We recently recounted our six-month experiences with the Google Pixel 4/4XL, and if you took even a brief at my sections, you would see that ‘disappointed’ doesn’t begin to describe my take. My problems had very little to do with Android, as I have had another device that more than met my needs over the same period, so I wanted to highlight some of the coolest features of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus (or 10+, I tend to use them interchangeably).
As reviews from release noted, this phone delivers: from gorgeous screen to great speed and multitasking to excellent cameras to massive battery life, the Note 10+ promised a great deal. But so often those early reviews fail to capture the reality of long-term use. Now nine months later, I wanted to step through why I would rate this device as one of the best I have ever owned.
I wrote about the announcement and release of the Note 10 phones, but never got into my impressions. One thing I have always loved about the folks at Gear Diary is that while we all love the cool new toys, there is also the element of ‘let’s wait until it gets boring and see if we STILL like it’! I feel that came through in the Pixel group-review with the excellent variety of opinions, and it is what I am trying to bring to this list of favorite things about the Note 10 Plus. Every day I grab it out of my bag and drop it on my desk and just pick it up for any number of reasons throughout the day, no longer thinking ‘oh this is cool’ – until now. So let’s get right to it.
1. Screen – I have been thrilled about how Samsung has packed larger and more vibrant screens into pretty much the same frame since the Note 8. The Note 9 was great, and yet the Note 10+ is enough of an upgrade that I had no qualms about upgrading just a year later. The 6.8″ OLED panel dominates the entire device in an incredibly efficient way that makes every bit of glass something of value. The screen is very bright and crisp regardless of whether you change settings to maximize performance or battery life or balance both. It is without question the most gorgeous screen I have ever used.
2. Edge Panels – the Edge display seems to be divisive, but among Note fans such as myself, it is adored. The Samsung Edge pioneered using curved glass combined with a touchscreen at the edge of the device to give you a couple of millimeters to add ‘handles’ to pull out feature menus. At first, it was finicky and slow, but now these are fast, flexible, and they allow you to layer multiple feature menus. I have mine set up with three menus – one for quick-access apps, another for system utilities, and the last for a compass and level.
3. Cameras – if you had asked me to name the weak spot of previous Note devices, it would have been the cameras. They have always been good – just never competitive. With the Note 9 we got a good rear camera set, but the front camera was weak and got distorted very easily. Now we have a camera set that is competitive with the best from Apple, Google, and others on both the front and rear. The wide-angle camera will naturally distort the edges of an image unless correction is used – and the correction for wide-angle, portrait mode, and low light situations all work well. And while I wouldn’t say the Note 10 Plus offers the best current smartphone camera, neither did I ever see a reason to use either the Pixel 4 or iPhone 11 Pro instead.
4. DeX / PC Link – for years we had to connect our phones to our computers in order to transfer information such as images or music. Now our phones are so powerful that the screen is the limiting factor. Samsung’s DeX offers a USB-C conduit that runs apps on your phone and uses your computer display to view things. This can allow you to do simple things like typing text messages on your computer keyboard, or get better access to smartphone-only apps. At first, I thought it was a gimmick (especially on the Galaxy Tab 4 and 6), but now it is something I use almost every day!
5. S-Pen – in my opinion, there is no need for the Note without the S-Pen at this point. There are plenty of large screen, large battery phones with expandable storage, and while the Note always gets the latest and greatest new hardware, it is still the S-Pen that sets it apart. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the S-Pen go from a simple stylus to a paired controller to an active part of the device. You get sensitive positional recognition, button presses for control, and now air gestures for even more control. And while the utility of each of these features varies, the core stylus functionality has been refined and improved with each iteration and remains a key differentiating factor.
6. Performance – anyone who has ever built their own computer can tell you there is more to performance than just the CPU, and that is certainly true with smartphones as well. Not to keep picking on the Pixel 4, but it uses the same Snapdragon 855 SoC as the Note 10+ and putting them side-by-side you’d think the Pixel used a mid-range 7-series Snapdragon! Samsung has always had great strength in putting together excellent hardware (that used to be hampered with lousy software), and the Note 10+ continues that with stellar performance that blows away the already top-performing Note 9. I am sure the generous 12GB of RAM helps in terms of giving apps and the system extra breathing room, but before that could matter the company would have to get the fundamentals right – and they did. Months later, the Note 10+ still feels just as fresh as when it was brand new.
7. Battery Life – rounding out what I call the ‘Four Horsemen of the Note series’ aside from display, S-pen and performance, we have battery life. The Note 10+ has given me two-day battery life since I got it, which in practice meant that I seldom end the day with less than 50% power remaining. Even on days when I use the Note 10+ constantly from before dawn until late at night, I have never managed to get the phone under 30% battery in a single day.
