Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus Review in progress

In my Galaxy Note 8 or Note 9 reviews I spend a lot of time talking about each device’s beautiful, massive screen. I’m less enthusiastic about the look of those phones because their design is a bit drab. That changes with the new Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus. They look sleek, modern, and most importantly, colorful, adding some life and pizazz to this hulking beast of a phone.

However, not much else stands out; it’s tough to follow the S10 range and the Galaxy Fold from earlier this year. Don’t get me wrong: the Note 10 Plus is a powerful and impressive smartphone…but would it be too much to ask for one feature that blows my socks off?

Not into huge phones? Check out our Galaxy Note 10 hands-on review. It’s the first time Samsung has two variants in the Note range, and the standard Note 10 is meant to be the more compact phone for those looking for something smaller.

Magical design, stunning display

The Note 10 Plus is all about style. Around front you’re treated to a vast 6.8-inch screen, which is surrounded by some of the thinnest bezels I’ve seen to date. There’s a hole-punch camera again, but unlike those on the Galaxy S10 phones, it’s smaller and centered. It still sticks out, but it’s attractive and doesn’t take up much space on the status bar.

You’ll have a hard time looking away from the stunning 6.8-inch screen. Its massive surface is like staring into another reality. It’s the same Dynamic AMOLED panel Samsung debuted for the S10 range, with 3,040 x 1,440 resolution (at 498 pixels per inch), and it’s HDR10+ certified. The screen is sharp, vivid, bright, and black levels are dark as night.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s among the best displays on a smartphone today, but I wish Samsung had added a higher refresh rate. Phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro have cranked screen refresh rate from 60Hz to 90Hz (with help from Samsung, I’ll add), and it makes for a smoother experience.

Aura Glow is an exhilarating mix of iridescence and chrome.

While the screen is gorgeous, there’s more to look at, at least if you buy the Aura Glow color. It’s an exhilarating mix of iridescence and chrome, and the result is fabulous. It’s eye-catching, magical, and an undeniable showstopper. The phone also comes in Aura Black, Aura White, and Aura Blue (the latter is exclusive to the U.S.), but Aura Glow is the one you’ll want.

Even with its fabulous colors, it’s impossible to deny the Note 10 Plus’ resemblance to the Huawei P30 Pro or the iPhone XS. The Note is angular, but the vertical camera layout is what makes it easy to draw comparisons. It does stand out for the curved edges on the sides of the phone, though.

The Note 10 Plus is a behemoth of a phone. It felt massive even in my large hands, and I had to shift the phone a little to reach the top. This is a two-handed device. If you’re comfortable with the Note 9’s size, you’ll feel right at home, because the Note 10 Plus is just a hair taller and wider than its predecessor, though it’s also lighter and thinner. The Note 10 Plus weighs less than the iPhone XS Max and is just 0.2mm thicker.

If the Note seems too large, consider the standard Galaxy Note 10. It’s only a bit larger than the 5.8-inch iPhone XS, but has a 6.3-inch display.

I’m pleased Samsung has removed the Bixby button. The virtual assistant is now activated via a long press of the power button.

All the phone’s buttons are on the left side of the Note 10 Plus. I didn’t have trouble reaching them, and I’m pleased Samsung has removed the Bixby button. The virtual assistant is now activated via a long press of the power button. Good riddance.

If you’re wondering about the fingerprint sensor, the same ultrasonic one is employed here as the one in the S10 range, meaning it sits under the glass on the front.

But now we come to the disappointing news. The headphone jack has been erased. Samsung’s reasoning? It wanted to make sure the phone was thin while maintaining a large battery capacity. To save on space, the 3.5mm headphone jack had to go.

It’s an odd choice. Note owners are “power users,” and they’d likely prefer having the jack over a thinner phone. I know I would. On the Note 10 Plus, you won’t be able to charge and listen to music at the same time (unless you wirelessly charge or use Bluetooth earbuds). This likely means the port will be axed for next year’s Samsung Galaxy S, as well. At least a dongle is included in the box, along with USB-C wired earbuds from AKG.

