Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Hands-on Review

The Note 10 is a delightfully compact big-screen phone with new S Pen powers, but is that enough?

For

  • Compact design with narrow bezels
  • Camera offers Live Focus when shooting video
  • DeX mode now easier to use
  • Fast 25-watt charging
  • S Pen supports new Air Actions gestures

Against

  • No headphone jack or microSD card slot
  • Handwriting to text conversion feels rough
  • 45-watt charger costs extra

This is a hands-on review of the 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 10. Check out our Galaxy Note 10 Plus hands-on review if you're interested in the bigger 6.8-inch model. 

Samsung built the Galaxy Note brand on delivering the best big-screen phones around, but the best thing about the new Galaxy Note 10 is how delightfully small it is. The 6.3-inch Note 10 is one of the most compact big-screen phones yet, thanks to its nearly bezel-free Infinity-O screen — and some features Samsung left on the cutting room floor. The Note 10 also boasts several S-Pen enhancements (including gestures), a better camera for video recording, and an easier way to mirror the phone on a PC. 

The Note 10 does involve some trade-offs. You won’t find a headphone jack, and the microSD card slot is gone, too (though it’s still on the larger Galaxy Note 10 Plus). The Note 10’s screen also isn’t as sharp as its predecessor's screen, though I didn’t really notice the difference during my hands-on time. Here’s what we like — and what we don’t — about the Galaxy Note 10 so far. 

Galaxy Note 10 Cheat Sheet

  • The Galaxy Note 10 isn't just thinner and lighter than the Note 9. It's one of the most compact phones ever with a 6.3-inch screen.
  • Samsung kept the cameras mostly the same compared to the Galaxy S10, with wide, ultra-wide and telephoto lenses. But it did bring Live Focus effects to video.
  • The S Pen can now perform Air gestures, such as changing camera modes with a wave of your hand. You can also convert handwriting to text, but it's not seamless.
  • Samsung killed both the headphone jack and microSD card slot, but at least the bundled USB-C headphones offer noise cancelling.
  • The Galaxy Note 10 Plus has a bigger 6.8-inch screen, more RAM, larger battery and fourth camera on the back for depth sensing, but it costs $150 more.

Galaxy Note 10 price and release date

The Galaxy Note 10 is available for pre-order now for $949. The phone goes on sale August 23. All of the major U.S. carriers are selling the Note 10, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Samsung is offering up to $600 through trade-in offers if you order through Samsung.com. Check out all of the Galaxy Note 10 deals before you decide where to buy.

Galaxy Note 10 Tech Specs

Galaxy Note 10
Price $949
Display6.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED (2280x1080)
CPUSnapdragon 855 (US); Exynos 9825 (WW)
RAM8GB
Storage256GB
microSD Slot?No
Rear cameras16-MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2); 12-MP wide angle (ƒ/1.5-f/2.4); 12-MP telephoto (ƒ/2.1)
Front cameras 10-MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery 3,500 mAh
Charging 25W; 45W optional
OS Android 9 Pie with Samsung OneUI
Colors Aura Glow, Aura White, Aura Black, Aura Blue
Size 5.9 x 2.8 x .31 inches
Weight5.9 ounces

Design: Remarkably light and sleek

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

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

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy Note 10 is easily one of the most striking phones of the year, especially if you get it in the Aura Glow color. That model gives off a silvery iridescence that changes hues as the light hits it at different angles. You can also get it in Aura White, Aura Black and Aura Blue, with that last color exclusive to Best Buy and Samsung.com.

The most impressive thing about the Galaxy Note 10 is how it feels in your hand. At 6.3 inches, the Galaxy Note 10 has a slightly smaller screen than the 6.4-inch Galaxy Note 9, but it’s remarkably thinner and lighter. The Note 10 weighs just 5.9 ounces and is 5.9 x 2.8 x 0.31 inches thick, compared to a whopping 7.1 ounces and 6.3 x 3 x 0.34 inches for the Note 9.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In fact, Samsung’s new phablet didn’t feel like a phablet at all when I put it in my hand; it just felt normal. The only annoyance for me is that the power button and volume controls are on the left side of the phone; I’d prefer these to be on the right, but southpaws will be pleased.

Despite an error in Samsung's initial promo video, the phone is made of of aluminum and glass and does not contain stainless steel.  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yes, the headphone jack is gone. Samsung ditched the 3.5-millimeter jack on the Galaxy Note 10, as well as the microSD card slot to achieve a sleeker design. So you’ll need to be aware of those trade-offs. On the plus side, Samsung is bundling active noise-cancelling AKG headphones in the box that use USB-C.

Galaxy Note 10 Display: Great, but not the sharpest

The Galaxy Note 10 features a 6.3-inch Infinity-O display, which has a cutout located in the top center of the panel. Personally, I find the Note 10’s punch hole less distracting than the one on the Galaxy S10, which is on the right side, but it’s still noticeable on this Note when you’re using an app with a white background.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One notable downgrade from the Note 9 to the Note 10 is the display. The Note 10’s Dynamic AMOLED screen packs 2280 x 1080 pixels, which is full HD+ compared to 3040 x 1440 or quad HD for the Galaxy Note 10 Plus. I don’t think most people will notice, and you still get the same great colors and HDR+ certification.

S Pen: Air Actions, handwriting to text and AR Doodle

The S Pen has gained some new tricks on the Galaxy Note 10, but some of them come across as more gimmicky than useful, at least based on my hands-on impressions.

