Here's A Deep Look At Samsung's New Galaxy Note 10 And His Big Brother, The 10 Plus

Samsung has just announced the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy Note 10 Plus at its Unpacked event in Brooklyn. To put it simply, the leaks and rumors were all correct. The headphone jack is gone. The Galaxy Note 10 Plus does have a micro SD card slot (not the smaller Note 10). And it has plenty of new S Pen features.

But these days, we can't focus on the specs of a new smartphone. Virtually every flagship smartphone that has launched this year, has the same specs as the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10 Plus. So what differentiates the Galaxy Note 10 line from the many other smartphones on the market this year? Well it's the software, and the design. So let's talk about that.

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The story with the Galaxy Note series has always been software, specifically when it comes to the S Pen. And Samsung did not disappoint this year.

The S Pen built on the Bluetooth functionality that Samsung added with the Galaxy Note 9 last year. And has taken some of these features a bit further. You still have all of the features from the Galaxy Note 9, like the ability to use the S Pen as a remote control to do presentations and take photos. But what's new this year are Air Actions.

Don't confuse Air Actions with Air Gestures. A feature that Samsung introduced many years ago – with the Galaxy S4. It quietly went away, because, for the most part they weren't really useful. But, Air Actions are a different thing, and can actually be very useful.

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Air Actions use the S Pen, and allow you to do different gestures with the S Pen in front of the screen. It's similar to the gestures that LG debuted with the G8 ThinQ earlier this year, but these are much easier to learn and actually do. For starters, you don't have to be super far away from the phone. The only real caveat is that you need to press the button on the S Pen while you are doing the gesture. The Galaxy Note 10 (as of today) does not tell you this, in the settings, or when it pops up the "Hint" window for Air Gestures. That's something that Samsung will likely change before the device gets into customers' hands in the next couple of weeks.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus hands-on review

Samsung’s Note 10 Plus is a massive phone packed with small improvements



MSRP $1,300.00
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Plus is a beauty, but no one feature stands out.

HIGHS

  • Gorgeous Aura Glow color, fantastic screen
  • Improved S Pen handwriting functionality
  • Beefy battery, support for 45W fast charging
  • Helpful Windows integrations
  • Speedy performance, UFS 3.0 support

LOWS

  • No headphone jack
  • 45-watt charger not included
  • Few camera improvements over S10 range

You’ll have a hard time looking away from the stunning 6.8-inch screen. Its massive surface is like staring into another reality. It’s the same Dynamic AMOLED panel Samsung debuted for the S10 range, with 3,040 x 1,440 resolution (at 498 pixels per inch), and it’s HDR10+ certified. The screen is sharp, vivid, bright, and black levels are dark as night.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s among the best displays on a smartphone today, but I wish Samsung had added a higher refresh rate. Phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro have cranked screen refresh rate from 60Hz to 90Hz (with help from Samsung, I’ll add), and it makes for a smoother experience.

Aura Glow is an exhilarating mix of iridescence and chrome.

While the screen is gorgeous, there’s more to look at, at least if you buy the Aura Glow color. It’s an exhilarating mix of iridescence and chrome, and the result is fabulous. It’s eye-catching, magical, and an undeniable showstopper. The phone also comes in Aura Black, Aura White, and Aura Blue (the latter is exclusive to the U.S.), but Aura Glow is the one you’ll want.

Even with its fabulous colors, it’s impossible to deny the Note 10 Plus’ resemblance to the Huawei P30 Pro or the iPhone XS. The Note is angular, but the vertical camera layout is what makes it easy to draw comparisons. It does stand out for the curved edges on the sides of the phone, though.

The Note 10 Plus is a behemoth of a phone. It felt massive even in my large hands, and I had to shift the phone a little to reach the top. This is a two-handed device. If you’re comfortable with the Note 9’s size, you’ll feel right at home, because the Note 10 Plus is just a hair taller and wider than its predecessor, though it’s also lighter and thinner. The Note 10 Plus weighs less than the iPhone XS Max and is just 0.2mm thicker.

If the Note seems too large, consider the standard Galaxy Note 10. It’s only a bit larger than the 5.8-inch iPhone XS, but has a 6.3-inch display.

I’m pleased Samsung has removed the Bixby button. The virtual assistant is now activated via a long press of the power button.

All the phone’s buttons are on the left side of the Note 10 Plus. I didn’t have trouble reaching them, and I’m pleased Samsung has removed the Bixby button. The virtual assistant is now activated via a long press of the power button. Good riddance.

If you’re wondering about the fingerprint sensor, the same ultrasonic one is employed here as the one in the S10 range, meaning it sits under the glass on the front.

