There will never be a perfect smartphone design, and as long as the smartphone is our primary communication device, vendors will continue to iterate each and every generation. Therefore, no one is ever going to truly “get it right,” because there’s no such thing, but of all the phones I’ve had a chance to experiment with over the past few years, none have felt like the complete package quite like the Galaxy Note 10+.
Samsung’s latest oversized flagship doesn’t stray far from the recently released Galaxy S10, but it didn’t have to. As our own Zach Epstein said in his review in February, the design of the Galaxy S10 family is as exciting an upgrade as the smartphone industry has seen in recent years, which made Samsung’s job rather easy when it came time to build an upgrade. So rather than reinvent the wheel, Samsung simply made a few relatively minor tweaks for the Note 10 and the Note 10+, all of which I found to be improvements over the S10, S10+, and S10e.
Although the Note 10 is heavily inspired by the S10, there are a few hardware changes, two of which stand out. The first is the placement of the front-facing camera, which has moved over from the top-right corner of the display to the middle, where it is more prominent, but gives the front of the phone symmetry that the S10 lacked. It’s going to be a matter of personal preference for Samsung fans, but it worked for me.
It’s also worth noting that the dual front-facing camera of the Galaxy S10+ did not make the transition to the Note 10 line. Whether or not a dual selfie camera was necessary in the first place is up for debate, but in this case, prioritizing form over function paid off (and the quality of the camera is still stellar).
The other significant departure for the Galaxy Note 10 is the triple-rear camera, which comes standard on both the Note 10 and the Note 10+, and has shifted over to the top-left corner of the rear panel. This is a change I could take or leave, but again, for me, I’d rather have the camera as far out of the way as possible. The less likely that I am to smudge up the lens when I pull the phone out of my pocket, the better.
Those are the most notable hardware evolutions from the S10 to the Note 10, but Samsung also removed the button on the right side of the phone and turned the Bixby button into a customizable “side key.” By default, holding down the side key will activate Bixby, but you can change it to make pressing and holding the button open the power off menu instead. Simply pressing the key will always wake your phone, the same way the old power button did.
One element of the Note 10 that I can’t stress enough is just how unbelievably light it is. I was given a 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10+, which features the largest display of any flagship phone that Samsung has ever released, and yet it weighs just 196g. By comparison, Apple’s 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max weighs 208g. If sacrificing the headphone jack was even partially responsible for the subsequent weight loss, then it was well worth it.
Of course, the design would be meaningless if the display itself wasn’t impressive as well. At 6.8 inches, the Note 10+ display is almost overwhelming, totally dominating your field of view when you hold it in front of your face. Although Zach had some minor quibbles about the incongruity of the bezel, which isn’t symmetrical all the way around the screen, there is simply so much screen on the Note 10+ that I frequently failed to notice the bezel at all.
The display should be the highlight of any modern smartphone, and Samsung didn’t skimp on the Note 10 series. The Galaxy Note 10 is equipped with a 6.3-inch Full HD+ Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O display, while the Galaxy Note 10+ features a 6.8-inch Quad HD+ display. Both the displays are HDR10+ certified, and I can’t do justice to how stunning photos and videos look on these screens. I struggled to pick out differences between 4K content on Netflix on my 4K Sony TV and the Netflix app on my Note 10+.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the Galaxy Note 10+ is that it is the first phone that has really tempted me to upgrade to a phone with a screen over six inches. As much time as I spend with phones of all shapes and sizes for this job, I’m something of a luddite when it comes to my daily driver. I know what I need my phone for when it comes to my personal life and my work life, and a $1,000+ smartphone that requires both hands to operate never really appealed to me, for a wide variety of reasons. My time with the Note 10+ has me rethinking that.
That is compounded by the fact that the Note 10+ is as speedy as it is stunning. With a Snapdragon 855 processor and 12GB of RAM, the phone almost never lags or hangs, and every app I tested ran smoothly. I tried to push it with Fortnite at max settings, but to no avail. In fact, I think the rounds of Fortnite I played on my Note 10+ might have been less laggy than what I frequently experience on my PS4 Pro.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Geekbench 4, the popular benchmarking tool, recorded a 3429 single-core score for the Note 10+ and a 10853 multi-core score. Those are both slightly lower scores than what Zach got on his S10+, but they are still significantly higher than what a vast majority of flagship Android phones can produce. Of course, the iPhone XS is still the king with single-core and multi-core scores of 4797 and 11269, respectively, but Samsung’s 2019 lineup certainly gives the newest iPhone a run for its money.
While there are way more similarities between the Note 10 series and the S10 series than there are differences, the defining feature of the Note is the S Pen. There is no doubt in my mind that there are countless power users out there who swear by the efficacy and convenience of Samsung’s smart pen, but had I not made it a point to test the built-in accessory for the purposes of this review, I could see myself altogether forgetting that the S Pen is lodged into the bottom of the Note 10+ at all times.
But whether or not the S Pen would be of use in my personal life, it was one piece of the Note 10+ puzzle that didn’t fit quite right for me. There have been a number of improvements to the software surrounding the S Pen experience, including handwritten notes that can be directly exported to Microsoft Word and a variety of Air actions that utilize the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology integrated within the pen to control the phone from a distance.
Those Air actions were spotty for me, though, as I repeatedly tried and failed to scroll through camera modes by holding the button on the S Pen and swiping left and right in the air. The actions didn’t register on a consistent basis, which would be far more frustrating if I ever thought I would actually use them. Still, as such an extraneous feature, it didn’t really move the needle for me one way or the other, and wouldn’t have even if it worked flawlessly.
