Galaxy Note 10+ review: All that power and a useful S-Pen

Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 10 2019 04:20 PM | Updated as of Sep 10 2019 04:36 PM

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 smartphone is displayed during a launch event at Barclays Center on Aug. 7, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP/file

MANILA -- "Power user" and "premium" are clichés when talking about the most expensive phones like the Galaxy Note 10+. At P60,000 and up, these phones should be nothing short of blazing fast and capable of great photos while looking like jewels in the hand.

The Galaxy Note 10+ is all that. And this year, Samsung brought new tricks to its often overlooked S-Pen stylus to convince holiday shoppers to pick it over the iPhone 11 and the Mate 30 series.

I used the Galaxy Note 10+ as my everyday phone for 2 weeks for this review.

REFINED BEAST

That blinding rainbow colorway (Samsung calls it Aura Glow) aside, the Note 10+ is Samsung's best crafted phone yet, with subtle yet substantial tweaks that make it feel better in the hand, especially if you followed the company's curved screen evolution.

The screen takes up more space on the front before curving to the side, making the Note 10+ appear more like a giant rectangular slab with almost no bezels compared to its predecessors. It also nearly eliminates the "waterfall" distortion on past S and Note generations.

The hole-shaped cutout on the top center of the display is jarring at first, but is nothing compared to Apple's notch. Positioned on the side, like on the S10 line, it would be easier to ignore.

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The earpiece, located in a tiny slit at the top of the screen, is a design marvel, allowing Samsung to push the screen right to the top edge. I had no call volume issues during our tests.

The Huawei P30 Pro also pushes the screen to the top edge but sacrifices the speaker. Instead, users hear calls through vibrations on the screen.

The Note 10+ is also slightly thinner than the S10+. Placed side by side, the Note is visibly larger with its 6.8-inch screen compared to 6.4 inches on the S10+.

It's large, 4,300 mAh battery is enough for a day of moderate to heavy use and can reverse charge accessories like wireless earbuds on its back.

SNAPPY AS ADVERTISED

Unsuprisingly, the Note 10+ is as fast as a late 2019 smartphone can get. It runs with Exynos 9825 or Snapdragon 855 depending on the market. The phone has 12GB of RAM and on-board storage starts at 256GB with a 512GB option.

It ships with Android 9 out of the box (upgradeable to Android 10), with Samsung's One UI 1.5 overlay.

Samsung's skin is not too different from the S10 line, though the gesture-based navigation felt smoother. Unlike on our S10+ test unit, I didn't need to swipe too close to the chin of the Note 10+ to go to the home screen.

I hope Samsung smoothens the gesture navigation in future software updates. The 6.8-inch quad HD screen with near 500 pixels per inch is too gorgeous to spoil with on-screen navigation buttons.

There were also fewer accidental touches on the side of the screen which could get annoying. When holding the S10+, the screen freezes when the fleshy part of the hand below the thumb touches the side of the screen and is recognized as a finger.

Samsung killed the Bixby button, but not its proprietary digital assistant, which still lurks in the Note 10+. But it also killed the power button on the right side of the device.

All buttons are now located on the left side, the volume rocker and the power key. It's a difficult adjustment for right-handed people like myself. Waking up the phone requires a bit of finger acrobatics.

Another usability issue, the in-display fingerprint scanner seems to have improved from the S10 series, but is not as fast as the ones on the P30 Pro or the OnePlus 7 Pro. Samsung says its implementation is more secure since it uses sound waves instead of just imagery.

The Note 10+ is a fantastic device for consuming media. Nursing a tooth extraction over one weekend, I didn't need to turn on my TV to binge on "Ugly Delicious," "Million Pound Menu" on Netflix and "Marion's Kitchen" and "Judy Ann's Kitchen" on YouTube.

The colors are rich, the sound is loud and crisp and the screen seems to float in the hand (or the dining room table). The Note 10+ was also easy to handle lying down, unlike the iPhone XS Max which is so heavy it hurts every time it fell on my face.

VERSATILE CAMERAS

Samsung is targeting content creators with the Note 10+ and with a fourth, depth-sensing camera on the back, it can blur the background in videos as it records.

Otherwise, the other 3 cameras on the back of the Note 10+ perform largely the same as the S10+ and S10, and that's a good thing. It shoots wide and 2 times zoom.

A test shot using the rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.ABS-CBN News

A test shot using the rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.ABS-CBN News

A test shot using the rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.ABS-CBN News

A test shot using the rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.ABS-CBN News

A test shot using the rear cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.ABS-CBN News

Images are bright and clear, albeit warmer compared to the Huawei P30 series and the iPhone XS. Samsung's scene recognition software is also not as fast as in the competition. At one point, it recognized a cat sleeping on a table as food.

The mic on the Note 10+ can also "zoom in" to amplify the sound. Like the video bokeh, it's not found in competing handsets, at least not yet.

HIGH-TECH WAND

What makes the S-Pen useful this year is Samsung's handwriting recognition software. The Note 10+ reads handwriting as typewritten text, making it easier to search for that one phone number or to-do-list from a pile of doodles.

I can barely read my own handwriting but the Note 10+ pulled up my notes fast. You can write on the dark, unlit screen just by pulling out the S-Pen.

I just wish the S-Pen on the black unit was not color-matched with the phone and instead came in red or green to make it easily recognizable as the new Note. The Aura Glow variant comes with a Pia Wurtzbach-blue S-Pen. Envy.

A man uses the stylus on the new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 smartphone during a launch event at Barclays Center on Aug. 7, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty/AFP/file

The Bluetooth S-Pen controls are still there. It's a remote shutter for the camera when mounted on a tripod. The gesture controls, however, have a steep learning curve to say the least.

Drawing circles with the pen in the air is supposed to direct the camera to zoom in. It's not for the easily frustrated. However, it's a preview of future touch-less interactions with smartphones such as the rumored radar-based gesture controls on the upcoming Pixel 4.

One "fun" feature outside my age bracket: AR Doodle. Draw a mustache on a person's face on the video viewfinder and it will stay on even if the person moves.

FLAGSHIP TO BEAT

The Galaxy Note 10+ is the best Samsung phone out there, and probably one of, if not the best Android phones of the year, if you're willing to spend around P60,990 at full cost.

It has a gorgeous, immersive screen, all-day battery, a versatile camera and an S-Pen that is more useful than gimmicky.

You can have it for less with a telco plan or wait a few months for discounts and trade-in promos.

The Note 10 is less expensive at P53,990, but the screen is smaller at 6.3 inches and the resolution maxes out at Full HD instead of Quad HD. It also doesn't have the fourth, depth-sensing camera.