I’ve learned even more about the Galaxy Note 10 Plus after another day of testing that focused on observing battery life, the efficacy of the in-screen fingerprint reader and comparing night mode photo quality from the Note 10’s camera to the Huawei P30 Pro and Google Pixel 3, the two best-in-class expressions of dedicated night mode so far. It’s only been four days since I first unboxed the Note 10 Plus, but so far I’m liking what I see.
By now I’ve set the 10 Plus exactly how I like (down to switching out the wallpaper and choosing custom clock colors) and switched in my SIM card — this is currently the only phone I’m using until it’s time to run a battery drain test, which could take 24 hours or longer on the 10 Plus’ 4,300mAh battery. After that test, I’ll continue to use the Note 10 Plus full-time.Samsung’s new S Pen gesture controls really are.
So far, the Note 10 Plus is shaping up to be beautiful, thanks to its colorful beguiling backing and more svelte and sophisticated design than the Galaxy Note 9. Its cameras, tools and features are beginning to present as a complete package that’s fun and satisfying to use. But I’m struggling with the button placement and the missing headphone jack, and I have some questions about a few new features. Read on for details.
Night mode makes a difference
Samsung’s Galaxy cameras have a history of being very good, but have struggled to keep up with low light night mode shots compared to rival devices, like the Huawei P30 Pro and Google Pixel 3, and zoom quality like on the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom. Samsung pushed out a standalone night mode after criticism that the S10 Plus, but the Note 10 phones bake them in.
The camera’s dedicated night mode takes clearer, brighter shots that pop, compared to using the automatic mode.
I’m pretty pleased with the dedicated night mode so far, but the comparison to competitors is interesting. The purpose is to brighten and sharpen dark scenes so that details stand out. For example, street lights that spill out blobs of brightness in an automatic photo are more reigned in in night mode. Neon signs should be easier to read.
The process takes a few seconds on all phones. What I like about Google and Huawei’s phones is that they both indicate how long you have to hold still; the Note 10 is more of a guessing game.
In terms of actual image quality, Samsung’s photos tend to be the brightest, with the most background detail outside the area of focus. That’s not always what you want, though, if your goal is to also capture the fact that these images are taken at night. In the photo below, the Note 10 Plus enhances the tree leaves most. The P30 Pro did a better job keeping the clock (the focus area) clearer and easier to read, with higher contrast in the overall image, which I prefer.
Here’s the Note 10 Plus both with and without the dedicated night mode.
Major observations so far
Screen: The dynamic AMOLED display looks terrific, but the phone doesn’t seem to create bright whites, even when you turn settings to “vivid” and select for cool tones. The 6.8-inch display is awesome for watching video and reading e-books. It gets heavy if you’re trying to hold it up while laying down. My palm triggered the screen a few times when I didn’t mean it to, and the curved screens make it trickier to use the S Pen all the way to the edge.
Fingerprint reader: I’ve struggled with The phone’s in-screen fingerprint reader is much more sensitive than on the S10 Plus, a very good thing.
Aura Glow color: It’s gorgeous, but fingerprint grease dampens the appeal. Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and back helps shine up the rainbow effect, but you need a case to keep all that glass from breaking in a bad drop, which will either mute or hide the color.
Front-facing camera placement: The centered 10-megapixel front-facing camera is far less distracting than the Galaxy S10’s selfie cam placement off to the right. (Here are 7 fun Note 10 wallpapers you can get now.)
New camera tools: Portrait video worked in one early test, but I wasn’t sure I liked the background blur. Zoom-in-audio worked as advertised, but the effect was more subtle than I expected, and image quality suffers when you zoom in too closely. The new video editor was easy to use, from trimming to adding in a music track. A new Live Focus filter the makes portrait shots look dreamier.
Battery life: Battery life truly lasts all day, and recharging with the included 25-watt charger is impressively fast. The Note 10 Plus’ 4,300mAh routinely went from empty to fully charged in 65 minutes.
S Pen stylus: It’s shorter and thinner than the Note 9’s. Its button seems harder to accidentally press, which is a good thing. It also feels less substantial, and I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. S Pen air controls get a refreshed look. It’s a lot more comfortable to use when you’re sitting for awhile, less so when you’re on the move.
Performance: It’s zippy, backed so far by benchmarking tests that are consistent with other phones using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset.
