Samsung Galaxy Note10 and Note10+ Hands On

With the Note+, Samsung goes big screen without going too big

Samsung Galaxy Note10+ and Note10
Samsung Galaxy Note10+ and Note10.

 Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

“Solid.” That was the first thing I thought as I hefted the new Samsung Galaxy Note+, one of a pair of new Galaxy Note Android smartphones Samsung introduced on Wednesday in Brooklyn.

Samsung Galaxy Note10+
Aside from size, the face of the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ is indistinguishable from the Note10.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Just a few months after Samsung expanded its Galaxy S lineup by one smaller and more affordable phone (the Galaxy S10e), it’s bringing the power of choice to the Note line. The standard Galaxy Note10 is a 6.3-inch display device that is noticeably smaller and lighter than Galaxy Note9. The 6.8-inch Note10+ is remarkably only slightly larger than the Note9 while still managing shed almost a full millimeter of thickness and 5 grams in weight. The smaller Note10 is over 30 grams lighter than the Note9.

Meeting in the Middle

More broadly, Samsung is now collapsing its design and feature aesthetic toward the middle with, really, only the exclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack and the S Pen separating the Galaxy S and Note lines. That said, there are a number of smart design choices that move the Note10, at least at first blush, ahead of even the Galaxy S10 line.

Samsung Galaxy Note10+ front-facing camera
Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 's 10MP front-facing camera. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Like the S10, the Note10 and 10+ drill a hole right through the Dynamic AMOLED screen for its 10 MP selfie camera. However, the Note10 line places this hole dead center and just a few millimeters from the top edge of the phone. This Wes Anderson-friendly design appeals to me, but it may turn off others.

Samsung Galaxy Note10+ rear camera module
There are three cameras in Samsung Galaxy Note10+'s rear camera module and one outside if it, along with the flash and depth sensor.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The rear camera module on the Note 10+ has four (yes four) cameras on the back, as well as an LED flash and a depth-sensor. Even though this camera array of a 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto (2X), 16MP ultra-wide, and a VGA depth-sensor camera is essentially a duplicate of what you’ll find on the Galaxy S10, Samsung opted for a vertical camera alignment that pushes the camera module to the left side of the frame. On the smaller Galaxy Note10, there’s just this module with a small LED circle next to it, but on the Note10+, the VGA depth camera, depth sensor, and LED sit outside the three-lens configuration, just to the right. I don’t know why — maybe it’s the iPhone-esque nature — but I prefer the vertical, pill-shaped module to the last Note camera design.

The Samsung Galaxy Note10 rear camera array
The Samsung Galaxy Note10 has a somewhat simpler rear camera array.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The Same, But Different

With a few notable exceptions, the Note10 and Note10+ differ only in size. Along with the depth camera, the Note10+ adds Samsung’s larger smartphone battery, a 4,300 mAh power source. The Note10 runs with a 3,500 mAh battery, which is slightly smaller than the 6.4-inch Note9’s 4,000 mAh battery.

Bottom of both the Note10 and Note10+
Look, ma, no 3.5mm headphone jacks!.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

The Note10 and 10+ achieve a cleaner look than either the Note9 and the Galaxy S10 by finally dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack. I’ll pause a moment to let you throw a fit.

Now that you got that out of your system, perhaps you can finally see the wisdom of this no longer courageous act.

Samsung told me that giving up that tiny port actually allowed them to add more battery capacity (it’s certainly obvious in the Note10+ that’s still thinner and lighter than the Note9 while offering better battery life).

Samsung Galaxy Note10
These workhorse smartphones are surprisingly thin and light.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Losing that port will cast those with old-school headphones into dongle hell, but others can choose to use the included AKG USB-C headphones. And if they want to charge the Note10 and 10+ at the same time, they can either wirelessly charge or, as with the Galaxy S10, suck a little charge off another Note10 or Galaxy S10 with PowerShare.

Holding this

More than any other Galaxy Notes I’ve held before, the 6.8-inch Note+ felt like a luxurious, solid piece of glass. The back shimmered in the light as I turned it, while the front is a generous expanse of pixels that reaches virtually from edge to edge.

Samsung Galaxy S10+
This 6.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S10+ is so shiny, and a bit of a fingerprint magnet,.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Like the last Note and even the Galaxy S series, the Note10 and 10+ are built on a rigid metal fame, but 99% of what your hand touches is Gorilla Glass.

Samsung really has perfected the art of building big screen smartphones that are comfortable to hold. Tapering the screens and backs along the edges is part of the solution, but so is the physical size and weight. Samsung will surely be applauded for amping up the power, performance, and battery life without delivering another brick of a phone.

Take a close look at these dimension and weight comparisons

Dimension Comparison: Size (mm)

Note10:             71.8mm            151.0mm             7.9mm

Note10+:           77.2mm            162.3mm             7.9mm

Note9                76.4mm            161.9mm             8.8mm

S10+                 74.1mm            157.6mm             7.8mm

Weight Comparison:

Note10:             168g

Note10+:           196g

Note9                201g

S10+                 175g (ceramic is 198g)

Overall, the Galaxy S10 is the size and weight champ, but then it doesn’t include an S Pen.

Write This Down

As always, the S Pen is Samsung’s smartphone x-factor. Apple is now comfortable selling you a Bluetooth stylus, the Apple Pencil, for its tablets, but it’s unlikely they will every build a phone with one (or even offer Apple Pencil-compatible iPhone).

Samsung S Pen
Samsung just keeps refining this increasingly versatile S Pen.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Samsung manages to stick the thickness landing by once again redesigning its S Pen. It’s now a little more rounded and has lost the bit of chrome on the rear third. Like the Galaxy Tab S6 S Pen I looked at last week, this tiny Bluetooth-enabled S Pen is also gesture enabled.

