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Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Review

Big screen in a small package

(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Galaxy Note 10's delivers epic battery life and a super-bright screen in a phenomenally compact design.

For

  • Compact design with huge display
  • 256GB storage standard
  • Live Focus now for video
  • Fastest charging yet in a Samsung phone

Against

  • No headphone jack or microSD
  • Handwriting conversion is cumbersome
  • Aura Glow is a fingerprint magnet
  • DeX for PC needs work
  • Battery life is below average

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), new video recording features and a new way to mirror the phone on a PC. 

However, there are some trade-offs. You won’t find a headphone jack on the Note 10, and the microSD card slot is gone, too (though it remains on the larger Galaxy Note 10 Plus). The Note 10’s screen also isn’t as sharp as its predecessor's, though you'd be hard pressed to notice a difference between them.

Although the smaller, $949/£869 Note 10 doesn't represent the pinnacle of Samsung's phablets, I suspect it will hit the sweet spot for most people in terms of size and specs. The idea of a compact phablet might sound crazy, but it actually makes a whole lot of sense when you use it — and makes the Note 10 one of the best smartphones available today.

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 Snapdragon 855 inside the Galaxy Note 10 delivers impressive performance, though other flagship Android phones — including the Note 10 Plus with its extra memory — outperform it.
  • The S Pen can now perform Air Actions, 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/£130 more.

Galaxy Note 10 price and availability

The Galaxy Note 10 is available now for $949/£869. 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/£400 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/£869
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 cameras10-MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery3,500 mAh
Charging25W; 45W optional
OSAndroid 9 Pie with Samsung OneUI
ColorsAura Glow, Aura White, Aura Black, Aura Blue
Size5.9 x 2.8 x .31 inches
Weight5.9 ounces

Design: The big phone for everyone

Galaxy Note 10

Galaxy Note 10 Plus (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 go for the Aura Glow color. That model gives off a silvery iridescence that changes hues as light strikes 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. Some regions will see additional colors, like Aura Red, that won't be available in North America.

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 Galaxy Note 9.

(Image credit: Future)

In fact, Samsung’s new phablet doesn't feel like a phablet at all when you hold it; it just feels normal. For a sense of perspective, the Note 10 is roughly two-tenths of an inch longer and a tenth wider than the Pixel 3 I regularly use, but packs a screen that's a whopping 0.8 inches larger from corner to corner.

The result is a Note that is surprisingly comfortable to use one-handed. If you're especially mindful about owning a phone that slips easily into your pocket, or generally isn't cumbersome to live with, the Note 10 offers the biggest possible display in the smallest possible footprint right now. The steeply-sloped sides and miniscule bezels can occasionally yield unintentional touches at the edges of the display, though I generally found Samsung's palm rejection algorithm to be good at determining when I actually meant to interact with the device. 

Overall, there's little to be annoyed with here from a design perspective. For what it's worth, I don't like that the power button and volume controls are both on the left side of the phone; as I'm right-handed, I'd prefer them to be on the opposite side. Southpaws may be pleased, though perhaps Samsung could have split the difference and put some keys on the left and others on the right.

(Image credit: Future)

Another minor gripe: depending on the color you get, the Note 10 can be a fingerprint super-magnet. Lots of handsets attract prints these days, but because the Aura Glow finish is literally that of a mirror with neat rainbow effects, if you look at the back of the phone from any perspective, smudges and smears are guaranteed to catch your eye. This is less true of the other colorways — the presence of a consistent hue can somewhat cloak that ugliness. But if you're the type of person that finds yourself frequently wiping your phone with a microfiber cloth, you're going to get a repetitive stress injury polishing the Aura Glow Note 10.

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

Like Samsung's other recent premium phones, the Note 10 has an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor baked into the display. The sensor is usually responsive and secure, though users have discovered that it can be easily fooled if certain third-party screen protectors have been applied to the device. A subsequent software update from Samsung reportedly fixes this issue, though it's something buyers may want to test themselves. 

Display: Extremely bright

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.

The cutout is most obvious when you’re using an app with a white background, as you'd expect, though the diameter of the Note's front-facing camera is smaller than that of the S10 or S10e. In other words, it's not nearly as obtrusive as it could be. In fact, after a while, you start to forget it's there.

