Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus (6.8 inches) review

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus (6.8 inches) review

As we collectively think, “Wow, phone screens can’t get any bigger, can they?” Oh, they can, as the 6.9-inch Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra prove afterward.

Samsung’s Note 10 Plus is quite a bit larger than the Galaxy Note 10 due to its massive screen (and an equally large price tag). If you’re into over-the-top smartphone opulence, however, you’ll be smitten by the screen and Aura Glow glass back. This smartphone looks as good as it performs.

The best phones today all have large screens, including several from Samsung. In this way, the Note 10 Plus goes beyond what the S10 Plus provided six months before, and the Galaxy S20 after, boasting a handy, Note-exclusive S Pen with new gesture-based control tricks.

With screens this big, a stylus just makes sense, which is what we meant when we said the S10 Plus had almost everything included. Nevertheless, the Note 10 Plus mostly delivers more than that.

With its five cameras, it offers a Live Focus portrait mode with fun filters. The Pixel 3’s main camera beats Samsung’s in low light, but the selective black-and-white Color Point and Big Circles filters took our selfie game to a whole new level. Our tests have shown that the Note 10 Plus has the best front-facing camera we’ve ever seen.

Though Samsung adds ideas we don’t need, they go a step further. It seems intuitive on paper, but if you test it just once, you’ll realize you don’t actually want distracting background blurring in your videos. The same applies to AR Doodle – neat to use once but totally unnecessary afterwards. This is this year’s AR Emoji/Animoji.

Those features are also available on the cheaper 6.4-inch Note 10, which has a more one-hand-friendly screen and a stylus. However, the Note 10 Plus boasts faster specs, a microSD card slot, a larger battery, and ultra-fast charging.

One thing is lacking on both 2019 Note phones: a 3.5mm headphone jack. In an effort to make its phones thinner and pack a bigger battery, Samsung finally caved into the unpopular trend.

Let’s be honest about this luxury phone. You get a great camera phone for your money, but it’s actually not the best camera phone. Moreover, it’s fast – although technically it isn’t the fastest phone you can buy. Although Android 11 will be released later in 2020 for the phone, other phones will still outperform it.

It doesn’t matter what the rankings say – the Note 10 is Samsung’s best phone and the best phone we’ve used this year. If the Galaxy Fold is successful, this could be the last great Samsung phone.

GALAXY NOTE 10 SPECS

  • Weight: 196g
  • Dimensions: 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm
  • OS: Android 9
  • Screen size: 6.8-inch
  • Resolution: QHD+
  • CPU: Octa-core chipset
  • RAM: 12GB
  • Storage: 256GB/512GB
  • Battery:  4,300mAh
  • Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP + 12MP + VGA
  • Front camera: 10MP
  • Waterproof: IP68
  • Headphone jack: NO!
  • Stylus: S Pen

Display

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus (6.8 inches) review

  • Massive 6.8-inch Quad HD+ screen lends itself to the S Pen for notes
  • Center punch-hole embeds front camera inside the display
  • The punch-hole is 26% smaller than the S10 Plus camera hole 
  • Beware of annoying false touches from lack of bezel

Samsung’s 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10 Plus screen is so big that we find ourselves wishing for the innovation of the Samsung Galaxy Fold and other foldable phones.

There are pixels spilling over the left and right sides of the phone, taking up the entire front. As the display comes to a point, it is satisfyingly sharp on more than one level.

Super AMOLED screens from Samsung are known for their punchy colors, pixel-dense Quad HD+ resolution, and high peak brightness. Just now it’s optimized to seem even more immersive and worth all the hand stretches.

It’s true that the Note 10 Plus display doesn’t have the fluid, silky-smooth 90Hz display seen in the OnePlus 7 Pro. When you tightly wrap your hand around the screen, the curved edges produce false touches. There is no other phone with such a great screen.

It sounds almost too large – bigger than a 6.5-inch iPhone, doesn’t it? I don’t think so. If you measure its width and girth, the iPhone XS Max is a fraction of a millimeter smaller and weighs less. It’s just a few millimeters taller.

