Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review

Samsung's latest giganto-phone is shaping up nicely

What is a hands on review?
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

First impressions are of a premium mobile that barely puts a foot wrong

For

  • Bright, colourful screen
  • Premium build quality
  • Superb S Pen functionality
  • Excellent video capture

Against

  • No 3.5mm socket
  • Too early to tell on audio

According to Samsung, we’re simply not 9-to-5 people anymore. Many of us have multiple roles; roles that demand a little bit of everything. Enter the 6.8in Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, a big-screen stylus phone designed to perfectly complement the modern work/life balance.

Along with its slightly smaller 6.3in sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, the Note 10+ is aimed at creative people, business people and people who want to do everything from working to creating to watching boxsets on the go.

The Note 10 and 10+ are virtually identical in aesthetics and performance but there are a few differences of which to be aware, screen dimensions aside. The Note 10 has one less lens in its camera array, which means it doesn’t have quite as many video capture tricks. It also comes with 8GB RAM whereas the Note 10+ comes with 12GB. The battery is a little smaller at 3500mAh compared to 4300mAh, and there’s half the storage space at 256GB as opposed to 512GB.

We had some hands-on time with these phablets ahead of the Samsung Unpacked event in New York and chose to focus on the all singing, all dancing Note 10+.

(Image credit: Future)

Features

At 7.9mm thick the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and 10+ are the slimmest Galaxy Note phones yet. While that makes them better suited to being carried in a pocket, part of what’s made that smaller profile possible is the loss of the 3.5mm headphone jack. With a USB-C port as your only hope, and no adapter in the box, you’ll need to use the bundled AKG in-ears (which could be good but weren’t available for testing during our hands-on session) or budget for an adapter or a pair of wireless headphones.

The Note 10+ feels undeniably good in the hand, though. With Gorilla Glass on the front and back, shaped into Samsung’s Infinity-O display, it’s almost pleasantly soft to the touch. The dynamic Super AMOLED display itself is virtually edge to edge, with just a 1.5mm gap at the top and bottom. It’s a WXGA screen with a 3040x1440 resolution and a pixel density of 498ppi. 

Running the device is Android Pie 9.0 with Samsung’s One UI on top, which brings all of the extra Note software features. Then, of course, there’s the S Pen stylus for which the Note phablets are famous.

Naturally, the S Pen has been given a tweak for 2019. It’s fitted with a six-axis sensor that enables gesture controls, which Samsung calls Air Actions. These allow you to use the S Pen a bit like a wand to control a few functions on the Note such as zooming in and out when taking pictures. We’re not wildly convinced that this is a brilliant idea as we use it but these things take time to get used to. What we do like is the remote control button on the side of the S Pen, which means you can use it to take selfies like an old school shutter release cable or use the stylus as a zapper while watching movies. The low energy Bluetooth connection gives it a 10-hour standby battery life. 

(Image credit: Future)

Fancy tricks aside, it’s still an excellent stylus for writing and drawing. It can produce 4,096 different levels of brush strokes according to the pressure you apply and, although our artistic skills leave a lot to be desired, we certainly enjoyed using the stylus to sketch a portrait of an artist who was at the same time sketching one of us.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is for serious business too, of course, and the Note software is excellent at recognising even our spidery cursive. It converts that writing to text at the tap of the pen, and from there you can export your jottings as a Word document or a PDF. 

You can even dock your Note with a PC or Mac via USB or screen mirroring for a full desktop computing experience, including notifications and calls. There’s also Samsung Knox security with its 256-bit encryption to keep everything safe along with an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor embedded within the face of the display. It analyses the depth of your fingerprint pattern as well as the image and certainly worked very nicely the few times we tried it. 

Powering the whole system is 7nm processor technology with an “enriched” and vapour-cooled CPU and GPU combo. The phone is certainly responsive. Intelligent battery performance from the 30-minute, super fast-charging, 4300mAh battery is said to keep the processors performing at optimum levels according to your game or activity of choice. Should you find yourself with plenty of juice to spare then the Notes allow wireless power sharing between devices too.