(Image credit: Future)

One downgrade from the Note 9 to the Note 10 concerns the quality of the screen. The Note 10’s Dynamic AMOLED display packs 2280x1080 pixels, which is full HD+ compared to 3040x1440, quad HD+ panel in the Note 10 Plus. That said, the reduction in resolution sounds worse than it is. I don’t think most people will notice a difference, and you still get the same great colors and HDR10+ certification as you do on the larger model.

In terms of numbers, the Galaxy Note 10 offers one of the brightest and most accurate displays we've tested to date. At 674 nits of full-screen brightness, the Note 10's panel is just overshadowed by the Plus variant's 686 nits. The smaller device's screen still produces accurate colors, as evidenced by its 0.26 Delta-E score (numbers closer to zero are better). In Natural mode, the Note 10's screen covers a good swath of the sRGB spectrum at 125.1%. The Note 10 Plus delivered results of 0.25 and 124.6% in these categories, respectively. (As with all other Samsung phones, there's an optional Vivid color profile, too, if you prefer more saturated hues).

But it's the brightness that makes all the difference. Cranked up to the highest setting, the Note 10's panel can illuminate details that would go unseen on other handsets' screens, while still maintaining the perfect blacks you'd expect from AMOLED technology. Watching the teaser trailer for El Camino, the new Breaking Bad movie, some of the shadowy figures in the interrogation room were more clearly discernible on Samsung's display compared to when viewing the same clip on a Pixel 3.

Ultimately, if you're after the sharpest display you can get, the 6.8-inch Note 10 Plus sports a higher pixel density of 498 pixels-per-inch, compared to 401 on this smaller model. Unfortunately, neither model has a 120Hz refresh rate like the OnePlus 7 Pro, so you miss out on silky-smooth animations and scrolling. That would have been nice to see; while the Note 10's screen is among the finest the industry has to offer right now, without that superfast refresh rate, it doesn't feel like much of a generational leap.

S Pen: Cool features, clunky implementation

(Image credit: Future)

The S Pen has gained some new tricks on the Galaxy Note 10 — though some of them come across as more gimmicky than useful.

One of the S Pen's hallmark features has been the ability to convert handwriting to text. New for the Note 10, Samsung's OneUI software now offers a transcription-and-export option, that will allow you to save the note as text and send it to a Word doc, PDF or another file type, in one action. It's a clever feature, though much like the S Pen's other powerful transcription capabilities, it's somewhat convoluted to access.

For example, if you scrawl out a Screen Off Memo or Quick Memo outside of the Samsung Notes app, you'll have to tap an on-screen button to move that document to the Notes app before you can start converting phrases and entire documents. Additionally, if you'd rather have handwriting-to-text conversion carried out as you write on the fly, you'll have to open the keyboard, swipe over to the keyboard page that offers additional features and tap another icon before you can begin writing with live transcription.

(Image credit: Future)

While I appreciate that Samsung offers so many ways to use the S Pen to write, and while transcription works well in practice, the company desperately needs to make it easier to locate these features. Having to move a note I'm already taking to a separate app so I can edit and transcribe it creates a strange and unnecessary extra step. And I suspect when taking notes, most people would probably prefer live transcription, so burying that feature behind several layers of keyboard menus doesn't seem like the brightest idea either.

Thankfully, 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. As I discovered, you don't want to hold the button indefinitely — only when you're actively making the motion.

The Note 10 could use properly-executed software to match its phenomenal hardware.

At this point, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Air Actions would be especially beneficial, save for the classic tripod scenario. Samsung started opening up the S Pen SDK to developers last year, so there is an opportunity for Air Actions to flourish, if developers choose to take advantage of them. At the moment, though, the feature isn't even present in most of the Note 10's first-party software, so there's still lots of work to be done on Samsung's end.

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 is cute and yields silly results, as you can see in the above demo. Ultimately, though, it's one of those passing fads that wears thin pretty quickly. And while it's technically impressive, you'll have to be at least a decent artist if you want to get the most out of AR Doodle. 

