Review, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ Review: Excellent in Most Areas but One

Just like how it was with the Galaxy S10 series, the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 smartphones bring quite a number of improvements over its predecessor. Both the Note 10 and Note 10+ sport sleeker designs, more versatile camera systems, and the S Pen now comes with gesture support too.

After spending a few weeks using the bigger Galaxy Note 10+ as my daily driver, there’s no doubt that these improvements make the flagship smartphone superior to its predecessor in almost every way. That being said, there is one crucial area where it could still use some innovation.

If that were to be addressed, the Galaxy Note 10+ would easily be one of the best flagship smartphones money can buy right now.

Specifications

Display6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED (3040 x 1440)
ChipsetSamsung Exynos 9825 2.7GHz octa-core
GPU
Mali-G76 MP12
RAM12GB
Storage256/512GB, expandable
Camera (rear)
12MP f/1.5 – f/2.4, OIS, Super Speed Dual Pixel AF
16MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle)
12MP f/2.1 (telephoto), OIS, PDAF
VGA DepthVision (ToF)
Camera (front)10MP f/2.2
Battery
4,300mAh
Dimensions162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm
Weight
196g
OSOne UI based on Android 9 Pie
ConnectivityLTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C
PriceRM4,199 (256GB), RM4,799 (512GB)

Hardware of the Galaxy Note 10+ are what you’d expect from a flagship smartphone. It has a fantastic (and large) 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display, a fast 7nm Exynos 9825 chipset paired with 12GB of RAM, a generous 4,300mAh battery, and an IP68 rating – both for the phone and the S Pen.

However, it’s quite underwhelming to see that the Note 10+ has a similar camera system as the Galaxy S10. This is my biggest qualm with the phone, and in my opinion, the lack of innovation in this area is the Note 10+’s main shortcoming. I’ll elaborate more further down this review.

Design

We received the Galaxy Note 10+ in Aura Glow for this review, which I think is Samsung’s most eye-catching colour yet. Depending on the lighting condition, the colour shifts accordingly, giving it a unique aesthetic. Then again, I imagine some folks won’t be thrilled by the sheer reflectivity of this colourway.

Besides that, the Galaxy Note 10+ has solid build quality too. It has a nice heft to it, it feels premium, and I love how the back panel and screen virtually blend into the frame. Samsung’s flagship smartphones always had excellent build quality, and it goes without saying the same applies to the Note 10+.

And then there’s the new Infinity-O Display; Samsung’s own take on a hole-punch design. But instead of placing the cutout on either sides of the Galaxy Note 10+, the phone maker decided to put it right in the middle of the screen at the top. Honestly, I prefer this orientation: it gives the phone a symmetrical look.

What’s even more impressive are the lack of bezels surrounding the screen. Thanks to the curved nature of the display, the side bezels are virtually gone. The top and bottom bezels are very minimal too, further accentuating the all-screen design of the phone.

But if there’s any design aspect of the Galaxy Note 10+ that is a downgrade from its predecessor, it would be the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung says this had to be done to increase the battery capacity of the phone, which the company certainly did. Still, I’m sure there will be consumers who will miss the headphone jack.

Regardless, the Galaxy Note 10+ is a well-designed, handsome device with an eye-catching finish. Compared to other smartphones in this segment, the Note 10+ easily stands out.

User Experience

Samsung improved by leaps and bounds when it comes to the software experience on its smartphones, and One UI on the Galaxy Note 10+ is no exception. It’s a polished, lightweight version of Android with an eye pleasing user interface. Throughout my time with the phone, never did I face any major bug or issue with One UI.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of another software feature: DeX. Previously, DeX only works when you connect your phone to a monitor, but with the Note 10+, there are now DeX apps for Windows and Mac machines. This, in turn, allows you to use DeX with your laptop.

So I installed the DeX app on my Windows PC to see how well it would run, and…it just wasn’t very pleasant to use. It feels sluggish, it’s difficult to transfer multiple files between my PC and the phone, and the interface looks blurry to boot. In the end, I just transferred files from the phone to my PC the old-fashioned way.

Let’s move on to something more positive: the new S Pen’s Air Actions feature. As its name suggests, you can use gestures to do certain actions. In the camera app, for example, you can flick the S Pen up or down to switch cameras, and change shooting modes with a left or right swipe.

Truth be told, Air Actions feel gimmicky in my opinion, and it’s not super intuitive to perform the gestures either. I’ll have to press on the S Pen’s button, perform the gesture, and release the button for Air Actions to work; that’s far from intuitive. Sure, there are instances where this feature would come in handy, but I really don’t see myself using it all too often.

As for the S Pen itself, it works as intended. It is still Bluetooth-enabled, so you can use it as a remote, and Screen Off Memo – which allows you to take notes by just taking out the S Pen without unlocking the device – is still here too. Basically, it’s the S Pen fans of the Note series know and love.

Next, we have the Galaxy Note 10+’s 6.8-inch 1440p Dynamic AMOLED display that looks fantastic. It can get searingly bright, colours are very vibrant, and the deep blacks make for a very enjoyable screen for content consumption. Samsung makes some of the best displays in the market, and the Note 10+ is a testament of this.