8. Sound (Dolby Atmos) – paired up with stunning visuals and performance, the Note 10+ has a great audio system whether you are using headphones or listening through the stereo speakers. In the past, I found the Note series to have mediocre sound, but the Note 10+ has both hardware and software that deliver great sound for music, video, and games. The size of the body provides a resonant quality, and while the phone volume is loud it never loses clarity. The Note 10+ includes a Dolby Atmos software sound enhancement system which lets you customize the response. And suddenly the audio in the Note series is at least as good as any other flagship device.
9. Handwriting to Text – one of my all-time favorite gadgets was the Apple Newton MessagePad 2000, and I fell in love with its ability to deal with my sloppy penmanship. It might seem like a small thing, but as someone who uses the S-Pen every day, I love the ability to quickly jot down notes and then choose later if it is something I need to transcribe or just leave it as written text. Once you have transcribed your notes, they are traditional digital text that you can use the same way as any other text on your device.
10. Super-fast 45W charging – I have two wireless chargers – one at home and at work. Each is hooked to a high capacity charger, so I can easily unplug the wireless charger and get the Note 10+ charged up very quickly. Of course, because of the mammoth battery that is something I have only ever done a few times, but it is a great option to have.
11. Size & Weight – to put it into context, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus is roughly the same size as the Google Pixel 4XL in terms of dimensions and weight, but the screen is a half-inch larger on the Note 10+ due to lack of bezels and better space utilization. The Note series is the original ‘phablet’ and as such it is bound to be large, but now we are seeing it offer a huge screen, big battery, lots of cameras and S-Pen … all in a competitively sized package.
12. Expandable Storage – not long ago, SD card support was an iOS vs. Android differentiation. Now many Android phones (such as the Pixel and various Huawei devices) exclude expandable storage support – and while this is less of an issue as we move to more streaming and cloud support, the ability to have files on your SD card for access remains very useful in a number of settings. Since I use my Note 10+ for a variety of work functions, I have appreciated the quick access to encrypted files directly on my phone.
13. Customization – one of the key advantages of Android, in general, is the broad customization available in terms of launchers, defaults, and pretty much everything else. Samsung expands upon this in nearly every way. The notification menu has been tweaked for better quick access control, the S-pen control shortcuts all over the screen, side panels, customization and quick access in settings menus and so many more – whenever I want to do something I fend there are at least two or three ways to do it, each of which is more or less efficient depending on what I am currently doing, and often what you are doing is tunneling into the main settings controls through an app-specific setting. Contrast this with iOS where you need to access every setting through the settings app regardless of your current action.
In terms of negatives, things that typically come up are slower updates, the fingerprint reader, and the lack of a headphone jack. In terms of major OS updates, Samsung has definitely improved, with my Note 10+ getting the update by the end of 2019. But that is still nearly three months after the launch of the Pixel 4, and while Samsung’s own OneUI updates bridged the gap considerably, there is obviously further to go. In terms of the monthly updates, Samsung has been amazing – my Note 10+ has gotten updated before the Pixel 4 at least half the time over recent months (including the May update!), so I have no complaints there.
My fingerprints have always been an ‘easy read’, and I have never struggled with any reader (except the Note 8 where I constantly put my finger on the camera lens!), but I have still been impressed with the Note 10+ in-display reader. At first, it seemed a bit slow, but over the months it has become nearly instantaneous at recognizing me and unlocking the phone. As for the headphone jack, this was the subject of many heated debates when the Note 10+ was announced. On a phone as large as the Note it seems like a headphone jack would fit easily, but given the increase in the battery capacity took additional space, for me it was an easy trade. Then again, given that none of my current phones (Note 10+, Pixel 4, iPhone 11Pro) have headphone jacks, I have already adjusted to using either USB-C/Lightning cabled or Bluetooth earbuds.
I am not typically someone who uses a phone for more than 6 months – I’m more someone who will put a relatively new smartphone into pure ‘backup device’ mode while waiting for the ‘next great thing’ — to have a device still totally captivate me after nine months of daily use is unprecedented. But the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ ticks so many key boxes for me – performance, multitasking, screen, optimized size, S-pen, and so on – that I have never found myself itching for a change. Sure I have used other phones – the Pixel is just inferior in every way so was easily put into ‘for reference use only’ mode; the iPhone fits into my personal life, although it lacks many of the professional tools I rely on every day. But since launch day 2019, the Note 10+ has been in my pocket, on my desk, hooked to my laptop, and otherwise my constant companion.