Rebooting and taking screenshots feels awkward
Let’s talk about buttons. Samsung shifted the power/lock button to the left side and made it a three-in-one power/lock/Bixby button that you can reprogram. It’s now just called the side key. I’m skeptical about the placement, though I imagine it’s a boon for lefties. Still, I’m starting to get used to it. In fact, I wound up pressing the Bixby button of a Galaxy S10 Plus to turn it on. Muscle memory is a funny thing.
However, the button geography also makes taking screenshots and turning off or rebooting the Note 10 a little trickier. You can take a screenshot with the S Pen of course (I love the precision of the screen select tool), but if you want to use button controls, you briefly press the volume-down and lock buttons on the left. It feels awkward.
Press this button combo longer and you’ll see the power-down screen. This differs from other Samsung phones, where a long press on the power/lock button gives you power-down options. But with the Bixby Voice function taking over the press-to-hold function by default, you’ll need to do something else. Samsung even bakes in a tutorial to guide the way. You have three options:
- Simultaneously press and hold the volume-down and lock button (this is the iPhone route)
- Tap the power button at the top of the quick access panel (slide down from the top of the Note 10)
- Tell Bixby to turn off the phone
Option D (none of the above) is to reprogram the press-and-hold function from Wake Bixby to Power off menu and go about business as usual, just from the left side of the phone and not the right.
The Note 10 Plus’ other design challenge is the headphone jack — or rather, the lack thereof. Samsung removed this 3.5mm port in both Note 10 phones and gives you a pair of wired AKG headphones in the box, which is fine until you reach for your trusty wired pair and find you either need a dongle adaptor, a new pair of wireless earbuds or to go fetch those new USB-C earbuds from wherever you left them last.
I’ll update this ongoing review frequently with new observations, and it will eventually become my complete, rated CNET review. For now, here are a few early observations (followed by pricing information and all the specs).
Coming up next…
- Further camera tests, including AR Doodle and AR measurement.
- Air gestures with the S Pen.
- Handwriting to text conversion.
- Battery testing.
- Link to Windows, which makes the contents of the Note 10 Plus play nice with a Windows 10 computer.
And now, back to the Note 10 basics, originally published on Aug. 7.
The deal with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus
First, there’s not just one Note 10, but two: The 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 10, starting at $949, £899 or AU$1,499, and the 6.8-inch Note 10 Plus, which starts at $1,099, £999 or AU$1,699. (See how to preorder a Note 10 here.) The phones turn color up a notch with a brilliant prismatic backing on two of its color options, shining back the rainbow. And, as noted, Samsung has killed off the headphone jack in both Note 10 phones.
The Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus changes don’t stop there. There are four rear cameras in the larger Note 10 Plus, and no microSD card slot in the smaller Note 10. The S Pen gains gesture controls that let you swipe through screens from afar. There’s a larger battery and more RAM in the Note 10 Plus versus the Note 10, and wireless charging gets a tad faster for both phones.
Samsung has also made a 5G version of the Galaxy Note 10 Plus that’s identical in every way, apart from the modem inside that gives it access to the fastest data speeds. This Note 10 Plus 5G variant will sell with Verizon before branching out to T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint. The Note 10 Plus 5G costs $1,299, £1,099 or AU$1,999, the same price as the Galaxy S10 5G.
Of all the Note 10 changes, two stand out the most. Samsung saying goodbye to the headphone jack is a big deal because the brand was the last major bastion of the 3.5mm port. Letting that go signals a probable shift for future Galaxy phones. You’ll get a pair of free USB-C headphones in the box, but an adapter dongle for your existing headphones will cost you $10 from Samsung. (I quickly tested four dongles from rival makers, including Google and Apple, and they all worked on the Note 10.)
Just as interesting is Samsung splitting the Note 10 family into two sizes. The company says it’s doing this to make a cheaper, smaller phone for people who want a Note, but not an enormous device. The strategy also gives Samsung a chance to sell the Note at two different prices, somewhat curbing an upward trend toward more expensive phones. With phone sales slowing, Samsung may be trying to hit more people’s sweet spot.
Essentially making the Note 10 the Note “Lite” is a new role for the phone, which, ever since the very first Galaxy Note, has represented the most powerful, feature-stacked device Samsung makes in a given year. That’s no longer the case. Now, the smaller Note 10 competes with the Galaxy S10 Plus, and the S10 5G is very close to the Note 10 Plus 5G.
