Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

When a phone retails at $1,100, it can’t just be good, it has to be superb. It needs to deliver features you don’t get on other phones, maintain excellence across all the standard metrics, and be able to handle pretty much any situation, whether it’s work, play, or just a bit of movie watching. And while there are a few things I wish Samsung had included on its latest big-screen flagship, the Galaxy Note 10+ is damn near perfect.

Design: The Note has glowed up

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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One of the most impressive things about the Note 10+ is that despite being practically the same size (6.39 x 3.04 x 0.31 inches) as last year’s Galaxy Note 9 (6.37 x 3.01 x 0.35 inches), Samsung managed to streamline its design, allowing for a big jump up in screen size from 6.4-inches to 6.8-inches. It’s an astonishing feat.

However, for those worried about being overwhelmed by a phone this big, for the first time in Note history, Samsung made a smaller version of its flagship phone in the standard Note 10, which has a 6.3-inch screen with a lower max resolution of 2280 x 1080 (versus 3040 x 1440 for the Note 10+). We’re expecting to a standard Note 10 in for review shortly, so check back soon if you’re interested in the new, smaller model.

For 2019, nearly everywhere you look, you can see thoughtful little design tweaks that elevate the Note 10+ above other big-screen competitors. On the top edge of the phone, Samsung added a couple of small holes so that the Note 10's stereo speakers have more room to breathe, allowing for more balanced audio. Meanwhile, around back, Samsung created an almost imperceptible slit at the base of the Note 10+’s camera module, which is what makes the phone’s Zoom-in Audio feature possible (more on that later). And like any good flagship phone these days, the Note 10 features an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance.

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Samsung even streamlined the Note 10's buttons by removing the dedicated Bixby button Samsung included on Galaxy phones the past couple years. By default, the lock button (which is now called the “side key”) summons Bixby with a double press, but it can be customized to be a standard power button, or set to summon an app of your choice. And by moving the lock button over the left side of the phone, the right side is now just a clean strip of glass and aluminum. That said, long-time Note fans will have to get used to the lock button being on the left, which is jarring at first but easily overcome.

If you look close, you can see a tiny microphone hole at the base of the camera module next to the bottom-most camera.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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And while I normally don’t do this, I have to give special attention to the Note 10's signature Aura Glow color scheme. By adopting a process used when fabricating its processors, Samsung created a downright enchanting finish. Depending on your surroundings, the Note 10 can be all the colors of the rainbow, shifting from its neutral silver finish to blue, red, green, and more—like a chameleon paint job from the early 2000s on steroids. It’s definitely striking, but admittedly may not be everyone’s style.

Display: Same size phone, way more screen

As for the Note 10+’s screen, I just can’t get enough. Everything you put on it just looks fantastic. To very little surprise, DisplayMate says its screen features “textbook calibration accuracy and performance that is visually indistinguishable from perfect.” One of my few gripes with the Note 10+ is that Samsung didn’t include support for higher refresh rates. We already know it is capable of making that kind of tech, as Samsung made the 90Hz screen featured on the OnePlus 7 Pro, and after seeing the smoothness and fluidity high refresh rate screens can offer, I think it’s something every high-end phone should have in the future. Then again, if upping the refresh rate from 60Hz to 90Hz came at the expense of color saturation or accuracy, that’s a tough choice to make, so I’m not all that upset. There’s always next year.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Also, to provide a more balanced, Zen-like appearance, Samsung moved the Note 10's punch-hole selfie cam to the middle of the screen. At first, I thought this might be more distracting than the corner placement Samsung used on the Galaxy S10, but by shrinking the size of the camera hole, Samsung was able to reduce the overall height of the notification bar, which prevents the punch-hole from becoming a nuisance. If literally the only thing you care about is having a big, uninterrupted screen, the OnePlus 7 Pro might still be a better option, but for everyone else, the Note 10+ wins.

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It’s not a huge difference, but by shrinking the size of the Note 10's selfie camera, Samsung was able to reduce the height of the phone’s notification bar.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

And while Samsung’s in-screen fingerprint sensor doesn’t affect display quality, one of the most pleasant surprises with the Note 10+ is how much faster its fingerprint recognition is compared to the Galaxy S10. The S10's in-screen fingerprint reader was a good replacement for rear-mounted options, but whatever Samsung did to the Note 10's sensor had made it noticeably superior.

