The king of Samsung smartphones has finally arrived, but is the Galaxy Note 10+ and its S-Pen stylus really still the super phone for super fans of the South Korean brand?
For a long time the Galaxy Note line was used to push the boundaries of what could be done with a smartphone, siring the big-screen “phablet” category in the process. I’m sad to report that’s no longer the case. The £999 Note 10+ might technically be the biggest screen on a Samsung flagship phone, but it’s really only by a smidgen.
Underneath the glass and metal body the Note 10+ is essentially a Galaxy S10+ from March. That’s not a bad thing, as the S10+ is a very good phone, but it means that the Note 10+ is no longer the specs monster it was. If you always bought the Note because it was “the best Samsung” your decision is no longer that clear cut.
What you get is a slight change of design. The striking 6.8in QHD+ AMOLED screen is enormous, but it’s actually only 0.1in bigger than the one in the S10 5G. Still it’s gorgeous to look at, videos look particularly great, and the hole cut in the top for the selfie camera is smaller than any other. But it’s not as smooth nor impressive as the notchless (Samsung made) 90Hz AMOLED screen on the OnePlus 7 Pro.
The Note 10+ has stereo speakers, which are surprisingly good – all the more so because the top one projects its sound out of a nearly imperceivable gap at the top of the screen,.
The build quality is exceptional. The phone is thin, feels lighter than it is at 196g and the glass front and back curve at the edges to a thin metal band with squared-off ends at the top and bottom. There’s absolutely no give anywhere, making the Note 10+ feel the closest yet to that all-glass slab of a phone we’ve been promised in sci-fi for a decade.
But those squared-off ends, harder corners and giant screen make the Note 10+ harder to use one-handed than any other phone. This is decidedly a two-hand phone. Use it one-handed without an aid at your peril. If ever there was a phone that should have shipped with one of those lanyards of old, this is it.
I also got a lot of accidental touches from my palm on the bottom right of the screen. Accidentally zooming into web pages, exciting apps when trying to reach something and even pausing the music when trying to scroll in Spotify was a regular occurrence. Taking photos without hitting the back or home button was particularly difficult, resulting in quite a few missed photos.
Screen: 6.8in QHD+ AMOLED (498ppi)
Processor: Samsung Exynos 9825 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
RAM: 12GB of RAM
Storage: 256GB + microSD card
Operating system: One UI based on Android 9 Pie
Camera: rear triple camera, 10MP selfie-camera
Connectivity: dual sim, LTE, wifi, NFC, Bluetooth 5, wireless charging and GPS
Dimensions: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9mm
The Note 10+ comes with the same processor as the S10+ in the US (Qualcomm Snapdragon 855) and a slightly updated one (Exynos 9825) with the same performance but marginally improved energy efficiency in Europe. It also has 4GB more RAM at 12GB total (which is a bit of overkill).
One big difference is the use of the newer UFS3.0 storage technology, which makes the 256GB of built-in storage significantly faster than that used in the Galaxy S10+ (and most other phones, except the OnePlus 7 Pro and a handful of others).
As such the Note 10+ is a very powerful phone on paper, but it doesn’t feel any faster in use than an S10+, and certainly not as snappy or fluid as the OnePlus 7 Pro.
Battery life on the Galaxy Note 10+ is good, lasting more than 32 hours between charges on average with reasonably heavy usage. With the screen on in excess of five hours and set to FHD+ with the always-on display (AOD) setting off, the phone lasts from 7am on day one until after 3pm on day two. That is while browsing and using apps for four hours with a hundred or so push messages, watching 40 minutes of Netflix, shooting about 10 photos a day and listening to around five hours of music via Bluetooth headphones.
Lighter usage sees the battery last another few hours, as did activating one of the many battery-saving modes. The Note 10+ has wireless charging and powershare (for charging headphones and other devices from the back), but has faster cabled charging than previous Samsung phones. From completely flat the battery reaches 80% charge in 40 minutes with the included 25W charger. The Note 10+ can charge up to 45W, but requires a special charger that supports Power Delivery 3.0 with PPS and isn’t included in the box.
Samsung One UI
The Galaxy S10 line was the first to launch with Samsung’s revamped version of Android called One UI, which is based on 2018’s Android 9, not the recently launched Android 10.
Most of the customisations Samsung makes to Android are welcome, with a focus on using the bottom of the screen for things you have to touch and the top for information, which aids in using phones with large screens.
However, it’s held back by the use of the old Android navigation keys or swipe pads in their place, instead of the more modern gesture control used by other manufacturers such as Huawei and OnePlus or the ones now baked into Android 10. It’s very difficult to reach the bottom left corner with your right thumb or bottom right with your left for the navigation keys on this size of screen.
