Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review: Big, beautiful, and powerful
With the Galaxy Note 10+, Samsung has taken the Note series back to its roots. There are two Note models this time around, and one of them isn’t really the kind of all-encompassing flagship phone we expect a Note device to be. However, as Samsung said when it announced the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+, the former is for newcomers while the latter is meant for Note loyalists.
And the Note 10+ gets you the biggest screen yet in the Note lineup. At 6.8 inches, it’s 0.4 inches larger than the Galaxy Note 9 or Galaxy S10+ display. It also has some amazing specs, like 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage on the base variant, and up to 45W fast charging, making it the most feature-packed phone from Samsung this year.
The S Pen is naturally a part of the package, with some new features in its kitty to stand out from the already excellent stylus Samsung bundled with the Galaxy Note 9. The headphone jack, sadly, has been given the boot, a move that many long-time Galaxy fans will deride with a passion. Others, however, will just shrug and look towards their wireless earbuds, which are becoming increasingly mainstream.
The Note 10+ also has a starting price of $1100, and this review will tell you if it justifies that high price tag, so let’s dive right in.
Galaxy Note 10+ design
The Galaxy Note 10+ is a big phone. It may be just a millimeter longer and wider than the Galaxy Note 9 while sporting a 6.8-inch display, but it’s not built for one-handed use. Far from it, actually. Since there is barely any bezel, the screen stretches up to almost the edges of the device on all corners, making it impossible to reach elements of the user interface at the top of the display with one hand.
Samsung has even placed the under-display fingerprint sensor higher than it was on the Galaxy S10+, although I found that to be a benefit here as you don’t have to awkwardly move your thumb down to the bottom edge of the display to scan your fingerprint. Furthermore, even if it’s not a one-handed device, the Note 10+ is rather easy to handle for a phone with such a big screen. And it also helps that the Note 10+ is so sleek. At 7.9mm, it is nearly a millimeter thinner than the Note 9 and just 0.1mm thicker than the Galaxy S10+.
Of course, the phone feels extremely premium as well. If you thought the Galaxy S10 feels great, you should try out the Note 10+. It’s a design refined to perfection – there may not be any stainless steel on this phone, but the design is totally worth the asking price. It’s even more impressive when you consider there’s an S Pen in there, although the thinner design is no doubt one of the reasons the headphone jack was given the boot.
After all, a 4,300 mAh battery under the hood, a compartment for the stylus, and other high-end hardware inside a thin frame means there isn’t a lot of space to waste. And, according to Samsung, removing the headphone allowed it to increase the battery capacity by 100 mAh and also equip the phone with enhanced haptic feedback. The latter, I can verify, is true, as vibration on the Note 10+ is sharper and less brash than any other Galaxy smartphone.
The Note 10+ has glass on the back like every Galaxy flagship, and this time, the rear cameras are on the top left edge instead of the center. Since the phone is very sleek, the camera module does jut out of the body a bit, but not as much as to make the phone wobble while it’s sitting on a hard surface. There is a slight wobble on the top left of the display, yet it never comes in the way when you’re tapping the screen with the phone lying down on a table or other solid surface.
The back also looks stunning on the new Aura Glow variant. Samsung’s gone all in here – based on how it catches the light, the Aura Glow Note 10+ (and Note 10) treats you to a myriad of different colors and hues that will have you drooling for the first few days. Even if you won’t really see the back of the phone all too often, other people will, and rest assured that heads will turn. And if Aura Glow is too shiny for you, Samsung has decided not to add gradient effects to the other color options, so you can get the usual black and white and the beautiful blue shade, at least if it’s available in your country.
Oh, and the Bixby button is no more. The Galaxy Note 10+ (and Note 10) has just volume and power keys, and the power key is now on the left side of the phone. If you take screenshots a lot and have been a long-time user of Galaxy smartphones, well, it will take some time for you to adjust to the new button placement. The same goes for getting out of the habit to keep pressing the power key thinking it’s the Bixby key, at least if you are coming from another Galaxy phone with a dedicated Bixby button.
Galaxy Note 10+ display
The 6.8-inch Cinematic AMOLED display on the Note 10+ is amazing. There’s nothing else you expect from Samsung’s flagship phones, and like the Galaxy S10, the Note 10+ display has all the right ingredients: vivid yet realistic colors, deep blacks, and high brightness levels in even the harshest of ambient light. As mentioned earlier, this is the biggest screen on any Galaxy flagship yet, and that makes things like checking out the latest episode of your favorite show on Netflix, browsing the web, and playing PUBG with your friends even more enjoyable.
