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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Large, vibrant screen
Beefy starting storage
S Pen packs handy perks
Cut down from Note10+
Battery life should be better
No microSD support
No headphone port
There’s a lot to love about the Galaxy Note10, from the gorgeous design and screen, to the beefy specs, but it isn’t as premium as the extra-capable Galaxy Note10+.
We purchased the Samsung Galaxy Note10 so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note phones have long held the reputation of being the largest and most powerful around, not to mention some of the most expensive. Pair that with the Note’s defining feature as the only flagship-level phone to feature a pop-out stylus, and the phones have been relatively niche offerings for business users.
For 2019, Samsung has opted for a slightly different approach. The Galaxy Note10 is still large, very powerful, and very expensive—and once again, it’s a really great handset. However, there’s also a new Galaxy Note10+ model that’s even larger, packs in higher-end tech and additional capabilities, and costs a little bit more money.
On one hand, that makes the standard Galaxy Note10 the more affordable and approachable version of the pack, with the sleek redesign also making it feel much slimmer than last year’s extra-large Galaxy Note 9. On the other hand, Samsung’s trims to the Note10 muddles the value equation, making this near-$1000 model feel oddly underwhelming given the investment. Most users who just want the best of the best will want to shell out for the fully-featured Note10+ or more affordable S10.
What a difference a year makes. We loved the Galaxy Note 9 for its huge screen, immense power, and battery life, but its very sizable form could make it very difficult to handle for some users. The Galaxy Note10 makes serious strides in this department. If you’ve ever wanted a smaller, slimmer Galaxy Note, this is it.
The Galaxy Note10 is smaller in every way than its predecessor, thanks in large part to cutting off the extraneous black bezel above and below the Note 9’s screen. There’s still a tiny smidge of it at the bottom of the phone, but putting the front-facing camera within a small punch-hole at the top-center of the screen shaves off a lot of dead space from the design. It’s a better location than the top-right punch-hole of this spring’s Galaxy S10, too, as it’s less likely to impact corner UI elements in use.
Given the price point, it’s no surprise that the Galaxy Note10 feels absolutely luxurious to hold and look at.
Overall, the phone is nearly 0.4 inches shorter than the Note 9, not to mention almost 0.2 inches narrower and about a millimeter slimmer. Add in a weight that’s 33 grams lighter than before, and the difference feels pretty significant overall. If the Note 9 seemed over-large, then the Note10 may now feel just right. And if you still want the extra size—now with extra screen to go along with it—then the Galaxy Note10+ has an identical design with dimensions that are closer to the Note 9 (except with the same thinness as the Note10).
Given the price point, it’s no surprise that the Galaxy Note10 feels absolutely luxurious to hold and look at. It builds upon the Galaxy S10’s stunning redesign with a super-slim tapered aluminum frame and a slightly boxier overall look, which provides a better surface for the S Pen stylus. The 4.1-inch blue S Pen slides right into the hole at the bottom of the phone, and is easily removed by pushing it in and then pulling the pen out. It even charges while within the phone, to ensure that the Bluetooth capabilities are always ready when needed.
The Galaxy Note10 is flashier than ever—at least if you pick the Aura Glow backing glass color, as seen here. Depending on how the light strikes it, you’ll catch a dynamic rainbow effect that stands out even amongst increasingly vibrant flagship smartphone competitors. Granted, the effect can be a little much, even for those of us who like flashy phones. If you want something subtler, the Aura White and Aura Black options are much less aggressive.
Samsung has thankfully packed the Note10 with a hearty 256GB of internal storage, standard, with the option to pay extra for a 512GB edition. Most users should find 256GB to be plenty of space, but if you want to add more storage later—well, tough luck. The standard Note10 has removed the ability to use microSD cards for expanded storage, although the pricier Note10+ still has that option. It’s one way in which the smaller model feels cut down.
Samsung’s trims make the Note10 feel less like the top-end powerhouse the Note is supposed to be.
Unfortunately, the Note10 also loses the 3.5mm headphone port— something Samsung used to mock Apple for that. You can use the included USB-C earbuds, use Bluetooth headphones, or get a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter to affix to your standard plug. Luckily, the Note10 still has an IP68 dust and water resistance rating, which means it should be fine after being dunked in 5 feet of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. However, Samsung’s warranty doesn’t cover water or dust damage, so you should still avoid prolonged exposure to the elements when possible.
As on the Galaxy S10, the Note10’s fingerprint sensor is found within the screen itself. Unlike the Galaxy S10, this one actually works pretty well. It’s not flawless, but we saw much more consistent recognition results than on Samsung’s core flagship. The OnePlus 7 Pro still has the most reliable in-display sensor we’ve used to date, however.
