Hands-On Review: the Samsung Galaxy Note10

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When the Galaxy Note10 and Note10+ were announced, Samsung didn’t usher in any Earth-shattering smartphone advancements. Nothing folded, popped up, or spun around, and that’s OK, because what the company did release is simply amazing, and that’s enough. I spent a little hands-on time with one recently, and was impressed by all the high-end bells and whistles you’d expect from a flagship, and the few advancements that have been made with the S Pen and additional rear camera. The Note10 shines a light on not just where smartphone technology is today, but where the category is headed in the future.

Samsung Galaxy Note10 SM-N970U 256GB Smartphone

Level Up

As I wrote, the Note10 is one of Samsung’s flagship devices and it has all the advanced tech you’d expect in such a phone. Compared to the Note9, it’s a straight-up upgrade in almost every way. The base 128GB Note9 is now 256GB for the Note10/10+. The 10nm Snapdragon 845 is now a 7nm Snapdragon 855 processor, along with a boost in RAM from 6GB to 8GB for the Note10, and up to 12GB for the Note10+.

As with any phone, one of the main features is the display. The Note9 gave us a huge 6.4" Super AMOLED display, and the Note10 comes in with—a 6.3” screen? Yes, the Note10 is slightly smaller, but it pushes the display farther to the edges, incorporating the Infinity-O layout to handle the selfie camera and, featuring Dynamic AMOLED technology, it reduces blue light to help with eye strain. It’s this bezel-erasing progress in screen technology that even makes the 6.8" Note10+ not seem nearly as big in person.

I think it’s with this generation that we can probably stop referring to the Note series as the phablet series. With differences in the fractions of an inch, the Note10/10+ are on par in size with the Galaxy S10. Big phones are becoming more common, so Samsung seems to be setting the sights of the Note series on productivity and the modern professional. One of the first steps down this road has taken the form of enhancements to the Note’s venerable S Pen note-taking stylus.

You’re a Wizard, Harry!

Accio S Pen! Sorry, but it’s almost impossible not to make Harry Potter references when talking about the Note10’s new S Pen upgrades. The Note9 gave us an S Pen with Bluetooth LE, turning it into a wireless remote, but now we get air gestures. Wizard and conductor jokes aside, you can now click-and-flick, or spin, to navigate through apps and their features.

This was the part of the Note10 I was looking forward to using the most, and I’m happy to report that the feature works well. In the camera app, all the modes were easily scrolled through with a horizontal flick, and changing from rear to selfie cam required a simple flick upward. I was even able to dial-in the zoom by making a circular gesture—clockwise to zoom in, and counterclockwise to zoom out. After taking some pictures, Note10 let me wave the S Pen left and right to browse through the images.

As cool as it was, though, I found that the new ability could be improved. For example, I was hoping the circular motion would rewind or fast-forward a video while it was playing, but no such luck. Even in the settings, the ability to rewind or fast forward were not even options for that gesture, and that’s mainly where air gestures currently fall a little short. Only Samsung apps and Chrome were listed as compatible and, within those apps, hardly anything was available to be controlled with a gesture.

The air gestures did have other highlights though, such as raising the volume of a song without touching the phone or adjusting camera settings while mounted on a tripod. I can also see this being extremely useful when giving presentations. In time, I’m sure air gestures will be better utilized and I’m excited to see what new capabilities the future will bring.

More Cameras. More Options.

I also spent some time playing with the updated camera system in the Note10. It has many of the same capabilities of the Note9, with rear 12MP telephoto and wide-angle cameras, and the feature-rich Pro Mode. What’s new is the 16MP ultra-wide camera, which is on both the Note10 and Note10+, not to mention the DepthVision sensor that’s exclusive to the Galaxy Note10+.

The new ultra-wide camera did a great job of capturing a more epic shot. With a 123-degree field of vision, you now get to see more of the scenery or include more people in group photos. Night Mode, though, is what really impressed me. My current phone makes an indoor room with low lighting look like I’m in a cave, so I’m envious of Night Mode. You do have to be still, and the camera app will remind you, but it does a great job of bringing out details and letting you see the scene without making the shot look unnatural. It also did a really good job of minimizing the glare from lights.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, my time with the Note10 was all too brief. I wish I could’ve gotten to hook up and play with the newly expanded DeX functionality, which only requires a USB-C or USB-C to USB-A cable to hook it up to a Windows PC. Working with smartphone files and apps using a full-size keyboard, mouse, and monitor sounds extremely useful. Overall, the Note10 was impressive and everything I expected a high-end smartphone to be, plus the unique touches that make it something special. If the bleeding edge is where your budget resides, you can pre-order a Galaxy Note10 or Galaxy Note10+ of your very own right now at B&H.

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