There’s a lot going on with the Galaxy Note 10+ ($1,099.99 and up), Samsung’s biggest phone. There always is; the Note line is the epitome of Samsung’s technology. It’s where the company piles all of its features in, with price and size being no object. And I admire it, but I find it hard to love. A lot of this comes down to how many phones Samsung’s been slinging out this year with similar features, as well as my own growing lack of patience with $1,000+ handsets. Ultimately, the Galaxy S10+ ($799.99 and up) and the smaller Galaxy Note 10 ($949.99) are slightly more affordable ways to get most of what the Note 10+ offers, for less.
The Note 10+ is 6.39 by 3.04 by 0.31 inches (HWD) and 6.91 ounces. It’s slightly bigger than the Note 9 (6.37 by 3.01 by 0.35 inches, 7.09 ounces) and noticeably bigger than the S10+ (6.20 by 2.92 by 0.31 inches, 6.17 ounces).
It comes in four “aura” colors, pictured below: black, blue, white, and “glow,” which is a shimmery rainbow effect. All of the colors attract fingerprints like crazy—my “glow” review unit looks utterly greasy and flat-out gross after less than a week. There’s going to be a theme in this review that you should buy a case, and this is one reason.
The Note 10+ has a sharply curved 6.8-inch, 19:9 screen, so the phone almost comes to a point on the sides—the edges are sharper than the Note 9. Samsung also did away with the separate power and Bixby buttons, for a combined power/Bixby key on the left side. Don’t worry; you can set it to be primarily a power key, and then you aren’t accidentally launching Bixby all the time.
The phone has dual speakers, including a big beefy one on the bottom face, and a nearly invisible one at the very top edge. Also on the bottom, the new S Pen stylus pops out with a touch. Still plastic, the Wacom-powered S Pen is now “unibody,” meaning it doesn’t have the gold top third the Note 9’s pen has. It feels pretty much the same in the hand, though.
And yes, the phone doesn’t have a headphone jack. That’s going to anger a lot of people, especially those who were sucked in by Samsung spending years mocking Apple for doing away with the 3.5mm jack. Samsung includes a pair of USB-C, AKG-branded earbuds, but no dongle; however, the phone works with generic USB-C-to-3.5mm headphone dongles.
I’ve been using a OnePlus 7 Pro for a while, which is about the same size as the Note 10+, yet the Note 10+ feels more unwieldy. After a while, I realized why: When I’m reviewing Note phones, I’m very focused on the S Pen, as it’s the feature that separates a Note from the crowd. And if you’re trying to use the S Pen, you need to hold the phone securely with your other hand. That can be difficult with a 3.04-inch-wide phone.
The phone’s size feels unwieldy when using the camera, too. I feel that way about the OnePlus 7 Pro as well, for what it’s worth, but gripping the phone between my thumb and forefinger, horizontally, while tapping on the camera UI has always been an issue with Notes, and it’s an issue here too. Now, I have pretty small hands, and I was largely testing the phone with women and teenagers. I know one of our analysts at PCMag who has giant paws and swears by phones as wide as possible. But I have to tell you, this thing is at the edge of what a lot of people’s hands will be able to handle.
The device is waterproof, at least, although it’s far from rugged. As with any phone this expensive, I advise getting a case.
Left to right: Galaxy Note 10+, Galaxy Note 10
A Beautiful View
The screen is a big reason to come to this big phone. As mentioned, it’s a 6.8-inch, 19:9 bezel-less panel with a front-facing camera at top center. At 3,040 by 1,440 pixels and 498 pixels per inch, it’s actually lower density than older phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8, but not to any degree that you can notice.
In general, the Note 10+ screen behaves a lot like the S10+ screen in terms of brightness, color accuracy, and overall performance. This is good news, as the S10+ has an excellent screen.
I tested the phone’s color accuracy with a Klein K80 colorimeter attached to Portrait Displays’ CalMAN software, and found that its two color profiles are very close to the Galaxy S10’s and to the Note 9’s Adaptive and Basic modes. They’re all among the best displays out there, and they don’t have the over-saturated look we used to see on old Samsung OLEDs.
