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How do you take a great phone and improve it, while making enough changes to differentiate it from all your other flagships? This was the challenge facing Samsung with the Galaxy Note 10+: be different compared to the Galaxy S10 family, while ensuring sales of one do not cannibalize the other.

For years the Note represented the very best Samsung had to offer: the biggest screen, an S-Pen, best performance, best hardware, best camera, and best software. The Galaxy S10+ is already dominating the flagship Android world, which puts less pressure on the Note 10 to be the best, but it also poses a difficult challenge, as Samsung has to justify the $1,100 price tag on the Note 10+ compared to the also great S10+. It also has to make the phone worth it compared to the competition, which has been steadily getting closer in terms of quality over the years.

I've spent four days with the Note 10+ so far, which left me with some takeaways — some of which are not positive. While I'm still working on the full review, I wanted to share some impressions before our full review, which will be published next week.

Big stylus power

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+

The best phone Samsung offers.

The Galaxy Note 10+ is the Galaxy S10+ with some slight tweaks such as a bigger screen, more battery, higher-end specs and the fantastic S-Pen. The key drawbacks? You have to pay a considerable amount for minimal changes, the lowlight camera and you lose the headphone jack.

Stunning design and display

I love the design of the Galaxy Note 10+. Samsung has been delivering an unrivaled hardware design ever since the S6, and the Galaxy Note 10+ represents years of constant refinement of its craft. The result is the most beautiful smartphone you can look at today. The subtle changes to make it a little boxier than the S10 are welcome, while dropping the second selfie camera and moving the first one to the center of the screen and making it smaller results in a symmetry that no other phone can rival.

Check out the MrMobile Galaxy Note 10+ video review above

This is only enhanced by the stunning glass panels on the front and rear, which are held together by an impossibly thin aluminum alloy frame. There's so little metal on this device that dropping it is a real concern. I've already seen some early reviewers damage theirs and while devices like the Note 4 felt like they could handle a bump, you'll want definitely want a case for it.

Many folks will love the new Aura Glow color, which I have here, but I'll go with an unpopular opinion: I don't like it. It's visually stunning, sure, but it attracts too many fingerprints, is near impossible to keep clean, and changes light so much it's hard to always look at it and be happy. Color evokes emotion and while the Aura Glow does refract the entire color spectrum, it doesn't have the gradients and impressive color scheme I've become used to on Huawei devices. This of course will come down to personal preference.

It's so easy to immerse yourself in the Galaxy Note 10+ screen.

Samsung also shrunk the bezels even further, and it's so easy to immerse yourself with the 6.8-inch screen. The gorgeous Dynamic AMOLED panel is bright, clear, visible in direct sunlight, and has great viewing angles. Whatever display setting you use, it offers an incredible experience. Talking of display settings, the QHD+ display comes set to FHD+ out of the box and unleashing all the pixels does have an effect on battery life although we're still testing this further.

Gaming has so far proved to be a solid, if unspectacular experience. The screen provides an incredible canvas on which to game, but I truly miss the 90Hz screen from the OnePlus 7 Pro. That device is made for gaming and super smooth scrolling, and while neither is an issue on the Note 10+, the experience is noticeably inferior. Why Samsung didn't put a 90Hz screen in the Note 10+ is beyond me, perhaps they're saving it for Galaxy S11?

Samsung's biggest weakness remains

It's strange to think that the low-light camera on the Note 10+ is as bad as it is when the regular cameras are so good. Despite it being an Achilles heel for years, Samsung hasn't unlocked the low light camera secret for its phones. It's not that the camera isn't fine, but the Galaxy S10 has the same camera stack and the same low-light camera complaints and Samsung didn't improve it in the slightest for the Note 10+. Considering the S10 was already behind the Pixel 3) and Huawei P30 Pro, and both Google and Huawei are preparing new camera centric devices for later this year, the Galaxy Note 10+ low-light camera is already far behind the curve.

Samsung still does the ultra-wide camera better than the competition.

That said, the rest of the Note 10+ camera seems to deliver an almost identical experience to the Galaxy S10+. Daylight photos are crisp, clean and vibrant, and Samsung still does ultra wide better than anyone else. For the most part, the Note 10+ camera delivers a great experience but as the light goes down, so does its performance. Yes, you can occasionally get good shots using the Night Mode — which takes a really long time to capture an image — but it doesn't compare to the Pixel 3 or Huawei P30 Pro. The latter is the phone camera I recommend to everyone and the Galaxy Note 10+ has done nothing to change my opinion on that, at least for photos.

You won't be buying it for the camera, but the Note 10+ has plenty of other standout features.