S Pen improvements

The S Pen stylus distinguishes the Note from the S series. It’s stored at the bottom of the phone, next to the USB-C port. Last year improved the stylus’ usability as Samsung added Bluetooth. That means the S Pen can activate certain features, like snapping a photo. The Note 10 Plus has its own star feature — the ability to convert handwriting to text.

You can quickly jot down notes on the Note 10 Plus, and the Notes app converts them into editable text formats, like Word .doc files. The transcriptions are not always accurate, so you’ll need to make sure your handwriting is reasonably legible. Since you can’t write a full sentence on a single line on the phone, formatting will look janky when you convert it to text, so there’s some work to do. Still, it’s an important step forward for on-the-go notes.

There’s also Air Actions, which Samsung recently announced alongside the Galaxy Tab S6. You can wave the S Pen like a wand to control apps, like cycling through camera modes. You can even change camera zoom with a circular motion. The gestures work, but they won’t likely see much daily use. Air Actions primarily work in first-party apps; third-party developers can support them, but I’m not holding my breath.

The S Pen hasn’t forgotten its past tricks, from Live Messages to translating text. One fun new addition is AR Doodle, which lets you sketch augmented reality art over the real world using the camera on the phone. The camera can track faces, so you can draw a hat on someone’s head and watch it follow them around. The tracking isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun feature.

Microsoft partnerships and DeX improvements

Converting handwriting to Word documents isn’t the only Microsoft partnership here. You can now link your phone to Windows PC or laptop, letting you see all your notifications and messages on the quick panel in Windows, and you can also “review recent photos.” It’s a welcome addition, especially since you can also mirror your phone’s screen and interact with it right from your PC. Microsoft said you’ll be able to answer and reject phone calls later this year too.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung’s DeX mode, the desktop Android interface that pops up when you plug the phone into an external monitor, has gained a new feature. You can plug the Note 10 Plus into a Windows laptop or MacBook via a standard USB cable and a DeX application will pop up on the computer like a virtual app. I’m not sure why I’d use a desktop interface from my phone on my laptop, but it does work well.

samsung galaxy note 10 plus review dex
Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The software is unchanged from the Galaxy S10. It’s running One UI, Samsung’s layer over Android 9 Pie. It’s slick and visually pleasing. The downside is that Google is set to launch Android Q this month, but Samsung probably won’t have the update ready until early 2020.

Speedy performance

Samsung’s Snapdragon 855 processor powers the Note 10 Plus, paired with 12GB of RAM. It’s more than enough for most people, as we’ve seen the same power inside the S10 Plus. Apps opened quickly and transitioning between them was fluid. It’s a shame the Snapdragon 855 Plus isn’t here, however. That slightly upgraded chip can be found in the Asus ROG Phone 2, and Qualcomm said it delivers better graphics performance. I’ll need to do more testing to see how the Note 10 Plus’ vapor chamber cooling system keeps the phone cool during heavy gaming.

The power inside this phone will not disappoint anyone, but if you need specifics, Samsung claims you’ll see 33% better CPU performance, and a 42% bump to the GPU. There’s also support for the UFS 3.0 specification, which means you’ll see faster loading screens in games thanks to faster read/write times.

There’s 256GB of internal storage and a MicroSD card slot, a perk of the Note 10 Plus over the Note 10. A 512GB model is also available.

A familiar camera

The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus brought a versatile camera system to Samsung’s flagship range. The Note 10 Plus is similar, but not the same. It has three cameras: a 12-megapixel main lens with a variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture and optical image stabilization, a 12-megapixel f/2.1 telephoto lens (with OIS), and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture. The telephoto lens has a wider aperture, so it should take slightly better low-light photos.

There’s also a time-of-flight sensor here (VGA f/1.4) – that’s not present on the standard Note 10 – which helps capture better depth for portrait mode photos and videos.

I thought the camera app operated smoothly and snapped photos quickly. I’m expecting a similar experience to the Galaxy S10 Plus, and I liked the photo quality of that phone. It won’t beat the Pixel 3 or the Huawei P30 Pro, particularly in low-light conditions, but it’s not far behind.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There are several new video features worth mentioning, one of which hails from the S10 5G — Live Focus Video. It’s Samsung’s portrait mode, but for videos, blurring the background for a DSLR-like effect. It looks fine — if the subject doesn’t move much.