S Pen aficionados will seriously appreciate all that screen estate. You have more space to draw and write with the stylus, and you also have more space to rest your hand while you’re using the stylus. The curved display still presents a problem for S Pen input by making it harder to write at the edges, but the larger display makes it less of an issue than on previous Note flagships with curved displays. However, when you’re operating the phone by hand, the slim bezels result in accidental touches a bit too often, at least in the first few days as you try and learn how to best hold the phone to avoid them.
Now, about that camera cutout, or punch hole as it’s more popularly known. Samsung has made a good decision to put it in the center of the display in my eyes; the hole is also smaller here than on the S10 lineup. I didn’t mind the right-edge placement of the front camera(s) on the Galaxy S10, but having the hole in the center makes for a more uniform look. And, frankly, you won’t really notice it’s there after a couple of days with the phone, or at least not be bothered by it.
It’s also a good thing that there is no dual front camera nonsense this time around. The Galaxy S10+ has two front cameras that don’t really offer any meaningful benefit. You just get to live with a wide pill-shaped cutout that looks pretty bad. Sure, even the S10+’s wider punch hole is easy to ignore after a few weeks, but still, it was something that didn’t need to be there and it’s great to see Samsung has done the needful and stuck with a single front-facing camera for both the Note 10 and Note 10+.
The in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, as mentioned earlier, is located slightly above where the Galaxy S10 had it, but it works the same. It’s quick most of the time and you need to apply pretty much the same pressure you would when tapping the screen when using the phone in general, but you do need to hold the finger there for a second. You’ll get used to it in no time – you’ll never see it replacing the speed and precision of a physical capacitive fingerprint sensor, but having the fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone makes up for that.
Galaxy Note 10+ S Pen
As you’d expect, the latest Notes bring new S Pen features, and after adding Bluetooth to the S Pen last year with the Note 9 so it could act as a remote, Samsung has now equipped it with an accelerometer and a gyroscope to enable air gestures, or Air actions as the company calls them. On the Note 10+ (and Note 10), you press the S Pen button and wave the stylus in different directions to control the phone. Flicking it up or down controls the volume in media apps, and in the camera, it switches between the front and rear cameras.
You can change camera modes by flicking the S Pen left or right, and rotating it clockwise and counterclockwise zooms in and out in the camera. Gesturing right and left in the Gallery app, meanwhile, lets you go to the next photo or the previous one. It’s important to note that you’re supposed to press the button for like a second, perform the gesture, and then immediately let go, or the phone will treat it as a long press. And if you’re in the camera app, for example, you’ll end up taking burst photos.
Hovering over the Air command icon with the S Pen when inside an app will throw a popup telling you what gestures are supported in that app – you can also customize what each gesture will do. Only first-party apps are supported for now, but Samsung will allow third-party developers to implement the gestures in their apps by using its software development kit (SDK). Of course, whether you’ll be even interested in using the gestures by the time third-party apps start supporting them remains to be seen. They can be useful, but they’re not something everyone will consider to be more than gimmicks.
What isn’t a gimmick is the new instant handwriting to text conversion in the Samsung Notes app. On the Note 10 and Note 10+, you can write something down in Samsung Notes with the S Pen and then have it instantly converted into text that you can copy and edit; you can also replace your handwriting with the recognized text in the note, which is great for making quick grocery lists. No, handwriting conversion isn’t new to Note phones, but Samsung has now added a button for it in the Notes app for instant conversion.
And it works pretty well most of the time, unless your handwriting is so illegible that even doctors would find it hard to decipher. The only thing I didn’t like is that the handwriting conversion button isn’t visible when you’re making a note by using the Create note option from the Air Command menu or using Screen off memo (for those new to the Note world, Screen off memo lets you start writing with the stylus as soon as it’s out of its slot, without needing to turn the screen on manually). Hopefully, Samsung can change this with a software update later down the line.
As for the remote features, nothing has changed. You can set actions for a single and double press of the S Pen button inside various apps. By default, a single and double press will take pictures and switch cameras respectively in the camera app. In the Gallery app, you can go to the next or previous picture. Inside Samsung Notes, a single press will switch to your favorite pen or change your brush color, and a double press will fire up the eraser. The S Pen’s remote features are very handy, and the stylus now has longer battery life – up to 10 hours according to Samsung.
Galaxy Note 10+ cameras
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.
