- Fantabulous display
- Attractive design
- Exynos 9825 offers excellent performance with 12gigs of RAM
- Cameras are better than ever before
- S-Pen’s OCR feature is super handy
- No headphone jack
- Too big for non-Note users
- Battery life could’ve been better
While 2018 was the transition phase for smartphone design with manufacturers doing all it takes to eliminate the notch and to introduce new tech such as in-display fingerprint scanners, 2019 has clearly been the year of the “refined” flagship. Phones like the Huawei P30 Pro, OnePlus 7 Pro, OPPO Reno 10x Zoom, and a few others are leading this march. But, after using the Galaxy Note 10+ extensively, I am convinced that it is the pinnacle of refinement.
Yes, there are shortcomings but you will forget about them in an instant, after using the phone. By the way, the Galaxy Note 10+ that was not supposed to exist in the first place i.e. if anyone believed the obits that were written claiming that “Samsung was killing the Note line after the Note 9.” Hey, that rhymed.
Galaxy Note 10+ design and S-Pen: so polished you might not deserve it
Here’s the thing, the Galaxy Note 10+’s design is super polished and refined. Our review unit was the Aura Glow variant and I think it looks flashy. Moreover, you will have to put the phone in a case if you want to protect it from smudges.
Now, true to the design ethos of the Note line, this is the biggest Note smartphone yet. So much so that it is breaching the tablet category now. However, thanks to the extremely slim – to the point that it is almost non-existent – bezels, you are not dealing with a behemoth. Having said that, you cannot, even if you have gigantic hands like mine, use the phone with one hand. The weight distribution is fine, though. But, that’s not the point of the Note anyway considering you get a tool like the S-Pen to go along with it. It is meant to be used as a notebook.
The S-Pen inside the Note 10+ now has a unibody design and a few cool new tricks up its sleeve:
- Yup, the S-Pen has a gyroscope and an accelerometer built-in. What this means is that you can give commands to a few apps using the S-Pen. Essentially, inside the camera app, you can swipe between camera modes using left or right swipes. Or, zoom in by making a full circle in the air. I guess it’d come in handy when the phone is attached to a selfie stick. Otherwise, these magic wand gestures, beyond the initial excitement, are quite pointless. By the way, you can perform a few such gestures in the YouTube app as well. While the SDK is open for other developers, I predict very few takers.
- What is excellent, however, is the fact that you get optical character recognition (OCR) integration within notes. Firstly, handwritten notes are searchable by typing in the search bar thanks to OCR. Similarly, you can convert your handwritten text to electronic text as well. I think a lot of folks are going to find this very handy.
Coming back to the design, the Note 10+ is essentially a glass sandwich body with Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and the back for protection. There is a very slim aluminum railing but gripping the phone is not a problem as such. I like the boxier design of the Note 10+ compared to the curved edges of the Samsung Galaxy S10+. And, you get IP68 certification for protection against water damage. Oh, and by the way, there is a very slight camera bump on the rear but it is not too distracting.
The SIM card tray is on the top panel and it is a hybrid one on the Note 10+. At the bottom, you get a Type-C Port, a speaker to its right and, of course, the slot for the S-Pen. Most importantly, all of it is aligned symmetrically, which was a problem with Samsung flagships in the past. That said, what’s conspicuously absent is the headphone jack. Yup, sad indeed. If you are an audio nerd, I’d suggest you pick up a USB Type-C audio dongle such as the Hidizs Sonata HD for your audiophile needs.
There’s another problem: the darned power button has now been moved to the left. Furthermore, it is called the Side key now. This Side key is set to open Bixby by default but you can change it to work as the power button too. So, that’s a relief. In fact, you now have a Shutdown icon in the notifications panel as well. All that said, my muscle memory could not get adjusted to the fact that the power button is on the left edge.
Overall, I think the Note 10+ has a well-laid-out design and is probably the most premium glass-bodied phone I have ever held in my hand. In fact, holding it gives me an inferiority complex; like I don’t deserve this phone, and that it should be with someone who is classy, royal, and rich.
Galaxy Note 10+ display: the best
Samsung makes the best AMOLED panels. Period. This is the reason why even Apple uses a Samsung panel on its iPhones. The Galaxy Note 10+ has the most attractive display I have seen on a smartphone yet. This 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED panel is crisp, colourful, bright, excellent, fantabulous, magnificent…just add all the superlatives you want to because it is just THE BEST.