Ray Soneira at DisplayMate Labs goes into more detail with even more advanced lab equipment. Specifically, he says that blue light has been reduced by 37 percent from the Note 9, while the overall color accuracy hasn’t changed. There’s also a peak brightness mode, used in bright natural light, which goes to 793 nits, 12 percent better than the Galaxy Note 9 and about the same level as the Galaxy S10+.
That said, there’s a new wave in screens that I’m a little sorry we’re not seeing here. Razer and OnePlus have both gone to 90-hertz screens on their leading devices, a move that makes scrolling feel smoother and would increase the responsiveness of drawing apps using the S Pen. I wish Samsung had made that move here, too.
There’s an ultrasonic, in-display fingerprint sensor two thirds of the way down the screen. While it’s accurate if you get your dry, clean finger oriented correctly in the right spot, it suffers from the problems that all the in-display fingerprint sensors do right now: There’s no physical guide where to put your finger, and it has real trouble with off-angle touches.
A Better S Pen
In my mind, the S Pen is why you should really come to the Galaxy Note.
There’s no other phone with a similar feature. The S Pen is an intelligent, active stylus with pressure and tilt detection. If you want to write or draw on another kind of phone, you’re stuck with a capacitive or Bluetooth stylus. Capacitive styli like those on the LG Stylo series don’t have pressure sensitivity, and Bluetooth stylii sometimes lag. The S Pen also tucks into a slot built into the phone, which makes it much harder to lose than an Apple Pencil.
If you’re going to use an S Pen, you want to put your phone in a case. Ever since the Note 8 introduced curved screens, I’ve had some issues with trying to draw on the screen without touching the edge of the curve. A case really helps.
I had a professional artist and an experienced Note 8 user, separately, draw with the S Pen in Samsung Notes, Adobe Sketch, and Autodesk Sketchbook. The Note 10 pen is definitely more responsive than the Note 8 pen, with better pressure sensitivity in Samsung Notes. Adobe Sketch developed lag when we added too many layers, though, which is surprising and infuriating on a device with 12GB of RAM and a 2.8GHz processor.
Samsung’s “let’s throw things at the wall” approach to software features has popped up here again. It keeps adding new ways to use the S Pen, trying to see if they stick, but they’re generally so haphazardly integrated that they fall flat. Two years ago, it was Live Messages, which let you draw animated messages. It’s cool, but was never integrated into any popular messaging program, so few people use it. This year, it’s AR Doodle. On paper, the AR Doodle idea is super cool. You can draw persistent augmented-reality objects in space and take photos and videos that include them, like this:
The problem is that the AR Doodle tools are lousy and there’s no eraser. All of the drawing options are these worm-like, shiny pipes, and as soon as you make a mistake you have to start over. That gets old fast.
The top complaint, though, is that the phone is just so big it’s hard to hold while drawing. That’s part of why I’m excited by the smaller Note 10 model, which has the S Pen, but which you can also better grip with one hand.
For more writerly types, Samsung Notes also now tries to auto-recognize handwriting and transfers it into Microsoft Word. This is another good idea that doesn’t quite work because you can really only write three or four words on a line, so everything comes out squashed to one side of the document.
Still, the note-taking experience on a Note is like that on no other phone, because you can scribble rather than having to look at a touch keyboard. If handwriting is still automatic to you (which feels like a Gen X proposition), that means you can write while looking at something else, which is a big deal.
The S Pen also now works as a remote control for the phone’s camera. If you have the phone on a mount, you can switch cameras or change zoom by waving the pen around. I found that less useful than just using the pen’s button as a remote shutter, which lets you hold the phone at more distant or daring angles for selfies. The remote shutter feature is on the Note 9 and the smaller Note 10, though, so it isn’t unique here.
Processor and Performance
Once again like the Galaxy S10+, the Note 10+ uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset running at a maximum of 2.8GHz. On prcessor measures, it benchmarked slightly better than the Galaxy S10 and the OnePlus 7 Pro. We got 9,843 on PCMark and 11,180 on Geekbench multi-core. The S10+ got 9,682 on PCMark and 11,105 on Geekbench, while the OnePlus got 9,828 on PCMark and 11,012 on Geekbench.
