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Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs. Note 9: Should You Upgrade?

Editors' Note: Updated at 7:17 p.m. ET on Aug. 20 with Galaxy Note 10 test results.

If you already own Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9, you’re familiar with the powers of Samsung’s Bluetooth S Pen stylus combined with the beauty of a giant display. 

But now that Samsung has introduced not one, but two Galaxy Note 10 models, what constitutes a top-of-the-line phablet has changed. Both the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus have their strong points, but does either offer enough to make current Note users want to upgrade? Read on to see if you really need a new Note.

Galaxy Note 10 (left) and Note 9 (right)

Galaxy Note 10 (left) and Note 9 (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Design and size

The first thing you’ll notice about the pair of new Note 10 flagships is their nearly bezel-free displays. The Note 9’s top bezel houses its front-facing camera. With the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, Samsung stamped a hole directly in the screens for the selfie lens.

The Note 10 has a nearly bezel-free display

The Note 10 has a nearly bezel-free display (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Then there’s size, which was the Note’s original differentiator. The Note 9 measures 6.37 inches long with a 6.4-inch display. The 5.9-inch-long Note 10 is considerably smaller with a 5.9-inch screen, for those who want the use of a stylus without having to fit such a massive device in their bags or pockets. 

But if you want an even larger screen, the Note 10 Plus packs a 6.8-inch panel in a 6.4-inch-long frame. That means more screen real estate in the same size body as the Note 9. Samsung even shaved a couple ounces off the Note 10 Plus, which weighs in at 6.9 ounces compared to the heftier, 7.1-ounce Note 9.

The Note 10 comes in a gorgeous Aura Glow shade

The Note 10 comes in a gorgeous Aura Glow shade (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When you flip the devices over, you’ll notice even bigger differences. The Note 10 and Note 10 Plus come in more beautiful hues than the Note 9’s subtle purple and blue shades. The colorful ombre Aura Glow Note 10 is particularly stunning, creating an effect that almost mimics the Aurora Borealis. (Unfortunately, as we discovered after spending extensive time with the Note 10 Plus, the Aura Glow model really picks up fingerprint smudges quickly.) The new devices also come in Aura Blue, Aura White and Aura Black.

But when you get to the bottom edge of the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus, you may be shocked: These are the first Notes with no headphones jacks. The Note 9 retained its 3.5mm audio port, which could make it more useful for power users who don’t want to buy Bluetooth headphones.

Display

The Note 9’s 6.4-inch Super AMOLED (2960 x 1440) was best in class when the phone launched last year. But the Note 10 Plus sets the new standard for smartphone displays.

Galaxy Note 10 (left) and Note 9 (right)

Galaxy Note 10 (left) and Note 9 (right) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Note 10’s 6.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel is full-HD+ (2280 x 1080), which means you won’t see as many pixels per inch as you do in the quad-HD+ Note 9 display. In contrast, the Note 10 Plus sports a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with a slightly higher resolution (3040 x 1440) than the Note 9’s smaller panel. But the Note 9’s display packs in 516 ppi, which could result in a sharper overall image than the 498 ppi panel in the Note 10 Plus, just by virtue of having such a high resolution in a smaller screen.

The Galaxy Note 9's display is smaller than the Note 10 Plus

The Galaxy Note 9's display is smaller than the Note 10 Plus (Image credit: Future)

All that is likely invisible to the naked eye, though. The biggest display difference is in the bezels — or the lack thereof, in the case of the Note 10 and 10 Plus. Samsung retained thicker top and chin bezels in the Note 9, but then went fully bezel-free for the S10, S10e and S10 Plus. The Note 10 and Note 10 Plus feature a similar Infinity-O display to the S10 with a camera cut-out at the top for taking selfies, but Samsung’s newest flagships have those lenses directly in the center of the display as opposed to the right-justified lenses in the S10 lineup.

