Galaxy S10 vs. Galaxy Note 9: Which Phone Should You Buy?

Editors' Note: Updated March 8 now that the Galaxy S10 is shipping.

There used to be no dispute as to which Samsung phone was the company's big-screen beast. The Galaxy Note series featured the largest displays, the most processing oomph, and the features most obviously geared toward anyone who subscribed to the theory that Bigger Is Almost Always Better.

Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 (left) and Note 9

Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 (left) and Note 9

The newly released Galaxy S10 Plus, one of a trio of S10 models rolled out by Samsung, shakes things up by quite a bit. This new phone's display is every bit as big as what you'd find on the Galaxy Note 9, and the 6.1-inch Galaxy S10 isn't that much smaller. What's more, Samsung has packed the kind of features into the Galaxy S10 that used to be firmly in the Note's domain. As a result, the choice of which big-screen Samsung phone to get isn't as clear as it was before.

We've posted our review of the S10 Plus, and we're awaiting our chance to test the S10, but we've had enough hands-on time with the new devices to compare and contrast them with the Note 9. We'll update this article with a final verdict once we've completed our S10 testing, but here's how these big-screen Samsung phones compare at this point.

Phone
Galaxy S10
Galaxy S10 Plus
Galaxy Note 9
Starting Price
$899
$999
$999
Screen (Resolution)
6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3040 x 1440)6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3040 x 1440)6.4-inch Super AMOLED (2960 x 1440)
CPU
Snapdragon 855
Snapdragon 855Snapdragon 845
RAM
8GB
8GB/12GB
6GB/8GB
Storage
128GB, 512GB
128GB, 512GB/1TB
128GB/512GB
MicroSD?
Yes, up to 512GB
Yes, up to 512GBYes, up to 512GB
Rear Camera

16-MP ultra-wide (f/2.2), 12-MP dual-pixel wide (f/1.5, f/2.4), 12-MP telephoto (f/2.4)

16-MP ultra-wide (f/2.2), 12-MP dual-pixel wide (f/1.5, f/2.4), 12-MP telephoto (f/2.4)

Dual 12-MP (f/1.5, f/2.4)
Front Camera
10-MP dual-pixel (f/1.9)
10-MP dual-pixel (f/1.9), 8-MP depth sensing
8-MP (f/1.7)
Fingerprint Sensor
Ultrasonic in-display
Ultrasonic in-displayRear-mounted
Battery
3,4,00 mAh
4,100 mAh
4,000 mAh
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)
TBD
12:35
11:26
S Pen Support?
No
No
Yes
Size
5.9 x 2.77 x 0.3 inches6.2 x 2.91 x 0.3 inches6.3 x 3 x 0.3 inches
Weight
5.5 ounces
6.2 ounces
7.1 ounces
Colors
Flamingo Pink, Prism Black, Prism White, Prism Blue, Prism GreenFlamingo Pink, Prism Black, Prism White, Prism Blue, Prism Green, Ceramic White, Ceramic BlackLavender Purple, Ocean Blue, Cloud Silver, Midnight Black

Design and Display

When comparing the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy Note 9, it's hard to start anywhere other than the displays. That's because the S10 Plus model now features a 6.4-inch OLED panel stretching from edge to edge, just like the Note 9.

Galaxy S10 Plus and S10

Galaxy S10 Plus and S10

But there are some key differences with that screen. The resolution on the S10 Plus is a bit sharper at 3040 x 1440 to the Note 9's 2960 x 1440. The S10 Plus also uses Samsung's new Dynamic OLED panel, which should feature a wider range of colors due to its support for dynamic-tone mapping. The 6.1-inch S10 offers the same resolution as the S10 Plus on its Dynamic OLED screen

Galaxy S10 Plus

Galaxy S10 Plus

That said, when we tested the S10 Plus' display, it registered 136.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut, compared to 224 percent for the Note 9. The S10 Plus displays colors more accurately, with a Delta-E score of 0.29 to the Note 9's 0.34. (Numbers closer to zero are better.) The S10 Plus has a slightly brighter screen as well (625 nits versus 604 nits for the Note 9), though we got that number by shining a flashlight at the S10's sensor.