Samsung’s trick is to embed the front-facing camera into the display through a center-aligned punch hole. We found it easy to overlook when watching Netflix since it’s 26% smaller than the top-right camera hole on the S10.

Design

s10 note

  • The slick glass back means you’ll want a case to avoid dropping it
  • No headphone jack, but microSD card slot remains on the Plus
  • Colors: Aura Glow, Aura Black, Aura White, Aura Pink, Aura Red

Whatever happens with false touches, you’ll want to hold the behemoth Note 10 Plus tightly. The behemoth is slippery and extends beyond your grasp. You can’t grab it.

We have a love-hate relationship with the Aura Glow color as well. Aside from being hard to handle, the glass back and aluminum frame smudge so badly without a case.

If you hold this Note 10 Plus in the right light, it creates a mesmerizing rainbow effect, making it your new favorite shiny toy. It’s stunning.

Due to the streamlined display and small punch-hole camera, there is no room for the IR scanner used in the Note 9 and Note 8 for quick and secure face unlock. As a replacement, we tested the fancy ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor, which worked just as well. It seems as though technology has improved.

On this year’s Note, there is also one fewer button. In the new model, the power button has been combined with the much-maligned Bixby button on the left side. This is a good idea. It takes a little getting used to how the power button works and Bixby remains a mediocre voice assistant. The new “everything” button will make you much more aware of it, and you won’t mistakenly hit it when you think the volume is down.

It won’t have the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack, for instance. Samsung’s phones feature a USB-C port so you can plug in the included USB-C headphones. It was inevitable.

S Pen magic tricks

  • The best way to jot down notes, markup screenshots and sign forms
  • Returning features we love: Remote Camera Shutter, Screen Off Memo
  • New gimmicks: Air Gestures, ‘better’ handwriting recognition are just okay

This year’s Note comes with some neat new features, including the S Pen stylus. They won’t convince you to buy it, however.

You’re far more likely to be impressed by the return of functionality when you remove the S Pen from the bottom right corner of the Note 10 Plus frame. Although slimmer and shorter than before, it accomplishes the same great fine-tipped note-taking as before.

Screen Off Memo remains the fastest way to jot down quick notes as fast as you can pull out the stylus, while the S Pen is the best way to capture screenshots and annotate them on a phone. Turn off the Note 10 display when you’re done.

The S Pen’s Bluetooth LE capabilities make it possible for you to take photos from a distance using Remote Shutter. In addition to the gyroscope and accelerometer, the Note 10 Plus has ‘Air Gestures’ for even more magic.

With Air Gestures, you can zoom in and out of the camera view by rotating clockwise or counterclockwise and swipe through menus by using left and right flicks. This new function took a lot of training.

Using the S Pen, we were able to master the art of taking selfies, using the camera app in multiple modes, and taking fun Live Focus photos in abundance. The majority of it worked, except you really needed a tripod.

As New York City has many rounded trash cans and few flat surfaces, remote photography with the Note 10 is difficult without a tripod. Stuck on the ground, you’ll get a lot of unflattering low-angle shots. Do you really need to carry a tripod around with you?

Another new feature of the S Pen is better handwriting recognition. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Ironically, it had trouble converting our handwritten words “This is a text” into the printed text a few times. Overall, it is better, but better is subjective.

Five cameras

  • Not ‘the best but the most fun cameras to use, with normal, telephoto, ultra-wide, and depth-sensing lenses on the back
  • 12.3MP main camera benefits from Night Mode, but still bested by the Pixel 3 in lowlight
  • Ultra-wide and 2x zoom telephoto lenses offer more interesting perspectives, something not on the Pixel 3
  • ‘Live Focus’ Color Point and new Big Circles portrait filters make this the best selfie camera around

With five cameras, the Note 10 Plus delivers a range of perspectives and excellent picture quality from each, something we also found in the six-camera-lens LG G8.

With four cameras on the back, the main 12MP camera captures scenes with the vibrant colors that Samsung is known for. The camera performs well, though almost exactly like the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus camera.

