Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Review: The Note for everyone else
The Galaxy Note 10 Plus stole a lot of hearts at its debut, but I looked inquisitively and in admiration of the smaller Galaxy Note 10. Not just because it’s the first time Samsung has launched two Note phones, but because moving it around in my hand made it feel unlike any other device: a massive 6.3-inch screen in a one-hand-friendly form that felt like liquid and looked like it too.
I’m in love with its size, and my ogling gaze made me almost miss what Samsung was telling me: This doesn’t have all the features as the Note 10 Plus. I winced as the air was knocked out of me. “OK,” I thought. “What are we missing?”
After spending some time with the Note 10, the answer is not much. Note smartphones have always indulged in the excess, so what happens when you make a “lite” version? Well, you come away with a lavish, powerful phone that’s still more than what most people need, with a stylus to boot, if that’s your thing.
Compact design, still a big display
What catches the eye first with the Note 10 is undoubtedly the dazzling, color-changing colorways. All named with the befitting “Aura” prefix, the Note 10 comes in Aura Glow, Aura White, and Aura Black. Aura Glow is the model I received and probably the one you’ll want most for its beautiful rainbow-spectrum reflections. The Galaxy Note 10 makes me wish I could take pictures of my phone with my phone.
The Note 10 is actually smaller than last year’s Note 9, while still maintaining almost the same large screen size — 6.3 inches compared to the Note 9’s 6.4-inch screen. This is thanks to the slimmed-down bezels around the screen, giving you more screen real estate than ever before; it has some of the slimmest bezels I’ve seen on a phone. It looks and feels smaller than the Note 9 in-hand, like a slightly wider Galaxy S10. It’s comfortable, and I never thought I’d say a Samsung Note– of all phones — is perfectly usable with just one hand.
The Galaxy Note 10 makes me wish I could take pictures of my phone with my phone.
For reference, the Note 10 Plus has a sprawling 6.8-inch screen but it’s almost the same footprint as the Note 9. As Samsung gets better at fitting bigger screens in smaller devices, it makes sense to make an even bigger-screened Galaxy Note 10 Plus, but creating a smaller phone is a welcome addition too.
Speaking of the screen, the Note 10 differs from the Plus in screen resolution. It has a 2,280 x 1,080 resolution (401 pixels per inch). In practice, you truly won’t be able to tell a difference in sharpness without making a concerted effort. It’s still the same Dynamic AMOLED panel that’s HDR10+ certified, vivid, and gets plenty bright when you’re out and about in the sun. It’s spectacular.
As you can see in the comparison above, while the red jacket on the subject wasn’t as dark as it is in the iPhone XS in real life, the Note 10’s screen is distinctly brighter.
There is a casualty we should address, which Samsung said was in the name of the thinner body and big battery within — the beloved 3.5mm headphone jack. I, like many, am not stoked to need an adapter if I want to use wired headphones, but also like many, by now, I have at least one pair of Bluetooth headphones. It’s not often I need or want to go wired but the option is useful. A USB-C to 3.5mm dongle is not included in the box, sadly, just a pair of USB-C AKG earbuds.
The Bixby button has also disappeared, well, sort of. Technically it’s the power button that has disappeared, and the old Bixby button is now a sleep/wake key. Press and hold the button, and it calls upon Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant. So how do you turn the phone off? There’s a new software button in the notification drawer, or you can customize the physical sleep/wake key in the settings menu to offer up the power menu when you press and hold it, effectively disabling Bixby.
The S Pen
The S Pen, still accessible from the bottom of the phone, has some aesthetic changes; specifically, there are beveled edges you likely won’t notice unless you’re comparing it directly to last year’s S Pen. The stylus does add some gestures to its repertoire in the form of Air Actions. Much like we saw on the recently-announced Galaxy Tab S6, you can hold the button on the S Pen and wave it like a magic wand to switch between camera modes or media within a gallery, as well as zoom the camera with a circular motion to the left or right.
For the most part, these work well in practice, though it may take a few tries to get used to the gestures. Air Actions are useful for taking photos or video on a tripod setup but otherwise might not get much use in your daily life. More integrations may crop up in third-party apps, though, thanks to the open software development kit for third-party developers. At the moment, it works in Samsung’s Gallery app and YouTube.
The S Pen has also become more professionally-viable with a brand-new Microsoft Office integration. Now, you can take written notes in the Samsung Notes app and transcribe them into editable text, and then export it to a Word document. Samsung’s transcription technology is fairly accurate, deciphering my awful penmanship adeptly, punctuation and all. Still, writing on a screen this size, you’re unable to fit full sentences on one line, which will create some formatting issues you’ll need to rectify when transferring to a Word document. It can be handy for shorter notes and lists, though, and it’s impressively trained on 62 languages and thousands of handwriting samples, so it should transcribe well for a good amount of people.
The other downside is that the transcribed text shows up on the Word document in a text box — that means you need to cut it from the text box and then paste it inline on the document. It’s a bit clunky. Still, this is a nice step towards making the Note 10 a more universal tool for productivity, and hopefully, we’ll see more options for export with third-party apps like Google Docs.
The S Pen has become more professionally viable with a brand-new Microsoft Office integration.
The last new trick for the S Pen is an app called AR Doodle. It brings the S Pen’s drawing functionality to real life, transposing your doodles into real-life objects and faces with augmented reality and face-tracking technology. We’ve seen this before from apps like Google’s Just a Line app; it’s not a feature I see myself using ever but it was mildly entertaining to play around with. Facial tracking works well but things can seem to get a little off track when plotting objects around you rather than just on faces.