A few weeks back, Samsung unveiled its latest flagship range to the world, the Samsung Galaxy Note10 and Note10+.
When the phablet was first launched about a decade ago, it was geared towards the business-inclined users who would use their smartphones as their portable office. Today, the Note10 range is focused mainly on content creation by means of its improved camera, enhanced S Pen, as well as the included editing apps native to the device. Coupled to the content creation is the cross between portable computer and gaming console, which Samsung hopes will enrich your daily experience as a Note user.
With all these aforementioned enhancements, the big question is whether the company could deliver on its promises across these segments to create what is supposed to be the perfect smartphone. With the Note9 and S10+ devices already quite good in their own rights, how much difference can a few months really make to improving the Galaxy range? Bearing in mind that the Note10 is the lower-specced version of the two units released, which has a lower resolution, less RAM, slightly smaller battery, as well as no expandable storage.
Note10 Build and Design
As has been the case since the launch of the Galaxy S8, the Samsung Galaxy series has remained largely the same, with the exception of a few small tweaks. But that’s not a bad thing. The Galaxy range has a solid design, which Samsung has tweaked again on the Note10. This time, however, it hasn’t been without controversy. With the removal of the 3.5mm jack, Samsung was somewhat left with egg on its face, so to speak, given that it has been relentlessly taunting Apple ever since the iPhone lost its jack.
Initially, I didn’t think much of the change, especially having a pair of Bluetooth headphones, as well as additional Bluetooth peripherals. It really only hit me when attempting to play music in the car the next morning – having an older model, Bluetooth wasn’t a default setting. And so began my daily commute to work in near silence for two weeks. To compensate a little for the lack of auxiliary port, Samsung includes a pair of AKG earphones with a USB Type-C connector. I would’ve preferred a Type-C adaptor for any audio devices uses would’ve spent money on over the years. That said, we’re well into the Bluetooth era in 2019, so my car issues aside, most users shouldn’t have any issues here.
Another significant change on the Note10 is the removal of the right-hand side power button. Instead, the left-hand side button below the volume rocker can be customised to be set up as a power button, Bixby key, camera shortcut and quite a few others. It takes a bit of getting used to but, eventually, you’ll get used to the change. Samsung has also removed the microSD card slot for the Note10. Unlike a few other smartphones, which allow users to choose whether to use the second slot next to the primary SIM as a microSD cardholder or a secondary SIM slot. The Note10 doesn’t afford the same options, instead offers two SIM slots. Given that the base device comes with 256GB of internal storage, there’s no real requirement for external storage.
Samsung has been marketing the Note10 with its new range of Auro colours on the rear. The marketing images, however, doesn’t do the new line of colours any justice. There are four variants, including the Auro White, Auro Black and Auro Blue options. Without a doubt, the fourth colour, the Auro Glow, is the standout from the range. When the light hits the rear, it gives off iridescent hues, creating a striking aesthetic.
Having switched from the S10+ to the Note10 as my daily driver for a couple of weeks, I was mostly taken aback at how much smaller and lighter the latter is in comparison. It may not seem like much on paper with a difference of 175g versus 168g, respectively, but that 4% in weight reduction coupled with the new sleek feel in hand, you will definitely notice the change. Without getting too much into the specifics of the screen, which will be covered in the section below, the S10+ has a size of 6.4″ with the Note10 at 6.3″. The Note10+ comes in at a whopping 6.8″, almost the size of an actual 7″ tablet. Interestingly, while the size of the screen isn’t much different, the Note10 is 6.6mm shorter and 2.3mm narrower. This is ultimately where the large gains are made, making it feel good in hand with additional benefits for one-handed usage. It may be 0.1mm thicker at the end of the day, but that’s neither here or there.