Different for the Note 10+ is the addition of S-Pen features for drawing on the screen and accessing various apps from pop-out menus. New for this year on the S-Pen is greatly improved handwriting recognition in the Samsung Notes app, which was thoroughly impressive accurately translating even scrawl into pristine text, and what Samsung calls Air actions.
Last year Samsung added remote control functionality to the S-Pen; this year that includes using the stylus like a magic wand for gestures in mid-air. You can change tracks, change cameras and take photos, and generally navigate or activate features using swipes and twirls of the S-Pen. It’s fairly impressive, but after a brief play around I found it simply easier to press a button on the screen, apart from taking photos with the phone mounted in a tripod, which I have done precisely once to see whether it would work.
The S-Pen remains one of the best styluses available, and slots neatly into the body of the Note 10+ when not in use. If you never use it, the S-Pen doesn’t get in the way at all, but it is essentially the reason to buy the Note 10+.
Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner
The Note 10+ has the same ultrasonic fingerprint scanner embedded under the screen as the S10+. When it works it’s great. It doesn’t feel fast, but appears to unlock faster than Samsung’s software is set up to react, giving rise to a sluggish response, particularly in comparison to the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro’s excellent optical in-screen fingerprint sensor.
However, it is the Note 10+’s inconsistency which is extremely annoying. About one in five times it simply refuses to work, which always happens to be when you’re in a hurry. Others have proven that in-screen fingerprint sensors can be as fast and accurate as traditional ones on the front or back, but Samsung’s isn’t as good.
The Note 10+ has a triple rear camera system that’s aided by a new depth sensor, which enhances portrait mode shots and other depth effects, including for video.
The main 12-megapixel camera is joined by a 12-megapixel telephoto (2x optical zoom) camera and a 16-megapixel ultrawide angle camera, which is one of the best in the business. Together they allow lossless zoom from 0.5 to 2x, and on to a 10x hybrid zoom.
The Note 10+ therefore has one of the better cameras available taking shots with an excellent amount of detail and generally good exposure and colour. It falls down in low light and zoom capabilities next to the Huawei P30 Pro. Samsung’s night mode doesn’t match Google’s for the Pixel either.
Video capture quality is top notch at up to 4K at 60fps, and can now do live focus effects similar to Samsung’s still images, but in real time. Samsung’s new AR Doodle lets you draw on your or someone else’s face in real-time too with the S-Pen, which your kids will love.
The selfie camera was a bit of a let down, taking fairly good photos outdoors in good lighting, but struggling indoors and at events, where a crappy photo can’t be taken again.
The stereo speakers are really good
The ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is incompatible with most screen protectors, but a compatible one comes included in the box
Haptic feedback (vibrations) are the best yet on a Samsung phone
A little pop-up when you take the S-Pen out of the slot shows you the gestures you can use in the current app or that they won’t work here, which is handy
There’s no headphone socket
You can hook it up to a PC or just a screen/mouse/keyboard to use the Note 10+ as a computer
The power button has been moved to the left side next to the volume buttons, which took a little getting used to, and by default it can activate Bixby rather than fully power-off the phone
For comparison, the recommended retail prices of the competition are now £799 for the Galaxy S10+ with 128GB of storage, £1,099 for the 256GB Galaxy S10 5G, the 128GB Huawei P30 Pro is £799, the 64GB Google Pixel 3 XL costs £869, the 64GB iPhone XS Max costs £1,099, and the 256GB OnePlus 7 Pro costs £699.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is some piece of hardware. An enormous screen and a feeling of solid glass seems simply futuristic. But that giant screen is also its downfall – it’s just too big to use with one hand.
It’s also plagued with accidental touches, which are downright irritating. A case will probably solve those, but make the phone bigger and less sleek in the process.
The phone performs well, has solid battery life, the screen looks great and Samsung’s new aura glow colour option is interesting. But where the old Notes used to be the pinnacle of everything Samsung could achieve in a phone that year, the S10+ offers practically everything the Note does minus the S-Pen and for at least £200 cheaper.
So the reason the Note still exists is for those who love the productivity and fun of the stylus, which Samsung has only added to with the wand-like S-Pen Air gestures. Note fans will love it. But for everyone else, the S10+ is probably the better Samsung phone, while the competition from the likes of OnePlus and Huawei is exceedingly strong.
Pros: massive screen, S-Pen hole-punch notch, good battery life, wireless charging and powershare, great camera, good performance, good software, good haptics, microSD card slot, dual-sim option, 5G option
Cons: no headphone socket, not Android 10 at launch, low light camera not as good as Google/Huawei, too big, expensive, inconsistent in-screen fingerprint sensor, lots of accidental miss-touch events
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