Samsung has improved the Steady Shot mode, which stabilizes video. It’s now available for use in Hyperlapse time-lapse videos. Finally, Samsung is adding a feature called Zoom-in Mic. It directs the microphones on the phone to the subject the camera is pointing at to improve audio quality, and zeroes in as you zoom in. I haven’t had a chance to see (or hear) this in action yet, but I’ve experienced it on older phones from HTC and LG.

There’s just a single selfie camera with 10 megapixels and an f/2.2 aperture. It’s not the same as the 10-megapixel f/1.9 camera on the S10, and likely won’t perform as well in low light because it doesn’t have as wide an aperture. However, Samsung has added Night Mode, which is also available on the selfie camera, and it should up the quality in dark environments.

I’ll be running comparisons between the Note 10 Plus’ and Galaxy S10 Plus’ camera system to see the differences, and will also take a look at how it compares to favorites like the Pixel 3. Expect a strong and versatile camera system, but it likely won’t top our best.

Fast charge a beefy battery

There’s a massive 4,300mAh battery in the Note 10 Plus, and considering it’s 200mAh bigger than the one in the S10 Plus, it’s safe to say you can expect a full day of use. It may last two days of light use, though I’ll have to test it to know for sure.

It’s great to have a large battery packed in a thin phone (7.9mm), but it’s not surprising. Huawei put a 4,200mAh battery into the 7.57mm thin P30 Pro, and it has the best battery life we’ve seen. I’ll be testing to see if the Note 10 Plus can beat it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus
Note 10 on the left in the international-only Aura Pink color. The Note 10 Plus is on the right. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Battery capacity is only a part of the story. Samsung phones are often slow to charge due to outdated fast charge technology. The Galaxy S10, for example, uses the Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 spec, which was announced in 2015. Competitors like LG have moved on to the latest Quick Charge 4+ standard.

Thankfully, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus charges faster, and comes with a 25-watt charger in the box. It still only supports Quick Charge 2.0 (it uses USB Power Delivery 3.0), but with the 25-watt charger, you can go from zero to 100% in a little over an hour. The Note 10 Plus can charge even quicker than that, but you need to buy a 45-watt charger that’s sold separately. With the 45-watt brick, the Samsung phone can rival OnePlus’ Warp Charge 30 for the OnePlus 7 Pro, or Oppo’s Super VOOC for the Find X. But it’s a shame the larger charger isn’t included (and pricing hasn’t been announced yet).

Wireless charging happens over Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, and the Wireless Powershare feature makes a return from the S10 range, so you can top up other devices that support wireless charging like your friend’s iPhone XS or a pair of Galaxy Buds. The only other phones with this feature are from Huawei.

5G: The next-gen network

You can use 5G with Samsung’s latest Note phone, but you need to buy the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. The standard Note 10 Plus only supports Wi-Fi 6 and LTE. It’s the same device, but the 5G variant is two grams heavier.

Samsung has announced a new feature called Play Galaxy Link that ties into the new 5G network. It lets you connect the Note 10 Plus 5G to your Windows PC and stream installed PC games to the phone, so you can play them anywhere in the world. Unlike Google’s upcoming Stadia service, the games are still powered by your computer. Details are light, such as streaming quality and whether it can access games from Steam, but it’s one of the more exciting features on the Note 10 Plus I can’t wait to try out (it still works on all Note 10 models).

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is $ 1,100 and available for pre-order starting August 8. Samsung is offering $ 150 in store credit for those who pre-order, and official sales start August 23. The standard Note 10 costs $ 950.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G costs $ 1,300 for the 256GB model and $ 1,400 for the 512GB version. It’s exclusive to Verizon first, but it will make its way to the other carriers later. It shares the same availability details as the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus. If you’re on Verizon, check out our guide to the carrier’s 5G rollout to see if your city is on the list of 5G cities. You can check out all the deals and prices from various carriers on the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus here.

Wrap up

The Note 10 Plus is an all-around winner and excels in looks, but no one feature grabs me. It offers many incremental updates that enhance the experience but don’t leap ahead of the competition. That’s a problem given the phone’s $ 1,100 price.

I’ll be spending more time with the phone to reach my final verdict. Its performance and battery life could win me over – if they’re notably better than the field.

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