The foldable Galaxy Fold is another story altogether, but one that also threatens to eclipse the Note 10 with an even larger screen and more whizz-bang design.
Keep reading for all the Galaxy Note 10 preorder details, specs, camera tools and new S Pen features.
How to preorder and buy the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus
The Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus go on preorder Aug. 8 at 12 a.m. ET, and go on sale Aug. 23.
In the US, you can buy both phones in Aura White, Aura Black and Aura Glow (the iridescent color above). We also saw the Note 10 in Aura Pink in the UK, and Aura Red will be available in some countries. Additionally, the Note 10 Plus will sell in Aura Blue, which also has the prismatic back, but only for US customers buying it from Samsung.com and Best Buy.
If you buy either Note 10 through Samsung.com or selected carriers you’ll get a credit that you can apply to devices or accessories that aren’t other phones, such as the Galaxy Buds or Galaxy Watch Active 2. Samsung will give you $100 for the Note 10 and $150 for the Note 10 Plus.
No Note 10 headphone jack: It’s time to embrace dongle life
In a move that risks alienating some fans, Samsung has removed the headphone jack from both Note 10 phones. The cold, hard truth is that most phones already ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack, relying on the USB-C port to plug in wired headphones. Samsung was the final major holdout.
Why remove the jack? Samsung claims the decision was to free up space in the phone for more battery capacity and said that around 70% of Galaxy S and Note owners weren’t using it anyway, as people shift toward wireless earbuds.
With the headphone jack gone, those of you who feel attached to wired headphones will need to either buy a dongle adaptor or use the pair of USB-C headphones that comes in the box. Samsung doesn’t supply you with a dongle, but will happily sell you one for $10. You could also decide to make the switch to wireless headphones, including Samsung’s Galaxy Buds.
Galaxy Note 10 vs. Note 10 Plus: What’s the difference?
Although the design builds off last year’s Galaxy Note 9, I was impressed with the way the Note 10 and 10 Plus looked and felt. Leave it to Samsung to make a pretty phone, and one with eye-catching colors (I mean the Aura Glow and Aura Blue, of course).
The hole-punch selfie camera moves to the center of the Note 10’s screen. This is a big improvement over the Galaxy S10 phones, where the lens is all the way to the right.
Samsung has also shifted the button configuration. The Bixby button is gone. Or rather, it’s become one with the power/lock button on the left spine, below the volume keys. Press once to lock and unlock the screen, press twice to launch the camera (or any app — you can program this in the settings) and press and hold to trigger Bixby Voice.
The Note 10 phones use the same in-screen fingerprint reader we saw in the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus.
The phones and S Pen felt good in my hand during my short time with the phones. Although the Note 10 Plus is massive, I so far haven’t found it too unwieldy. We’ll see if that’s still true after spending more time testing it.
There are more similarities than differences between these two phones, but Samsung wanted to make sure the larger Note 10 Plus has the edge on features. We compare the specs at the end, but here are the main distinctions that make the Note 10 Plus a little extra premium.
- Screen size: 6.3-inch versus 6.8-inch.
- Device size and weight: The Note 10 Plus is significantly larger and heavier.
- AR camera: The Note 10 Plus adds a fourth camera, for AR video and drawing.
- Battery capacity: 3,500 mAh versus 4,300 mAh.
- Storage: 256GB for Note 10, 256 or 512GB for Plus.
- RAM: 8GB versus 12GB.
- microSD card slot: Not on the Note 10, but it is on the Note 10 Plus.
No microSD card slot on the Note 10
Samsung also got rid of the microSD card slot for the Note 10 only. The Plus will still accept whatever card you throw at it.
Again, the reason for the change seems to be a space-saving mission that also helps keep the smaller Note 10 lighter and thinner. That said, it seems likely that Samsung also wanted to give the Note 10 Plus one more way to be different.
Note 10 Plus cameras do night mode, portrait video, AR doodling
The Note 10 and Note 10 Plus cameras don’t vary much from the Galaxy S10 Plus and S10 5G phones that Samsung released earlier this year.
On both phones you get:
- 12-megapixel dual-aperture lens.
- 16-megapixel wide-angle lens.
- 12-megapixel telephoto lens.