The OnePlus benchmarked better at web browsing, though, at 481.94 on the Basemark Web test compared with 447.54 for the Note and 304.03 for the S10. OnePlus has always been really good at UI optimization, and that shows on the browser benchmark score. iPhones, alas, beat all Android phones when it comes to web-browsing efficiency: The iPhone XS Max scores 537.4 on Basemark Web.
On GPU benchmarks, the Note 10+ once again performed just like the Galaxy S10+ and OnePlus 7 Pro. One thing to note is that you can improve effective graphics performance by turning down the screen resolution. Kicking it from QHD to 1080p, for instance, improves the framerate on the GFXBench Car Chase onscreen test from 23fps to40 fps.
The Note 10+ has a whopping 12GB of RAM, which according to Samsung lets it cache up to 12 apps. Compare that with the S10+’s 8GB, or the OnePlus and Note 9’s 6GB. That said, I haven’t had much of a problem finding applications being forced to reload on 6GB and 8GB phones, and even with 12GB, the Note 10+ had trouble handling those layers in Adobe Sketch.
The device comes in 256GB and 512GB models, both with a microSD card slot tucked in by the SIM card. It’s important to note the smaller Note 10 doesn’t have a microSD slot. Outside North America, the Note 10+ uses a Samsung Exynos 9825 processor and Samsung modem; we didn’t test that unit.
4G, Calling, and Wi-Fi
The Note 10+ and Note 10 have the same 4G modem and abilities as the Galaxy S10. It’s based on the Qualcomm X24 modem, with all the 4G frequency bands used in the US and support for Category 20 LTE with 7x carrier aggregation and 4×4 MIMO on five carriers.
That means you’ll get better LTE performance than on any previous generation of phone, or any iPhone. Performance will be very similar to the S10+; we’re working with the same modem, the same antennas, the same software, and pretty much the same body size here. We can use Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence to point out how the S10+ compares with the Note 9 and Note 8, and you can see how adding additional levels of carrier aggregation will help speeds (note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag.com’s parent company).
This Samsung generation also brings new Wi-Fi capabilities. The S10 and Note 10 are among the first mainstream phones to support 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6, a new standard that improves Wi-Fi speed and range in crowded conditions. To take advantage of that you’ll need an 802.11ax router, and those are expensive right now. But if you intend to keep your phone for three years, buying an 802.11ax-compatible device is a good idea.
At PC Labs we still have 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5, which is much more common right now. On both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, I got slightly longer range—by about 15 feet—from the router with the Note 10+ than with a Note 9. This can mean the difference between some connection and no connection in a public Wi-Fi hotspot, for instance. But once again, this is generational, not unique to the Note 10+.
Making phone calls on the Note 10+ is a great experience, with one little asterisk. The Note 10+, like all Samsung flagships since the S8, supports high-quality calling with the EVS codec, which really improves call quality. But to achieve the bezel-less screen, the earpiece has been moved to the very top edge of the phone. If you’re used to placing a phone against your ear, relying on the bezel for the location of the earpiece, the feeling of pressing the edge of the Note 10+ against your ear might be a little disoncerting, and it doesn’t block quite as much outside noise.
The Note 10+’s speaker is technically the same volume as the Note 9’s, at 85dB at 6 inches while playing the same song. But the Note 10+ sounds noticeably louder to me, which is probably an effect of equalization boosting the midrange.
What About 5G?
If you’re buying a gigantic, $1,100 smartphone, you’d hope that it would be able to take advantage of the latest networks the carriers are laying down. But I’m sorry to say, the Note 10+’s 5G situation is a mess.
The Note 10+ 5G will come to Verizon first, for a $200 premium over the standard Note 10. That model uses Qualcomm’s first-generation X50 modem, the same as we’ve seen in other first-gen 5G phones, and it works with Verizon’s millimeter-wave 5G network in a small number of central cities right now.
Verizon’s 5G service plan has a perpetually suspended $10 surcharge over its 4G plan, and it includes unlimited 5G data and hotspot use. The biggest concern I have is that all the X50-based phones so far have overheated and dropped to 4G in hot weather. According to experts I’ve talked to, Verizon could fix this by slowing down 5G data access on the phones, but it may not want to do that so it can keep showing off spectacular speeds.
