Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ Review: The Best Note Yet
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+August 23rd 2019
The Galaxy Note 10+ checks all the proverbial boxes for a Galaxy Note device. It has, among other things, the largest battery compared to its predecessors and comes with a whopping 12GB of RAM and 265GB of UFS 3.0 storage. Last year's Galaxy Note 9 was, at best, an incremental upgrade over the Galaxy S9+ and the Note 10+ is much more than that. The only thing that would have made the Galaxy Note 10+ a perfect update would be a headphone jack, but such is life, I guess. I've had the device for about ten days and here are my initial impressions about it.
- Body: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm, 196 grams, curved Gorilla Glass 6 front and back, metal side frame.
- Screen: 6.8" Dynamic AMOLED, 1440 x 3040px resolution; 19:9 aspect ratio; ~498ppi; HDR10+ support.
- Chipset: Exynos 9825 (7nm) Octa-core (2x2.73 GHz Mongoose M4 & 2x2.4 GHz Cortex-A75 & 4x1.9 GHz Cortex-A55); Mali-G76 MP12.
- Memory: 12GB RAM, 256/512GB built-in UFS 3.0 storage.
- OS: OneUI based on Android 9.0 Pie.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 12MP, 1/2.55" sensor, f/1.5-2.4 aperture, dual pixel PDAF, OIS. Telephoto: 12MP, 1/3.6" sensor, f/2.1 aperture, PDAF, OIS. Ultra-wide: 16MP, f/2.2 aperture, fixed focus; 3D ToF VGA camera for depth information.
- Front camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF; 2160p@30fps video recording.
- Battery: 4,300 mAh, supports up to 45W fast charging over Power Delivery 3.0. Qi wireless charging at 15W; Power bank/Reverse wireless charging 9W
- Misc: microSD card slot up to 1TB support, S-Pen stylus, Ultra-sonic under-display fingerprint reader; NFC, Stereo loudspeakers
No Galaxy Note device is complete without the S Pen, and the one that comes with the Note 10+ retains all the features that its predecessors had. It runs on Bluetooth LE and can be used to perform necessary actions in the Camera and YouTube app for now. I've done a deep dive into what the S Pen can do in its entirety. You can read more about it here. Without further ado, let's get right into Samsung's $1,100 behemoth.
Galaxy Note 10+ Design
An integral part of any 'premium' smartphone experience is how it feels in your hand. The Galaxy Note10+ offers nothing short of premium materials and impeccable build. The phone adopts Samsung's tried and tested 'glass and metal sandwich' approach and does so excellently. It is a huge phone, and one-handed operation is tricky, even for someone with large hands such as myself.
Furthermore, the edges and the sharp corners delve deep into your palm. The back is a giant fingerprint magnet and just an hour or so of continuous usage will render it smudgy. Thankfully, Samsung was kind enough to include a basic silicone case in the box. Unless you have the Aura Glow variant, I'd still recommend putting a sturdy case on the phone. To quote YouTuber Jerryrigeverything, "Glass is glass and glass breaks."
The punch hole cutout at the front is hardly a hindrance and blends into the phone's screen seamlessly. You can even spice things up using specific wallpapers that transform the front-facing camera into a lot of different things. There also appears to be a fine coating of some mystery material on the display that is super hard to peel (as a rule of thumb, if it is difficult to remove, leave it be). Moving on, the bezels are virtually non-existent, and the phone is about as 'all-screen' as it gets. Kudos to Samsung for fitting the earpiece, the usual proximity sensor, and the ambient sensor in such a tiny section at the top.
Now that we're done singing praises of how great the Galaxy Note 10 looks and feels, here is some constructive criticism. On the one hand, I'm glad that Samsung god rid of the god-awful dedicated Bixby button, on the other, it was at the expense of the power button. "But Anil, relocating the power button to the left was a Galaxy Brain move as it lets you use the S Pen with your right hand and press the buttons using the left hand," said one person. "Stop whining and git good," said another.
I'd STILL prefer the power button on the right for two reasons. One, that's how it has been for all Samsung devices until the Galaxy Note 10, and I don't want to reprogram my muscle memory. Two, because it is an absolute nightmare to take a screenshot with one hand which wouldn't be a problem if the buttons were on opposite sides. Oh and here's the worst part, long-pressing the power button now invokes BIXBY by default. One has to press and hold the Power and Volume Down button to switch off a device. This isn't making things easier Samsung, not by a long shot.