Cameras: A leader, but not the leader

(Image credit: Future)

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 handles bokeh-effect portraits and offers 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.

The cameras inside the Note 10 are the same as those the Galaxy S10 series used, so we didn't expect to see photos that looked especially different from Samsung's previous flagships. The company's optics and image processing algorithms have always had a penchant for scenes that boost low-light visibility, often at the expense of dynamic range. In this pair of photos, taken within New York's Bryant Park, the Note 10 delivers a flatter-seeming image with better detail in the shadows, but less in the highlights compared to the Pixel 3.

Heading a few blocks over to Times Square, we're met with a scenario that better plays to the Note 10's advantages. The strange green cast present in Samsung's Bryant Park shot is thankfully gone here. Instead, the Note 10 does a better job of exposing the entirety of the frame than the Pixel 3. Google's handset tends to prefer warmer, darker images, though in this case, the Pixel's lighting is much too dim compared to the actual conditions at the time. Still, I prefer the color Google's device pulls out of the clouds and sky.

Looking out in the middle of a street in Brooklyn at dusk, the Note 10 appears to have been a little overwhelmed by its surroundings. There's a warm glow that pervades certain aspects of the shot, and a distinct lack of sharpness present in the trees, the texture of the asphalt and the cars that line the road. The Pixel 3's attempt here seems much more composed and consistent. It's important to point out here that neither device was tuned to night mode for this particular comparison.

However, each phone's respective night mode was used for this pair of shots captured near Manhattan's Herald Square. Straight away, you can see that the Note 10's rendition is a bit warmer and softer in the same key areas, like the sides of buildings and texture of the street. Samsung's processing mitigates blowing out the highlights compared to Google's, although on the flip side, the Pixel 3 avoids the over-pronounced glow radiating from the overhead lamps. Again, Google's handset claims the sharper, more natural vibe here.  

Finally, comparing the Note 10's Live Focus feature against the Pixel 3's shallow depth-of-field effects, it's clear to see Samsung still has work to do on the portrait front. While the deep shadows on my colleague Shaun's face lend an over-dramatic look to an otherwise well-lit indoor shot, the Note 10 goes much too far in the other direction, diminishing contrast to a fault. Shaun's hair, skin, t-shirt and tattoos all just come through so much more clearly through the Pixel's lens.

Where Samsung hopes the Note 10 stands out is with its video prowess. The phone sports a Live Focus mode for video, which lets you blur the background and add special effects — like colorizing only the subject while keeping the background black and white.

The new video features aren't quite professional grade as Samsung suggests, though they do work pretty well. Capturing video with blurred backgrounds lends a cheesy rom-com effect to video that isn't perfect (the bokeh fades in and out at times), but looks good enough for the small screen. And editing these clips is a breeze thanks to the S Pen and Samsung's redesigned video editor, which makes it easier to trim clips and perform other tasks with greater precision than using your finger alone.

Performance: Among Android's best

The Galaxy Note 10 is one of the fastest Android phones, 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 is one of a small group of phones (including the OnePlus 7 Pro) to boast UFS 3.0 storage for snappier read and write speeds. You get 256GB of storage standard, complemented by 8GB of RAM; the Plus model packs 12GB of RAM. Truthfully, though 8GB is enough — the smaller Note 10 never stumbled during a week of use, whether I was gaming or writing, and never seemed wanting for more power.

(Image credit: Future)

We ran our Note 10 through Geekbench 4 and 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL ES 3.1 graphics test, and were met with impressive — if not record-setting — results. In Geekbench, which measures overall system performance, the Note 10 turned in a result of 10,906. That's roughly 300 points behind the Note 10 Plus (which features 4GB more RAM), and 600 points behind the iPhone XS Max and its class-leading A12 Bionic chipset.

The Note 10 performed better relative to Apple's flagship in 3DMark's graphics benchmark. There, the phablet notched a score of 5,374 — a full 1,000 points better than the 4,339 result from the XS Max. However, other Android phones, including the Note 10 Plus (5,781), OnePlus 7 Pro (5,581) and even the Galaxy S10 Plus (5,648), all had it smoked.