The Note 10+ 5G has a vapor-chamber cooling system that the S10 5G doesn’t have—but the LG V50 also has vapor-chamber cooling, and it still has overheating problems. I’ll test the Verizon Note 10+ 5G in mid-September to see if it overheats.
On the other carriers, things are messier. The Note 10+ 5G won’t be able to use the fast 5G T-Mobile has installed in six cities; instead, it will use a slower, potentially nationwide form of the network that will feel more like good 4G. Ditto for the AT&T model, where the Note 10 won’t use any of the speedy millimeter-wave the carrier has been touting in 19 cities here, just its upcoming slower nationwide network. On Sprint, the situation is totally unclear.
This isn’t at all what I’d been hoping for. I’d come to understand that the Note 10+ 5G was going to be the first phone to bring together fast, short-range millimeter-wave 5G and slower, but better-covering low-band 5G. That’s not the case. That makes the Note 10+ 5G a miss.
Your Phone, in Your PC
Who is DeX for? Samsung’s “desktop experience” was previously a way to turn your phone into a PC by attaching a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. It was sold as a way to work anywhere without a laptop. The reason it never took off was that keyboards, mice, and monitors aren’t that portable, and there isn’t much of a business infrastructure of workstations with peripherals but no PCs.
You can still do that here by attaching a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and a USB-C-to-HDMI cable, but Samsung rejiggered the entire experience this year. Now DeX is also a way to use your phone as a virtual machine, in a window on your PC or Mac. The obvious use for this is drag-and-drop file transfer, but there are two other potential killer apps.
One is in business: If you have a secure enclave on your phone protected with Samsung’s Knox software, you can now use that data on your laptop within the virtual-machine window.
But the other use could be much broader. It lets you use messaging and social media apps that don’t have good PC clients, on your PC. I’m constantly getting text messages and Google Hangouts on my phone, and I keep breaking focus from the work I’m doing on my PC to look at the smaller screen. With DeX, that’s fixed.
Hangouts works great on DeX. Snapchat and TikTok work surprisingly well. Instagram works fine, except that you can’t resize it so it’s stuck in a pretty small subwindow.
There are other ways to manage the dual-screen life, and Samsung offers one here, too: Link to Windows, a lower-impact feature of Windows 10 that doesn’t open a full virtual machine window, but just integrates SMS and notifications into your Windows desktop. That’s fine, if that’s all you need.
I’ve tried various other solutions with various other Android phones. Google Messages for web is cool, but has to be freshly logged-in every time you close your browser window. Ditto for the Google Hangouts Chrome extension. There’s a desktop app for Instagram, but it doesn’t work well. Popping your whole phone up in a window seems like a clean way of dealing with these issues.
Camera: Nothing’s Changed
The Note 10+ has four cameras on the back and one on the front. They are effectively the same as the ones on the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. On the back, you have a 12-megapixel main camera with 1.4-micron pixels and a lens that switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on light; a 12-megapixel, f/2.1 “2x zoom” camera; a 16-megpixel, f/2.2 wide-angle camera; and a time-of-flight sensor for AR applications. The front camera is 10 megapixels.
The S10’s telephoto camera is f/2.4, not f/2.1 The Note 9 doesn’t have the wide-angle camera or the time-of-flight sensor.
The time-of-flight sensor, so far, is not terribly useful. It enables an AR measuring app, but that’s about it. In the future it’s supposed to enable a “3D scanner” feature that scans objects and then turns them into 3D avatars you can then put into AR scenes or even make act things out via motion-capture, but that feature isn’t live yet.
The S9, Note 9, and S10 all take great-looking pictures in good light, and the Note 10 does, too. I’m especially impressed by how sharp the wide-angle lens is at the edges; the OnePlus 7 Pro’s wide-angle lens gets really soft in those areas.
I like the images from the wide-angle camera
Samsung’s cameras at this point trail Google and Huawei on low-light performance, and they’ve made essentially no gains from the S9 to Note 10 generations. As the lights go down, images get blurry and laden with artifacts. I found that Samsung’s night mode essentially turns the brightness up a bit, without pulling out many more details.