Photo quality is pretty much the same as the Galaxy S10. You get photos with excellent dynamic range, sufficient detail, and punchy colors that don’t go overboard in daylight conditions. The same applies in low-light conditions, although detail isn’t usually that great as Samsung focuses on noise reduction. That’s where the dedicated Night mode comes in, however. Night mode on the Note 10+ is as good as it is on the Galaxy S10 lineup. You get sharper pictures with lower noise and light sources are better exposed – the ultra-wide camera benefits the most from Night mode, owing to its narrow aperture.
The telephoto camera can also be used in Night mode now and that makes for improved pictures when combined with the wider aperture of the telephoto lens. Unfortunately, both in the standard Photo mode and Night mode, you still see the phone switching to digital zoom when there isn’t ample light. But at least you can take Night mode pictures while being zoomed in on the Note 10+. That isn’t possible on the Galaxy S10 or other Galaxy flagships with a dedicated Night mode, although I’m assuming the option will come to those devices with the Android 10 update.
Check out a gallery of photos taken in Night mode below. You will also see the regular picture of the same scene next to the Night mode picture so you have a good idea of the difference it can make.
You must be wondering why I speak of the Note 10+ as having only three rear cameras. Well, it’s because the fourth rear camera isn’t a camera in the traditional sense: It’s a time-of-flight (ToF) 3D depth sensor that makes it possible to make 3D scans of objects and people and measure sizes of and the camera’s distance to real-world objects. It also helps with better separation of the foreground and background in bokeh photos with the Live Focus mode, and that does result in slightly better bokeh pictures compared to previous Galaxy devices.
But the 3D scanning leaves a lot to be desired. Currently, it has multiple limitations: An object must be between 20 to 80 cubic centimeters in size, it must not be reflective nor must there be too much light in the scene, and you need to make sure there is nothing around the object or face that you’re trying to scan. Even with the right conditions, I found the phone comically messing up my wife’s face, and it also kept throwing errors when trying to scan non-human objects, asking me to try again. Perhaps I didn’t understand how to use the 3D scanning feature properly, but for me, it was a very poor experience.
For selfies, you get a single 10MP camera with Dual Pixel autofocus and F2.2 aperture. The aperture has gone down on the Note 10 and 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. You get sufficient detail and very little noise in all but the toughest of lighting conditions. The camera defaults to a cropped view that can switched to the full field of view when you want to take selfies with a group of people or want more of the background to fit in.
The Note 10+ also brings Night mode support for selfies, but I’d suggest not to use it unless it’s really dark. In regular low-light conditions, Night mode selfies manage to properly expose sources of light behind you, but it also oddly discolors your face and the added sharpness also makes the selfie look a lot less pleasing. When it’s really dark, Night mode helps by brightening up the picture, but even then the photo isn’t really very nice to look at.
Check out the two comparisons below to see what I mean. The first is with good lighting, the other with very poor lighting (swipe left for the Night mode picture). Another issue with Night mode is being able to hold the phone steady for Night mode to produce non-blurry pics. It’s hard to keep the phone steady when you’re holding it in your outstretched hand, and while I didn’t always see shaky pics despite noticing the phone moving around a bit, it’s an issue nonetheless.
The Galaxy Note 10+ (and Note 10) also comes with two new camera features called Live focus video and AR Doodle. First, let’s talk about the former. Live Focus video was introduced on the Galaxy S10 5G and then on the Galaxy A80 and lets you record videos with background blur. The bokeh videos don’t always separate the object in focus very well, at least when captured with the rear camera. The intensity of the blur isn’t very strong, either, so you’re basically just getting slightly more artistic videos than regular videos.
Thankfully, Live Focus videos with the front camera work pretty well, as you can see in the videos below. I also love the new Glitch blur effect available for both the rear and front camera. It basically adds a colorful distortion to the background and looks very cool. Another effect for bokeh videos and pictures is called Big circle. It enhances the blur that you’d get with the basic blur effect, but it tends to produce plenty of artefacts. Effects seen on the Galaxy S10, like Color point that makes the background black and white, are available on the Note 10+ as well, but you can’t change those effects on the fly when recording videos or by editing them later.
AR Doodle is the next big camera feature that Samsung showed off at the Galaxy Note 10 launch. It’s like Snapchat filters on steroids: You aim the camera at someone, doodle something on their face with the S Pen, and then start recording a video and the phone will track the person’s face and show whatever you drew on top of their face every time they are in the frame. This even works with inanimate faces, like the theater face masks that I recorded at a movie theater.