DeX for PC: A good idea that needs work

If you like the idea of using your Note 10 on a bigger screen, Samsung makes it easy with its upgraded DeX functionality. All you need is the provided USB Type-C cable that comes with the phone, as well as the DeX desktop app for your Windows PC or Mac, and you can run Android applications on your computer's display and manage your files through a phone-like interface, only on the big screen.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The ability to use DeX without Samsung's dedicated DeX Station isn't new; last year's Galaxy Note 9 introduced support to run the software on an external display using a USB-C-to-HDMI cable. The prospect of transforming your Note into a makeshift workstation with nothing more than a cable seemed like a great addition to DeX's repertoire.

In theory, being able to access DeX by plugging your Note 10 into your PC should expedite file management, which could be useful. However, our experience with the software wasn't as smooth as we hoped.

At the moment, running DeX windowed on a PC is a somewhat laggy, low-quality experience, with strange limitations. For example, you currently can move files from your computer to your phablet by dragging them onto the DeX desktop, but not the other way around. Speaking of which, it's difficult to understand why someone would prefer to use DeX through their computer if they already have access to Windows or Mac to begin with.

Perhaps Samsung will update DeX's PC functionality, to make it more useful to Note owners going forward. Currently, though, it still needs work. 

Battery: Below-average longevity, quick charging

(Image credit: Future)

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 Plus (4,300 mAh).

In Tom's Guide's custom battery test, which forces the phone to endlessly load webpages on T-Mobile's LTE network at 150 nits of screen brightness, the Note 10 lasted for an average of 9 hours and 25 minutes across three sessions.

Those times are well below the smartphone average of 10:14, not to mention the Note 10 Plus' 10:47 result over multiple tests — understandable, given that the Plus features an 800-mAh larger battery compared to the standard model. An earlier test of the regular Note 10's battery yielded a score of 14:33, due to an error in testing.

The Note 10's current average of 9:25 is below what we've witnessed from other handsets, and well short of the longest-lasting phones we've seen, as the table below indicates.

PhoneBattery Life
Huawei P30 Pro12:53
Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus12:35
Samsung Galaxy Note 911:26
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus10:47
Apple iPhone XS Max10:38
OnePlus 7 Pro9:31
Google Pixel 3 XL9:30
Samsung Galaxy Note 109:25

While roughly 9-and-a-half hours of battery life is not necessarily a dealbreaker, it does make the Note 10 a less compelling proposition, and gives those especially concerned about longevity on a charge a reason to spring for the Note 10 Plus instead.

At least 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. In our testing, the Note 10 went from dead to 26% in 15 minutes, and hit 47% after a half hour. That's not too shabby, though the Note 10 Plus can achieve even faster speeds. Sometime in September, Samsung will begin selling an optional 45W charger that works exclusively with the Plus model, that promises to get you through the whole day after being plugged in for only 30 minutes. 

MORE: Best Galaxy Note Accessories

The Note 10 also features speedy 15W wireless charging, 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, like a pair of Galaxy Buds, using the back of the Note 10.

Bottom Line

Power users and spec heads will have a bone to pick with Samsung over the Galaxy Note 10. On paper, you're sacrificing the Note 9's larger screen, getting a smaller battery and losing both the headphone jack and microSD storage.

So what’s left? An extremely svelte big-screen phone that offers faster performance, better cameras and new S Pen tricks. And while some will surely lament the omission of a memory card slot, 256GB of space built in is generous and arguably makes up for that slight.

However, I'm not convinced some of the Note 10’s headline features are more useful than gimmicky. AR Doodle is cute, but hardly something people have been clamoring for. Air Actions could be innovative, though the gestures need to demonstrate value in more apps and use cases first. DeX for PC has some kinks that will have to be ironed out soon. And while the transcription features work well, they're often a pain to access.

Some of these issues can be addressed with updates. I hope they will, because the Note 10 could use properly-executed software to match its phenomenal hardware. Sure, those chasing the finest performance and largest display possible will flock to the 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10 Plus, as they should. But for everyone else, the regular Note 10 will be a very special phablet — precisely because there's never been one this compact and easy to live with before.