This display can do HDR. It has more than 1000 nits of brightness when you want it. It has a Natural colour mode with great colour accuracy. Really, what more could you want? Well, there is one thing – a higher refresh rate display. This is where the OnePlus 7 Pro makes a case for itself with its 90Hz panel. I do miss the high refresh rate display on the OnePlus 7 Pro after using the Note 10+.
And, we need to discuss this bindi. This weird hole-punch camera at the center of the display. Nothing, I am just being dramatic now. I have no problem with it. You won’t either once you start using the phone daily. It becomes a part of your peripheral vision. People should stop fussing over small things.
Galaxy Note 10+ camera: massively improved
The rear camera setup on the Galaxy Note 10+ is nearly identical to the one on the Galaxy S10+. Except that, now you get the fourth Time of Flight VGA camera. As for the specs, you get a 12MP primary shooter with a variable aperture lens that can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 on the fly. Then there is a 12MP telephoto lens for 2x optical zoom, with a larger f/2.1 lens now. Finally, you have the 16MP wide-angle camera that can do stabilised 4K video.
(Note: all the images in this review have been resized for the web. Head here for full resolution samples.)
It’d be easy to presume that the Note 10+ takes similar-looking pictures, but Samsung has worked extensively on the software algorithm to improve the picture quality. We did our massive camera comparison test recently and adjudged the Note 10+ as the best smartphone camera. Furthermore, there are quite a few new features — or should we say, gimmicks — that will keep you interested in the cameras. Let me break down the camera performance:
- The dynamic range on the primary camera has been improved drastically. The images look punchy and colourful, and the highlight clipping issues are now somewhat under control. But, the camera still struggles with reproducing Reds without colour bleed when you are shooting in macro mode. Samsung continues to do artificial sharpening of images but it doesn’t look too bad. Additionally, close-ups look excellent and so do pictures of human subjects.
- The low light shots are now enhanced by the new Night mode. But, even without it, the camera can take some well-controlled punchy shots that will make for a great Instagram upload. The details are not as crisp as the P30 Pro in low light, but I think the camera does a commendable job nonetheless. The Night Mode does a good job too.
- The telephoto camera is better in low light now and it is used to zoom into subjects for portrait shots. And, I think the portrait shots definitely look super attractive.
- The wide-angle camera is my favourite camera of the lot. You get the widest field of view. Excellent dynamic range. Crisp details and colours. Supremely stabilised 4K video. Pretty decent low light pictures. This is impressive stuff really. Ever since I received the Note 10+, I have been using the wide-angle camera more often than not.
- In fact, the 4K video recording on the Galaxy Note 10+ is stable and crisp. Also, the dynamic range can be enhanced in a video recording by shooting in HDR10. The sound recording quality is next to none as well. And, when it comes to video, you have the 960fps slow-motion option as well.
- But, one of the new additions to video is the Live Focus mode and it is very patchy at the moment. The Glitch effect does a good job of fixing the issues with the regular blur, though. And, it looks pretty cool while doing it. And, you can now do AR doodles on your friend’s face if you want to have fun. Beyond the first few tries, I wasn’t particularly interested and that could also be because I make the world’s worst artist.
- Oh, and then you have the option to zoom into the audio and amplify it. This helps capture the sound better when you are recording something. But, I wouldn’t suggest going beyond 2x for video recording because of the image quality degradation. So, what’s the point of this audio zoom in feature then?
- There is also this really cool 3D scanner feature and it couldn’t scan a human subject properly despite multiple attempts. While the app is a mess right now, I guess there’s still time for it to be fixed.
Galaxy Note 10+ software: OneUI is as good as Oxygen OS
The Note 10+ runs on Android 9 Pie with OneUI on top of it. I have discussed OneUI at length in my previous Samsung phone reviews and you can check them out if you want to know more. It is my second favourite OEM skin after Oxygen OS. And, that’s saying a lot.
But, there are changes to DEX and the Microsoft integration that I want to talk about. Firstly, DEX can now work with any laptop or MacBook. All you need is a Type-C cable and the DEX PC software installed on your laptop of choice. It is kinda slow but pretty useful. However, I really don’t know why would one need this feature apart from showing it off? DEX makes sense on a monitor+keyboard setup, the best.
The Microsoft alliance has ensured that you now get a Link button on the drop-down notification shade. It works well, in case you want to sync your messages and photos or cast your phone’s screen to your laptop.
