back at the S Pen’s History of Innovation

on August 5, 2020
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The S Pen has come a long way since it was first introduced in 2011, tucked into the bottom edge of the very first Galaxy Note.


Just as Samsung’s flagship series has redefined the mobile experience as we know it, the S Pen has rewritten the rules for what a smartphone stylus can do. From jotting notes on the go to snapping group photos from afar, and from editing and sharing documents to controlling media, the S Pen allows users to do so much more with their mobile device, more comfortably and conveniently than ever before.


The Galaxy Note20’s S Pen – the series’ tenth – enriches the user experience even further by offering smoother, more intuitive note-taking and lifelike precision. Follow along as we commemorate this monumental release by taking a closer look at the S Pen’s evolution over the years.




The 2011 introduction of the Galaxy Note and the S Pen launched a new category of mobile device: the phablet. Combining the characteristics of a smartphone and a tablet, the Galaxy Note made waves around the world with its groundbreaking design and notepad-like functionality.


The S Pen equipping that initial release was capable of serving as a pen, pencil, brush and highlighter. It also introduced what would be the first of many shortcuts designed to help users get things done faster; double tapping the screen while pressing the S Pen’s button would automatically open the S Memo app.



Introduced the following year, the Galaxy Note2 featured a redesigned S Pen that was flattened on one side to offer a more ergonomic grip.


The most notable enhancement from the first to second model was in pressure sensitivity. While the previous version supported up to 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, the new model supported up to 1,024, or four times as much. The improvement enabled users to enjoy a more nuanced and natural writing experience. A brush menu and eye dropper tool, which made it easy to lift colors from within the Note (from an image, for instance), were also added.




The improvements in the Galaxy Note3’s S Pen went beyond refining the handwriting experience and drastically enhanced the stylus’s productivity features. The new Air Command menu allowed users to instantly access important features simply by ejecting the S Pen or by clicking its button. The addition of this handy feature simplified making calls, sending emails and messages, adding doodles and notes to captured images, and much more.



The Galaxy Note4’s S Pen enhancements were about fostering a more realistic writing experience and adding more productivity tools.


Samsung started by greatly improving the S Pen’s accuracy, doubling its pressure sensitivity from 1,024 levels to 2,048. A new feature, Smart select, was also added to make it easier for users to share a variety of content. With Smart select, users could use their S Pen to instantly select, share and save content on their screen – no matter the app – and then share it with others via email or message.



The Galaxy Note5’s Screen off memo function was added because you never quite know when inspiration will strike, and when it does, you want to be able to capture it as quickly as possible.


The ability to jot memos directly onto the smartphone’s screen – memos that would be instantly saved once the user put the S Pen back into the device – added a new level of convenience to the note-taking experience. To enhance that convenience even further, Samsung simplified how the S Pen was removed. Whereas previous S Pens needed to be pulled out manually via the notch at the end, the Note5’s S Pen ejected with a light press.




Since 2017, many of Samsung’s S Pen enhancements have focused on enabling users to express themselves in fun and meaningful ways.


Introduced with the Galaxy Note8, Live messages are a perfect example of meaningful communication. This feature allows users to use the S Pen to draw their own fun, animated GIFS which can be instantly shared with friends or on social media. Text, drawings and GIFs created with Live message, which offers a diverse range of brushes and pens for users to choose from, can be saved in the Gallery and reused whenever the user likes.



By the time the Galaxy Note9 was introduced, the S Pen had evolved into so much more than a stylus. Now, on top of offering a diverse array of note-taking and productivity tools, the S Pen would serve as a convenient remote control for a wide variety of functions.


The addition of Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) technology meant that the Note9’s S Pen could be utilized to, for example, snap a group photo from afar by using the S Pen’s button as a shutter, and to remotely control slides in presentations. The S Pen would automatically start charging once it was placed back in the device, and offered up to 30 minutes of use (or around 200 clicks) once fully charged.



With the Galaxy Note10, the S Pen became more than a remote control; it became a magic wand of sorts.


The introduction of S Pen Air actions opened the door for users to remotely control their device using simple gestures. With a press of the S Pen’s button, the user could use these intuitive actions to switch between cameras and shooting modes, zoom in or out of a shot, and execute a variety of other convenient functions, all with customizable gestures. The smartphone also introduced enhancements designed to help users maximize productivity, including a feature that enables handwriting to be instantly converted to text and exported via a variety of formats.




In a rapidly digitizing world, we can find ourselves missing the analog days every now and then. For those who find themselves longing for that pen-and-paper feel, the Galaxy Note20’s S Pen offers the most true-to-life note-taking experience yet.


A bevy of enhancements, including AI technology that allows for more accurate coordinate prediction, as well as an improved gyro sensor and accelerometer, have combined to support the most realistic handwriting and drawing experiences possible. Those experiences are amplified by the new S Pen’s greatly reduced latency. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s latency has been reduced by nearly 80 percent compared to the Note10. Such responsiveness enable users to enjoy a more lifelike writing experience – one that feels like the real thing.


In addition, for the Galaxy Note20, Samsung has expanded Air actions’ gesture controls to offer users more convenience. New ‘Anywhere actions’ make navigating your phone fast and easy, no matter which app you’re using. Using them is simple. A gesture resembling a clamp pointing to the right (>) pulls up recently used apps; an upward clamp (^) brings you back to the home screen; a clamp pointing to the left (<) signifies a backward action; and a downward clamp (∨) runs Smart select. Lightly shaking the S Pen automatically activates Screen Write, which instantly captures a screenshot of your screen and displays the S Pen’s annotation tools.


The S Pen’s evolution over the last nine years has been guided by a desire to maximize the usefulness of having a stylus-equipped smartphone. The Galaxy Note20 and its advanced S Pen are the latest products of this unwavering commitment to convenience. Going forward, as we transition to the next normal, Samsung will continue to enrich Note users’ lives by making the S Pen more versatile, powerful and fun to use.

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