Galaxy Note 10 Review: A Smaller Note Makes For Better Handling

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

When Samsung announced the arrival of two versions of its latest Galaxy Note—the 6.3-inch Note 10 and the 6.8-inch Note 10+—it signaled a small departure from previous years. In spirit, the Galaxy Note 10+ is the true successor to Samsung’s iconic big-screen phone line, while the standard Note 10 seems like something Samsung’s bean counters dreamed up as a way of broadening the market for the company’s latest high-end phone.

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However, aside from simply having a smaller screen, the Note 10 also lacks a few specs and features found on its bigger sibling. This forces us to ask if Samsung’s recent attempt to adapt the Galaxy Note for people with smaller hands has also watered down a phone that is typically defined by an excess of power and features.

The answer: In short, no. Despite having slightly less impressive features, the normal Galaxy Note 10 retains almost everything that makes the Note 10+ one of the most well-rounded, accommodating handsets on the market.

OK, so what’s actually different between the Note 10 and Note 10+? In addition to having a smaller 6.3-inch OLED screen, the Note 10's display also comes with a lower max resolution of 2280 x 1080 as opposed to the 3040 x 1440 display you get on the Note 10+. When you put the two side-by-side and look real close, it’s possible to discern a slight decrease in sharpness and pixel density. That said, if you pull your nose back a bit, those differences largely disappear, and what you’re left with is still one of the most vibrant and best-looking smartphone screens on the market. And because Samsung moved the Note 10's 10-MP punch-hole selfie cam to the middle from the corner like you get on a Galaxy S10, the front cam tends to disappear within the phone’s notification bar more easily.

Inside, the Note 10's Snapdragon 855 chip offers expectedly top-notch performance, though because Samsung opted not to include a microSD card slot on the standard Note 10, the new 256GB of base storage becomes even more important. And while 256GB is probably more space than most people need—even the sort of power users that tend to gravitate towards Samsung’s Galaxy Notes—not getting expandable storage on any Note still stings a bit.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

As for the Note 10's 8GB of RAM (versus 12GB for the Note 10+), that discrepancy is harder to discern, as it always seemed the Note 10 plus had ample memory to keep tons of software suspended in the background without needing to reload apps constantly.

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And finally, there come the Note 10's rear cameras, which are comprised of a 12-MP main cam, 12-MP 2x telephoto cam, and a 16-MP ultra-wide-angle cam. This is the same setup found on both the Galaxy S10 and the Note 10+, with the only thing missing from the standard Note 10 being the 10+’s 3D time-of-flight camera.

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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But out of all the things the Note 10 lacks compared to the Note 10+, the time-of-flight sensor is by far the easiest to forgive. The Note 10 can still use Samsung’s new Live Focus video mode with almost no difference in quality, which means the only thing you can’t do is use Samsung’s Quick Measure app to approximate the size of nearby objects. Not really a huge loss.

When it comes to regular photos, the number of different cameras and focal lengths gives you a ton of flexibility to capture pretty much any scene. Sure, in absolute terms, Google’s Night Sight Mode on the Pixel 3 is slightly more adept at taking low-light shots than Samsung’s Bright Night option, but the results are often quite close, and it’s clear the Note 10's image quality is still top tier.

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Finally, the Note 10 has a smaller 3,500 mAh battery compared to the 4,300 mAh power pack in the Note 10+. Though that difference in capacity doesn’t translate into quite as big a gap in battery life as the numbers might suggest. In our video rundown test, the Note 10 lasted 13 hours and 46 minutes compared to the Note 10+’s time of 15:05.

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As for the rest of the phone, between features like its in-display fingerprint reader, hidden rear mic (which allows the phone to isolate noise better when you zoom in while recording a video), and Samsung’s dazzling new Aura Glow finish, the Note 10 always feels like it’s up for a challenge, regardless if you’re gaming or just trying to get some work done.

I must admit, though, I feel like some of the Note 10's other new abilities like its Air Actions (which allow you to change camera modes by waving the S Pen around) and AR Doodle (which lets you draw augmented reality sketches in the air) are fun for a short time, but ultimately feel kind of gimmicky.

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And of course, there’s the built-in S Pen, which remains a unique feature in the smartphone world. You can use it to make gifs, help translate text into other languages, sketch, and now on the Note 10, convert handwritten notes into digital text that can be exported to a number of formats including PDFS, Word docs, and more. If you want a stylus but with a phone that’s not quite as unwieldy as the 6.8-inch Note 10+, well that’s pretty much exactly why the standard Note 10 exists.

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Really, aside from some minor differences in specs and Samsung axing the headphone jack for 2019's Galaxy Note, it’s hard to find a lot of fault with Note 10. In fact, right now, at $950, the standard Note 10 costs $50 less than a comparable Galaxy S10+, which offers nearly an extra 1.5 hours of battery life, but at the expense of not having an S Pen.

So unless having a microSD card slot and a headphone jack are deal-breakers, the newer Note 10 is actually a better deal. Just be careful to pay attention to price changes, because with the S10+ having gone on sale back in the spring, it may get hit with a round of discounts sooner. But still, just because it doesn’t have a massive display or the fancy time-of-flight sensor found on its bigger and slightly more exciting sibling, the standard Note 10 is still embodies the best qualities of Samsung’s power-user phone line while also being a bit easier to handle.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

README

  • Unlike the Note 10+, the standard Note 10 doesn’t have a microSD card slot or a time-of-flight sensor, and its smaller 6.3-inch display is limited to a 2280 x 1080 resolution.
  • Compared to the Galaxy S10+, the standard Note 10 trades about 1.5 hours of battery life in exchange for having the S Pen.
  • The Note 10 is still on Android 9, and don’t expect an update to Android 10 to arrive until the end of the year at the earliest.
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About the author

Sam Rutherford

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.