A lot has changed since Samsung was the Android king, namely – Huawei and Google’s flagships showed up and then there’s Oppo, Xiaomi, Sony, LG et al all vying for the non-iPhone shoppers.
Samsung’s response? More, more and then some more. What with the S10, S10+, S10e and then the Galaxy Fold both with 5G variants, it’s all a bit confusing. But then again, you’ve never heard anyone complain that having the options of either: plain digestive biscuits, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, caramel, and even banoffee flavoured ones, did you? You do wonder who’s buying banoffee McVitie’s though.
That brings us nicely to the Galaxy Note 10, the 6.3in, bezel-less, pen-wielding, blindingly shiny smartphone borrowing the triple-camera setup from the Galaxy S10. It’s 5G-ready too, even if you (and the rest of planet earth) aren't quite yet.
There’s another star in the galaxy too, a bigger brighter one - the Note 10+. We had some time with the Note 10 last week, we’ve doodled with the S Pen for as long as we were allowed, gazed into the big glassy curved screen and have some initial impressions...
Design and build: Pen will I see you again? (yes)
Wait a sec, Notes are usually huge.
At 71.8 x 151 x 7.9mm, Samsung's latest blower is actually smaller than the Note 9 and weighs 168g compared to a rather heftier 201g where the Note 9 stands. It’s almost identical in size to the Galaxy S10. But despite the smaller body, by pushing those bezels off the edges Samsung has given you 10% more screen. Meanwhile, the selfie camera has moved to the middle of the phone.
The Note 10 takes another leaf out of the S10 playbook with an almost identical thickness. Which is notably thinner than any previous Note.
The Note 9’s got nothing on the monstrously shiny colour options of its successor: Aura Glow, Aura Black and an Aura Pink for those who need a heady dose of candyfloss cheer every time they look at their phone.
It simply wouldn’t be a Note without the S Pen. Notes has had an overhaul so you can now pinch to zoom, highlight text and edit handwriting. Samsung has introduced the same Air action feature it introduced with the Galaxy Tab S6, letting you control the phone using the pen from a distance – up to 40m Samsung claims.
Gesture controls operate via the six-axis sensors including a gyro and acceleration sensor. We managed to take a photo at a safe distance of about 5 metres and it worked a treat. It also felt like using a wand. So if you’ve ever fancied a place at Hogwarts, this might be the closest alternative.
The Note 10 feels more like a 'normal'-sized phone than a phablet due to its relatively petite body, compared to the Note 10+ at least. It’s a comfortable fit in the hand and will fit in a pocket too.
Samsung have opened up the Note series to those who don’t require a phone the size of Peter Crouch’s foot.
And one more thing, Sayanora headphone jack. This is the first Note to finally ditch it.
Screen and sound: Throw me a curve
With a 6.3in AMOLED edge-to-edge display which Samsung likes to call Infinity-O, we have no doubt that this is one of the best screens you’ll see on a smartphone in 2019.
The 2280x1080 (401pp) is HDR10+ certified which was introduced on the Galaxy S10 range and it’s really is quite lush.
Movie watching and game playing should be all sorts of enjoyable. We watched a couple of trailers and the curved screen paired with punchy colours and it didn’t miss a beat.
Sound, as ever, is provided by AKG-tuned speakers, so that’s a stamp of approval, in theory anyway. Loud and clear from what we could deduce from listening to movie trailers in a busy outdoor area.
The biometric fingerprint sensor is rapid. The S Pen works nicely on the screen as expected, and this time round you’re able to jot down notes while the screen is off and, wait for it, in five different colours.
Software and performance: Chip in
Samsung confirms the Note 10 is powered by the latest Exynos chipset, so things are going to be fast and you shouldn’t be left furious by lag time. It'll run the latest version of Android meaning it'll include all sorts of handy features such as digital wellbeing.
The CPU and GPU see significant boosts, giving the Note 10 over 30% more grunt than its predecessor. The phone comes with 8GM RAM and 256GB internal storage with - sadly - no microSD slot. If you think that might not suffice, you might want to head for its larger counterpart – the Note 10+.
Make no mistake, the S Pen very much positions the Note 10 as phone for both business and creatives. However, it’s geared towards gaming too. It packs the world’s slimmest vapour chamber to keep up with your Fortnite binge. And there’s also an AI-based ‘games booster’ - which will make sure it makes the most of the phone’s power.
If you want to add commentary whilst you’re gaming, a skill that continues to astound us, it’s possible to record both, ideal for filming tutorials and producing YouTube videos.
The 3,500mAh battery is ample for sure, but somewhat smaller than the 4000mAh-toting Note 9. But Samsung have an answer, the optimised battery, plus fast-charging which gives a full day’s worth of power in 30 minutes.
Camera: Same old song
If you were smitten with the camera setup on the Galaxy S10, which was excellent, then the good news is – same again! Front and back.
Equipped with an Ultra Wide 16MP f/2.2 lens for when you must get the whole scene in shot and a wide-angle 12MP with OIS this time – hurrah! Plus an additional 12MP lens.
Video gets the real attention on the Note 10. Live Focus and a selection of other modes allow you to blur background for a bokeh effect and there’s even a native video editor for working on the fly.
Zoom-in Mic zooms in on the audio coming from the subject whilst reducing background noise, which is seriously neat.
Again, the picture-in-picture recording is ace for gamers and wannabe vloggers.
To make use of that S Pen, Samsung introduces AR Doodle which allows you to doodle onto the screen with the S Pen and the scribble will stick to an object in both photo and video mode. For instance, you can draw a crown on your friend’s head and it’ll follow them around. I’m sure there's all sorts of other fun that can be had with this...
There's little to complain about on the camera front, however, when you see the S10+’s ToF camera, you might get jealous.
The front facing 10MP camera does an adequate job, using AI for some feigned bokeh.
Samsung Note 10 initial verdict
The Note 10 is slimmer and smaller than the Note 9. It loses the headphone jack and the whole thing looks more symmetrical now the front facing camera is bang in the middle.
It’s a shame the ToF camera doesn’t join the array as it does on the Note 10+.
In many ways it’s a Galaxy S10 with a pen. But now that pen is also a Bluetooth controller as it was with the Note 9, yet it’s even more versatile.
The fact the phone isn’t silly big and chunky like so many of the current flagships and previous Notes is a breath of fresh air and maybe, just maybe, more people will be drawn to the pen-toting, sharp-cornered beast of moderate proportions.