Night Mode allows you to take better photos in low light than ever before. Without it, people’s skin looks like 90s glamor portraits when Photoshop was first invented – so much unfortunate airbrushing.

As exposure increases, we see less aggressive smoothing, but more noise as well. It was a better trade-off in most dark scenarios. Due to the superior post-processing of the Google Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode, the device remains the overall winner for nighttime and bar-restaurant shooting.

Highlights include the 12MP telephoto and 16MP ultra-wide lenses on the Note 10 Plus. The larger Note 10 and Note 10 Plus provide different perspectives while the Note 10 Plus’ VGA Depth lens provides ‘Live Focus’ bokeh (the smaller Note 10 relies on software blurring).

Thanks to the 2x zoom telephoto lens, we were able to get up close to the scene without distortion and squeeze more in the frame with the wide-angle lens – without having to back up to get everything in.

ColorPoint

Regular camera: low light test

In addition, there is a small hole in the screen that embeds a 10MP front camera. Using fun-to-manipulate Live Focus filters, we were able to make subjects (often us) stand out.

The Color Point filter from the S10 series is still our favorite, but there is a new one we like almost as much: Big Circles. This new software-produced bokeh filter blurs the background with distant lights taking on a natural-looking bulbous shape.

We also like the Pixel 3’s excellent selfies, and we appreciate Google’s use of two camera lenses on the front, one for wide-angle group selfies. Nevertheless, we had more fun using the Note 10 Plus front camera, and everyone we showed it to was blown away by the selective black-and-white Color Point filter.

We found that the differences between the S10 Plus and Note 10 Plus still cameras were minimal. If you ignore the stupid features that distract from what’s really good, Samsung’s new phone breaks new ground in the video.

The Note 10’s video is especially stable thanks to its ‘Super Steady’ optical image stabilization (OIS). Compared to an iPhone XS Max and Note 9, Samsung’s newest phone offers smoother video. While it won’t make you ditch your DJI Osmo Mobile 3, you’ll have the least shaky video possible when you’re gimbal-free.

Samsung’s video editor, now retooled for 2019, is a welcome addition for 2019. Almost as if it’s a simplified version of Adobe Premiere Rush, it’s integrated into the gallery app. It also pairs well with the S Pen for fine-tuning edits on the timeline.

As much as we love using Live Focus photos, Live Focus video seems like a natural progression. In some cases, it’s cool to blur the background behind moving subjects, especially if you’re isolating a colorful subject against a black-and-white scene with ColorPoint or making your room appear glitchy with the static-filled Glitch filter.

The Live Focus Video feature, however, is a bit inconsistent to be used outside of a “Hey, doesn’t this video look neat?” social media post. As opposed to Live Focus, you shouldn’t use this until the edges of foreground subjects are more defined. Although it is a little better than the LG G8’s very similar feature, that doesn’t say much.

Zoom-in Audio also serves a purpose, namely amplifying the subject you are zooming in on. The feature is analogous to boom mics. It just made everything in the room louder, not just the subject we zoomed in on.

Battery

  • More than all-day battery life with the default Full HD resolution
  • The 4,300mAh battery capacity is the largest on a Samsung phone
  • 25W charger included for fast charging, but compatible with 45W

It has a battery life that lasts longer than a day, and it charges much faster than previous Samsung phones.

Thanks to the 4,300mAh battery, we had 20% to 30% battery life after heavy use. This is roughly how the Galaxy S10 Plus worked, which had a smaller battery capacity, but also a smaller screen.

The greater-than-all-day battery life is the result of Samsung’s power management, which has been greatly improved over the years, and the fact that the QuadHD+ display resolution isn’t on by default – it’s set to 1080p out of the box.

In VR, you won’t notice the difference between 1080p and Quad HD+ resolutions, but Always On Display was also off by default. We turned it on because we appreciated being able to see the time and lock-screen notifications at a glance. Battery life was not affected much.