It's in video that the Note 10+ really comes to the forefront. Samsung's new stabilization offers Pixel-esque quality, and it's a joy to use even if this particular feature is limited to 1080p. The zoom-in mic feature allows you to focus the audio on the subject and works pretty well, even when zooming in. Yes, it mostly raises the gain but it's a welcome feature to those who shoot video in loud spaces, such as at a concert or by the pier.

There's so much more to unpack with the Note 10 camera and I'm reserving my thoughts until the final review. I will say that you won't be buying the Note 10+ for its camera, which is fine as there are plenty of other standout features the phone offers.

Hardware, performance, and S-Pen

When you buy a Note, you traditionally bought the very best hardware and performance. The Note range is known for being all about the power user, so it's unsurprising that the Galaxy Note 10+ delivers in spades. The Snapdragon 855 processor, 12GB of RAM, and superfast UFS storage result in incredibly smooth performance. This is a phone that can handle anything you throw at it, and it knows it.

AR Doodle on the S-Pen is goofy, fun and invokes joy, and I love it!

Of course, there's an elephant in the room: Samsung removed the headphone jack after years of saying it wouldn't. I can't remember when I last used a wired headphone jack and having developed a Bluetooth headphone workflow that I'm happy with — the Sony WH1000XM3 is my go-to — I'm not too bothered about the lack of headphone jack. You might care about it, and this is very much a personal preference, but with more phones missing the jack than having one, I'm done talking about it.

One of the primary reasons to buy a Note is the S-Pen. This continues to be a polarizing feature, with people split between not caring, wanting the pen but barely using it, and diehard S-Pen fans. Whichever way you fall, if you want a stylus you pretty much have to get the Note. The Note 10+ S-Pen is a joy to use and while I fall in the middle of the aforementioned user bases, the new AR Doodle feature is a particular favorite of mine. It's goofy, fun and invokes joy — when was the last time your phone let you put a smile on your face or someone else's? I've broken down all the new features in the Galaxy Note 10+ S-Pen, and will be digging into it in the final review.

Samsung is delivering a charging experience worthy of a true flagship.

What about battery life? The Galaxy Note 10+ has a huge 4,300 mAh battery that easily delivers all-day battery life. During the past four days, I've been using it heavily and usually end the day with around 15-20% remaining. That's with between 4 and 6 hours screen-on-time if you care about that sort of thing. I've got the screen set to QHD+ instead of FHD+ (its default state) which also inevitably has an effect on battery life. The biggest improvement is the new 25W charger that's included in the box and charges the phone to full in around 68 minutes. By comparison, the Note 9 took almost two hours to charge to full. The new charger is lighting fast and finally, Samsung is delivering a charging experience worthy of a true flagship.

Galaxy Note 10+ review: First Impressions

For years my standard work flow was to switch between the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices every six months. Beginning with the original Galaxy S, my go-to Android phone was always the latest Samsung device. I could rely on it to give me the absolute best experience Samsung had to offer, and in the case of the Note, an S-Pen stylus that I grew up loving over the years.

This all changed with the Galaxy Note 7 and the S8 that came after. Samsung began to prioritize the S series, which made sense from a business perspective as it's the most popular range, but hurt me as a Note fan. Yet, I still used the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy Note 8 since there were no better Android phones on the market.

With the Galaxy S9 last year, Samsung came up against true competition in the form of the P20 Pro. The S9 was technically a great phone, but Huawei delivered a camera that was so far ahead of the competition that I ended up switching. Fast forward almost 18 months and the Note 9 didn't appeal compared to the Mate 20 Pro, and the Galaxy S10 camera still felt inferior to the P30 Pro.

Why the story I hear you ask? Simple. In the past, Samsung was able to iterate with the Note and get away with it as there was nothing better. Yet, the biggest flaw I've found in the Note 10+ so far is also the biggest opportunity for its rivals. Personally, I really like the Note 10+ but when I'm certain I'm going to be taking pics — especially in low light in a rooftop bar or the like — I'm inclined to use my P30 Pro.

Check out the Android Central Galaxy Note 10+ video review above

Huawei and Google are both launching improved camera phones later this year (the former is rumored to be using two 40-megapixel sensors as part of a quad-camera set up in the Mate 30 Pro). Right now, the Note 10+ mostly keeps up with the competition in the camera stakes but a few months from now it will probably be inadequate, at least in low-light. Based on my first impressions, Samsung missed the chance to put a stake in the ground for its cameras and make the Note 10+ different to the Galaxy S10+. Instead, it feels like little more than an S10+ with an S-Pen, which makes it hard to justify buying, especially with that large price tag.

Big stylus power

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+

The best phone Samsung offers.

The Galaxy Note 10+ is the Galaxy S10+ with some slight tweaks such as a bigger screen, more battery, higher-end specs and the fantastic S-Pen. The key drawbacks? You have to pay a considerable amount for minimal changes, the lowlight camera and you lose the headphone jack.

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