There has been a lot of anticipation for Samsung’s upcoming flagship smartphone, and with good reason. There was a lot to look forward to with the Galaxy Note 10. Samsung is switching up its strategy this time around and coming out with a 1-2 punch. It has launched two models of the flagship – the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy Note 10+. The company says that it wants to cater to customers that are new to the Galaxy Note family with the former and the Note loyalists with the latter.
This Galaxy Note 10/Note 10+ hands-on is an early look at the flagship and the new features that it offers. We’ll have a full review of both devices up soon. We went hands-on with the two devices in New York City where they were unveiled at the Unpacked event. So let's dive right in.
Galaxy Note 10/Note 10+ hands-on: Design and feel
Samsung has got nailing the premium feel for its devices down to an exact science. The solid metal frame coupled with the glass on both ends really does make you feel the exceptional build quality. That absolutely stands true for the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+. Direct comparisons with the Galaxy Note 9 will be unavoidable for obvious reasons and the new flagship has got quite a bit going for it. Both models are noticeably slimmer at 7.9mm compared to the 8.8mm Galaxy Note 9. Having used them side-by-side, we were impressed with how Samsung has trimmed off the excess bulk to make the device sleek.
There is one thing that will take some time getting used to if you’ve been using an older Galaxy Note device. The power button has taken the place of the Bixby key and now resides on the left side of the phone, below the volume buttons. You’ll find yourself pressing down on the right frame purely due to muscle memory. It’s not a terrible inconvenience, though, and you’ll probably stop noticing it after using the device for a couple of weeks.
This also happens to be Samsung's first Galaxy Note handset with a Cinematic Infinity Display. It trims the bezels significantly and achieves what Samsung refers to as an “edge-to-edge display.” That allowed the company to fit a larger display without having to increase the overall dimensions of the device.
The 151mm Galaxy Note 9 has a 6.4-inch display while the marginally taller 162.3mm Galaxy Note 10+ touts a 6.8-inch display, the biggest yet on a Galaxy Note flagship, with a larger 4,300mAh battery. What’s unique about this Infinity display is that the camera cutout isn’t positioned in the right corner. It’s smack dab in the center of the display. It really doesn’t feel out of place and some would argue that it’s a better implementation of this compared to the Galaxy S10+, which has an unsightly pill-shaped cutout for its dual front camera. We certainly seem to think so.
Another noticeable design change is the repositioning of the rear camera system. The triple-camera system is now vertically positioned at the back compared to the horizontal dual-camera of the Galaxy Note 9. You may have noticed that there's something missing at the back. For starters, there's no fingerprint sensor since the new flagship has an in-display sensor. Samsung has also removed the heart rate sensor so if you want to track it, you'll have to buy a Galaxy Watch Active. It's not as cluttered as before which is a good thing. Samsung has achieved a sleek look while retaining that signature Galaxy Note silhouette. Full marks to Samsung's design department.
Productivity is the Galaxy Note’s shtick. That’s what the narrative has been about this series since 2011 when the original Galaxy Note was released. Samsung has continued to improve the productivity features with each iteration and that holds true for the Galaxy Note 10 as well.
The redesigned unibody S Pen can now be used in the new Samsung Notes to instantly convert handwritten notes to digital text. That's a great feature for those who tend to take a lot of quick notes and would like the ability to share them as text. The feature does work as advertised but you will have to make an effort to write cleanly as untidy penmanship will result in slightly inaccurate conversions. That digital text can also be quickly shared in different formats, including Microsoft Word. Handwritten notes can be customized as it's possible to change their color, enlarge or shrink them.
Samsung has expanded its partnership with Microsoft to integrate the Link to Windows feature into the Quick Panel. You can connect to your Windows 10 PC with a single tap and see notifications, send and receive messages, etc. It will also be possible to make and receive phone calls starting Q4 this year. Samsung has also improved DeX for the Galaxy Note 10 so it's easier to work between the phone and a PC or Mac. It supports drag and drop file sharing between the two devices and the ability to use mobile apps with a mouse and keyboard.
There's also a new feature called Air actions. It enables gesture control for some aspects of the device with the S Pen. Samsung has only shown its implementation in the camera app but it's opening up the SDK for developers so expect to do more with the S Pen in other apps soon.
The triple-camera setup is largely the same as the Galaxy S10. 12-megapixel f1.5/f2.4 wide-angle camera with OIS, a 16-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera with 123-degree field of view, and a 12-megapixel f/2.1 telephoto camera. The only difference here is that the telephoto camera's aperture will be wider at f/2.1 compared to the f/2.4 that Samsung has been using on every flagship since the Galaxy Note 8. This should, at least in theory, allow for improved performance in low-light conditions. We'll be able to pass judgement on that once we perform a full review of the camera. The Galaxy Note 10+ also gets a ToF sensor.
While the hardware breaks no new ground, Samsung has introduced some interesting new software features for the camera. There's a Zoom-In Mic mode which will drown out the background noise and amplify the audio so, in theory, you can focus on the audio by zooming in on the street performer to drown out the crowd's noise. We'll put this to the test in our full Galaxy Note 10 review. We played around with AR Doodle which lets you use the S Pen to personalize your videos with drawings and effects that tracks the chosen subject. So, for example, if you draw a crown on your friend's head and they exit the frame, that drawing will disappear and won't show up in the video until they enter the frame again. It's a pretty neat feature that works well. Live focus video, which was previously available on the Galaxy S10 5G and the Galaxy A80, is present on the Galaxy Note 10+ as well (thanks to the ToF sensor).
The Camera app also gives us our first glimpse of Air actions which, to be honest, might feel gimmicky to most. Press the S Pen button while pointing it at the screen and make a clockwise circle. It will continue to zoom in until you unpress the button. Go counterclockwise to zoom out. Press the button and flip up or down to switch between the front and rear cameras. Swipe left or right to move between the different camera modes. It’s hard to think of a reason to use these Air actions when simply tapping on the display with your finger will always be faster. However, they will come in handy if you’ve got the device on a tripod and need to control these options from afar.
Building on the Note lineup's strengths
We’ll soon have the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+ in for a full review so do stay tuned for that. Our initial impressions of the new flagship is that it plays on the Galaxy Note lineup’s strengths, which have always been to offer customers a device that can keep up with them throughout the day, while also providing them with the tools to explore their passions and creativity. The Galaxy Note 10 has plenty of tools in its arsenal to make that happen, such as the fact that the base model now features 256GB of internal storage, even though some may find fault with the microSD slot’s removal on the smaller of the two models.
We like what we see so far. The Galaxy Note 10+ in particular is a promising flagship, one that Note loyalists will appreciate. We’ll talk more about its strengths and weaknesses in our full reviews for the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+. They should be up in a few weeks.
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