The new Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus are built to be productivity powerhouses with a few camera tricks and S Pen gimmicks thrown in for good measure. It’s already better than the S10
Phones are tablets are laptops now, and the Note series, a spiritual successor of sorts to the BlackBerry, is partly responsible. The Note was doing supersize phones before it was cool, so what’s left for the new Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus now everything is pushing tablet dimensions?
With the Galaxy Fold (hopefully) ready for its comeback in September, a lot of what Samsung is doing on the Note 10 could easily translate to future all-day hybrids. The ratcheting up of its partnership with Microsoft. Catching up to Apple on creative apps. The ever-expanding capabilities of the S Pen.
Back to this week’s launch. With last year’s phones so good and these prices – £869 for the Note 10, £999 for the Note 10 Plus and £1,099 for the Note 10 Plus 5G – so high, the reason to upgrade here is the redesign.
A little blockier than the Galaxy S10s, the new Notes share the same futuristic, all-screen, hole-punch design and look sharp up close. However, now Oppo and Xiaomi have both demoed under-display front-facing cameras this hole-punch already looks a little conservative. To be fair, you can’t actually buy a phone with this tech yet.
Samsung has also done a good job of getting more screen into a manageable body. The Note 10 Plus squeezes in a 6.8-inch 3040 x 1440 AMOLED display into a phone with a bezel-bothering 94.3 per cent screen-to-body ratio, whereas on the smaller Note 10, it’s a 6.3-inch screen that fills 93.7 per cent of the front of the device. This alone might convince some people who’ve been holding out on the Note line. They’re both easy to like.
With Instagram-aping features like AR Doodle and a Stranger Things-type Glitch video mode, it’s clear that the Note 10’s cringey Tinder bio would read something along the lines of ‘work hard, play hard’, but Samsung hasn’t forgotten that the Note has to be a phone to get stuff done to justify its existence.
Standouts include a nice screen recorder feature that lets you film yourself picture-in-picture and scribble on the screen with the S Pen while you stream to, say, Twitch or YouTube; improved ‘super steady video’ and video effects such as blurred background light circles that’ll go down nicely with the influencer set.
Before I go any further: there’s no headphone jack. Samsung has decided it’s time to say goodbye. Its customers listen to music wirelessly, getting rid of it meant the phones can be 7.9mm thick and it has the Galaxy Buds to shift now. So long. (To console those of you who haven’t made the wireless jump, there’s an adapter, though it’s not bundled in the box).
The main upgrade to the Note’s S Pen, which became an untethered Bluetooth accessory last year, is gesture controls. I know, cue groans. What Samsung showed off in our extended hands-on was a lot of wand waving to control the camera app remotely. So, once you press and hold the S Pen button to activate, you can now swipe left and right through camera modes, swipe up or down to switch between the rear- and front-facing cameras and make circles in the air to zoom in and out. These all worked as advertised but made everyone feel stupid.
When would we use gestures to control a smartphone sized screen, though? Samsung offered the example of remote controls for a group shot – fair enough – and gaming controls – less obvious a need when Bluetooth controllers exist. The SDK is now open to see if anyone has any better ideas. Come up with a mainstream, entertainment application for them and I’ll eat my wizard’s hat.
What might be more interesting to Note owners is use cases like the fact that you can now use the S Pen as a PowerPoint presentation remote/pointer for up to ten hours; previously this was limited to 30 minutes on the Note 9. That’s really neat, rivalling nifty standalone remotes like the Logitech Spotlight, and if you don’t need the Hogwarts camera gestures, you can just ignore them.
The S Pen has also been redesigned, it’s now a slicker unibody design compared to last year’s metal and plastic two-piece, and there’s a few more tiny tweaks. The Air Command menu is lovely and less cluttered, plus scribbling on the lockscreen – still fun – can be colour coded.
Also quite neat is how Samsung is still honing how the Note series works with PCs and Macs. There’s now no character limit to how much handwriting you can convert to text in Samsung Notes, and you can now export these notes as Microsoft Word or PDFs. There’s Virtual Desktop screen mirroring for PCs and Macs with calls, messages and alerts showing on the desktop and the ability to plug in the Note via USB-C for Samsung Dex and drag and drop between the two. With the Microsoft partnership first announced at MWC, Samsung says we should expect “continual updates”.
There’s actually quite a few areas that have nothing to do with the stylus where the new Notes offer more advanced hardware than Samsung’s other 2019 release. The Galaxy S10 series includes a 4G flagship and a larger, heavier, quite substantially different S10 5G variant. Here the Note 10 Plus 5G (which will be available in the UK) is essentially the same device with the addition of the 5G modem and missing the dual SIM support. Sadly, there’s no Note 10 5G on the cards.
Elsewhere, the upgrades on the S10 are more minor but noticeable. The hole punch for the 10MP wide-angle, front-facing camera is smaller on these displays than the S10 and centred to make it more symmetrical. The camera setup here is exactly the same in terms of lenses (12MP main, 16MP wide-angle, 12MP telephoto) but the Note 10s have three mics to enable the useful Zoom In Mic feature in the camera app – the Galaxy S10 has two mics.
A Samsung rep told us that the new Game Booster mode, which knows if you’re playing Call of Duty or Candy Crush and adjusts power, battery and cooling accordingly, will be available only on the Note 10 “at the moment”. You get the idea: the Galaxy S10 is already out of date.
The smaller, 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 10 is a great move; both models are easy to hold, but many people will find the dinkier device more comfortable, I certainly did. You’ll be 50 per cent less worried about dropping it out and about, trust me.
There are, as ever, quite a few trade-offs, though, for opting for the ‘minus’ model. A not-quite-as-high-res screen at 401ppi versus the Note 10 Plus’ pin-sharp 498ppi. Reduced specs with 8GB of RAM, rather than 12GB, and only one model with 256GB of storage and no microSD card support whereas the bigger phone will come in a 512GB option with microSD up to 1TB.
The smaller, 3,500mAh battery is a non-issue, but it’s also worth noting, it’s 25W fast charging for the Note 10, 45W for the Note 10 Plus. You also don’t get the extra ToF sensor so the bokeh, live-focus video trickery, which you can slide from subtle to overdone, is handled entirely by software on the Note 10, as it is on the selfie camera on the Note 10 Plus.
With the Galaxy S10 struggling to find its place amongst tough competition, and the Galaxy Fold still very much an unknown quantity – we are yet to get our hands on one – the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus aren’t a big, risky leap but they look very much like the phones Samsung needs in 2019. More promising still, perhaps, is how all this work being done on note taking, screen sharing and the like will be fed back into the Samsung machine to be spat back out as future, fully functioning and finished phones – if we still call them phones.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus are up for pre-order, in the iridescent ‘Aura Glow’ finish and a ‘high-shine Aura Black’, and will go on sale on August 23. In Europe, if you trade in your old phone during the couple of weeks of August pre-orders, you’ll get an extra €100 off.