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Performance: An abundance of speed

When Samsung first announced the Note 10 was going to have a Snapdragon 855 chip instead of the Snapdragon 855 Plus, I was a bit disappointed. But seeing as how one of the few other phones slated to feature the 855 Plus—the Asus ROG Phone 2— still isn’t out, it’s hard to be that mad. Besides, everywhere else, the Note 10+ is absolutely stacked, featuring 12GB of RAM (which is especially handy for anyone planning on using Samsung’s DeX desktop mode), with storage doubling from 128GB to 256GB for 2019. If that’s not enough, there’s a 512GB storage option, plus a microSD card slot (which is one of the main features the standard Note 10 doesn’t have).

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Samsung drilled two small holes into the Note 10's top edge to further improve the phone’s stereo speakers.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

In short, the Note 10+ simply flies. Throughout my time with the phone, I didn’t notice a single hitch or bout of lag, while on benchmarks, the Note 10+ posted the highest WebXPRT (which measures web browsing speeds) scores I’ve seen yet. The Note 10+ also posted similar graphics scores to the OnePlus 7 Pro, with the Note 10+ hitting 7,751 on 3D Mark’s Slingshot Unlimited graphics test, compared to the OP7 Pro’s score of 7,697.

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S-Pen: Taking notes got way more useful

As always, the Note line’s most iconic feature remains a unicorn even among the most sophisticated phones. However, I admit that in today’s world where pretty much every phone has solid a touchscreen, a lot of people might not see the need for a stylus. But for those who do, the S-Pen is a huge boon for productivity, with Samsung’s handwriting-to-text conversion feature being easily the most important new addition to this year’s Note. If you’re like me and prefer to write notes or reminders by hand instead of typing them into a computer, being able to convert an entire meeting’s worth of handwritten info into plain text that can be exported to a Word doc, PDF or email is a massive time saver. And even with my awful handwriting, the Note 10+ was consistently accurate.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

This feature isn’t perfect because during the conversion process, the Note 10+ adds a lot of unnecessary line breaks that means you might have to go back and reformat the final text, but that’s a minor inconvenience compared to having to transcribe your notes all over again. In fact, now that the new S-Pen text conversion exists, I find myself wishing it had better integration with other apps, so I could more easily respond to texts and messages using the S-Pen, instead of relying on the somewhat less adept handwriting recognition in the default Samsung keyboard.

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The other new S-Pen abilities include Air Actions, which let you change between camera modes and settings by waving the S-Pen around like a wand, and AR Doodle. From my experience, Air Actions performed as expected, but since these gestures are currently limited to use in the camera app, I don’t find them all that useful. Sure, you can take a picture by clicking the button the S-Pen, but you could do that on last year’s Note 9 too.

Samsung’s dedicated Bixby button is gone, sort of.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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It’s sort of a similar situation for AR Doodle, which lets you draw shapes and creations in 3D space, like a more mobile version of Google’s Tilt Brush. I’m not the kind of person who gets a lot of joy from drawing fake mustaches on people’s faces, so while it might be fun for a bit, I largely forgot about it after a couple uses.

Cameras: Now with ultra-wide and time-of-flight

One of the most welcome additions to the Note 10 is a third 16-MP ultra-wide-angle camera alongside the phone’s 12-MP main cam and 12-MP 2x telephoto cam. This gives the Note 10+ tons of flexibility that Apple and Google’s current flagships can’t match, at least not yet.

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In back, the Note 10+ has four cameras including a main camera, 2x telephoto camera, ultra-wide angle camera, and a specialized time-of-flight camera on the side.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Overall image quality is strong across the board. Google still has an advantage in low-light thanks to Night Sight, but the Note 10+ excels in bright light, often outshooting its biggest competitors. The best example of this is a photo I grabbed of some clouds at sunset. While the colors in the iPhone XS’ shot appeared muted, and the Pixel 3's pic was underexposed, the Note 10+’s photo was vivid and instantly engaging.

