The Galaxy Note line is kind of an albatross. The original Galaxy Note was the phone that started the whole big-screen trend, and now nine generations later, it’s still got one of the biggest displays you can get on a phone, along with other unique traits like a built-in stylus, class-leading specs, and a hefty price tag, and a second model that’s smaller than you might expect.
The Galaxy Note sits at a crossroad: Should Samsung continue down a traditional path catering to power users and productivity-minded business types, or maybe try going a slightly different direction?
Based on my short time using the Galaxy Note 10 so far, it seems Samsung is doing a bit of both. That’s because for the first time ever on the Galaxy Note line, Samsung is offering two versions of the Note 10: a smaller version with a 6.3-inch display, and a larger version with a 6.8-inch screen.
For Galaxy Note loyalists, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ is the “real” successor to last year’s Galaxy Note 9. The Note 10+ has basically the same dimensions as the Note 9, but with smaller bezels, a bigger screen, and a slightly lighter body. Meanwhile, the standard 6.3-inch Note 10 is aimed towards enticing people who like the idea of having a stylus and the Note 10's list of assorted productivity features. Only in a phone that’s a bit smaller and easier to carry around.
Samsung has also moved the signature punch-hole selfie camera from the corner of the phone, like you get on a Galaxy S10, to a more central location that along with a selection of eye-catching color schemes is supposed to evoke a more Zen appearance. Personally, I think putting the selfie cam dead center along the top of the screen might actually be more distracting.
On the Note 10+, Samsung crams in all the fancy components you’d expect from a truly high-end phone, including a 3,040 by 1,440 AMOLED display with HDR10+ certification, 12GB of RAM, microSD card slot, and a 4,300 mAh battery, in-screen fingerprint reader, and four rear cameras (main, wide, and 2x telephoto) including a special DepthVision time-of-flight sensor to more accurate gauge distances and objects.
However, the standard Note 10 has to make do with some spec reductions including a lower-res full HD+ 2,280 by 1,080 screen, no microSD card slot, no DepthVision camera, and just 8GB of RAM instead of 12GB. At least, to make up for the lack of a microSD slot, Samsung has doubled the amount of base storage on both the Note 10 and Note 10+ to 256GB, with an upgrade to 512GB on the Note 10+ if you want.
Oh, and we should probably get this out of the way now too. The Note 10 and Note 10+ don’t have headphone jacks, which is a first for any flagship Galaxy phone. It’s a bit sad, especially for a phone line that traditionally includes every feature you could ever want.
In response, Samsung says that unlike Galaxy S phone owners whose number one concern is getting a better camera, Galaxy Note owners still value battery life above everything else. So by axing the headphone jack, Samsung was able to make the Note 10's battery just a tiny bit bigger. That said, the 4,300 mAh battery in the Note 10+ is still slightly smaller than the 4,500 mAh battery in the Galaxy S10 5G.
And while this probably won’t make up for the loss of the headphone jack, Samsung has also axed the Bixby button. Make no mistake, Bixby is still around and can be activated by long-pressing the lock button. But now, the lock button can also be customized to perform a handful of different functions including waking up Bixby, launching into the camera app, and more. However, this also means that depending on your setup, the process of turning the phone on and off may be a bit different. To turn the phone off out of the box you’ll need to track down the new software power button in the Note 10's notification drawer.
A power button in the notification drawer isn’t the only software tweak. The most exciting thing about the Note 10 is its new software features. For years, I’ve thought Samsung’s DeX desktop mode is one most underappreciated smartphone features on the market. The problem for Samsung is that the previous version of DeX required a special dock, which people simply didn’t want to carry around (or pay for). And while Samsung later simplified things by making DeX accessible using only a USB-C to HDMI cord, that’s still not a cable most folks have just lying around.
So for the Note 10, Samsung has once again upgraded DeX. Now you can just plug the phone into a Windows PC using a standard USB-C cable to get the full DeX experience on a big screen, while all your data stays safe and secure on your phone.
In fact, better compatibility with Windows machines is a big theme for Note 10, because in addition to an easier to way use DeX, Samsung has also created a new Link to Windows app that allows you to wirelessly sync photos, texts, and other data between the Note 10 and a Windows computer.
Even the S-Pen has gotten a Windows-related upgrade thanks to Samsung’s new handwriting to text conversion feature. Now, when you’re jotting down a quick note, the Note 10 has the ability to convert your chicken scratch into digital text that can then be saved or sent to others in texts, emails, and even exported as a Microsoft Word doc.
Elsewhere, Samsung has expanded on the S-Pen abilities with new Air Actions, that allow you to control the phone by waving the S-Pen around. Initially, Air Actions will allow you to switch between camera modes or zoom in on a scene while using the camera, but Samsung says it will create an Air Actions SDK so that developers can utilize these gestures in other apps.
Speaking of the camera, in addition to getting the powerful Night Mode that first debuted on the Galaxy S10, the Note 10 is getting a number of new video features. First, there’s Live Focus Video which lets you use portrait-mode effects when recording video, while the Note 10's Zoom-in Mic feature lets you isolate and enhance sounds of a particular subject just by pointing the camera at it and zooming in. Finally, the Note 10's revamped Super Steady mode now works with both regular and hyper-lapse videos to help eliminate any excess shakiness.
And of course, there’s also a new AR Doodle mode that lets you combine the S-Pen with Samsung’s AR tech so that you can make drawings in 3D space and then record your creations in video. AR Doodles even use facial recognition so you can draw a hat or a mustache on someone, and it will stick on their face even if you look away and return to them later.
Then there are all of the Note 10's gaming enhancements. One feature I’m really looking to trying out is something Samsung calls Play Galaxy Link, which is a desktop app that that should let you stream PC games to the Note 10 over wifi or a cellular network. There are a ton Android games to play, but there are new titles that just don’t have mobile equivalents—even if they might be well-designed for playing on small screens. (I’m looking at you Teamfight Tactics.)
The Note 10 also comes with what Samsung claims is the world’s thinnest vapor chamber which promises to help the phone keep heat-induced throttling down as much as possible. And like the new Galaxy Tab S6, the Note 10 comes with an AI-enhanced Game Booster that evaluates what type of game you’re playing and looks to preserve things like battery life or increase performance based on that app.
The one curious thing from a spec standpoint is that in the US, the Note 10 will come with a standard Snapdragon 855 chip instead of the recently announced Snapdragon 855 Plus. A source with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to speak on the record told me the reason for this is because Samsung needs very long lead times when sourcing parts for future phones, and the SD 855 Plus simply wasn’t ready in time for the Note 10. However, that still puts the Note 10 in the somewhat awkward position of potentially having slightly worse overall performance than Asus’ upcoming ROG Phone 2 gaming handset.
But still, on the Note 10, it seems like Samsung has touched and improved upon every aspect of the phone. So regardless of if you’re a gamer, a power user, or just someone trying to get work done on their phone, the Note 10 and Note 10+ have something to offer, just as long as you can stomach its price. You already knew this, but these phones aren’t cheap.
The smaller 6.3-inch Note 10 will start at $950, while the larger 6.8-inch Note 10+ will go for $1,100. Pre-orders start at midnight on August 8th, with the Note 10's official release date slated for August 23rd. Though to make the Note 10's price just a bit easier to swallow, anyone who pre-orders will get a $100 credit on a Note 10, or a $150 credit on a Note 10+.
Finally, there will also be a Note 10+ 5G that will be a timed exclusive on Verizon, which starts at $1,300. Sadly, Samsung didn’t have any 5G Note 10's available to check out, but aside from added support for 5G connections, the Note 10+ 5G should have the same specs and features as the standard Note 10+.