Galaxy Note 10+ Display
The Galaxy Note 10's 6.8-inch AMOLED panel is one of the best on the market right now. Few companies can recreate the magic of Samsung's AMOLED panels. The Galaxy Note 10's screen checks all the boxes; vivid yet realistic colors, deep blacks, and high visibility in even the brightest of ambient light. The panel hit 686 nits of brightness, which beats the OnePlus 7 Pro (513 nits), iPhone XS Max (606 nits) and Galaxy S10 Plus (625 nits). Viewing angles are about as wide one can expect from a mobile screen. As mentioned earlier, the panel can get incredibly bright at peak brightness. This, coupled with its HDR10+ compliance, can result in eye-piercing results. Dark Mode is your friend, and I'd recommend that you switch it on the right after you set up your device.
I'm glad that Samsung went for the single front-facing camera approach. A second camera (like the one found on the Galaxy S10+) offered no real-world benefits and in turn, made the front look uglier. Contrary to what the marketing department tells you, a single, powerful camera can get more done than two half-assed cameras. I'm still not a fan of the motorized camera gimmick. Moving parts add another point of failure, and that's the last thing I want in something that costs $1,100. Coming from a Galaxy S9+, the screen-mounted ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is nothing short of a godsend. I've lost count of the number of times that I accidentally smudged the camera lens while trying to unlock the phone. Yes, it is a bit tricky to use at first, but it took me all of three days to get acquainted with it. It isn't as snappy as the optical fingerprint scanners out there but gets the job done.
Galaxy Note 10 Camera
The Galaxy Note 10+ has three rear cameras with the same specs as the triple cameras on the Galaxy S10 and S10+: a 12MP primary lens with Dual Aperture (F1.5/F2.4), a 16MP ultra-wide camera with F2.2 aperture, and a 12MP telephoto camera with F2.1 aperture. The telephoto camera now sports a wider aperture than previous Galaxy flagships, all of which had F2.4 aperture telephoto lenses. There’s also a time-of-flight sensor here (VGA f/1.4) – that’s not present on the standard Note 10 – which helps capture better depth for portrait mode photos and videos.
The cameras aren't much of an upgrade over the Galaxy S10+, and the quality remains consistent across both devices. One of the many complains a lot of users had with older Galaxy S Series cameras is that they oversaturated images too much. The Galaxy Note 10 still does that but to a lesser degree. HDR is also marginally better, and images look a lot more natural.
One of the critical areas where Samsung is still behind the industry is in low-light photography. Despite its variable aperture lens and dedicated Night Mode, the Galaxy Note 10 still lags behind the likes of the Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei P30 Pro. Yes, the quality of images captured is arguably better than that on older devices, but that isn’t enough. It is a shame to see such a powerful camera go to waste due to bad software. I'd still prefer a Google Camera port with Night Sight.
At the front, you get a single 10MP camera with Dual Pixel autofocus and F2.2 aperture. The removal of the second camera leaves some wiggle room to make the front camera slightly larger on the Galaxy Note, 10 and Galaxy Note 10+ as Samsung reduced the size of the punch hole, but that didn’t make any notable difference compared to selfies taken on a Galaxy S10. The front-facing camera has Night Mode as well, and it performs on par with its rear counterpart. Live Focus on the front camera works well enough for me to forget the second sensor on the Galaxy S10 Plus.
The Galaxy Note 10's launch event spent a significant amount of time talking about its video features. It is the only smartphone on the market capable of applying a Bokeh effect on videos. The camera does have a difficult time focusing on rapidly moving objects at times, but I'm sure it'll get better with time. The effect works on the front camera too. My only grouse with Live Focus Video is that the blur is nearly not enough, and there is no option to adjust the level of blur. The new video editor that comes with the camera app is nice too. It lets you perform basic activities such as cropping, splitting, and merging a video, among other things. It is a (mostly) functional editor and it eliminates the need to download a third-party alternative from the Play Store.
The Galaxy Note 10+, in particular, also comes with a rear-mounted ToF sensor that can be used for 3D scanning applications. The in-built 3D Scanner app, however, is a load of garbage and couldn't even scan basic objects such as water bottles. I'm sure there are other apps out there that can better use the ToF sensor as the one Samsung released criminally underutilizes it.
Galaxy Note 10 Performance and Software
The Galaxy Note 10 performs about as well as any flagship-tier device should. Navigating through the user interface is a breeze, and only noticeable hiccups appear when an app update is taking place in the background. It's about as good as it gets and I've had no random restarts or freezes so far. We'll know how the phone holds up a year or two after putting it through the motions, and I have a good feeling about this one. The icing on top of the cake is the faster UFS 3.0 storage inside. It may not matter much in day-to-day activities but makes file transfer over USB a whole lot faster. This is a boon for people who transfer large files to and from the phone often.
Starting with the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung began to advertising their Galaxy Note devices as gaming-ready. The Galaxy Note 10 Plus could smoothly run whatever I threw at it with relative ease. The games I tested were PUBG Mobile, EVE: Echoes and Asphalt 9 and all three ran at maximum settings without any troubles. The phone did heat up after several minutes of gameplay but was still warm enough to touch, and the temps stabilized at around 50 degrees for the processor. The Exynos 9825 is advertised by Samsung to be as powerful as the Snapdragon 855, but the results state otherwise. I wouldn’t worry about the minor bump in performance, though.
