Samsung Note phones were the enthusiast’s choice for years. But does the Note 10+ still have that same appeal in 2019?
It has a bigger display than the standard Note 10, but big-screen phones are common, and Chinese rivals such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo are more powerful than ever. The Galaxy Note 10+ is perhaps not quite as exciting for audio-visual fans as some previous versions were.
It doesn’t have a headphone jack, or quite the same purist-pleasing screen calibration as previous generations. But it does offer top-end hardware, a huge screen and that highly unusual S-Pen stylus, even if we’re not convinced many will use it much.
Top-end phones tend to focus on camera tech. But, for better or worse, several of the most interesting features and changes Samsung applied to the Note 10+ are all about entertainment.
Many of the key features are as appealing as ever. The Galaxy Note 10+ has a great 6.8in OLED screen of 3040 x 1440 pixel resolution. Its panel, and the glass covering it, curves around at the sides to further increase the impression the entire front is filled with pixels. Fitting such a large screen into a phone that doesn’t seem impractically large is an impressive feat.
The inherently light-generating pixels of OLED also ensure excellent black levels and the Note 10+ has less rounded-off display corners than most ‘all screen’ phones. This gives video a slightly more cinematic look.
There are, as ever, a few holes to pick – including the punch hole. The Galaxy Note series seems an obvious place for Samsung to experiment with a motorised selfie camera such as the OnePlus 7 Pro’s, but instead the phone still has a blank circle of black to accommodate the camera.
Screen 6.8in OLED
Resolution 3040 x 1440 pixels
Cameras (rear) 12MP x2, 16MP
Camera (selfie) 10MP
It’s small but distracting, especially of you are watching a 2.39:1 aspect film that makes use of the whole screen without horizontal black bars. That it sits in the centre rather than off to the side only makes it more apparent.
Not everyone will be an instant fan of the Note 10+’s curved sides either. In harsh or bright light these curves collect reflections, which sometimes results in a little bar of white on the glass at the top of the screen.
Samsung has altered its screen calibration approach since the earlier Notes too. There’s no longer an sRGB ‘Basic’ mode, just Natural and Vivid, which appear to roughly track the DCI P3 and Adobe RGB colour gamuts. Unlike some earlier OLED phones, this doesn’t leave you with oversaturated colour when using third-party apps. But watching Netflix, colours seem a little hot even in ‘natural’ mode.
Why would Samsung ease back on colour purity options? It’s likely because almost no one used the sRGB mode, which does look extremely reserved by today’s standards.
Issues with colour, reflectivity and the punch hole may make the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ seem a disappointment for movies – but that isn't entirely the case. This phone is still one of the best for use as a pocket movie machine. It's just not the best.
It also has a standard 60Hz refresh rate screen, not the 90Hz or 120Hz kind you’ll find elsewhere. But does it matter? High refresh rate screens benefit interface scrolling. They make it look smoother, but when they offer no major benefit for gaming or movie-watching, there’s a real question of whether the added drain it places on the battery is worthwhile.
Other display highlights include high brightness, which makes HDR videos look even more lively and improves outdoor visibility.
Many will be disappointed by Samsung’s decision to remove the headphone jack, making this the first Note phone not to have one. To make matters worse, the Galaxy Note 10+ does not come with an adapter, and every other one we tried did not work. To make ‘analogue’ headphones work you’ll have to buy Samsung’s adapter, at a cost of around £15.
A pair of passable AKG USB-C earphones is included with the Note 10+. These offer decent bass, good detail and sound that is fairly clear for a bundled pair – and certainly not as bad as you might expect from such a set. However, the upper-mids are a little sharp and raw, which makes these AKG earphones a somewhat harsh listen. They are above average, but not ideal.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ speakers are interesting, though. There is one on the bottom and another up front that uses the screen itself as the driver. This may seem the act of a tech show-off, but it’s genuinely useful in several respects.
You can’t accidentally block the driver with a finger when playing a game, and its sound output has a tone and output similar to that of the bottom unit. Front drivers are usually low on volume and bass, there simply to avoid the impression the sound is only coming from one end.
The speaker pair’s sound quality doesn’t set a new benchmark, but is pleasant enough. It has surprisingly good midrange coherence and texture, and less of a focus on the treble than the Apple iPhone XS speaker.
It’s not harsh or grating at maximum volume. And while there are louder phones, there’s enough volume to let a podcast compete with the sound of you cooking dinner.
The Galaxy Note 10+’s sound over Bluetooth is good, with great detail and a large soundstage. However, Apple’s latest iPhones still have an advantage for timing and dynamics.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ lets you control your music with the S-Pen. It’s the stylus that slots into the bottom of the phone, and the stand-out feature of the Note series.
Samsung’s stylus gained wireless functionality in 2018, but now it supports ‘air gestures’ too. Hold down the S-Pen’s button, move it upwards and it increases volume, for example. These features are likely to become neglected over time, but Samsung has certainly tried here.
Other parts of the phone are precisely what you’d expect from a £1000 phone. With 256GB, it has more storage than you will ever need. The processor is a new Samsung Exynos 9825, which is marginally more advanced than the Exynos 9820 of the Samsung Galaxy S10, but not to an extent you’ll notice.
The rear camera array is similar to that on the Samsung Galaxy S10+. There are three cameras for photos, including a 2x zoom and ultra-wide, plus a Time of Flight dedicated depth sensor. It’s reportedly used as a focus aid, rather than sitting there waiting for augmented reality to develop on Android, which seems the fate of ToF cameras in other phones.
Image quality is good, but at times colours can seem amped up, and the Note 10+ is not a class leader for low-light image quality. Huawei and Google have the advantage here. Huawei’s P30 Pro also has a much more powerful zoom. Like the punch hole front, the camera shows this Note is conservative in some areas.
But is that conservatism necessarily bad in all cases? Perhaps not. Who knows if today’s motorised camera phones will still work perfectly after two years of real-world use?
There are still some nods to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+’s traditional enthusiast audience too. Battery life is decent, thanks to a large 4300mAh battery. It easily lasts a day of solid use and, unlike the ‘normal’ Note 10, there’s a microSD slot.
Samsung has adopted some trends and ignored others in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. The headphone jack is out, and the phone is pickier about the adapters you can use than some others.
Motorised selfie cameras that free up the front of a phone are now popular, but Samsung has stuck with what it knows, the punch hole design. Distracting as it is for full-screen video, it does not spoil the appeal of such a big, bold display.
The bigger problem for the Note 10+ is that it's just not the very best phone around for movies and music. For those more interested in its creativity and productivity chops, that probably won't matter, but for those who are primarily content consumers and not content creators, the Galaxy S10+ or one of the current iPhones makes more sense.
- Screen 4
- Sound 4
- Features 5
Read our Samsung Galaxy S10+ review