Screen and Display
As stated previously, the Note10 has a 6.3″ screen, with the same dynamic AMOLED capacitive touchscreen as on the previous units. Samsung, however, has managed to utilise more of the front face of the smartphone, boosting the screen-to-body ratio by 2% from the S10+ to the Note10. For completeness, that’s 90.9% compared to 88.9%. While the design team has managed to pack more screen in less real estate, the display will leave you a bit wanting. Samsung has reduced the resolution to 1080x2280px on the Note10 in comparison to the impressive 1440x3040px on the S10+. For many users, these are simply just numbers as the average Joe won’t notice much of a difference. Side by side comparisons, however, speaks to these small changes, which are noticeable if you know what you’re looking for. The result is a pixel density reduced to 401ppi versus 522ppi.
Apart from the size and edge-to-edge enhancements of the new screen, it also has more viewing real estate as a result of a much smaller front-facing camera. The punch-hold cut-out design Samsung chose takes up quite a lot less space on the front of the screen, as compared to its competitors with much larger notch design. Unlike the S10 range, the Note10 has its front-facing camera right in the centre. While it does look more natural, it again takes some getting used to, especially if you’re someone with a selfie obsession – I’m not.
While the screen’s pixel density is down as a result of the lower resolution, there are still some enhancements to it over and above just the sizing. For starters, the screen is a lot brighter than on any previous models. This makes it great to view even in direct sunlight. Although it is worth stressing that brighter screens will cause some eye fatigue. Thankfully, Samsung has some built-in tools within the settings to adjust for this, including the blue-light filter. Colours reproduction on the screen is also fairly accurate, with the Natural Mode screen setting covering 125.1% of the sRGB spectrum.
The embedded fingerprint sensor is still built-into the screen. The difference here is that the sensor has been moved closer to the middle for a more comfortable reach of the thumb. The sensitivity and accuracy have also been improved, with as little as a touch-and-go press of the thumb (or any registered finger) to unlock.
Performance and Battery Life
Simply unpacking the specifications of the Note10 here wouldn’t really do the device much justice. A lot of the internals are either the same as on the S10 and S10+ units, or have small enhancements here and there. That said, the biggest upgrade would be the 256GB internal storage option of the Note10 and a choice of 256GB or 512GB on the Note10+. In addition to the added storage, the unit makes use of UFS 3.0 storage for improved read and write speeds on the drive, which create a snappier interface overall. The new Exynos 9825 chipset uses the 7nm EUV technology, which has a few performance tweaks over its predecessor.
The DeX feature is still something Samsung is pushing on its flagship Galaxy range with a new integration used to link to your PC or laptop on the Note10. This allows users to connect via software directly on the PC and interface with the device directly from there, something like a mini-OS inside your Windows or Mac OS. The results are interesting, but not 100% matured, with the focus mainly on making the DeX more user-friendly and compatible with a lot more devices this time around. I’ll unpack a lot more of these features in a separate review.
One of the biggest talking points about the Note10 is its battery. In terms of the specifications, the Note10 has a non-removable, Li-Ion 3500mAh battery. This is somewhat down on the S10 range, as well as a whole 800mAh down on the Note10+. If you do some basic research on the Note10 and its battery, you’ll find quite a few articles on the lack of battery life and related posts.
Having gone through the tests as well as sticking to the same daily routines as on the S10+, I didn’t notice any less battery life and an increased need to charge on a daily basis. The enhancements on the CPU as well as a few software tweaks, which we’ll discuss further below, creates a more optimised environment, and hence less consumption at any given time. As with the S10+ I would only charge my device once per day, typically in the mornings before work. This pattern continued with the Note10, unless I was using the unit as a WiFi tether or to charge other devices using the reverse charge feature.
Samsung has also enhanced its fast-charging capabilities on the Note10, with the company claiming a 15-minute charge would be enough to get you through an entire day’s usage. I wouldn’t necessarily think this to be 100% accurate, unless you’re simply making around five calls per day, limited social media usage, and next to no photos taken. On the odd occasion, after a day at the office, I had used only 30-40% of the battery since the morning. Those, however, were the days with numerous meetings and very little screen time throughout the day.