If not people, you can mark up objects in the frame and the phone will remember their position. The one issue I noticed is that it’s hard to write text in AR Doodle. It works great with drawings, but you can’t write text as fluidly as you can when taking notes with the S Pen. Another limitation is that AR Doodle video recordings are limited to a minute. Still, all things considered, it’s a fun little feature that many will like.
Galaxy Note 10+ performance
If you’ve used the Galaxy S10, you would have noticed how it’s smoother than any Galaxy phone. Samsung no doubt threw in additional optimization for its tenth-anniversary Galaxy S flagship, and that has carried over to the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ as well. The Note 10+ never falters when you’re navigating through the user interface, with smooth animations all throughout. Apps load quickly and the 12GB of RAM ensures there are no slowdowns. The phone keeps its cool even after long gaming sessions, only getting a little warm to the touch.
However, the faster UFS 3.0 storage inside the Galaxy Note 10+ doesn’t seem to make any noticeable difference in performance compared to the Galaxy S10. I thought it did when I first started using the phone, but it turns out that everything from installing apps to saving videos after editing them (or saving Night mode pictures in the camera app) happens at the same pace as the Galaxy S10 lineup. Is that a bad thing? Not really, but if there are supposed to be substantial gains from the UFS 3.0 storage, I didn’t see them.
Performance when using the phone in DeX mode is also pretty good, and the 12GB of RAM makes multitasking in DeX mode a breeze. However, there’s a slight input lag when you use Samsung’s DeX app on Windows or macOS. This seems to be a limitation of DeX in general as it does work through a USB cable, but Samsung needs to optimize things more if it wants to keep telling customers how its phones let you do stuff like a PC.
Galaxy Note 10+ software
The Galaxy Note 10+ (and Note 10) runs Android 9 Pie with One UI 1.5 and offers mostly the same experience as the Galaxy S10 lineup. You have the usual features you expect, like Edge screen widgets, Always On Display, Secure Folder, Samsung Pay, Bixby Voice, Bixby Home, Bixby Routines, Dual Messenger, navigation gestures (with the option to disable the S Pen from activating the gestures when you’re typing something), facial recognition, one-handed mode, system-wide Night mode, Game Launcher, and themes support.
Among the new stuff, there is Link to Windows, which is basically a quick toggle in the notification shade to fire up Microsoft’s Your Phone app that lets you check notifications, messages, and pictures from your phone on your PC. You can record video screenshots out of the box thanks to the Screen recorder feature, with the option to add a selfie video and doodle with the S Pen or your finger on top of whatever on-screen content is being recorded. Samsung’s Game Tools feature has been renamed Game Booster and now lets you monitor device temperature and shows you how long you can game before the battery runs out.
The Note 10+ also supports running Samsung DeX as an app on Windows and macOS. Why would you want to do that when DeX’s entire purpose is to let you use your phone as a PC? Well, you can transfer files from your PC to your phone by dragging files into the Samsung DeX window (this doesn’t work the other way around), and it’s also great if you want to play a mobile game on your PC monitor. With games like Asphalt 9 from Gameloft, the experience is great since they officially support using the keyboard, and it could also be a benefit in competitive games like PUBG.
Now that the power button doubles up as the Bixby key, you can customize what a single or double press of the power button will do. Out of the box, a double press will launch the camera as always, and a long press will wake up Bixby Voice. The power options can be accessed from the power button in the notification shade or by pressing and holding the volume down and power keys. A double press can be assigned to open the Bixby homepage or any app you prefer. A regular press of the power button continues to turn the screen on and off.
Galaxy Note 10+ audio quality
First, let’s talk about the fact that the Note 10 and Note 10+ have no traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. Yes, Samsung has finally done what fans of the company had been dreading, and those who must have a 3.5mm jack on their phone will simply have to skip the Note 10+ (and Note 10). They could buy Samsung’s USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, but there’s still the fact that you won’t be able to charge the phone while you’re listening to music, and Samsung isn’t offering any official dual USB-C accessory that makes charging and audio output possible at the same time.
However, if you use wireless earbuds, are okay with switching to USB-C headphones, or just have no issue using a dongle, then the Note 10+ has the same excellent audio experience as any other Galaxy flagship in the last couple of years. There’s a USB-C version of the AKG-tuned earphones in the box, and they handle low frequencies (bass) and high frequencies (treble) pretty well, although the focus continues to be on the latter. Enabling Dolby Atmos gives you virtual surround sound, and the volume gets a boost as well, but nothing distorts.