Setting up the Galaxy Note10 feels no different from the Galaxy S10 before it, and is very similar to other Android 9 Pie-packing phones. Just hold the power button on the left side of the phone for a couple seconds to power on the phone, and then follow the software prompts that pop up soon after. You’ll need to connect to a Wi-Fi or cellular network, accept the terms and conditions, and select from a few options. You should be up and running within minutes.
The Galaxy Note10’s 6.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O display is large, gorgeous—and surprisingly lower-resolution than the Note 9, Note10+, and Galaxy S10. We say “surprisingly” because it’s difficult to spot much of a difference.
Ultimately, the Note10’s screen is excellent, with great contrast, HDR10+ certification for bolder imagery in supported content, and a large canvas for games, movies, and more.
This is a Full HD+ (2280 x 1080) screen, effectively 1080p, while those other phones use a sharper Quad HD+ panel (3040 x 1440 on the Note10+). In other words, those phones pack more pixels into their screens, but the difference in clarity is extremely slight. With the Note10 and 6.1-inch Galaxy S10 side-by-side, there’s a tiny difference in sharpness when it comes to text and icons, but only when looking very closely.
Ultimately, the Note10’s screen is excellent, with great contrast, HDR10+ certification for bolder imagery in supported content, and a large canvas for games, movies, and more. But nearly all phones in this price range offer crisper, higher-end panels than just 1080p, and we can’t help but feel like Samsung under-delivered on this front with the Note10. At a price point this high, it’s reasonable to expect better.
The Samsung Galaxy Note10 is an absolute speed demon, packing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with a hearty 8GB RAM alongside. That’s the same chip seen in the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro, along with other top Android flagships this year, and performance was super smooth in our testing. Getting around the Android UI tossed very few hitches our way, apps and games all ran extremely well, and we really had no complaints overall.
Benchmark tests bear out our real-world experience. We recorded a score of 10,629 using PCMark’s Work 2.0 performance test, which is the best score we’ve seen to date. Compare that to 9,753 on the 12GB RAM model of the OnePlus 7 Pro, and 9,276 on the standard Galaxy S10 model. Meanwhile, GFXBench gave us 39 frames per second (fps) on the Car Chase test—nearly double the amount from those other phones—and 60fps on T-Rex with the Note10.
The Galaxy Note10’s lower-resolution screen surely contributes to the improved benchmark results, but they’re still impressive numbers all the same.
We tested the standard 4G LTE-capable version of the Galaxy Note10 on Verizon’s network just north of Chicago, and saw the same kind of speeds we typically record: around 35-40Mbps download and 7-11Mbps upload. The Note10 also works just fine on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi networks.
Samsung has not released the 5G-capable version of the Galaxy Note10 in North America, however, a 5G version of the Galaxy Note10+ is available exclusively for Verizon customers. Granted, 5G coverage is currently very limited in North America, but the high-speed availability will only grow into the future.
The Galaxy Note10 doesn’t have an earpiece at the top of the screen, instead opting for a small hole on top of the phone. It doesn’t diminish the output though, music sounds great with the stereo feed split between that hole and the larger bottom speaker, and the Note10 gets pretty loud without losing clarity. Call quality was also strong.
Although arranged in a vertical stack now instead of a horizontal line, the Galaxy Note10 has the same triple-camera array as the Galaxy S10. That’s a very, very good thing. This super-versatile setup gives you a 12-megapixel wide-angle sensor, a 12MP telephoto sensor for 2x optical zoom, and a 16MP ultra-wide sensor that gives you the kind of big, broad shots that you’d usually have to take at least 10 steps back for.
Between the three, you’ll not only be able to take consistently beautiful snaps, but also have the ability to choose the right camera to frame up each photo. The ultra-wide sensor lacks optical image stabilization, but since it’s designed more for landscape photos and other distance photos, it’s not the kind of camera you’ll need for fast-moving action shots anyway.
In a shootout between the Apple iPhone XS Max ($1099) and the Pixel 3a XL ($479)—which has the same camera sensor as the Pixel 3 XL ($899)—we typically got the most balanced shots from the Galaxy Note10. That was especially apparent in outdoors shots, in which the Pixel 3a XL tended to make everything look gloomier than it actually was, while the iPhone XS Max sometimes blew out highlights (such as clouds).
The Pixel 3a XL won out with up-close foliage detail (where the Note10’s shot was a bit overexposed), but overall, we preferred the Note10 in the majority of comparison shots. It consistently hit the right balance of detail and vibrancy without going overboard.
