The Galaxy Note series has been one of my favorite ranges for years. Since the first Galaxy Note, I've been sold on the concept of a big screen as well as the S-Pen. While most manufacturers have replicated the former – and phones now have screens the size of the Galaxy Mega – no manufacturer has established a competitor to the S-Pen.
Unfortunately, the range took a severe hit a few years back, and since then, it's felt like Samsung was prioritizing its more successful Galaxy S-series. Going into seeing the Galaxy Note 10 for the first time, I expected more of the same, but the Galaxy Note 10 stopped me in my tracks. It's a Note-worthy smartphone, and here's what you want to know.
Galaxy Note 10 Key similarities and differences
The Galaxy Note 10 is noticeably different to the Galaxy S10 range, adopting a more boxy design like previous Notes. Much like the S10 series, the two devices share a lot of the same features, but there are a few specific differences between the two devices, and certain additional variants to be aware of.
Multiple phones means multiple sizes and now, there's a Galaxy Note 10 that's right for everyone.
Side-by-side, both devices share the same design identity, with the proportions of the device, and the placement of features identical across both devices. They are different sizes, with the Note 10 featuring a 6.3-inch display, while the Note 10+ measures 6.8-inches. They use the same Dynamic AMOLED panels found in the Galaxy S10 series, but differ in resolution, with the Note 10 sporting 2280x1080 resolution, while the Note 10+ is 3040x1440 pixels.
Both are powered by the Snapdragon 855 processor, but the Note 10 comes with 8GB of RAM while the Note 10+ offers 12GB of RAM. Base storage is 256GB on both models, but the Note 10+ also offers microSD card support and the option for 512GB storage. The S-Pen is identical on both devices and has me seriously excited, while the cameras are mostly identical except for an additional depth-sensing rear camera on the Note 10+.
There's also two 5G models, with the regular Note 10 5G limited to Korea and the Note 10+ 5G sporting the same features as the Note 10+, and launching exclusively with Verizon in the USA. Globally, you'll get the Exynos 9825 processor with the same storage options. And there's a couple of global colors already revealed that won't be coming to the US market.
All-in, they share a lot of the same features, but there are enough differences to make deciding between both of them quite tricky. Let's dig into it further.
Galaxy Note 10 Hardware, display, and design
The Galaxy Note 10 is more than just a Galaxy S10 Plus with an S-Pen. Samsung has made little tweaks here and there that give the Note a very distinct feeling. Much like the Huawei P30 Pro, the Galaxy Note 10 offers a flat top and bottom which may not seem like much but gives it better symmetry and a more ergonomic feel.
The design takes Samsung's Infinity concept to another level. There are minimal bezels and just enough metal around the frame of the device to give it that premium feel. The majority of the front is dominated by the large displays, which share the same 19.5:9 aspect ratio as the Galaxy S10 family. By offering two versions of the Note 10, Samsung can show off the size of the Note 10 and also appeal to two different types of people. The Note 10 offers the Note 9's screen in a smaller body, while the Note 10+ has the same basic footprint as the Note 9, with a larger display.
Samsung leads the way in smartphone screens, and the Note 10 screen engrosses you like no other phone.
That display is also the best screen experience I've ever used on a smartphone. Pick up a Galaxy Note 10, go back to another smartphone, and you'll instantly miss the Dynamic AMOLED display. Stretching the screen to the edge of the phone means the bezels fall away as you're watching something, and it engrosses you like no other smartphone. Viewing angles are beautiful, it gets stunningly bright, and the color output is incredible – simply put, Samsung leads the way in smartphone screens. Even the regular Note 10: it might only be 1080p, but I used it for a few minutes, and only realized later that it was 1080p.
Most importantly, the Note 10 is the right size for a smartphone you can use with one hand. The Note 10+ is large and unwieldy, and whilst I do wish the regular 10 had all the features (5G and 12GB of RAM in particular), it feels like a smartphone made for ordinary people. I have big hands and spend all my time on my phone – I'm typing this on my iPhone as I speak – and while the bigger screen would be great, I want a phone that I can use comfortably in one hand. Samsung is finally delivering this, S-Pen and all.
Samsung is finally delivering the perfect size smartphone, complete with S-Pen.