Infinitely more important than the S Pen or any of its functionality is the battery, which, unlike the S Pen, did not fail to impress. The Note 10 ships with a 3,500mAh battery, while the Note 10+ comes with a massive 4,300mAh battery, and will easily last you all day, even with moderately heavy use.
Even if you do spend more time on your phone than the average user, the Note 10 and Note 10+ each have 25W Super Fast Charging capabilities while plugged in. Samsung says that within 30 minutes, regardless of which Note 10 model you pick up, you’ll be able to charge your phone to last you for the day. That number is even smaller if you get a Note 10+, which also supports 45W Super Fast Charging, but you’ll have to purchase a charger separately if you want to take advantage of that feature. Those of you who prefer to charge wirelessly are in luck as well, with 12W Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 on the Note 10, and 15W Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 on the Note 10+.
Aside from the battery, the components that receive the most attention on any new smartphone are the front and rear cameras. Save for one key difference (which I’ll get to in a moment), the camera setups are virtually identical on the two Note models. The Note 10 features a triple-lens array on the back of the phone with a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens, a 12-megapixel wide lens, and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens. The two phones also share the same 10-megapixel telephoto lens on the selfie camera.
The key difference between the cameras on the two phones is the DepthVision camera Samsung has added to the back of the Note 10+. With this fourth rear camera, the Note 10+ is able to perform a few neat tricks, like measuring the height, width, and depth of objects within 2 meters of the camera. There is also a 3D Scanner that can create a 3D rendering of an object in the environment on your phone, but the app isn’t available yet.
As for the quality of the photos and videos the rear cameras capture, since the specifications are virtually identical to those of the Galaxy S10+, I’ll share what we had to say about the S10 cameras back in February:
Around back, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ have a new triple-lens camera that Samsung pitches as having “the right lens for every moment.” The main lens is a 12-megapixel Dual Pixel sensor with dual apertures and optical image stabilization. Then there’s also a 123-degree ultra wide-angle sensor with 16-megapixel resolution, as well as a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with OIS for 2x optical zoom.
The Galaxy S10’s camera app has three buttons near the bottom of the viewfinder that lets you swap between the lenses, but the phone will also do it automatically as you zoom in and out. The ultra wide-angle lens captures a remarkable amount of content in the frame — according to Samsung, it covers 4.3 times more area than the standard wide-angle lens on last year’s Galaxy S9. Meanwhile the main lens and the telephoto lens both offer dramatic quality improvements over last year’s Galaxy S9 flagships. Also of note, I found that photos captured on the Galaxy S10+ were more crisp and had better color accuracy than similar photos shot on the iPhone XS.
OIS on the two main rear lenses results in nice clear still photos. It also provides much-needed stability when shooting video. The camera software further assists with stability in both cases, and it’s packed full of all sorts of great features like a special mode for taking photos of food, improved super slow-motion video, Bixby Vision, a scene optimizer feature, shot suggestions that pop up and help you line up the perfect shot, flaw detection that notifies you if your subject blinks, tracking auto-focus, and more. There’s also a new Bright Night feature that becomes available when you’re capturing photos in low light, though I’ve found that it’s not quite as impressive as the much-hyped Night Sight feature on Google’s Pixel phones. It’s still impressive though, and low light photos were far more clear on the Galaxy S10+ than they were on my iPhone XS.
Ditto everything Zach said. The cameras on the Note 10+ (including the selfie camera) are some of the best I’ve ever tested on a smartphone, and I wish I had any of the S10 or Note 10 family of devices with me on my recent vacation. Here are just a few sample photos I took with the Note 10+ in the past few days:
Moving on to the software, I don’t have much to say about One UI other than that it’s simple and clean and doesn’t force you to contend with too much bloatware. That’s good enough for me. There are a couple of biometric security features to keep your data safe, including an in-display fingerprint sensor and face recognition. The ultrasonic sensor beneath the display does require you to press harder than you might be used to, but it worked almost every time. The face scanner was less precise, but very speedy when it worked.
I won’t detail each and every piece of software Samsung has added to the Note 10 series, but a few of the highlights include a built-in screen recorder (up to 1080p footage), AR Doodle (which lets you draw objects or on objects in the environment and have them stay in place right where you drew them), and Samsung DeX for PC, which makes the process of moving files from your phone to your Windows PC (or Mac) utterly painless.
I always leave my expectations at the door when it comes to reviewing any piece of hardware or software, but after reading Zach’s Galaxy S10 review earlier this year, Samsung certainly had my attention. I found it hard to imagine that the Note 10 would be anything but an upgrade (both in terms of specifications and the overall experience), and Samsung didn’t let me down. The Note 10+ is one of the best smartphones on the market, full stop. Samsung takes the incredibly solid foundation of the S10 and builds upon it in subtle ways that end up becoming greater than the sum of their parts. And even if the S Pen isn’t as revolutionary as Samsung hypes it up to be, and One UI doesn’t change the face of the mobile operating system, the Note 10 is still one of the best phones of the past few years.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+ start at $949.99 and $1,099.99, respectively. The Note 10 will ship with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The Note 10+, on the other hand, has a 256GB model and a 512GB model, both of which ship with 12GB of RAM and microSD card support, which the Note 10 lacks. Both the Note 10 and the Note 10+ models come in Aura Glow, Aura White, and Aura Black colors, but the Note 10+ also comes in Aura Blue. The Aura Blue Galaxy Note 10+ is available at Best Buy and Samsung.com.
Preorders for the Note 10 and Note 10+ have begun, with the phones set to hit stores shelves on August 23rd, 2019. Verizon is also the exclusive carrier of the Note 10+ 5G, which launches on the same day.