Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Review

This is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 – A 6.3-inch display-toting device with a few compromises when compared to the larger Plus model

First Impressions

This year, probably more than most, the Galaxy Note 10 appears to be a slightly remodelled Galaxy S10 complete with an S Pen.  That’s no bad thing – the S10 is one of the best Android phones around – but it would have been nice to see Samsung push forward in areas where the S10 fell behind some of the competition, such as the camera for example. The display here is gorgeous; the design remains the best of any Android phone and the functionality of the S Pen offers something you can’t get elsewhere. I also really like the slightly smaller form-factor used here.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £869
  • 256GB storage, no microSD
  • Up to 45W fast charging
  • Exynos 9825, 8GB RAM
  • 6.3-inch FHD+ display
  • No headphone jack
  • 3500mAh battery
  • IP68 certified
  • One UI

Samsung’s newest phablet, the Galaxy Note 10, has officially arrived. For the most part, it fits the mould formed by the slew of rumours that preceded its unveiling. The result is a Galaxy S10 with a more squared appearance and that all-important S Pen.

The big shift for this latest generation of Note is that there are now two discreet models, whereas previously there’s only ever been one. The Galaxy Note 10 is the smaller entry here, while the Galaxy Note 10 Plus is the true follow-up to last year’s Note 9.

For the most part, these two new Notes share plenty of specs and features with each other, which makes sense. More problematic is the similarities both phones bear with Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, which launched earlier in 2019.

How much does the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 cost?

Colours aside, the standard Note 10 keeps things simple coming in one configuration; packing 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and toting a price tag of £869 (or $949 is you’re in the US).

Samsung has already launched pre-orders for the phone, but it won’t hit physical and virtual store shelves officially until August 23. Check out our best Note 10 deals for additional pricing and details.

Display and Design – The Galaxy Note 10 doesn’t feel huge in your hand

The Note series has always erred on the larger end of the scale but with this year’s two-phone strategy and the current smartphone trends, things are a little different.

The Note 10’s 6.3-inch display means it’s actually smaller than last year’s Note 9 (which featured a 6.4-inch screen). Despite how close the two are, in the hand though, they feel markedly different, thanks to new design language on this year’s model.

The display now runs to the edges of the phone’s front, granting it an impressive 90.9% screen-to-body ratio. What’s more, the single ‘Infinity-O’ hole-punch camera is now centrally-aligned at the top of the screen and less intrusive than the S10’s solo-sensor effort.

Instead of using the same, slightly too-big camera cutout as the S10, the Note 10 shunts it to the middle and shrinks it noticeably. It’s still there but until Samsung does a OnePlus 7 Pro, or finds a way of submerging it completely inside the display, this is the best solution.

The display and the glass back also curve together to create a more compact feel in-hand then the phone appears to sport when you’re holding it.

galaxynote10

The panel in question could be seen as a downgrade from the previous model, as Samsung has lowered the resolution from the QHD+ panel you’ll find on the S10 and S10 Plus to the FHD+ of the Galaxy S10e

Frankly, I think this an odd move: the Note series has always been about having the best of everything and this certainly doesn’t fit with that idea. Of course, the screen is still nice, with punchy colours and the perfect inky blacks you’d normally associate with OLED panels from Samsung. 

The Korean brand has also decided against upping the refresh rate to 90Hz, like the OnePlus 7 Pro, keeping it at the usual 60Hz. I love the smoothness of the 7 Pro’s display and it would have been something that would have made the Note really stand out.

There are a number of reasons why lowering the resolution would make sense for Samsung. The most obvious being that it creates more of an incentive for buyers to spend more and plump for the pricier Plus model. There’s also the slight issue of the rather small battery on offer here (3500mAh vs 4300mAh on the Note 9) and the lower resolution will help stretch that further.

S Pen – The Samsung Galaxy Note 10’s biggest trick is the handy stylus

Nestled next to the USB-C port on the phone’s bottom face is the S Pen – the hidden trick of the Note 10 and a staple of the series.

The S Pen is supremely responsive when writing or drawing or it retains all the handy features from before, including screen-off notes. There’s Bluetooth Low Energy inside too, so you can use the pen like a remote.

Very little has really changed with the S Pen and considering there’s virtually no competition there’s nothing pushing Samsung forward. Most of the new things here are software-based (save for a new gyroscope and accelerometer), including some gestures you can perform with the pen to snap a photo or zoom in.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung said it has also upped the battery life to ten hours – though I couldn’t give you an example of a time when my S Pen has died. It’ll always charge back up again when you pop it back in its home, anyway.

There are a couple of enhancements to the note-taking app too, hand-writing recognition being the biggest. 

MicroSD and headphone jack – Two big Note features have been removed

We all knew it was coming but with the Note 10, Samsung has finally killed the headphone jack. The 3.5mm port has been replaced by a pair of AKG USB-C buds in the box (UPDATE: looks like it doesn’t come with a 3.5mm adaptor as I had originally said, so you’ll have to buy that separately). Most of us have probably come to terms with the death of this iconic port by now – it’s been nearly three years since Apple first ditched it – but it still removes another point of distinction for the Note series.

