Samsung’s Galaxy Note handsets have always housed the Korean electronics giant’s most potent smartphone components: a stylus and a huge, crisp, high-resolution display. They’ve been built for class-leading performance, whether you’re looking to get work done on them or play the most demanding mobile games. That’s as true as ever with the Note 10… but now you can choose between two sizes.
This year, Samsung is releasing two Note handsets – the Note10 and the 10+. The smaller of the two is still a phablet by any standard. It packs a 6.3in, FHD+ display, while the larger 10+ has a huge 6.8in, WQHD+ panel. Both are Dynamic AMOLED displays that support the HDR 10+ standard for more detail in high-contrast scenes… like that famously dark episode of Game of Thrones.
The Note9’s screen measures 6.4in, but despite only being 0.1in smaller, the Note 10 manages to feel substantially more compact than its predecessor, thanks to wafer-thin bezels above and below the display, and an impressively slim body overall.
Handling the new phones, it’s also clear the edges of their displays aren’t as gradually curved like those of the Galaxy S range, which is welcome. That means more useable screen area and less chance of the S Pen slipping off the sides when doing precision work.
Another thing that’s immediately obvious is that Samsung’s ditched the power button found on the right-hand side of most of its handsets. Instead, the Note gets only two physical buttons, both arranged down the left-hand edge: a volume rocker and a dedicated Bixby button. To access the power menu, users can either long press volume down and the Bixby Button or can do so on-screen via the new, dedicated power button in the pull-down shortcuts tray.
The write stuff
Every year Samsung tweaks the S Pen stylus, and this year there’s a slew of new features to look forward to. First up, the S Pen now includes a dedicated battery (as opposed to the super-capacitor found in the Note 9’s doodle stick), which takes six minutes to charge in its dedicated slot in the phone, and then lasts for up to 11 hours.
Then there’s the increased range for wireless actions. Previously you could get up to 10 metres away and use the button on the S Pen to trigger the phone’s camera or move through presentation slides. Now, the range is an impressive 40 metres and Samsung’s thrown in sensors that track movement, so the S Pen can be used to control media, snap pics or even zoom the camera, through a combination of the S Pen button and gestures.
It’s like having a tiny wand… which is fitting because Samsung’s packed in some more magic for the S Pen. A new feature called AR Doodles lets you scribble on faces as viewed by the front or rear cameras. Think of it as Snapchat filters you draw yourself.
Even more impressive is that the doodles can be mapped to specific faces, so draw yourself a mask, hand someone else the phone and have them do likewise, and when you take a picture or record a video clip with both of you in it, your respective face additions will show up.
Point and shoot
We only had a few minutes to play with the Note 10’s cameras, but we were impressed with what we saw. Upfront, there’s a 10MP f/2.2 selfie camera, and around the back, arranged down one side, there’s a triple-camera setup consisting of an ultra-wide 16MP f/2.2 snapper, a regular wide-angle 12MP one (with a variable f/1.5 or f/2.4 aperture) and a 2x telephoto on (12MP f/2.1).
The Note 10+ gets an extra camera you might miss at first glance: a time-of-flight (TOF) camera that is able to measure depth. Not only does this make for more effective portrait effects, but it also means you can use the 10+ to create 3D scans of physical objects.
Samsung has also updated its software-based video stabilisation, and the quick clip we shot with it was impressively smooth and not far off what we’ve seen in recent GoPro and DJI action cameras. Add in the third microphone the company has popped on the edge of the rear camera unit that allows for ‘audio zoom’ (where zooming while recording video results in whatever you’re zooming in on sounding louder) and you’ve got a recipe for seriously high-end video recording.
As you’d expect, both new Notes also offer plenty of heavy-lifting power. Both get Samsung’s latest Exynos processor and 256GB of storage (with the Note 10+ adding support for microSD cards up to 1TB). The Note 10 comes with 8GB of RAM, while the 10+ comes with 12GB – which is more than most laptops.
Gamers, meanwhile, will be pleased to see Samsung’s performance-boosting gaming setting is back, along with the internal, liquid cooling it introduced on the Note9. We didn’t get to test this out, but if previous Notes are anything to go on, we suspect you’re going to have to try very hard indeed to get the Note 10 to slow down.
What would a new phone be without a new colour option to make it clear you’ve got the new one? In addition to white and black options for the Note10, Samsung has also introduced a finish called Aura Glow. It’s a mirror-like finish that’s actually packed with tiny prisms, resulting in a rainbow-like effect when you tilt the handset around under white light. It looks amazing in person, and while it's inevitably a fingerprint magnet, it’s nothing a translucent case won’t fix.
From the way the S Pen clicks in and out of its slot to the rounded corners and screen edges, everything about the Note 10 and 10+ screams ‘premium’. And appropriately so. After all, they’re the pinnacle of Samsung’s Galaxy range. Whether you’ve been waiting for the new Note or are a newcomer to the fold, Samsung’s latest Notes are bound to please you.