Now to Bixby – before you groan, Samsung is paying attention to feedback as the Bixby button has finally been removed. No more accidental activations and you can even disable it altogether. By default, the power button is set to work as expected with a single press, launch the camera with a double press and launch Bixby with a long press. Most likely, you'll want to change it to restore the normal power/restart behavior with a long press, effectively removing the Bixby shortcut, but you can also use it to launch another app.
With a design that's clearly maximizing the screen size, there's going to be inevitable trade-offs. The biggest of these is the removal of the headphone jack. No pomp and circumstance here; it's gone. There are USB-C headphones in the box, and Samsung is going to sell a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter separately, but if you need a headphone jack, look elsewhere. That said, I'm not too disappointed: it's been a long time since I used wired headphones, and with wireless earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM3, who needs a headphone jack. The lack of SD card slot in the smaller Note 10 is also a tradeoff, but much like the headphone jack, I've been using a P30 Pro and iPhone with absolutely no storage issues so it won't sway my opinion on the Note 10.
The Note 10 family comes in several beautiful colors, from the regular black and white options, to a gorgeous blue and mesmerising Aura Glow. The hyper-mirrored finish on the Aura Glow model does offer this breathtaking shift between colors, with every lighting and angle combination. I much prefer the Blue note. This preference raises another problem: given how I prefer the smaller Note, only the Note 10+ comes in blue, and it's exclusive to Best Buy and Samsung.com.
It's been a long time since Samsung made a phone and I had no significant criticisms of the design, but the Note 10 family ticks the box. The Note 10+ stretches the boundaries of how big a smartphone should be. While the Note 10 shows just how far smartphones have come: in a year, we've removed a lot of bezels, and that's mostly down to Samsung's new Infinity displays.
Galaxy Note 10 Software and features
The Note 10 introduces One UI 1.5, but there's barely any discernible differences. A year on from overhauling its entire experience, it's unsurprising that there are no significant updates, but the company has made a few tweaks and additions worth mentioning.
Clever improvements in the S-Pen
The S-Pen hasn't radically changed in design from last year but has been tweaked to be better balanced with a more ergonomic feel in hand. The button has been moved slightly up towards the center and sits better in hand.
The hardware hasn't changed much, but there are some new software features. First is the new air actions feature which lets you simulate a tap – such as swiping left or right in the camera menu – using gestures with the S-Pen hovering above your screen. Switching camera modes, flipping between selfie and rear cameras or even zooming in are all possible in the camera, but it mostly feels like a niche use case.
Handwriting support has been improved and you can now convert handwritten notes to text and export them to Word directly from Samsung Notes. You can also search through any handwritten text, so if you do write down a memo, it should be easy enough to find.
My favorite new S-Pen feature is AR Doodle. The Note range has always been about expressing yourself, whether at first with the large screen or in later years with features like Live Message. AR Doodle brings this to video messages and uses facial recognition algorithms to map a face, and allow you to apply artistic effects – read, doodle on it – to that person. Then it can track the person in a video and apply them in real-time, or you can use it in iMessage.
I love AR Doodle and all the new S-Pen features, and it's easy to see why.
A missed opportunity with the cameras
If there's one part of the Note 10 that's disappointing; it's the camera. Technically, the series has three very proficient cameras on the rear, with the Note 10+ gaining a fourth DepthVision camera. In reality, the cameras haven't changed much since the Galaxy Note 9, which already lagged behind the Huawei P30 Pro and Pixel 3.
Of course, they're no slouch. The Galaxy S10+ offered one of the best all-round camera experiences, and Samsung's wide-angle camera is second to none. Yet, with the Mate 30 Pro expected to have two 40MP sensors, and Google pushing into a multi-lens territory, the Note 10 cameras already feel like a step behind the competition.
A welcome change, however, is the new front camera placement. The ultra-wide mostly-useless selfie camera from the Galaxy S10+ has gone, and I love the new camera placement. At the center of the screen, it detracts from the screen much less and adds symmetry to the front of the phone. That said, I'll miss the awesome wallpapers you can get for the Galaxy S10+.
Made for creators
Ask any video creator, and the answer is usually that Samsung phones make the best vlogging cameras. The front camera has always offered the best stabilization, as well as the ability to capture at QHD resolution. The Galaxy Note 10 elevates this with a suite of features that'll satisfy your most creative needs.