Galaxy Note 10 Plus rear port

Another omission is the microSD card slot, removing any form of expandability from the Note 10. Want user-configurable storage? The Note 10 Plus is for you. To offset this the default storage option is 256GB.

Performance and battery life – The Galaxy Note 10 is a beast

What exactly is powering the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 varies depending on region. Here in the UK, and other territories including Canada and Asia, the Galaxy Note 10 will be powered by the Exynos 9825 – a slightly more efficient version of the S10’s 9820. If you’re in the US you’ll have the Snapdragon 855, rather than the newer gaming-focussed 855 Plus. These are both 7nm chips and hopefully, the upgrades help the Exynos avoid the battery issues I had with the 9820.

RAM stands at 8GB and there’s 256GB storage (as already mentioned). Those of you who are hoping to make use of the vast array of 5G in the UK networks will have to cough up for the pricier 5G version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus.

Judging performance is virtually impossible after only spending a few hours with the phone in tightly controlled surroundings, however, once we get the device in for our full review we’ll dive much deeper into benchmarks, gaming and all that good stuff.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Battery life is just as tough to judge, and, as I mentioned in the display section, the smaller cell doesn’t whip up much excitement.

Having stuck to a 15W charger for some time, the Note 10 signals a shift to much faster charging. In the box, you’ll find a 25W charger (that’s the same as the one you’ll find bundled with the S10 5G), but the phone will also support 45W charging. The catch? You’ll need to buy that speedier charger separately – which for a seriously pricey phone seems slightly ridiculous.

There’s 15W wireless charging too and the nifty Wireless Powershare feature lets you use the Note’s battery to recharge other Qi devices, such as the company’s Galaxy Buds or the recently-launched Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Some rumours had suggested this would be faster than it was on the S10, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Camera – Seemingly unchanged from the Galaxy S10, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 should have a good camera

On the back of the Note are three cameras: a main 12-megapixel sensor with an aperture that’ll shift between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the conditions, a 16-megapixel ultra-wide f/2.2 sensor and a 12-megapixel f/2.1 telephoto camera offering 2x lossless optical zoom.

Both the main and telephoto cameras have OIS (optical image stabilisation) – just like they did on the S10. There are a couple of new AR camera features and you can use the S Pen’s Air Gestures to zoom in and snap a shot without touching the screen. For better or worse, this is mostly the same camera experience as you’d find on the S10 series.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 camera

I like the S10 camera, so it stands to reason I will like this too. Snaps are bright with typically punchy Samsung saturation and vivid colours. For me, it falls short of the Pixel 3 and Huawei P30 Pro – but it’s a viable competitor to just about anything else.

More changes are apparent when you switch to video. There’s a new mic-zoom feature that’ll zoom in on the audio you’re recording using beamforming (hopefully reducing background noise in the process). What’s more, you can add in a bokeh effect with ‘Live Focus’. Around the front, the cutout hides a 10-megapixel single front camera. 

Samsung isn’t really trying anything new or different here and, for a Note series addition, that feels almost like a shame.

Software – The Galaxy Note 10 has One UI, DeX and lots for gamers

Samsung signalled a huge change in its software with One UI and that remains the basis of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10. One UI’s original purpose was to simplify the often convoluted software found on previous Samsung phones, making everything easier to navigate with one hand in the process.

For the Note 10, Samsung has added a couple of new features based around productivity and gaming.

First off is DeX. This is Samsung’s PC interface for its Note series and has been, up until now, accessible with a sold-separately dock. You can now plug the Note 10 directly into another computer (Windows or Mac) to access DeX and Samsung has partnered with Microsoft to make it easier to access your notifications, messages, images and so on via a PC (DeX will also be accessible via a Mac app too).

Related: Best gaming phones 2019

Gaming modes and gaming phones, in general, are becoming more and more popular, and it seems like Samsung wants a piece of the pie.

Instead of releasing a dedicated gaming device, like the Asus ROG Phone 2, it has just added a load of specific features to the Note 10 series. You can link it with a PC, for example, and stream games that way with the PlayGalaxy app. There also appears to be a clip-on controller available to avoid having a deal with on-screen controls.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 – Early Verdict

This year, probably more than most, the Galaxy Note 10 appears to be a slightly remodelled Galaxy S10, complete with an S Pen. 

That’s no bad thing – the S10 is one of the best Android phones around – but it would have been nice to see Samsung push forward in areas where the S10 fell behind some of the competition, such as the camera, for example.

The display here is gorgeous; the design remains the best of any Android phone and the functionality of the S Pen offers something you can’t get elsewhere. I also really like the slightly smaller form-factor used here.

Yet it really seems like the fact that the Plus model exists has had a negative knock-on effect here. Samsung is pushing you towards the bigger model by restricting things like expandable storage, screen resolution and camera quality.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only - it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.