When it comes to the software of the Note10, still running Android 9 Pie. That said, the UI itself has been improved quite a lot, more in terms of the behind the scenes workings of the OS, than on the surface. The AI does quite a lot to track your daily habits, which within 2-3 days I started receiving suggestions, notifications, alerts and tasks to align with these habits. Bixby’s AI allows users to setup preferences based on time, location and the likes to keep the unit operating at its optimum without any manual intervention. Already having a few daily habits I’m consciously aware of, setting these up upon the first pop-up was easy enough. Then as the device tracks more usage, it’s able to add a lot more without any intervention even in setting it up.
All the other standard Samsung apps aren’t overwhelming either, many of which still need to be downloaded via the Play Store if you choose to use them. These apps have also been tweaked to align with its new Bixby AI-led interface. The S-Pen too has a few more features such as how users scroll, how they create, and even a few physical enhancements such as an increased distance from which the Note10 is able to accurately track the S-Pen movements and gestures.
One of the biggest challenges the Samsung team faced when developing the Note10 was creating sufficient enhancements across the board to make the latest flagship worthwhile in the market. Apart from just being an S10 or S10+ with the included S-Pen, a lot was needed to stand out over the two mentioned smartphones. In terms of the camera, there isn’t a significant amount of improvement of the previous units unlike the other categories and features of the Note10. The unit makes use of the same combination of the 16MP ultra-wide lens, 12MP standard lens and 12MP telephoto lens. Don’t get me wrong, they still deliver quite impressive results at the end of the day.
On many cameras used and tested on smartphones, more often than not we tend to stick to the auto setting of the camera. Even when there are other useful features in professional modes and the likes, it’s just easier overall. On the Note10 things are no different. But, as much as I tinkered with the Pro settings menu, even taking images of the moon at night and sun in the afternoon wasn’t as great as using the Auto mode. It just works.
In particular, I found it great for shots with variable lighting. For example, I took an image of contrasting lighting, a fairly large, well-lit sign above my head with darkness towards the bottom. For most cameras it would be one or the other, pick up the detail in the darkest regions of the shot, then overexposing the light, getting a clear image of the sign and then really poor detail for the rest of the same shot. Using Auto mode, the camera on the Note10 presented the best of both worlds, with great detail across the entire image, almost as if it were stitching various portions of it together by means of multiple, behind the scenes captures.
A nice add-on feature on the camera is the ability to include live focus on a video, which was previously limited to just the still images. In fact, most of the camera enhancements have been added to capturing and editing video for improved content creation. Other enhancements include video stabilisation optimisation, S-Pen integration (other than just starting and ending the capture), AR Doodle, a few video editing features and quite a bit more. In addition to the live focus inclusion, users can also make the main subject of the video pop out just that bit more with features such as a black and white background against the fully coloured and moving subject to create really nifty shots.
Final thoughts on the Note10
On paper, and upon first appearances, there’s not a lot the Samsung Galaxy Note10 has over the S10 range. In fact, in a few instances, it would seem to be heading in the wrong direction in terms of innovation. But upon using the Note10 over a few days, you get a better sense of what makes the new flagship range tick, bringing in a lot more user experience to the fore other than simply relying on throwing more and more specs at solving the problem of trying to make the smartphone distinct from its competitors. The OS ecosystem blends together well with the Bixby AI at its core to deliver the best performances.
Samsung Galaxy Note10
While it may not be the big refresh over the already impressive S10 range, the Note10 is definitely worth your consideration if you do own the former already. The only concern would be the increased price of the new unit, which may make things a bit tricky in the market for Samsung.
- Auro colour options
- Brilliant display
- Starts at 256GB internal storage
- Extreme fast-charging
- Slim design
- No 3.5mm jack
- No microSD card slot
Ease of Learning
Ease of Use
Value for Money