We're still testing the Note 10, but it's hard not to view the Note 10 Plus display as one of the best Samsung has ever put on a phone. It's bright — we measured 686 nits of brightness with a light meter, compared to 604 nits on the Note 9. Last year's Galaxy Note is a little more colorful, capturing 224% of the sRGB color gamut to 212% for the Note 10 Plus. Still, given how expansive the Note 10 Plus' display is, it's easier to bask in the bright colors you get on the new phone's screen.

S Pen features

The S Pen has always been a signature standout feature in the Note lineup, and with the Note 10 and 10 Plus, Samsung has doubled down.

The Note 10's S Pen has more tricks than last year's Note

The Note 10's S Pen has more tricks than last year's Note (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Note 10’s S Pen can now be used for gesture-based Air Actions, which can perform tasks a la Harry Potter’s wand (but, you know, less cool and actually real, even if some of the gestures were a little finicky when we tested them). These controls can trigger different actions depending on which app you’re using. In the camera app, for instance, pressing the S Pen’s button and swiping up in front of the phone will flip the view from the Note 10’s rear lenses to the front-facing one. You can also use the Note 10’s S Pen button as a remote control, just as you could with the Note 9.

The Note 10 also introduces handwriting-to-text conversion, which seemed gimmicky in our time with the device. Our biggest complaint: text conversion doesn't feel as instant as it could.

Cameras and video

The Note 10 and 10 Plus introduce triple-lens rear cameras to the Note lineup, which makes the back of those devices look much different than the Note 9’s dual-lens camera design.

The Note 10 looks a whole lot different from the Note 9

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Like the Galaxy S10, both Note 10 models sport two 12-megapixel wide-angle and telephoto lenses and a third 16-MP ultra-wide-angle lens. The Note 10 Plus goes one step further with a time-of-flight sensor beneath the flash for more accurately measuring the placement of an object in the space around it. That lends itself to better portraits, and also more advanced augmented reality effects.

The Note 10 and 10 Plus offer a couple of unique video effects that the Note 9 lacks, including an AR Doodle feature for drawing on top of videos. (It's actually a fun feature if you've got any sort of drawing talent.) You can also now shoot videos in Samsung’s version of portrait mode, called Live Focus.

The Galaxy Note 9 has just two rear lenses

The Galaxy Note 9 has just two rear lenses (Image credit: Future)

Samsung also bumped up the front-facing camera lens from 8-MP in the Note 9 to 10-MP in the newest Notes. Otherwise, the camera improvements are negligible — you won’t buy a Note 10 for a drastically better camera system than the Note 9, though the Note 10 does produce some pretty striking photos.

Specs and performance

Galaxy Note 10Galaxy Note 10 PlusGalaxy Note 9
Price $949 $1,099$999
Display6.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED (2280x1080)6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3040x1440)6.4-inch Super AMOLED (2960 x 1440)
CPUSnapdragon 855 (US); Exynos 9825 (WW)Snapdragon 855 (US); Exynos 9825 (WW)Snapdragon 845 (US); Exynos 9810 (WW)
RAM8GB12GB6GB, 8GB
Storage256GB256GB, 512GB128GB, 512GB
microSD slot?NoYesYes (up to 512GB)
Headphone jack?NoNoYes
Rear cameras16-MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2); 12-MP wide angle (ƒ/1.5-f/2.4); 12-MP telephoto (ƒ/2.1)16-MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2); 12-MP wide angle (ƒ/1.5-f/2.4); 12-MP telephoto (ƒ/2.1); time-of-flight VGADual 12-MP (ƒ/1.5, ƒ/2.4)
Front cameras 10-MP (ƒ/2.2) 10-MP (ƒ/2.2) 8-MP (ƒ/1.7)
Battery Size 3,500 mAh 4,300 mAh 4,000 mAh
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)Not yet tested11:4611:26
OS Android 9 Pie with Samsung OneUI Android 9 Pie with Samsung OneUIAndroid 9 Pie with Samsung OneUI
Colors Aura Glow, Aura White, Aura Black, Aura Blue Aura Glow, Aura White, Aura Black, Aura BlueLavender Purple, Ocean Blue, Cloud Silver, Midnight Black
Size 5.9 x 2.8 x .31 inches 6.4 x 3.0 x .31 inches 6.3 x 3 x 0.34 inches
Weight5.9 ounces 6.9 ounces 7.1 ounces

Ahead of Samsung’s Unpacked event in early August, we heard rumors of a Note 10 with Qualcomm’s supercharged Snapdragon 855+ processor. We were looking forward to putting that chip through its paces. However, the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus have the same Snapdragon 855 CPU you’ll find in every major Android flagship released this year.