The stereo speakers on the phone are AKG-tuned as well. As we had explained in a separate article, Samsung has made a small hole at the top of the phone, next to the SIM slot, to ensure that the Note 10 and Note 10+ have the same audio output over the loudspeakers as the Galaxy S10 devices. And the speakers sound great. They’re loud and don’t distort at the highest volume, although a little more thump would have been nice.
Galaxy Note 10+ battery life and charging
The Galaxy Note 10+ has a 4,300 mAh battery, the biggest yet on any Note or Galaxy S flagship (not counting the 5G-enabled Galaxy S10). And it is powered by the 7nm Exynos 9825 chipset that should technically be more efficient than the 8nm Exynos 9820 found in the Galaxy S10 lineup. Is that the case in practice? Well, yes. The Note 10+ can usually last all day with two SIMs active, although screen on times weren’t as impressive as I was expecting them to be.
Still, what matters is that the Note 10+ can get you to the end of the day on most days, and battery life will likely improve further with software updates and as the phone learns and uses Bixby to adapt to your usage patterns. Indeed, while the Galaxy S10+’s Exynos variant had rather disappointing battery life out of the box despite its 4,100 mAh battery, things have improved considerably since then, and if the same happens on the Note 10+, it should display endurance that matches its battery capacity once you’ve used the phone for a few weeks.
Or it may not improve much, since the Note 10+ does have a big display that will draw more power even if the screen resolution is the same (set to Full HD+ out of the box). But that’s okay, since the Note 10+ comes with a 25W charger out of the box and is amazingly quick at reaching 100 percent charge. 65 minutes is all you need for a 0 to 100% charge, and 65-67% of that charge comes up in the first 30 minutes of charging. It’s great to finally have a Galaxy flagship that can go toe to toe with competing smartphones — and actually beat them — as far as charging speeds are concerned.
As for the separately available 45W charger, it isn’t available here in India so I haven’t been able to test it, but others on the internet have. Is it a purchase you should make? Well, unless you live a life that requires you to take advantage of every single second, the answer is no. According to one charging test, the 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.
And that’s not enough of a difference to justify the $49 price tag of the 45W charger. Again, it might be if you want to have the fastest charging speeds possible on your phone, and some will argue that Samsung should 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. You’re better off spending money on getting that USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, or saving up to buy Samsung’s newest wireless charger for 15W wireless charging, which is the same as the Galaxy S10’s wired charging speed.
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, but nothing is stopping you from charging other phones as well. Indeed, this still makes for a cool feature to show off to your friends, especially those who own one of the latest iPhones that support wireless charging.
Galaxy Note 10+ verdict
The Galaxy S10+ was an excellent flagship phone when it launched (and got better later on), and the Note 10+ takes it up a few notches. You don’t get a headphone jack, but you get a much larger screen in not-so-much-larger dimensions, much faster charging, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage on the base variant, and a bigger battery. You get some neat new camera features and also a more efficient version of Samsung’s Exynos chipset (unless you’re in the US, Canada, or China where the Snapdragon model is sold).
However, the S Pen is always going to be the differentiating factor between a Galaxy S and a Galaxy Note flagship, and you’ll need to ask yourself if you need the features the stylus provides when deciding if the Note 10+ is for you. If the S Pen isn’t necessary, the Galaxy S10+ offers a similar experience and can be found for some excellent discounts. It also has a headphone jack, if that’s a feature that’s important for you.
But, if you want the best Samsung has to offer and don’t mind the price tag, you can’t go wrong with the Galaxy Note 10+. It’s a big, beautiful, and powerful flagship that you will love, just as long as you can live without a headphone jack.
|Beautiful big AMOLED display with tiny bezels, centered punch hole, ultrasonic fingerprint display||No 3.5mm headphone jack, no dongle in the box|
|Compact design considering the screen size, Aura Glow version looks stunning||45W charger is a separate purchase|
|Excellent performance, 12GB of RAM and 256GB storage on base model||3D scanning with fourth rear camera needs a lot of work|
|All-day battery life, crazy fast charging||Camera still uses digital zoom in poor lighting despite wider telephoto lens aperture|
|Camera setup takes excellent photos in all conditions||UFS 3.0 storage makes no visible difference in performance|
|AR Doodle is fun to use, Night mode works for selfies and 2x zoom photos|
|S Pen as good as ever, now has remote and gesture functionality|
|Great audio quality|
|One UI continues to be beautiful and intuitive, now supports Samsung DeX on Windows and Mac|