Low-light performance isn’t the greatest
Samsung has added a bunch of interesting filters and effects to this phone, although they’ll also bubble down to the S10 generation. I particularly like the “color-pop” effect, also available on Motorola phones, which makes the main subject of an image color where the background is black-and-white. You can apply color-pop and blur filters to videos, as well.
The phone does very well at finding the edges of a subject for the color-pop effect, but it often has trouble with a too-shallow virtual depth of field for the background blur effect, especially on the front camera. Google’s Pixel phones do a bit better there.
With video recording, there’s one more flagship feature: an “audio zoom” effect that magnifies the sound from a source as you zoom in on it. I tested it zooming in on a conversation in a noisy room, and while it isn’t magic, it definitely makes the conversation more prominent as you zoom in. Is it a spy cam feature? Borderline—I still couldn’t be more than 20 feet or so from the conversation, but I could certainly have used it if I was a private investigator at a restaurant.
Coming from a previous Samsung phone, the wide-angle camera may be the biggest change. I really like wide-angle lenses; they offer a lot of options for composition that you just can’t get with a standard lens. But remember, pretty much the same array of cameras is available on the Galaxy S10+ and the smaller Note 10, for less money.
The Note 10+ has an excellent 4,300mAh battery. I got 12 hours, 10 minutes of video playback at full brightness on a charge, which is excellent. I’ve had the phone for a few days now, and it’s lasted well over a day when I wasn’t testing the battery. Samsung has boosted its standard charger to 25 watts, which fills up the battery very quickly: I timed it as nicely filling up from 0 to 100 percent in 69 minutes, with the trend looking like this:
A more standard 10w charger (most chargers you probably have lying around are 10w chargers) takes about 2.5 hours to charge the battery. You can also buy a $50, 45-watt charger from Samsung that charges the phone even more quickly.
But you pretty much have to use Samsung’s branded chargers to achieve these speeds. Dan Bader at Android Central explains that Samsung is using an open, but as of now largely unimplemented, standard called USB-C PPS for fast charging. That means most USB-C cables and existing USB-C PD chargers will not go over 15w when charging this phone. Wireless chargers such as Samsung’s $79.99 charging pad also go up to 15w.
To get fast charging without the built-in adapter, you need a PPS power adapter and an “e-marked,” USB-C 3.1 v2 cable; so far, we haven’t seen many of those, and you can assume the ones you already have don’t meet that standard.
Should You Upgrade?
I’ve never been on board with the idea of buying a Note just because it’s a big phone. If you want a big phone, there are less expensive, still excellent options out there—the Galaxy S10+ and the OnePlus 7 Pro, for example. You can get an S10+ for $799.99, which is a $300 difference from the Note 10+, and all you really lose is the S Pen, the video filters, and the new DeX mode.
But Samsung tends to have absolutely insane trade-in deals to get people to upgrade. In this case, there’s a $350 trade-in value for a Note 8, which is $200 more than you can get selling one on a marketplace like Gazelle (you can get closer by using eBay, but it takes more effort). And Samsung takes really banged-up phones, as long as they work and aren’t cracked. Samsung’s trade-in deals might make up the differece between the Galaxy S10+ and the Note 10+ for you.
To me, the Note series has always been about the S Pen, and about people who want to use it: artists, doctors, journalists, and other people who write, draw, notate. Samsung made an effort this year to make the pen important to photographers, but I feel like that’s really pushing it.
This year, I’ve been leaning toward the smaller and more affordable phones in Samsung’s flagship lineup. I like the Galaxy S10e more than the S10+, for instance. And while we haven’t tested it yet, we know the smaller Note 10 has a lower-resolution screen, lacks the microSD card slot, and has somewhat less RAM. But it has the S Pen, the same processor, and all the same cameras as the Note 10+, and it isn’t a handbuster.
We’re getting the smaller Note 10 in for review soon, and will decide which of Samsung’s Notes is our Editors’ Choice. But if you’re looking to buy something right now, we recommend saving some money on any of the aforementioned smaller models.