The Note 9 is built on last year’s cutting-edge chipset, Snapdragon 845. You can find the Note 9 with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM. The 6GB version scored 8,876 on the Geekbench 4 test of overall system performance. But with a more powerful CPU and even more RAM — 12GB in the Note 10 Plus — you'd expect the newest Notes to outperform the Note 9 by a wide margin. The Note 10 Plus — the only new model we've benchmarked so far — certainly delivers.

The Note 10 Plus recorded a score of 11,210 on Geekbench 4 when we ran the Geekbench 4 test on Samsung's new phone. That compares to 8.876 for the Galaxy Note 9. There was a similar jump in graphics performance. The Note 10 Plus scored 5,781 on 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme benchmark, compared to the Note 9's 4,639 result.

The base model Note 9 offers less storage than the Note 10 and 10 Plus at just 128GB compared to the 256GB that comes standard in both Note 10 models. However, the Note 9 offers expandable storage with a microSD slot that can support up to 512GB. The Note 10 doesn’t have a microSD slot, which is disappointing for a productivity-focused phone. (The Note 10 Plus does have a microSD slot.) The latest Notes also use UFS 3.0 storage, which is faster than what you'll find in the Note 9; that accounts for some of the performance boost, too.

Battery life and charging

The Note 9’s 4,000 mAh battery pack lasted 11 hours and 26 minutes in our testing, which landed it on our list of longest-lasting smartphones. But the Note 10 Plus finished ahead of it, thanks to a 4,300 mAh battery that helped the newer phone last for 11 hours, 46 minutes, even with its larger screen.

We haven't tested the smaller Note 10 yet. With its 3,500 mAh battery, we're not expecting as good a result.

Both Note 10 models support 25W fast-charging out of the box (compared to 15W for the Note 9). And that makes a real difference: the battery indicator on our Note 10 Plus jumped from 0% to 33% after just 15 minutes of charging. A $50 45W charger can be purchased separately for juicing up from 0 to 100% at lightspeed (or in less than an hour).

The Note 10 and 10 Plus also have our favorite Galaxy S10 feature: reverse wireless-charging. That means both phones can power up other devices, such as friends’ smartphones, Galaxy Buds or the new Galaxy Watch Active 2 smartwatch. The Note 9 doesn’t offer that handy feature.

Outlook

The Galaxy Note 10 might be the Note to beat

The Galaxy Note 10 might be the Note to beat (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Do you really need a Note 10 if you already own a Note 9? Probably not.

But if you’re trying to decide between buying a Note 9 or a Note 10, the Note 10 Plus is the phone to beat. Samsung fit a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display into a 6.4-inch body, which gives the Note 10 Plus a bigger screen in a more compact package than the Note 9. A giant display is the main reason many power users love the Note, and the Note 10 Plus is the biggest of them all.

For productivity purposes, the S Pen in the Note 10 lineup offers more features. Being able to convert handwriting to text and then export it to apps such as Microsoft Office 365 is incredibly useful for working on the go.

But there are a few drawbacks: The lack of a microSD card limits the storage capacity for all the work you’re doing on the Note 10. The 10 Plus is the phone to buy for expandable storage. And no headphone jack on both devices could be a dealbreaker for some.

If you're happy with your Note 9, there's really no reason to upgrade. But if you want the best performance, a long-lasting battery that charges quickly and the biggest screen you can find, the Note 10 Plus is a compelling choice that's jumped to the head of the class for Samsung's phablets.