The S Pen on the Galaxy Note 10 lets you convert handwriting to text. Say you scribble a note using the Screen Off memo feature. From there, you can save the note and then export it to a Word doc, PDF or other file and send it out. But I found this to be too many steps; I’d prefer an instantaneous conversion, like PDAs did decades ago.

You can convert handwriting to text directly in the Samsung Notes app. You just double tap the word or words and then select the Convert button. But I didn't see a way to convert a whole note at once.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You don’t have to apply nearly as much effort to use the new Air Actions gestures for the S Pen. For instance, you can change camera modes in the camera app just by swiping the stylus in the air while you press the button, and you can zoom in by making a circular motion with the S Pen. This worked, but it took some practice to get the hang of it.

Last but not least, there’s a new AR Doodle feature that has the potential to create viral moments with your friends. Using the S Pen, you can draw on a live view of a subject or multiple subjects, and whatever you draw on them (a hat, mustache, etc.) will travel with them as they move about the frame.

The AR Doodle feature seems like fun, as you can see in the above video demo. But it helps if you're at least a decent artist if you want to get the most out of it. 

Cameras: A focus on video

Samsung decided to use the same camera sensors on the Galaxy Note 10 as on the Galaxy S10, which means you should not expect a leap in performance when taking still shots. 

The back of the phone houses a triple-camera setup that includes a wide-angle 12MP shooter, an ultra-wide camera that takes 123-degree pics, and a 12MP telephoto lens that’s limited to a 2x optical zoom. I say limited because phones like the Huawei P30 Pro already offer a 5x optical zoom using clever prism technology. The Galaxy Note 10 Plus offers a fourth sensor, a VGA depth camera that’s optimized for taking bokeh shots and better depth effects.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Where Samsung hopes the Galaxy Note 10 stands out is with its video prowess. The phone sports a Live Focus mode for video, which lets you blur out the background or add special effects– like colorizing just the subject while keeping the background black and white. We tried this out and it worked pretty well. We did not get to try the new Zoom-in mic feature, which can help minimize background sound so that, with a tap, you can focus just on the person you identify.

There’s a single 10MP camera up front that shoots wide-angle selfies (80 degrees), and it now offers a Night Mode that should deliver better results in dim conditions. 

Samsung is also including an improved video-editing app on the Note 10 that’s optimized for the S Pen, so it should be relatively easy to trim clips and perform other tasks with more precision than using your finger. If you want even more versatility, you’ll be able to download Adobe Rush for Galaxy phones.

Galaxy Note 10 Specs: No Snapdragon 855+, but faster UFS 3.0 storage

The Galaxy Note 10 should be one of the fastest Android phones around when it launches, but it may not hold the title for long. That’s because this phone is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 CPU, and not the 855+ processor that’s coming to other handsets like the Asus ROG 2 Phone, promising higher clock speeds.

MORE: Best Smartphones of 2019

However, the Galaxy Note 10 will boast UFS 3.0 storage, so the read and write speeds should be plenty snappy. You’ll get 256GB of storage standard, complemented by 8GB of RAM;the Galaxy Note 10 Plus packs 12GB of RAM.

According to early leaked test results, the UFS 3.0 storage does make a big difference. As reported by Android Central, the Note 10 has a big lead over its Android phone rivals in random write and SQLite speeds.

DeX for PC: A more seamless desktop experience

If you like the idea of using your Note 10 on a bigger screen, Samsung makes it pretty easy with its upgraded DeX mode. All you need is a USB-C to USB-C (or USB-C to USB-A) cable to see your Note 10 on a laptop. From there, you can continue to run apps like PowerPoint, drag-and-drop files on and off the device to the desktop, as well as receive messages and notifications. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I’m glad that you don’t have to jump through hoops to use DeX now, and that it works without a dock, but I’m not sure how much I would use the feature in my day-to-day use since I rely more on the cloud.

Galaxy Note 10 battery life and charging

With a capacity of 3,500 mAh, the Galaxy Note 10’s battery is smaller than both the Galaxy Note 9 (4,000 mAh) and Galaxy Note 10 (4,300 mAh), but it should still provide good endurance. A lower screen resolution than the Note 9 should help the Note 10 sap less power.

When it’s time to juice back up, you’ll be happy to know that the Note 10 ships with a 25-watt charger, which is the same that comes in the box with the Galaxy S10 5G. You’ll be able to get from 0% to 100% in a little less than an hour. Samsung will also sell an optional 45-W charger that promises to get you through the whole day after being plugged in for only 30 minutes. 

MORE: Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

The Note 10 also features speedy wireless charging at 15 W, as well as the convenient Wireless Power Share feature pioneered by the Galaxy S10, so you’ll be able to charge other Qi-compatible phones and gadgets using the back of the Note 10.

Outlook

Power users and spec heads will have a bone to pick with Samsung over the Galaxy Note 10. You get a smaller screen than the Note 9, a smaller battery and no headphone jack nor microSD card slot. So what’s left? A very svelte big-screen phone that offers faster performance, better cameras and improved productivity features, including an enhanced S Pen and DeX for Windows.

However, some of the Note 10’s features come across as gimmicky, such as the handwriting to text conversion, Air Actions and AR Doodle. I’ll have to spend more time with these before I render a verdict.

Should you get the pricier $1,099 Galaxy Note 10 Plus instead? If you want a bigger, 6.8-inch screen and beefier battery, if may be worth the premium. But if you like the idea of using a phablet with one hand, the regular Note 10 should not disappoint. Stay tuned for our full review, including benchmark results.