But now we come to the disappointing news. The headphone jack has been erased. Samsung’s reasoning? It wanted to make sure the phone was thin while maintaining a large battery capacity. To save on space, the 3.5mm headphone jack had to go.

It’s an odd choice. Note owners are “power users,” and they’d likely prefer having the jack over a thinner phone. I know I would. On the Note 10 Plus, you won’t be able to charge and listen to music at the same time (unless you wirelessly charge or use Bluetooth earbuds). This likely means the port will be axed for next year’s Samsung Galaxy S, as well. At least a dongle is included in the box, along with USB-C wired earbuds from AKG.

S PEN IMPROVEMENTS

The S Pen stylus distinguishes the Note from the S series. It’s stored at the bottom of the phone, next to the USB-C port. Last year improved the stylus’ usability as Samsung added Bluetooth. That means the S Pen can activate certain features, like snapping a photo. The Note 10 Plus has its own star feature — the ability to convert handwriting to text.

You can quickly jot down notes on the Note 10 Plus, and the Notes app converts them into editable text formats, like Word .doc files. The transcriptions are not always accurate, so you’ll need to make sure your handwriting is reasonably legible. Since you can’t write a full sentence on a single line on the phone, formatting will look janky when you convert it to text, so there’s some work to do. Still, it’s an important step forward for on-the-go notes.

There’s also Air Actions, which Samsung recently announced alongside the Galaxy Tab S6. You can wave the S Pen like a wand to control apps, like cycling through camera modes. You can even change camera zoom with a circular motion. The gestures work, but they won’t likely see much daily use. Air Actions primarily work in first-party apps; third-party developers can support them, but I’m not holding my breath.

The S Pen hasn’t forgotten its past tricks, from Live Messages to translating text. One fun new addition is AR Doodle, which lets you sketch augmented reality art over the real world using the camera on the phone. The camera can track faces, so you can draw a hat on someone’s head and watch it follow them around. The tracking isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun feature.

MICROSOFT PARTNERSHIPS AND DEX IMPROVEMENTS

Converting handwriting to Word documents isn’t the only Microsoft partnership here. You can now link your phone to Windows PC or laptop, letting you see all your notifications and messages on the quick panel in Windows, and you can also “review recent photos.” It’s a welcome addition, especially since you can also mirror your phone’s screen and interact with it right from your PC. Microsoft said you’ll be able to answer and reject phone calls later this year too.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung’s DeX mode, the desktop Android interface that pops up when you plug the phone into an external monitor, has gained a new feature. You can plug the Note 10 Plus into a Windows laptop or MacBook via a standard USB cable and a DeX application will pop up on the computer like a virtual app. I’m not sure why I’d use a desktop interface from my phone on my laptop, but it does work well.

samsung galaxy note 10 plus review dex
Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The software is unchanged from the Galaxy S10. It’s running One UI, Samsung’s layer over Android 9 Pie. It’s slick and visually pleasing. The downside is that Google is set to launch Android Q this month, but Samsung probably won’t have the update ready until early 2020.

SPEEDY PERFORMANCE

Samsung’s Snapdragon 855 processor powers the Note 10 Plus, paired with 12GB of RAM. It’s more than enough for most people, as we’ve seen the same power inside the S10 Plus. Apps opened quickly and transitioning between them was fluid. It’s a shame the Snapdragon 855 Plus isn’t here, however. That slightly upgraded chip can be found in the Asus ROG Phone 2, and Qualcomm said it delivers better graphics performance. I’ll need to do more testing to see how the Note 10 Plus’ vapor chamber cooling system keeps the phone cool during heavy gaming.

The power inside this phone will not disappoint anyone, but if you need specifics, Samsung claims you’ll see 33% better CPU performance, and a 42% bump to the GPU. There’s also support for the UFS 3.0 specification, which means you’ll see faster loading screens in games thanks to faster read/write times.

There’s 256GB of internal storage and a MicroSD card slot, a perk of the Note 10 Plus over the Note 10. A 512GB model is also available.

A FAMILIAR CAMERA

The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus brought a versatile camera system to Samsung’s flagship range. The Note 10 Plus is similar, but not the same. It has three cameras: a 12-megapixel main lens with a variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture and optical image stabilization, a 12-megapixel f/2.1 telephoto lens (with OIS), and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture. The telephoto lens has a wider aperture, so it should take slightly better low-light photos.

There’s also a time-of-flight sensor here (VGA f/1.4) – that’s not present on the standard Note 10 – which helps capture better depth for portrait mode photos and videos.

I thought the camera app operated smoothly and snapped photos quickly. I’m expecting a similar experience to the Galaxy S10 Plus, and I liked the photo quality of that phone. It won’t beat the Pixel 3 or the Huawei P30 Pro, particularly in low-light conditions, but it’s not far behind.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

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