As of today, Samsung’s Fast Charging capabilities have been upgraded to 45W, a dramatic increase from the 15W wall charger we’re used to. We found the 25W charger included in the box to be a welcome improvement for most people. It took us 70 minutes to go from 0% to 100% using the 25W charger.

You won’t find this feature on the regular Note 10. The 45W charger that’s sold separately promises to recharge your Note 10 Plus battery for all-day use in just 30 minutes. However, it costs $50. When we receive one, we’ll update our Note 10 Plus review.

It is also good news that wireless charging has improved to 15W, as the 12W limit on the S10 ‘Fast Wireless Charging 2.0’ series felt slow. For Samsung’s 12W Wireless Charger Pads Duo, you will need the new 15W stand to take advantage of the higher speeds.

Interface

  • Samsung’s One UI interface makes it easy to reach menus on big phones
  • Dex works sans a dock – just plug the Note 10 Plus into a laptop via USB-C
  • We’d like the see Mac/PC Samsung apps for Apple-like ‘Continuity’
  • ‘The new Bixby’ is the same AI that has trouble understanding us

The software on Samsung’s latest phone has been redesigned to work logically on such a tall device – everything is easy to reach within the menu system, and the camera app is among the most robust without feeling overly complicated.

Most of the navigation options on the Note 10 Plus are on the bottom half of the screen, within easy reach. It is a well-designed device. Unfortunately, that’s not the case when Samsung’s software is extended beyond the phone.

By simply connecting a USB-C cable between the Note 10 Plus and a PC or Mac, Samsung Dex offers a dock-free desktop view of your phone. You can also receive notifications and messages on your PC using the Link to Windows mode. All that would be great if drag-and-drop functionality wasn’t buggy.

The most irritating thing is that important apps, including Samsung Notes, don’t have desktop versions. Currently, there is no reliable way to bring something up on a PC or Mac after we have written it down. With no continuity software between its devices, Samsung won’t win us over.

While we complained about this on the S10 Plus, porting Samsung Notes off of the phone is so much more important on the… S10 Plus.

As for Bixby, well, it’s still Bixby. It doesn’t seem to understand what we are saying. Each time we try a new Samsung phone, it says “Meet the new Bixby,” but it is still the same mediocre voice assistant. Always.

Performance

  • One of the fastest Android phones, but not actually ‘the fastest’
  • 12GB of RAM is more than enough for Dex desktop web browsing
  • 256GB or 512GB of internal storage
  • MicroSD card slot for expandable storage (not in the smaller Note) 

The 10 Plus is among the fastest phones available today, as one would expect from a new Note. There are a few Androids that are a smidge faster than the iPhone last year, but that’s mostly about bragging rights.

Samsung’s 12GB of RAM was more than enough to mirror Dex desktop mode and support full browsers with many tabs open at once. With 12GB of RAM, the Plus version is faster than the normal Note with 8GB, but both are very fast. During our tests, GeekBench multi-core scored 10,849 points.

Depending on your region, the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus have either a Snapdragon 855 or an Exynos 9825 chipset. We’ve tested both. Unlike the Asus ROG Phone 2, Samsung didn’t equip the Note 10 Plus with the gaming-centric Snapdragon 855 Plus, but it incorporated a vapor cooling chamber to handle today’s 3D games and whatever comes next.

In addition, the Plus retains the microSD card slot for additional storage, which isn’t available on the Note. It’s just in case 256GB or 512GB of internal storage isn’t enough for you.

Pros Cons
Fun-to-use rear cameras Big and slippery design
The best selfie camera around The camera isn’t ‘the best’
The best screen on a smartphone Supremely expensive

VERDICT

Upon release, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus was Samsung’s largest and most powerful smartphone, and its Aura colors almost symbolize smartphone luxury from top to bottom. An extra-large battery and a hand-stretching 6.8-inch display complement each other perfectly. Although it is neither the fastest nor the best camera phone, its five cameras and smart photo filters make it the most enjoyable phone we’ve tested in 2019. For pre-foldable phone opulence, this is the one for you.