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On top of all this, the Note 10+ also has a time-of-flight sensor that can be used to enhance the camera’s depth effects, though any improvements over what you get from the Galaxy S10 are hard to pick out. I appreciate that the time-of-flight camera can also be used with Samsung’s Quick Measure app to size up nearby objects.

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Samsung’s Live Focus Video benefits the most from the Note 10+’s time-of-flight sensor, as it allows you to adjust bokeh and depth of field in the middle of recording, which is nice, but it’s also not something most people will use daily.

That makes Samsung’s Zoom-in Audio the Note 10's most interesting new camera feature, partly because it works without needing to turn on any special modes or playing with the settings, so that you can highlight and isolate noises from whatever you’re pointing the camera at.

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Battery Life and Charging:

The new S-Pen looks the same on the outside, but the addition of accelerators inside allowed for the creation of Samsung’s Air Actions.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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With a 4,300 mAh battery, the Note 10+ has the biggest battery on any Note to date. This is a welcome improvement, as it ensures the Note 10+ can deliver all-day longevity, even for the sort of power users that gravitate towards super-premium phones. In typical use, I often finished a day with 40 percent battery remaining. In our battery rundown test, the Note 10+ lasted 15 hours and five minutes at its default 2280 x 1080 resolution (or 13:25 when the phone is set to its full 3040 x 1440 resolution), with puts its in elite territory alongside phones like the Galaxy S10+ (15:09) and the Huawei P30 Pro (15:24).

When it comes to recharging, the Note 10 has gotten a boost thanks to support for up to 45-watt wired charging and 15-watt Qi wireless charging. Sadly, the accessories you need to get the Note 10's max charging speeds don’t come included, as the wired power adapter that comes with a phone is just a 25-watt charger.

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Thanks to the power of AR Doodle, I present to you Mustachichu.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

I wish Samsung had at least included the 45-watt charger, as people buying a phone this expensive shouldn’t have to shell out more for a second charger. That said, the standard 25-watt is actually pretty damn quick, as it’s able to take the Note 10 from 5 percent battery to 40 percent in just 15 minutes. Not bad.

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Officially, Samsung says the Note 10 works best with Samsung charging accessories. However, since the Note 10+ uses industry standards such as USB-PD and Qi wireless charging to get those peak speeds, you can use compliant high-wattage third-party chargers if you don’t want to shell out extra. And you should, because when I connected the Note 10+ to a 60-watt Apple power adapter, I was able to go from 5 percent to just under 55 percent in the same 15 minutes.

Other Features

Somewhat annoyingly, some of the Note 10's other advanced features such as its 3D scanning app and the Play Galaxy Link App aren’t available yet. I’ve reached out to Samsung for info on when these will be available, so check back soon more updates.

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Conclusion

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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In the end, while no phone is utterly impeccable, the Note 10+ comes incredibly close. It’s got big power, big specs, and the biggest, most glorious display you can get right now. Sure, the lack of a 90Hz screen and a headphone jack might make this phone non-starter for some, the S-Pen’s Air Actions are a solution in search of a problem, and Samsung’s low-light mode isn’t quite as good as Google’s Night Sight.

But these quibbles are just tiny knocks against what is otherwise the most flexible and well-equipped phone on the market. Between its built-in stylus and productivity potential, the Note 10+ doesn’t really have a competitor that delivers anywhere near the same experience. This makes the Note 10+’s biggest hurdle its high price tag. But if you can swing it (or find a deal), the Note 10+ is still the closest thing we have to the true everything phone.

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README

  • The Note 10 supports 45-watt wired charging (via USB PD), but you only get a 25-watt charger in the box, which is still pretty fast.
  • Samsung’s handwriting-to-text conversion feature is a huge boon for productivity, as handwritten notes can be exported to a number of file types including MS Word docs.
  • The Note 10+’s 6.8-inch screen is downright mesmerizing, though I still wish Samsung had included support for a 90Hz refresh rate.
  • The Note 10+’s 3D scanning and Play Galaxy Link app won’t be available until later this fall.
  • The Note 10+’s time-of-flight camera is used in Samsung’s Quick Measure app and to enhance the phone’s depth effects, but it’s not a must-have feature.

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