(Image credit: Future)

Picture

We head straight for the Galaxy Note 10+ and its HDR performance only to find that there is no access to the HDR10+ compatible Prime Video app during our hands-on session. Shame. Netflix is not HDR10+ enabled so we have to rely on Samsung’s own demo videos as captured by the HDR-enabled Note 10+ video camera. 

Immediately, it’s clear that this handset is bright. The 1200nit screen is more dazzling than the Google Pixel 3a we used as a comparison. It still struggles under direct sunlight but we’re impressed all the same.

The colours are as vibrant and punchy as we’d expect from an AMOLED. Watching the demo footage of a man running up a pyramid structure in a park on a sunny day, the sky is beautifully blue and the footage incredibly steady. When he reaches the top, the camera turns to the ground and we notice some excellent detail levels as the shot quickly focuses in on the pebbles at their feet and the hairs on the videographer’s legs. While there’s not a lot of evidence of any improved contrast in what we see here, there’s enough of an indication that portable 4K movie watching will be a decent experience with the Note 10 phones. 

Switching to a clip of a man playing guitar, we get a good chance to see how well the Note 10+ can work with black production. The good news is that black depth is very good, as illustrated by the purity of the guitar case, but there’s less dark detail in the faux leather than we would expect.

Obviously, it’s important to remember that this is a phone and therefore not purely optimised for movie watching. We look forward to testing it against other mobiles with the same content for a better appraisal.

Sound

Sadly, there are no samples of the bundled AKG in-ear headphones for us to test, so we have to make do with a run down of the external speakers on the Galaxy Note 10+. The phone has speakers on the top and bottom and the whole body seems to resonate as we play the pre-installed demo tracks.

The first surprise is that the speakers don’t seem to get very loud even at maximum volume. There’s no significant distortion to the sound but then there’s not much output. Admittedly, we’re in a busy room with plenty of ambient noise but what we get is only about par for comfortable listening in that environment. There’s not really enough for a small group of friends to gather round and enjoy.

Nonetheless, the tonal balance is reasonable. There’s not much bass from the tiny speakers, of course, but the vibrations of the device definitely create an illusion that there is if you’re holding it. Samsung says that these haptic abilities are partly made possible by the removal of the 3.5mm socket.

There’s not a whole lot of detail discernible through the speakers but, dynamically, it’s not half bad. There’s definitely some punch and drive as we bang through some of the more electronic songs.

Of course, we wouldn’t particularly recommend listening to a phone using its speakers when a pair of headphones or a bluetooth speaker would do the job far better, but the fact that Samsung has taken some care to ensure a decent performance bodes well for the rest of the audio in the Note 10+.

(Image credit: Future)

Camera

There are more camera features in the Note 10+ than we could possibly test during a brief hands-on session, but there were a few that stood out. We really enjoyed the bokeh video function, which allows you to defocus background during video capture with a tap to the screen. Colour point seems to be very effective at picking out people and rendering them in colour while everything else in shot remains monochrome. The zoom-in microphone during video was also impressive: the Note 10+ has three microphones — at the top, the bottom and under the lens — and if you zoom in on your subject during a video they can isolate the subject’s audio and boost their sound by reducing the background noise.

The S Pen can be used in video editing and for a little video capture amusement too. AR Doodle allows you to add your scribbles to any scene. We draw some messy hair and spectacles on our subject as we shoot them and the phone then tracks the scene to keep these annotations on our subject’s face no matter where they move. There’s plenty of schoolyard fun to be had.

Lastly, gamers will love the screen capture video mode which will record live footage of the phone’s display. You can combine it with the picture-in-picture mode which adds on a small window with your your face as recorded by the front facing camera; excellent for broadcasting direct to Twitch.

It’s worth pointing out that a handful of the 10+’s camera features are not available in the 6.3in Galaxy Note 10 because it doesn’t have the time-of-flight camera for high speed depth perception.

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ reeks of quality. From screen to stylus, all the stops have been pulled out. It certainly seems to be brighter and better than almost anything else at the moment as, of course, it absolutely should. And the new additions to the S Pen and accompanying productivity software are well considered and implemented.

Lots to look forward to. Just a pity you’ll need an adapter to use a standard pair of headphones.

MORE:

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.