Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review: small phone - high expectations
Throughout its existence, the Galaxy Note has always been a big phone. It was the first mass-market smartphone to go the way of a larger screen-so much so that at first we called it a "phablet" because it seemed so huge. Sure, it had the latest technology and features and a stylus, but the Note was always about the big screen in the first place.
Eight years after the first model, big phones are no longer news. So instead of one Galaxy Note this year, we have two: a big one and an even bigger one.
Almost everything in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 8 is the same as its big brother: it has the same processor, the same S Pen stylus, the same software, the same corner design and excellent look, and the same camera system.
The difference is that it is smaller, with "only" a 6.3-inch display compared to the giant 6.8-inch screen of the 10 Plus. The Note 10 is the smallest Note ever released, about the size of a regular Galaxy S10 or iPhone XR.
This small size gives the Note 10 the opportunity to become something no Note has ever been before: the perfect luxury smartphone to suit everyone. The Note 10 is built with every possible gimmick, but that doesn't make it so big that it doesn't fit in any of my pockets and can't be used with one hand. That's already more than I can say for the OnePlus 7 Pro and any other Note phone I've ever owned.
But after using the Note 10 for the better part of the last two weeks, I decided it was a little more like the S10 with the S Pen.
SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 10 rating - 8
|Excellent build quality||Expensive compared to similar phones|
|Bright, colorful display||No headphone jack|
|High performance||No SD card expansion|
|Universal camera system||Short battery life|
|Loud speakers with clear sound||The fingerprint reader on the screen can be slow and unreliable|
|The smallest phone you can get with the S Pen|
The Note 10 has the same aluminum frame and glass bezel as the Note 10 Plus. It evokes the same excellent feeling as its older sibling, and the design and comfort in the hand are the maximum you can get from a smartphone in 2019.
It is also easier to hold than the Note 10 Plus because of its smaller size. In terms of technical parameters, the Note 10 is within millimeters of the S10 and iPhone XR. But its square shape and lack of "bangs" make it less comfortable for one-handed use.
To see the notifications that open at the very top of the screen requires physically moving the phone down in your hand, and then having to dangerously tilt the device to reach the opposite side with your thumb. It really is right on the verge of smashing the phone from falling. Although the Note 10 is a small smartphone, it's still a big device, and it won't fit everyone.
Despite the "small" 6.3-inch screen, the Note 10 still features a huge display that is incredibly attention-grabbing thanks to the tiny bezels at the top, bottom and sides. The screen takes up the entire front of the phone, and even the cutout for the front camera doesn't diminish the feeling of a frameless screen. I would rather use this phone for reading text and watching videos than perhaps any other device. Its screen is so nice to look at.
The display resolution is lower than the 10 Plus screen, and even fewer pixels than the S10 or S10 Plus. But it's still incredibly high-quality in practice, and I find it hard to believe anyone who says they see a difference in resolution between it and the screens in other phones. This is exactly what I expected from a high-quality Samsung screen: bright, colorful and with great viewing angles.
An interesting change is that the Note 10 screen is set by default to display more muted colors than is typical for Samsung phones. If you want to restore the crisp colors of previous Samsungs, you need to change the display to "bright" in the phone settings app.
In addition, the Note 10 has the same processor and software as the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 Plus, its performance is just as astounding. I have rarely encountered any slowness. The only phone that feels like it might be faster is the OnePlus 7 Pro, and that's largely due to the 7 Pro's more advanced display. The higher-resolution screen is something Samsung should have added to differentiate the new Note models from the rest of its lineup this year, but that hasn't happened. I wish similar differences were present.
The Note 10's RAM is 8GB, enough for multitasking and listening to music in the background without worrying about it being turned off by the phone's load management (not the way it usually is with the Pixel 3). The 256GB of internal storage, the only configuration available, is generous enough to satisfy all but the most insatiable of data hoarders, but it's worth noting that there is no way to expand the memory.
While the Note 10's performance is unquestionable, the battery life is dismal. Galaxy Note phones are famous for being able to last all day under heavy use, but the Note 10 requires a bit more care in battery calculations than I expected, even in terms of battery life.
Even though the battery capacity is higher and the screen resolution is lower than the S10, I got about the same battery life on the Note 10 as I did on the S10, with just under four hours between charges. That's still good, and it will be enough for most people, but it's not the impressive endurance you'd expect from the Note 10 Plus or even the S10 Plus.
The Note 10 camera system is basically the same as the Note 10 Plus: the mechanism consists of three cameras with a standard, super-wide and telephoto lens. This gives the device more versatility in terms of shooting. It's like a whole bag of professional photographers with lenses built into the back of the phone. The Note 10 cameras are very easy to use and provide crisp, colorful images in the right light. But like other Samsung phones, the Note 10's camera can't compete with Google's Pixel 3 for night photography.
What the Note 10 doesn't have is an additional depth sensor on the back of the 10 Plus, which is said to be used to create various augmented reality effects. But in practice, the Note 10 doesn't suffer from this. You can still do all the same tricks and gimmicks on the Note 10 as you can on the Note 10 Plus. It's not clear to me what the extra sensors on the 10 Plus actually do, if the Note 10 can create the same thing without them.
Finally, the Note 10 has the same S Pen stylus and features as the Note 10 Plus. You can use the S Pen to write on the screen, navigate the user interface, or take pictures remotely.
Throughout the years of testing and using Note phones, I have always struggled to incorporate the S Pen into my daily workflow, and for its part, Samsung insists that the pen is the main reason why so many people buy Galaxy Note phones. The Note 10's slightly smaller screen also doesn't make the S Pen's capabilities any more modest. It's just as easy to write and mark up documents as it is on the larger 10 Plus screen. It's also very handy for various games.
The bottom line is that if you've long been intrigued by the capabilities of the S Pen but can't face the fact that you have to buy a giant phone to get them, the Note 10 is a good solution.
This is the only real reason to buy the Note 10. Sure, it's a great phone with great performance, a beautiful screen, and a great design. But the Galaxy S10 is also a great phone with great performance, beautiful screen and superior design.
Six months after release, the S10 often sells for hundreds of dollars less than the Note 10. So the only differentiating feature of the Note 10 that you will pay a lot of money for is the S Pen.
While it may not be obvious when reading the specs and specifications, the Note 10 has received more changes this year than any other Note model.
It's a phone that comes with a pen.