“Nobody’s going to buy that,” Steve Jobs said about the outrageously-larger 5.3-inch display that the original Samsung Galaxy Note shipped with, but today just about every phone is bigger than that.
With this year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 10, particularly the Galaxy Note 10+ variant we’re reviewing here, Samsung’s gone bigger, faster and thinner, iterating the original big phone in a meaningful manner to feel more refined and modern. In doing so, has Samsung managed to retain the identity of the Note?
Let’s find out, in our review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is available in Aura Glow, Aura Black and Aura White colorways, at Rs. 79,999 for the 12GB/256GB variant and Rs. 89,999 for the 12GB/512GB variant.
The Hardware: Nailing the brief
Samsung has largely only been refining the design aesthetic over the past couple of years but even so, the Galaxy Note 10+ is a stunning piece of kit, particularly the iridescent Aura Glow variant, dubbed by many peers as “the most difficult phone to photograph…ever”!
You can see why—the rainbow spectrum shifts colors wildly depending on how you hold it, and each time you do, the phone picks up a new bunch of smudges on its glossy back!
Despite only being a hair taller and wider than the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the Galaxy Note 10+ packs in a gargantuan 6.8-inch display (0.4 inches larger!) and a larger 4,300mAh battery in a form factor that’s actually thinner and lighter, which in itself is an engineering marvel!
The result is a phone that’s lacking in bezels, both top/bottom and on the sides – and you’re really going to have to use it the included clear case to improve your grip, particularly if you have average sized hands. The Samsung Galaxy Note has always been an unapologetically two-handed phone, and the Galaxy 10+ is no different.
Of course, we need to address that display – a massive 6.8-inch AMOLED pushing out a QHD+ (3040x1440 pixels) resolution. This is Samsung’s forte, and it shows – the colors are vibrant, the contrast levels are on point and it’s one of the rare HDR10+ panels around – all of which add up to an immersive media consumption experience that’s the envy of its competition. Yep, even accounting for the 90Hz refresh rate that the OnePlus 7 Pro packs.
With the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ variant that’s sold in India, Samsung has kitted it with its new 7-nanometer-process Exynos 9825 chipset, which brings Samsung up to the same spec as Huawei and Qualcomm in the flagship chipset department. No surprises, the 9825 performs like a beast in both everyday use and while gaming, and I expect it will hold its performance over time much like the Galaxy Note 9 that I’ve used on a daily basis for the past year.
Performance on One UI 1.5 (based on Android 9.0 Pie) is expectedly on flagship lines and feels well optimized, though specs nerds will note that the Snapdragon 855 edges ahead in many benchmark scores. Rounding out the hardware is an insane 12GB of memory and a minimum 256GB of fast UFS 3.0 storage, so you’re getting great hardware for the big bucks Samsung is asking you to shell out for this one.
S Pen: Old dog, new tricks
With the way the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy S series are converging, the S Pen stylus is the big differentiator, and it’s picked up a new set of tricks in this version, thanks to the gyroscope and an accelerometer built in. So, while you can take screenshots and doodle on the screen or use the stylus as a remote shutter button (and even draw augmented reality animations on your selfies and videos), you can now assign actions to gestures to launch apps or perform stuff within apps.
For instance, inside the camera app, you can swipe left or right to move between camera modes, or zoom in by drawing an imaginary circle. To be honest, beyond the initial novelty, these actions are often tough to get right and slot firmly in the ‘gimmicks department’, for now. What does work very well is the optical character recognition (OCR) integration within notes, which converts your scrawls into searchable, electronic text.
Galaxy Note 10+ Camera: Big improvements, but not enough
With the exception of the fourth Time of Flight VGA camera, the camera setup on the Note 10+ is nearly identical to the one on the S10+, but Samsung has discernably improved the software algorithm towards better picture quality. Better dynamic range, better low light shots and an ultra-wide-angle camera that can finally do stabilized 4K video!
There’s a new Live Focus Video mode that can dynamically adjust the background blur of the subject in real-time. The default mode is passable, but the “Glitch” mode adds a fun effect to videos. But here’s the bottom line – as good as the photos are (and they’re very good, let me remind you), as versatile as the wide-angle lens is, the images that you make with the Note 10+ are still not at the same level as the Google Pixel 3 / Huawei P30 Pro…and the gap is likely to widen with the Mate 30 series and the new Pixels due in the next couple of months. The S11 has its work cut out for it.
Battery Life: Fast charging redeems lesser longevity
You’d think that the larger battery and more power efficient chip would reap big returns for the Note 10+, right? Not really – the battery lasted a full workday on the highest resolution and with the Always-on Display turned off, but not much more.
That said, you now get a 25W charger in the box which juices up the 4300mAh battery in an impressive 1 hour and 15 mins, and if you’re willing to splurge, you can pick up the optional 45W fast charger. There’s also 15W wireless charging and the PowerShare feature that allows you to charge other devices wirelessly off the rear panel.
The Note 10+: Truly No Compromise?
For a phone that traditionally offered the no-compromise workhorse alternative to the S-series, the Note 10+ makes a few key omissions, and how much they hit you depends on your workflow. First, there’s the switch of the power button to the left edge below the volume keys, which is an odd choice given practically every single phone has the button to the right and it takes a heck of a lot of unlearning to remember to use the index finger, not the thumb, to sleep/wake the device.
What makes matters worse is that for a Galaxy Note 9 user like me, the power button is in the same place as the Bixby button I’d so carefully learned not to hit all of this past year! And then there’s the omission of the 3.5mm jack, an inclusion that, till now, embodied the product philosophy of appealing to power users first. It was inevitable for the legacy port to go, but I was hoping the Note series would take one for the team for a few more years.