The Galaxy Note 10 series is the first that can take advantage of Samsung’s new DeX app on Windows and Mac. All you need is a compatible device and a USB cable, and you’re good to go. DeX mode lets you use all your phone applications in full-screen mode with a keyboard and mouse. Some games even have controls tailor-made for keyboard and mouse input. There is some measurable input lag while operating the app. The only benefit I can think of for using your phone like this is the added keyboard and mouse support and ease of multitasking. Or you can breathe a new lease of life into your five-year-old laptop by using it as a glorified host for the Galaxy Note 10. This feature should be coming to older Galaxy devices via the Android 10 update, based on an earlier leak.
Moving on to the software, the Galaxy Note 9 Plus runs Android Pie-based OneUI. The user interface is on par with the ones found in earlier Galaxy devices with the addition of the S Pen functions and some Microsoft apps. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella surprised us all with his appearance at the Galaxy Note 10 launch event to announce a partnership between Microsoft and Samsung. If you don’t want to use DeX, there's a Link to Windows app opens up Microsoft’s ‘Your Phone’ app that lets you check notifications, messages, and pictures from your phone on your PC.'
OneUI may be one of the most heavily-skinned Android Fork out there, but it makes up for the bloatware (if you can even call it that) with features that are just making their way to Stock Android. (Night Mode, Scrolling Screenshot, etc.) If you're new to the Samsung Experience, make sure to check out Samsung Pay. It is, with the notable exception of LG Pay, the only payment portal in the market that is capable of turning your phone into a virtual debit card thanks to MST (Magnetic Secure Transmissio.) It works on almost all traditional point-of-sale machines and can even double up as one, albeit in a limited capacity.
Galaxy Note 10 Battery
Galaxy Note devices and batteries haven't been the best of buddies ever since the Galaxy Note 7 decided to LARP as an IED. The Galaxy Note 10+ has a 4,300 mAh battery, and it is the biggest yet on any Galaxy Note device. The large battery coupled with the power-efficient 7nm Exynos 9825 will get you through an entire day with relative ease. You can squeeze out some more battery life if you leave the screen resolution at FHD+. On average, one can easily get around ~5 hours screen-on-time out of a full charge. Throw in some battery-saving shenanigans, and you can easily eke out an hour more.
Making things better is the fact that the Galaxy Note 10 comes with a 25W charger out of the box. It is capable of charging the phone completely in 60-90 minutes and from zero to sixty percent in about 30 minutes. There's a separately available 45W charger for the device as well, but I haven't been able to test it out as it isn't available in my region yet (thanks, Samsung)
You won't need the latter as it isn't considerably faster than the included charger. According to tests, 45W and 25W chargers take the Note 10+ from zero to 67% and 73% charge respectively in 30 minutes. 100 percent comes up in 65 minutes with the 25W charger and 57 minutes with the 45W charger. In an ideal world, Samsung would have bundled the 45W charger in the box, but the 25W fast charger is quite fast already and will get the job done for most users.
Lastly, the Galaxy Note 10+ also supports reverse wireless charging through the Wireless PowerShare feature. This is best used for charging wearable devices like your Galaxy smartwatch or Galaxy Buds. You can charge other smartphones too for the sole purpose of flexing on your friends.
Galaxy Note 10 Verdict
I wouldn't fault you if you skipped the wall of text above for this segment. This is, after all, what the review is about. All in all, I have minimal complaints about the Galaxy Note 10. Yes, I'd like the ability to charge my phone and listen to music on my headphones, but that seems like a distant dream. The Galaxy Note 10, undoubtedly, is one of the best phones I've laid my hands on and that's a fact. If you have a spare $1,200 lying around and want to experience the best Android has to offer, go ahead and purchase the Galaxy Note 10+.
Personal opinion aside, as a Samsung enthusiast, I have mixed views about the Galaxy Note 10+. On the one hand, it provides the quintessential Galaxy Note experience complete with the S Pen and everything. On the other, it removes an essential component from the Galaxy S10 series (you all know what I'm talking about, at this point). The whole premise of a Galaxy Note phone was to pander to enthusiasts and power users, leaving the S series for normies. If you're using a Galaxy S10 or S10+ and can't be arsed about the S Pen, stick to it and wait for the Galaxy S11 to surface. I'm sure Samsung has more in store for us with that than they did with the Galaxy Note 10+.
- Stunning display
- UFS 3.0 storage is quick
- Impressive battery life
- Excellent cameras
- S Pen gets better every generation
- No headphone jack
- Awkward Power button placement
- ToF sensor is underutilized