Samsung's phones also achieve their edge-to-edge displays in different ways. The Note 9 features a bezel at the top to house its front-facing camera. But the S10 and S10 Plus opt for Samsung's new Infinity O display and its punch-hole design, where the camera is housed in a cutout in the middle of the screen. (In the S10 Plus's case, that cutout contains two front cameras, as we'll discuss in a moment.) The end result is that the S10 Plus squeezes more screen into a smaller form factor than the Note 9, but that punch hole could stand out when you're using apps or watching videos that fill the whole screen.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

Regarding form factor, the S10 Plus is a little shorter and less wide than the Note 9 at 6.2 x 2.91 x 0.3 inches. It weighs less, too, tipping the scales at 6.17 ounces to the Note 9's 7.1 ounces. With its smaller screen, the S10 is the most compact of the bunch at 5.9 x 2.77 x 0.3 inches and 5.5 ounces. (There's an even smaller version, the Galaxy S10E, but it lacks some of the higher-end features of the S10 and S10 Plus and really isn't much of an alternative to the Note 9.)

Another big design change becomes apparent when you spend some time with the phones. The S10 and S10 Plus use an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor that fits underneath their displays. (A modest cutout gives you a clue as to where to place your finger to unlock your phone.) The Note 9, like other recent Samsung phones, puts the fingerprint sensor on the back. (Though thankfully, it's beneath the dual cameras instead of next to the lenses.)

MORE: Best Galaxy S10 Deals Right Now

You'll get contrasting choices in colors depending on which phone you favor. The Note 9 comes in four shades — Lavender Purple, Ocean Blue, Cloud Silver and Midnight Black. S10 shoppers can choose between Flamingo Pink (unless you're in the U.K.), Prism Black, Prism White and Prism Blue. (If you're outside the U.S., add Prism Green to the mix.) Higher-capacity versions of the S10 Plus come in Ceramic Black or Ceramic White.

Cameras

Samsung introduced dual cameras to its flagship phones with the Note 8, and the Note 9 continued that tradition with a pair of 12-megapixel shooters. The S10 and S10 Plus up the ante by adding a third lens to the back — a 16-MP ultra-wide-angle camera joins the 12-MP main lens and 12-MP telephoto shooter. (The 6.1-inch Galaxy S10 features this triple-lens setup, too.)

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

That means either S10 model will give you the option of pulling back when you want a shot that captures more of the surrounding details, while also letting you zoom in as you can with the Note 9. The S10 main dual-pixel camera has the same variable aperture as the Note 9 that lets in more light when you're taking pictures in the dark.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

The secret sauce to the Note 9's camera was artificial intelligence, capable of recognizing different scenes and adjusting camera settings accordingly. The S10 models add more smarts to now recognize 30 different scenes, compared with the Note 9's 20.

Up front, you get more lenses on the S10 Plus, too. There's an 8-MP depth-sensing camera joining the 10-MP selfie cam on Samsung's newest phone. The Note 9 gets by with a single 8-MP lens up front. Samsung says the two lens on the S10 Plus can improve the bokeh effects on portrait shots, and that the new phone's front cameras can capture Ultra-HD video, too.

MORE: Galaxy S10 vs. Pixel 3 Camera Face-off

We'll have to pit the assorted cameras in a face-off to see if these promised improvements in the S10 pan out, but so far, the S10 Plus compared well with the Pixel 3, our current pick for best camera in a smartphone.

Performance

We have a pretty clear sense of how the S10 performs compared to the Note 9, at least when it comes to the S10 Plus. The Note 9 is no performance slouch, running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845, the chipset of choice for 2018's flagship Android devices. But all the Galaxy S10 models feature a new system-on-chip, the Snapdragon 855, which Qualcomm says benefits from the biggest performance increase ever for a Snapdragon update. And that makes a big difference in our initial Galaxy S10 benchmarks. (We've just tested an S10 Plus, but the S10 has the same processor and RAM, so we'd expect similar results once we test that phone.)

On Geekbench 4, which gauges overall performance, the Galaxy S10 Plus scored 10,732, the best number we've ever seen from an Android device on that test. The Galaxy Note 9 scored 8,876 on Geekbench 4, so the S10 Plus improved on that result by 21 percent.