Galaxy Note 10+ performance: 9825 is a good upgrade over the 9820
The Note 10+ has a new upgraded 9825 chipset that is based on a 7nm EUV process for better power efficiency. And, the Note 10+ comes with a base 12GB of RAM and two storage variants —256GB or 512GB — with the option to increase it by adding a microSD card. I have a few benchmark numbers, and the Note 10+ beats the S10+ and the P30 Pro. However, it continues to lag behind the SD855-toting OnePlus 7.
Now, these numbers don’t mean anything if the performance isn’t good. The Note 10+, in my 9 years as a professional tech reviewer, is the most responsive Samsung phone I have used. The phone blazed through all the tasks I threw at it and gaming too. I played PUBG without any frame drops or heating issues after a long 2 hour session. Having said that, PUBG doesn’t support HDR Extreme settings on the Exynos 9825 yet.
Oh btw, I even found the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor to be faster on the Galaxy Note 10+ compared to the S10+. That said, it is still slow to unlock compared to the optical scanner on the OnePlus 7 Pro. Also, the lack of haptic feedback and the smaller area for registering your touch are two major concerns. Going in blind to unlock from a dark screen requires some effort and learning. Talking about haptic feedback, I think it is excellent on the Note 10+ and feels improved from previous Samsung phones.
Galaxy Note 10+ multimedia: 3.5mm jack missing but the fun is not
The Note 10+ is by far the best phone for watching Netflix shows but the lack of a headphone jack is a bummer. I did try a USB Type-C dongle but the sound quality will be governed by the DAC inside the dongle and not the phone. You will need a passthrough dongle to use the DAC on the phone. The sound quality is good but I think even the K20 Pro has a better DAC and makes full use of Qualcomm’s Aqstic audio. Samsung needs to up its audiophile game. Also, the stereo speakers don’t sound as good as the S10+, with or without Dolby Atmos.
Having said that, the bundled AKG earphones are good, for what it is worth. And moreover, you get great BT audio with LDAC support as well.
Galaxy Note 10+ call quality and battery life: good mics, average battery life, fast charging
Here is the thing, I am super confused about the earpiece. I mean, I know the display is not vibrating to produce sound during calls. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find an earpiece. If anyone knows where is the earpiece do let me know in the comments section below. Anyway, I found the sound during calls to be more than sufficient but the noise-canceling could’ve been better. The caller on the other end could hear me clearly as well.
Moving on to the large 4300mAh battery inside, I expected the battery life to be great especially considering the new 7nm power-efficient chipset. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I consistently got only around 5 hrs and 30 mins of SoT on moderate usage. And, on most occasions, the battery would also last only about 12 hours of a workday. This was on FHD+ resolution, with system-wide dark mode turned on, and with Always-on Display switched off. Honestly, this is a very average battery life. In fact, US reviewers got way better battery life with the Snapdragon variant.
That said, you get a 25W charger inside the box and it can charge the 4300mAh battery in an hour and 15 mins, which is impressive. Moreover, the phone supports 45W fast charging and therefore you can further improve speeds by buying the charger which is sold separately. That’s not it, you can also reverse charge other products wirelessly by placing them on the Note 10+’s chassis.
Should you buy the Galaxy Note 10+?
The Note 10+, despite the lack of a headphone jack, has everything crammed into the most compact 6.8-inch phone to have existed till date. It is everything you’ve come to expect from a Note phone and most of your concerns will be rendered invalid once you start using the phone. But, is it worth its sticker price of Rs 80,000 considering the options available in the market? Well, let’s compare.
The first phone that comes to my mind when we look at the Note 10+ is the Galaxy S10+. And, if you ask me, the Exynos 9825 and the design is enough to convince a long-time Samsung user to consider the Note 10+ over the S10+. Even otherwise, the price difference is not much for you to not consider the Note 10+ as your first choice.
The Huawei P30 Pro has great cameras but the company’s future is up in the air with the Mate 30 Pro doomed with no Google support. Honestly, it is becoming tougher and tougher to recommend a Huawei phone considering the negative backlash from the U.S. But, I really hope the company’s situation improves soon.
The biggest competitor to the Note 10+ is actually the OnePlus 7 Pro. This premium flagship phone has wowed everyone with its high refresh rate panel and great cameras. That said, the Note 10+ has multiple advantages over the OnePlus 7 Pro, with the S-Pen, a better design, and a brighter and more colour accurate display. Having said that, the law of diminishing returns kicks in here. The overall worth that you get from the Note 10+ might not be so much for someone who has already made up his/her mind about the OnePlus 7 Pro.
In the end, I’ve had a great experience with the Galaxy Note 10+ and will be switching to this phone as my primary device now.