It’s a video-shooting superstar, too, with crisp and detailed 4K HDR10+ recording at up to 60fps, as well as slick super-slow-mo footage. The Note10 lacks the added depth-sensing camera of the Note10+, so the fun Live Focus shooting modes—which can blur or decolor a backdrop around a person or thing—aren’t quite as effective without it.
Here’s another area in which the Galaxy Note10 seems shortchanged. Last year’s Galaxy Note 9 offered epic battery life with a 4,000mAh cell inside, but the Note10 steps down to 3,500mAh—barely ahead of the 3,400mAh pack in the Galaxy S10. Performance is pretty close to the S10 too: we’d typically end an average day’s usage with about 30 percent left in the tank, providing a bit of breathing room if we spent extra time with games or streaming media.
That’s pretty good, but we expect more from the productivity-minded Note line. We extolled the amazing battery life of the Galaxy Note10+ and its beefy 4,300mAh pack, but the standard Note10 skimps on that defining Note feature. It’s disappointing. Even the $350 Galaxy A9 mid-range phone has a larger 4,000mAh pack inside.
At least the Note10 still offers both wireless charging and PowerShare “reverse” wireless charging, which lets you put another wirelessly-chargeable phone on the back for a top-up, which could come in handy in a pinch.
The Galaxy Note10 uses the same One UI skin on Android 9 Pie that we’ve seen on the Galaxy S10 and other recent Samsung models. The One UI interface focuses on simplicity and ease of access to features, streamlining the core Android interface in handy ways while keeping a clean, appealing look.
Of course, what’s different here is the inclusion of the S Pen stylus and how that plays into the way you use the phone. The S Pen adds a number of features to the Note experience, and for the average user, the handiest is the ability to scribble down notes without going through the lock screen and accessing the interface.
You can use the S Pen from afar to flick through slides in a presentation, flip between photos, or play and pause video.
Simply remove the stylus from the phone and you can immediately jot down anything on the black screen. It’s like a little notepad in your pocket, and the notes are saved automatically so that you don’t lose a phone number, grocery list, or whatever else you were trying to record. The ability to translate your handwriting into typed text is also a huge addition, and the results were pretty good in our testing—not perfect, but more consistent than expected.
For the productivity market, the Note10’s stylus is aimed for, the Bluetooth wireless connectivity brings some neat perks. For example, you can use the S Pen from afar to flick through slides in a presentation, flip between photos, or play and pause video. You can also control the volume of music or snap photos from a distance. These are pretty niche capabilities, sure, but that’s the value of the Note10 over a typical stylus-free smartphone.
Here’s where we really struggle with the Samsung Galaxy Note10. At $950, the Note10 is $150 cheaper than the larger Note10+, so there’s a clear gap between them. But Samsung’s trims make the Note10 feel less like the top-end powerhouse the Note is supposed to be. The smaller battery means it doesn’t last as long as the Note10+, the removed microSD port makes it less versatile, and the lower-resolution screen feels like they made a cut for the sake of it.
More pressingly, the Galaxy S10 is $50 cheaper than the Note10 and it has the same processor and camera setup, as well as similar battery life—plus a higher-resolution QHD+ screen, microSD support, and the 3.5mm headphone port missing from the Note10. Better yet, since the S10 has been out for a half a year, it’s easier to find it cheaper than the list price. Compared to both the Galaxy S10 and other flagships in the same range, the Note10 struggles to justify its bloated price tag.
The OnePlus 7 Pro is a stunner on its own merits, with the same Snapdragon 855 chip inside, a larger 4,000mAh battery pack, and the best screen on any smartphone today. It has a 6.67-inch QHD+ AMOLED display with a faster 90Hz refresh rate, which makes everything look silky-smooth in motion. It’s a beautiful sight, and it doesn’t have a notch or punch-hole cutout thanks to the pop-up selfie camera, which works like a charm. And the phone takes microSD cards, to boot.
The only real downside of the OnePlus 7 Pro is that the triple-camera setup isn’t as consistent as the Note10, and that’s a solid complaint against any flagship phone. But at just $669, the OnePlus 7 Pro represents the best deal in high-end smartphones today, and the near-$300 difference only highlights our issue with the Note10’s asking price. In our view, the S Pen doesn’t come close to making up that kind of gap.
Great phone, bad value.
The Samsung Galaxy Note10 is a great phone, but it’s a tricky one to recommend due to the pared-down features. The Galaxy Note10+ is such an improvement in terms of screen resolution, battery life, video quality, and expandable storage support that we would point anyone in that direction instead. And if you’re wary of spending $1099 on a stylus phone, then you might want to look into last year’s Galaxy Note 9 instead, which doesn’t skimp on premium features and can be found for a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the standard Note10 today.
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