The S10 Plus also topped the Note 9 when we tested graphics using 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme benchmark. The latest Samsung phone turned in a 5,648 score, besting the Note 9's 4,639 result by 22 percent. We plan to run additional tests and log real-world use to see if these initial numbers favoring the S10 Plus hold up.

The S10 Plus enjoys an extra advantage when measuring performance because its base model features more RAM. It ships with 8GB of memory, compared with 6GB in the Note 9's base model. You could upgrade to 8GB in the Note 9, but the S10 Plus's variations include a model with up to 12GB of RAM.

MORE: First Galaxy S10 Benchmarks: Meet the Fastest Android Ever

The S10 Plus comes with the same amount of storage in its base model as the Note 9 — 128GB. And while both phones feature a 512GB option, only the S10 Plus lets you buy a phone with 1TB of storage.

Battery

The 4,000 mAh battery in the Note 9 was the biggest power pack ever included with a Samsung phone. The operative word there is "was," as the S10 Plus features a 4,100 mAh battery. The S10, meanwhile, gets by with a 3,400 mAh battery.

Galaxy S10

Galaxy S10

The S10 Plus makes use of its bigger battery, lasting 12 hours and 35 minutes on our battery test, where the phone continuously surfs the web over T-Mobile's LTE network until it runs out of power. The Note 9 lasted for 11:26 on that test, and that was with the phone's adaptive display feature turned off. So you can expect the S10 Plus to last more than hour longer than its big-screen sibling.

The S10 and S10 Plus boast one power management feature you won't find on the Note 9. The new phones' Wireless PowerShare feature lets you use any S10 as a reverse charger to wirelessly power up other devices — including the Note 9.

Software and Special Features

The S10 lineup introduces Samsung's new OneUI skin for Android, which is marked by rounder icons and a redesigned layout meant to make it easier to use large phones with just one hand. That last point is relevant to the S10 Plus and its 6.4-inch screen. Of course, Note 9 users have been able to get the OneUI beta since last year, so they're not missing out on this new interface. And the Android 9 Pie update has been rolling out to the Note 9, bringing that phone in line with the OS version that ships on Samsung's new S10 phones.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

If there's one area where the Note enjoys a big advantage over the Galaxy S lineup, it's the S Pen that comes with Samsung's phablet. The Note 9 saw a particularly welcome improvement to its stylus, as you can now use the S Pen as a remote control.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

By turning the pen into a remote shutter, you can control music playback or even snap a photo. Even with the improvements to the S10 and S10 Plus, Samsung's latest flagships don't offer anything quite like the S Pen that comes with the Note 9.

Price and Availability

The S10 Plus is the most expensive phone in the new S10 lineup, with a starting price of $999 for the 128GB model with 8GB of RAM. Upgrading your storage to 512GB or 1TB will set you back $1,249, or $1,599. The S10 is a comparative bargain at $899, with an upgrade to 512GB available for $1,149.

Galaxy Note 9View Deal

Galaxy S10 View Deal

The S10 Plus's asking price is in line with what Samsung charged for the Note 9 when it debuted last August. Then, the base model cost $999, while a 512GB Note 9 cost you $1,249. Carriers occasionally offer discounts on the Note 9 — anywhere from $100 to $300 off — so check the latest Note 9 deals to see if there are any chances to save on the cost of this phone.

As of March 8, the Galaxy S10 is now widely available — you can buy it from Samsung, all four major U.S. carriers, regional carrier US Cellular, Xfinity Mobile and retailers including Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart. Several prepaid carriers, including Metro by T-Mobile, Boost and Cricket, now offer the phones, too. The Note 9 has been on sale since last year.

Outlook

We'll have a definitive verdict once we've spent more time with the Galaxy S10. But after reviewing the S10 Plus, the larger of Samsung's two new phones give the Note 9 some serious competition for Samsung's big-screen phone of choice. The display is just as large as what you get on a Note 9, you'll enjoy better performance, and the new phone's battery lasts longer on a charge.

If you're a big-phone fan, you've never had a better range of choices for your next handset. And at this early stage, the Galaxy S10 Plus looks like the big phone to beat.

Credit: Tom's Guide