- 10-megapixel front-facing camera.
As on the Galaxy S10 phones, you’ll be able to switch among the rear lenses. Notably, Samsung removed the second front-facing camera from the Note 10 phones, citing better software for taking portrait selfies.
The Galaxy Note 10 Plus adds a fourth 3D depth-sensing camera on the back, which you can use to take portrait videos that blur the background, and draw on top of photos and video with a new feature called AR Doodle.
I’ve been less than impressed with portrait video on the Galaxy S10 5G, which also has a 3D camera on the back. When people move, the video has a tendency to blur hair, legs, hands and other appendages around the edges. Samsung says it’s been improving the quality of portrait video, and my test videos were certainly better on the Note 10 Plus. I’m looking forward to trying that out more.
AR Doodle is the other main use for this fourth camera. With the stylus, you can draw all over a photo or video of a person or thing, annotating with words, arrows, starry sunglasses, capes, you name it. If you shoot video of a person, AR Doodle will track their movements, so the bowler hat you just drew on your friend moves along with them. That’s a fun bonus.
Another nice thing about AR Doodle is that you can save the file as a JPEG or movie file and share it on any major platform, not only with other Note 10 users.
Video tools will get better for everyone
New to the Galaxy Note phones is a native video editor that you can use to put together a polished video with combined clips, transitions, a musical track and trimmed edges. The S Pen’s point is a much more precise instrument for scrubbing than your fingertip.
This new video editor works with a version of Adobe Premier Rush that’s been optimized for Galaxy phones, and you can export to social platforms. This already seems like a win.
Samsung also has a new video feature called zoom-in mic, which uses multiple mics to target audio in the frame as you record. That is, it’ll use the mics on the front to record voices in front of you, which should make voices clearer. As you zoom in closer to a subject, say a speaker or a musician, the audio will get louder — a bit like a boom mic.
Samsung also says it’s improving the smoothness of its super steady video mode that we saw on the Galaxy S10 phones. The mode also now applies to hyperlapse videos.
Gesture control is the big new S Pen trick
The S Pen stylus gets a few bonus features in the Galaxy Note 10 and 10 Plus. Last year’s Note 9 introduced Bluetooth capability in the stylus, so you can take a photo remotely with a click of the S Pen button. It also has a battery that recharges when you slide the stylus back into the phone.
This time around, the S Pen adds to that Bluetooth power with a new set of gesture control tricks. While holding the button, you can flick left, right, up and down to do things like switch from the main to rear camera, advance musical tracks on Spotify or switch slides in a PowerPoint presentation you launch from your phone. You can also use some more advanced gestures, like a circular arc, to make the camera zoom in or out.
It’s better to think of this as a remote control. There’s really no reason you’d need to use gesture controls when the phone’s in your hand, but if you’ve got it set up on a tripod to take a group shot, it could be handy.
I’m on the fence about gesture control in general — it’s often a gimmicky solution in search of a problem I rarely have — but I can see some actual utility here for some specific instances. It did take a while to get the hang of some of the more advanced gestures, but practice likely makes perfect.
Handwriting to text is cool, too
Another interesting S Pen enhancement makes it easier to convert handwriting in a note into text, by simply tapping the area and pressing an on-screen button. You can also export it to a Microsoft Word doc.
If you’re the type of person who needs a break from typing to write, that would be one way to get your thoughts down.
Hand-off to your Windows 10 laptop with Link to Windows
Exporting to Word is just one tie-in the Note 10 has with Microsoft. I’m excited about another, Link to Windows.
When you toggle it on from the quick access menu, you’ll be able to sync the Note 10 to your Windows 10 desktop. You’ll be able to see your Samsung messages, notifications and recent photos, and mirror your screen.
Wireless charging, gaming, Samsung DeX see minor improvements
- The Note 10 phones will work with a 45-watt wired charger.
- 30 minutes of charge lasts all day.
- Wireless charging gets slightly faster, too.
- The AI-based game booster app pulls up from the bottom and runs in the background as you play.
- Galaxy Link is a PC app that creates a connection to your Note 10 to wirelessly stream games. It’ll be available in the future and will work with a game pad that Samsung will sell.
- Update simplifies using DeX: You’ll be able to use the feature — which lets you access the contents of your phone from any laptop or monitor — with the cable that comes in the Note 10 box.
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