Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Review: Finally, a smaller note

For the first time in 9 years, Samsung has released a smaller version of the Note series. Let us take a look at what it has in stored.

Specification

 
  • 📺 6.3" Dynamic AMOLED 1080 x 2280
  • 🧠 Snapdragon 855 (Exynos 9825 elsewhere)
  • 🗃️ 8GB RAM 256GB Storage UFS 3.0
  • 📷 Three Rear Cameras
    • 📷 Wide: 12MP, f/1.5-2.4, 27mm, 1/2.55", 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
    • 📷 Telephoto: 12 MP, f/2.1, 52mm, 1/3.6", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom
    • 📷 Ultrawide: 16 MP, f/2.2, 12mm, 1.0µm, Super Steady video
  • 🔋 3400 mAh
  • 🔌 25WW wired, up to 15W Qi, reverse Qi
  • 📐 151 x 71.8 x 7.9 mm
  • 💸 $949 in the US
  • 🎨 Frosted Silver, Glacier Blue
  • 📅 Available 10.18.2019

Nailing the basics

Performance

Given that the Note 10 has the Snapdragon 855 processor, there is little doubt that the device has smooth performance. I have yet to notice any substantial increase in performance with high end Snapdragon processors for at least two years now. I doubt you will notice a real difference either unless you compare them side by side.

The Note 10's 8GB of RAM on the other hand is something that provides a substantial difference. Applications tend to stay longer in memory. Reloads happen less often when switching between apps. Multi-tasking on the Note 10 is certainly a better experience overall because of the RAM.

Heat is also something that has not been an issue. Under stress loads, the device does get warm but not to the point of discomfort. Overall performance of this device is great and there is not much to say here.

Design/Ergonomics

 

I like the design of the Note 10. The single centered front facing punch hole camera is elegant and fades into the background when watching videos or using apps. I have never found it to be particularly annoying. You get to use to the center hole punch quite quickly after using the device for a while.

Samsung finally got rid of the dedicated Bixby button though. Instead, the power button can now be changed to be the Bixby button if you really are dying to get it back. Oh and did I mention that all the buttons are on the left now? Great for someone who is left-handed but does need some getting used to for right-handed me. Not a particularly big deal here either. What I don’t enjoy, is the volume button being so high up. This phone is already too tall and wide for my taste. Trying to fumble with one hand to change the volume is a heart racing task each time.

Despite the Galaxy Note 10 being the smaller variant of the two Notes this year, the phone is still big. At a width of 71.8mm, it can be challenging for smaller than average hands to grip the entire phone. Added to the fact that the Note series has sharper corners compared to the S10, prolonged use with one hand usually ends with the phone's corner digging into my palm.

Note: From the tip of my middle finger to my wrist is about 185mm

Screen

Samsung makes wonderful AMOLED screens and the Note is no different. Colors are vibrant and the display gets bright outside. Whereas I had issues seeing the picture I was taking with Pixel devices, the Note gets bright enough for me to see the image. Not much to say here aside from the fact that I do wish it has a higher refresh rate. But I also can not complain much given how beautiful the screen looks.

Camera

 

The cameras on the Note 10 are solid. In good sunlight and conditions, you can take wonderful saturated photos that can be breath taking. In more challenging lighting conditions, the Note 10 does not do as well as the Pixel or iPhone 11. Night photos can be noisy and lacking in detail. I would say the Note 10 is in the top 5 best camera phones right now, but it is not in first place. If you are coming from a phone that is more than 2 years old, it will be a big difference. But if you are upgrading from something like the S10, the improvements are minor.

Battery Life

 

Battery life has been decent. It got me comfortably through a day most days. The only times I have needed to charge it in between the day were when I brought it on vacation. Constant map usage and spotty signal can certainly make a huge dent on battery.

Software

One-UI has come a long way

Samsung’s UI has come a long way from the days of Touchwiz. Unlike the slow and laggy Touchwiz, One-UI is elegant and streamlined. It is responsive and adds useful features to the Android OS that you do not get on stock Android. Features like One hand mode, mira casting, and screen recorder make it easy for users to have well supported features on their phone without having to dig into the play store to find additional applications.

One-UI is not without its flaws though. There are three major things that I found frustrating:

The first is Samsung’s aggressive set of permissions needed. One example is in their wearable app which requires constant location, calendar, call logs, contacts, phone, SMS, and storage access. If any of these permissions are denied the app will not load. If Samsung could make some of these permissions optional it would greatly increase user choice and privacy.

Another thing I found odd was the amount of privacy policy and terms of service agreements that you need to agree to on this phone. Well I understand that Samsung offloads a lot of their software to other vendors (e.g. Foursquare for nearby store locations), it is tiresome for a user to be informed about how their data is being used by each of these companies. I feel Samsung could streamline this process a little so that the user is not reading through multiple privacy policies just to enable features that should be considered standard.

One final thing I disliked about One-UI was the amount of un-installable bloatware on the device. Samsung’s own internet browser can not be removed and must co-exist with any other browser you use. Facebook is preinstalled and can only be disabled. Thankfully there are terminal commands that can be used for power users to remove these apps, but for the general public these should just be un-installable to begin with.

Samsung’s update frequency has significantly improved

 

Finally, Samsung has gotten to the point where they are providing security updates to their flagship devices as fast as Google. There have even been a couple instances where they beat Google to it. On the major OS side, Samsung is still slower. It took them 4 months to release One-UI 2.0 Android 10 for the Galaxy Note 10, which is an improved compared to the time taken for Android 9, but it is much slower compared to Pixel phones. On the positive side, I have found little to no bugs on the final version of One-UI 2.0 whereas some Android One program phones are still struggling to get updated to Android 10.

Unique Features

The S-Pen

 

You are all here for the S-Pen right? Why else would you want the Note? Well the S-Pen has learned some new tricks this year. You can now use the pen like a wand. Samsung calls this air gestures. It allows you to do things like switching the camera modes, volume control, etc. Honestly, I’ve probably only used the pen a handful of times. I can see how it might be useful for someone who honestly needs to annotate or sign documents, but for me the device was too small to do any meaningful work with a pen. The only times I’ve actually used the pen is to use it as a camera remote.

Microsoft partnership

Samsung announced a partnership with Microsoft on stage when they announced the Note series. What does this mean in practice? A few thing actually. For example, Microsoft store regularly sell the Note 10 and even the S10 series. The Note 10 also has software built in to help you integrate things with your Windows device. For example, "Link to Windows" is a built in quick tile that you can enable that allows you to easily transfer photos, see your messages and notifications, and even take calls on a Windows machine. For Samsung Cloud backups there is now the option to select One Drive instead of Samsung's own cloud infrastructure. All in all this partnership does reap some benefits for its users.

Recommendations

The Note 10 is expensive. $950 before tax is quite a large sum of money. In March 2020, you really should not be paying the full price for this device. At present time Swappa has this phone listed for $720 for a new unlocked device. If the S-Pen is a must have, then you will be happy with the Note 10. But if the S-Pen isn't a big deal to you, I would look elsewhere. Perhaps the S20 series instead. And if you are still looking for just a phone that works reliably, no one can beat the Pixel 3A.