I held down the S Pen button and waved the pen up and down to switch between the rear and forward cameras. If I swept left or right, I changed camera modes. A semi-circle motion (clockwise or counter-clockwise) controlled the 2X optical zoom. This is smart stuff.

There are a few other notable S Pen updates including the ability to convert written notes to text and share with Microsoft Word, though these are more a function of the smartphone software than the S Pen hardware itself.

Power you expect

Last year, I remember falling in love with the Note9’s raw mobile gaming power. The Galaxy Note10 and Note10+ look equally prepared to support my Fortnite campaigns.

Like the Galaxy S10 line, the Note10 and 10+ are equipped with the 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. This top-of-the-line mobile CPU should support all your most intense gaming quests. Somehow, Samsung also managed to squeeze in an ultra-slim vapor chamber for heat management. In addition, the company included the same AI-based Game Booster technology I found in the Tab S6. As with that tablet, Game Booster is designed to analyze the games you play and then optimize performance, frame rates, and battery usage.

My hands-on time didn’t afford me the time an opportunity for any extensive gaming, so I’ll reserve judgement on the effectiveness of this chamber and the game boosting technology.

Samsung Galaxy S10 with Live Focus Video
Samsung Galaxy S10+'s Live Focus Video blurs the background of live video,.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Samsung is using all that processing power in other, more productivity-enhancing ways. Most of the Note10 and Note10+ video-shooting chops are essentially the same as what you’ll find on the S10 (including super-slo-mo). However, Samsung is trying something new with its video capture, adding a Live Focus Video mode, which lets you adjust background blur (bokeh) around a subject while shooting live video.

As someone who shoots virtually all his YouTube videos with a smartphone, I got very excited when heard this news. Almost all flagship smartphones now shoot portrait mode stills, which gives you a pro-camera-like bokeh effect. DSLRs allow you to choose a focus point, set a short depth of field and shoot video for a pro-level look. Now, with Live Focus Video mode, Samsung is trying to merge these disciplines. At least that’s the promise. In my very, very brief hands-on with this effect, the end result looked very much “V 1.0.” Part of the problem is that if I was too close to my subject, the bokeh effect disappeared. DSLRs don’t, obviously, have that limitation.

Live Video Mode also introduces the ability to change just the background to black and white as well as an old-school VHS-tape effect. They’re cool, but of limited utility for pros.

I am anxious to try out another pro-video feature, though: the new Zoom-In Mic. Basically the Note10 and Note10+ seek to solve one of phone video shooting’s biggest problems — audio quality — by tracking in-frame subjects and, as you zoom in on them, enhancing the audio coming from the subject, while diminishing background noise.

I doubt this will work better than attaching a lavalier microphone, but it’s a brilliant idea.

Finally, Samsung has dipped its toe in the Apple iMovie competitor waters, introducing its own native Video editor. From what I could see, it allows clip editing and compiling and some nifty on-video effects like adding text, images, and drawings, but I’m not sure it quite meets iMovie’s power and flexibility. If it doesn’t, though, there will be strong options, like Adobe’s new a native version of Adobe Premiere Rush. I use Rush on the iPhone and iPad and absolutely love it.

AR Art

Samsung didn’t spend much time with me going over new AR features, but did highlight its new AR Doodle capabilities, which let you draw 3D doodles on live photos and video using, naturally, the S Pen or your finger. More interestingly, the Note10 and Note10+ recognize faces and will remember whatever doodle was attached each face and replace them when each subject moves back into frame. The good news is all that face recognition info is all stored locally on the device.

AR Doodling on the Samsung Galaxy Note10+
AR Doodling on the Samsung Galaxy Note10+.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Secure Me

Like the Galaxy S10 line, the Note10 and Note10+ both have in-screen fingerprint readers. The functionality is roughly the same, but Samsung told me the location is screen-size optimized and response time is now even faster than it was on the S10.

You can also unlock the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and Note10+ with a Pin, Swipe Pattern, and, yes, your face. Iris recognition is not included.

For those who want to get even more out of their mobile phone, there’s Samsung DeX, the desktop productivity software that lets you connect the Note10 and Note10+ to a large screen and use it like a desktop. You can drag and drop content, but otherwise, data that’s on the phone stays protected in Samsung’s Knox, enterprise-level security system.

Price and, Yes, 5G

These are not cheap phones, but it does look like the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and Note10+ are now better values.

The price of the base model, the Samsung Galaxy Note10, is now $949. The Note9 was $999. What’s more, the base Note10 has more memory and storage. Instead of 6GB of RAM, the Note10 has 8GB, and instead of starting with 128GB of storage, the Note10 starts with 256GB. The Note10+ is $1099 and starts with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It also includes a microSD slot for storage expansion, while the Note10 does not.

Samsung Galaxy Note10
Samsung Galaxy Note10. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Naturally, Samsung has a Note10+ 5G model, which I did not see. Samsung said it’s the same size, but 2 grams heavier. Just be ready to open your pocketbook a bit further for blazing fast connectivity (in what's still just a handful of markets). The 5G model starts at $1,299 exclusively on Verizon (eventually expanding to other carriers).

Samsung plans to include a 25W fast charger that can fully charge either phone in an hour. You can also buy an optional 45W charger that offers a day of battery life after about 30 minutes of charge time.

It’s too early to draw conclusions about the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and Note10+, but, at first blush, these smartphones look, feel, and perform like apex Android smartphones. Aside from price (and that’s a big aside), it’s getting harder and harder to justify buying any other Android handset.

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