For so long, Samsung has been at the very top of the summit along with Apple when it comes to smartphones. Their Galaxy Note line has especially been touted as the premium of the premium, boasting the best specs that an Android phone can have. Now that gap has been closed considerably by other phone manufacturers such as Huawei, making the Note line less desirable than it was when it first released. Samsung’s Note 10+ is their latest attempt, hoping to sway people into staying with the Note series with the adjustments they have introduced.
Let us start with the design. The Note 10+ features less colour variations compared to its predecessor but it does have one new colour, Aura Glow. It seems to be an inspiration taken from the popularity of the gradient design found on many phones but provides an upgrade to the visuals aesthetics.
The back is mostly gold but when hit under direct light, it glows with a spectrum of colours, dancing as you gaze upon it; almost as if you are holding a portable rainbow. It is very eye-catching and one that will no doubt catch the attention of more than a few people. It certainly adds to the premium feel of the product. It also has a mirrored finish, which can prove handy for people wanting to adjust their makeup on the fly.
This though comes with its own share of caveats. This glass back unfortunately invites a lot of fingerprints, which muddles the whole aesthetic. It is best advised to go with a case to avoid that problem, but of course that would mean you will miss out on the wonderful spectrum design.
The Note line has always had a huge screen that accompanies it and the Note 10+ is no different. There’s a slight increase in screen size compared to the Note 9, with the Note 10+ now equipped with a massive 6.8 inch display. The main difference you’ll notice though, is its aesthetics. It adopts the hole-punch front camera implementation from the S series, which now gives of a near bezel-less look.
This, in tandem with the AMOLED display, makes for a brilliant visual combination that is a feast for the eyes. Colours are vibrant and the images when viewed on the screen are crisp and sharp. Now that there’s less bezels to be distracted by, the Note 10+ presents itself as one of the most desirable devices to watch media on, especially with its huge screen.
The one downside to having such a massive screen though, is that a lack of video streaming sites are able to support the aspect ratio it comes with. YouTube videos in particular have considerable black borders on the sides as you are watching. You can gesture to make the video fill the whole screen, but you risk cutting the top and bottom parts of it.
Though the phone’s appearance might indicate some heft, it is actually lighter than expected and surprisingly comfortable to hold on one hand, at least for a phone of this size. Using the phone one-handed doesn’t quite crank up my hand compared to other phones of similar size. You do however have to constantly adjust your hand position if you want to access the quick menu at the top; an annoying compromise.
You’ll also have to adjust to the new placements of the physical buttons. There are no physical buttons on the phone’s right hand side. Instead, the Bixby button has been combined to function as the power button as well. You can then adjust the settings to remove any functionality for Bixby, something a lot of people have been crying out for. It’s weird to have to power off the device from the left instead of the usual right side, but eventually you’ll get used to it.
What you might not be able to get used to is the Note 10+’s lack of a headphone jack. Samsung has opted to not include it in one of their devices for the first time so that it’ll be able to fit a bigger battery. For me, I already have wireless headphones so this was not a major loss for me. I expect though, that more than a few people will not be happy with this.
Using the phone is smooth and fast; as expected from a phone carrying the latest Snapdragon 855 processor with 12 GB of RAM. Something that the phone does not offer is the 90 Hz refresh rate for the display which some phones on the market right now offer. It is puzzling why Samsung decided against including it, especially for a phone that is supposed to be the best of the best.
The same goes for the battery. Though on paper it has a 4300 mAh battery, it doesn’t feel much like it. Don’t be mistaken, it is still a long-lasting phone that can probably get you through the day if you mainly browse the web or social media and occasionally watch videos. But expect to see percentages of about 30 percent left rather than 40 to 45 percent. Honestly, the battery capacity is a disappointment when there are much cheaper phones with more capacity.
At least it includes fast charging out of the box at 25W which gets you to a full charge in slightly under an hour. You can opt to spend more to get a 45W fast charger, the fastest one available currently, but it’ll set you back another US$50.
Performance from the camera fare a little better. The Note 10+has a quad camera set-up, 12MP main camera with dual aperture, a 12MP telephoto camera,16 MP ultrawide camera and a 3D VGA camera.
The three main cameras perform excellently. Photos tend to come out veering towards more natural colouring and maintain a lot of details that are within the shot. In daylight shots, you’ll get really slick and sharp images, especially in combination with the HDR capabilities of the phone.
The same goes for the ultra wide camera as well. It can capture much more of the landscape compared to the main camera, and there does not seem to be much stretching around the sides of the image. For the most part, for the main and ultra wide camera, you don’t need to be a professional photographer to get some wallpaper-worthy photos.
Included within the list of camera features is this new “live focus” mode which basically is a live version of portrait mode. This mode applies to both photos and videos. And for photos at least, it works well enough; allowing you to adjust the bokeh effect on the fly to your liking. Videos are a different story. If you are capturing a video outside with this mode, you will most likely run into issues, especially if you are in a crowded space. Moving objects tend to break the effect or cause it to miscalculate what to blur in the background. You’re not likely to use it save for the first few times when you’re playing around with it.
Night mode is good if unspectacular. While it does brighten up images considerably, that’s really all it does. It is unable to capture details in the photos like with what the Pixel phones do in their own night mode. It can do a job for you, just don’t expect it to up to the Pixel phone’s level.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the camera is its AR capabilities. The aforementioned 3D VGA camera can render objects within the camera view, allowing for several AR opportunities. One of them is a measuring feature which can measure objects in real-time just by pointing the camera at a subject. Results for objects are mostly accurate, though the same can not be said for humans, which the camera has a hard time recognising.
For now, the AR aspects of the phone only offer glimpses of its potential. As of writing this, there are not enough applications by Samsung or other third-party developers utilising this feature to deliver something that is truly usable to the average smartphone user.
Now we get into the Note 10+ ‘s most highlighted feature, the S Pen. Samsung has added an accelerometer and gyroscope into the pen which allows users to wave gestures for certain actions while holding the S Pen’s button. A majority of this function is used for the camera; flicking left to right changes the modes, up and down flips between the front and rear camera and waving it in a clockwise or anti-clockwise motion zooms in or out respectively.
While these gestures do work, it isn’t something that actually makes photo-taking more convenient. With the exception of using it as a remote camera button, this isn’t something that you’ll be using frequently, unless you want strangers to stare at you as you wave your arms around like a madman.
Aside from the hardware changes for the S Pen, there are also small software changes to improve the functionality. The screen-off memo feature which allows you to take down notes when the screen is off returns with better handwriting recognition so that you can simply search for it on your notes list. In testing out the recognition capabilities, it has more often than not been able to tell what words were written on the screen.
You can now also transcribe your notes into text if you want to better organise your notes into a digestible form. The process for this isn’t exactly quick to do; there’s no dedicated option to do it and you’ll have to go through many steps, but at the very least the option is there. All these new functions present more usability to the user than the gimmicky wave gestures do, at least for now.
The Samsung Note 10+ might try to pretend that it sits at the top of the Android hill, but there are some glaring absences from the phone that other phones feature which could have made it truly the best. With that being said, it is clear that it still is an excellently crafted smartphone, packing more than enough features to keep the average user satisfied with the overall experience. Whether that experience warrants the price tag that it comes with, that line is a little more blur.
Photos by Soloman Soh of the DANAMIC team.