Underneath that excellent display is an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, which works…reasonably well. It’s not the most accurate or fastest in-screen sensor I’ve ever tried – that honour goes to the OnePlus 7 Pro – but it’s definitely functional and fast enough to not feel too cumbersome to use.

Performance level of the Galaxy Note 10+ is also very good. I can switch between different apps seamlessly and quickly, there was absolutely no stuttering throughout my time with the phone, and gaming is (naturally) very enjoyable. Rest assured, you’re getting flagship-level performance with this phone.

Another thing worth noting is the fact that the Exynos 9825 is built on a 7nm process, making it more power-efficient than the Exynos 9820 SoC found in the Galaxy S10 smartphones. This, coupled with the Note 10+’s generous 4,300mAh battery, can return reasonably good battery life.

On average, I was getting between five to six hours of screen on time with the Galaxy Note 10+. It’s not an amazing figure, but it’s certainly far from bad. Charging rate of the phone, on the other hand, is quite impressive: the Note 10+ charged up to 65% from completely empty in only 30 minutes.

I genuinely enjoyed using the Galaxy Note 10+ as my daily driver. While I wish the DeX app was more robust, other aspects of the phone are great; some are even fantastic. Now, let’s talk about the area where the Note 10+ could use some…innovation.

Camera

On the back of the Galaxy Note 10+ are four different camera sensors: a 12MP main shooter with a variable aperture (f/1.5 or f/2.4), a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle sensor, a 12MP f/2.1 telephoto lens, and a VGA DepthVision sensor. If we were to exclude the depth sensor, the Note 10+’s quad camera system is actually very similar to the Galaxy S10+’s camera configuration.

Given the similarity between these two devices’ camera systems, I decided to take some comparison shots with them. Surprisingly enough, the results are not what I expected.

Even if the camera hardware of both phones are similar, the Note 10+ takes slightly brighter, more flattering-looking images; this is especially the case with the last set of images. On top of that, the Note 10+ also handles lens flare ever so slightly better.

Based on these images, it’s evident that the Galaxy Note 10+ can take good-looking shots in low light conditions. Of course, it can do the same under ideal lighting as well. Just take a look at these shots taken with the three different camera sensors.

However, as good as these images look, they’re not…outstanding. Don’t get me wrong, the Note 10+ has very respectable camera performance, but it doesn’t compare favourably to the likes of the Huawei P30 Pro with its amazing zooming capability.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Samsung sorely needs to innovate in the camera department. After all, the camera performance of its flagship smartphones have not improved drastically in the last couple of years. If it had an even more capable camera system, the Note 10+ would be that much more desirable.

Regardless, this phone is still very fun to photograph with, and it will almost certainly serve most consumers very well.

Competition

Retailing at RM4,199 and RM4,799 for the 256GB and 512GB models respectively, the Galaxy Note 10+ is costly, even for a flagship smartphone. At this price point, it has a number of noteworthy competition.

OnePlus 7 Pro

OnePlus is gradually going upmarket with its flagship smartphones, and the OnePlus 7 Pro is the company’s most premium offering yet. Just like Note 10+, the 7 Pro with 256GB of storage and 12GB RAM retails at RM4,199 as well. For the same amount of money, the OnePlus 7 Pro offers a faster 90Hz display, a sleeker all-screen design, and a cleaner software experience.

On the flip side, the Note 10+ offers several features the OnePlus 7 Pro simply do not have: S Pen and DeX. The latter may not be quite as important, but the S Pen certainly is. It’s the signature hardware of Note smartphones, and many Note users swear by it.

Besides that, the Note 10+ also has superior camera performance, water and dust resistance, as well as support for expandable storage.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Naturally, the smaller Galaxy Note 10 is a great alternative to the Note 10+. Not only is it more affordable – it costs RM3,699 for the sole 256GB model – it also shares a number of features with its bigger sibling. The Note 10 has the same Exynos 9825 chipset, similar camera performance (it just doesn’t have the depth sensor), and most importantly, it sports the same S Pen.

That being said, there are a number of distinct differences between the two devices. The standard Note 10 comes with a smaller and lower resolution 6.3-inch 1080p Dynamic AMOLED display, a smaller 3,500mAh battery, no support for expandable storage, and only 8GB of RAM instead of 12GB.

Obviously, the Note 10+ is the better equipped phone in the series, but if you’ve always wanted a Note device in a smaller form factor, that’s exactly what the Note 10 offers.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is a premium flagship smartphone through and through, and as with most new iterations of Note devices, it is Samsung’s best Note yet. It has a fantastic display, respectable battery life, sleek-looking design, and a very capable camera system.

But other phone makers are rapidly catching up to the Note 10+, especially when it comes to camera performance. Next to these smartphones, the Note 10+…isn’t quite as desirable. Its high asking price doesn’t really help in this regard either.

That is not to say the Galaxy Note 10+ isn’t worth considering: it still has its own unique feature set, including the signature S Pen. Air Actions are gimmicky in my opinion, but I’m also certain some folks will find some use out of it. Same goes for DeX: it’s not a feature I see myself using too much, but the ability to project the phone to a display can be a powerful tool.

If you’ve always been a fan of Note devices, and you absolutely need the functionality of the S Pen, the Galaxy Note 10+ is a great option – just know that you’ll be paying a premium for it.