The cameras support live focus video, so you can now apply effects such as varying amounts of bokeh, color point, and a background blur, in real-time while shooting video. There's also a new "Zoom-in Mic" feature, where multiple microphones target the audio from the subject in your frame and minimizes everything else around you. It's not possible to change which microphones are being used or adjust the balance between mics like you can on the LG V-series, but you can turn it on or off.
The super-steady stabilization feature has also been improved from the Galaxy S-series, with a higher sampling rate resulting in smoother video. It also works with hyper-lapse so that you can take some incredible footage from your phone. With all that footage, you can plug it straight into the native video editor, where the S-Pen acts as a mouse in the new video editor and lets you scrub between clips, rearrange your timeline, add text and more. There's also a new version of Adobe Rush that's been optimized for the Galaxy Note. It works with DeX mode, supports HDR10+ and lets you use the video editor on the big screen, powered by your smartphone.
A significant upgrade in charging
Finally, Samsung phones won't be slow to charge. The Galaxy Note 10 brings in a ** colossal** upgrade in charging throughout the phone. Wired charging has been a significant weakness for Samsung. Compared to the competition – companies like Huawei have offered 40W wireless charging for a couple of years – Samsung has lagged behind but the Note 10 changes all of this.
The Galaxy Note 10 finally offers the charging speeds you want from a flagship phone
The Note 10 has a 3,500mAh battery, while the Note 10+ is 4,300mAh. The Note 10 supports 25W wired charging and 12W wireless, while the Note 10+ ups this to 45W wired and 15W wireless. Wired charging is where Samsung has made a considerable improvement; 25-watt charging is almost twice as fast as the previous generation, which took two full hours to charge. Samsung says the 25-watts charger should charge the Note 10 to full in half this time.
With the 45-watt charger and the Note 10+, Samsung says most of the benefit is found in the initial charge where a 30-minute charge will get you a full day's worth of battery life. It would have been nice had Samsung put the 45-watt charger in the box of the Note 10+, but it's nice to see the company finally catch up.
Galaxy Note 10 A great start
Years ago, you could trust Samsung to make tweaks to the Note line having learned from the Galaxy S series, and while it hasn't delivered this in the past few years, it's nice to see the Galaxy Note 10 get the flagship step it deserves.
Unless you absolutely need the S-Pen, it's hard to justify buying a Galaxy Note 10 over the Galaxy S10 or S10+.
The Galaxy S10+ is one fo the best smartphones ever made, and while I prefer the Huawei P30 Pro, the Galaxy Note 10 takes the S10+ and elevates it another step. A more prominent display, bigger better, faster charging, new capabilities, a refined design, and the S-Pen all provide some justification for this price tag. Yet, if the S-Pen isn't crucial to you, it's hard to justify spending the additional premium.
Similarly, the Galaxy Note 10 has a similar problem around justifying value. It's $100 more than the Galaxy S10+, yet it offers an inferior display, smaller battery and lacks a headphone jack and expandable memory. Size-wise it fits between the Galaxy S10 and S10+, yet are the S-Pen and some design tweaks worth paying the premium for? I'd say yes, just for the way it feels in hand, it's still a phone I recommend buying.
If you've been waiting for a smaller Note, a phone that fits your hand like a glove and you absolutely have to have the S-Pen, the Galaxy Note 10 is for you. If you have any doubts about absolutely needing an S-Pen, the Galaxy S10+ or Galaxy S10 will serve your needs. That's the crux of Samsung's new approach: if the Galaxy Note 10+ isn't right for you, there's a Galaxy S10 that's perfect for you.
Bigger, Bolder, Badder
The best phone that Samsung makes
It's an incredible powerhouse that will do everything you ask of it. It features the best hardware, incredible specs, an outstanding display, premium features, and three cameras. Although it drops the headphone jack, it's a small price to pay. This is the best phone you can buy right now, and it's worth the price tag associated with it.
The perfect size phone
Small and incredibly mighty with an S-Pen.
The Galaxy Note 10 packs all the best bits of the Note 10+, but in a much smaller form factor. If past Galaxy Notes have been too big for you, the Galaxy Note 10 is the perfect size. It fits your hand like a glove, and you'll get the best of the Note in a size that you actually enjoy using.
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