Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus Review: A Weekend With A Giant

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is in my hands. That’s hands — plural — because this is a hulking beast of a phone. Not just in size, but also in features.

I’ve only been using Samsung’s latest for a little more than two days, so consider this review a work-in-progress. I’ll be adding to it as the week goes on, and will have a final verdict as the August 23 launch date draws near. Until then, here are my thoughts so far.

Not into huge phones? Check out our Galaxy Note 10 hands-on review. It’s the first time Samsung has two variants in the Note range, and the standard Note 10 is meant to be the more compact phone for those looking for something smaller. We do not have this device yet. 

Magical design, and stunning display

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is all about style. Around front, you’re treated to a vast 6.8-inch screen, which is surrounded by some of the thinnest bezels I’ve seen to date. There’s a hole-punch camera again, but unlike those on the Galaxy S10 phones, it’s small and centered. You’ll still see it, but it doesn’t take up much space on the status bar.

You’ll have a hard time looking away from the stunning 6.8-inch screen. Its massive surface is like staring into another reality. It’s the same Dynamic AMOLED panel Samsung debuted for the S10 range, with 3,040 x 1,440 resolution (at 498 pixels per inch), and it’s HDR10+ certified. The screen is sharp, vivid, and black levels are dark as night.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

I watched episodes of Dark as well as Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix. Both look spectacular on the massive screen. I had no trouble seeing the darkest scenes from Dark (a show that lives up to its name) even outdoors in broad daylight. The stereo speakers help. They’re impressively loud and sound great. Remember to turn on Dolby Atmos in the Sound settings for full effect.

It’s among the best displays on a smartphone today, but I wish Samsung had added a higher refresh rate. Phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro have cranked screen refresh rate from 60Hz to 90Hz (with help from Samsung, I’ll add), and it makes for a smoother experience. I miss this feature from the OnePlus 7 Pro.

Aura Glow is an exhilarating mix of iridescence and chrome.

While the screen is gorgeous, there’s more to look at if you buy the Aura Glow color. It’s an exhilarating mix of iridescence and chrome, and the result is fabulous. It’s eye-catching, magical, and an undeniable showstopper. The phone also comes in Aura Black, Aura White, and Aura Blue (the latter is exclusive to the U.S.), but Aura Glow is the one you’ll want. Just watch out for fingerprints. The Gorilla Glass 6 back is a fingerprint magnet, and smudges ruin the look.

Even with its fabulous colors, it’s impossible to deny the Note 10 Plus’ resemblance to the Huawei P30 Pro or the iPhone XS. The Note is angular, but the vertical camera layout is what makes it easy to draw comparisons.

The Note 10 Plus is a behemoth of a phone. It feels massive even in my large hands, and I have to shift the phone a little to reach the top. This is a two-handed device for almost everyone. If you’re comfortable with the Note 9’s size, you’ll feel right at home, because the Note 10 Plus is just a hair taller and wider than its predecessor, though it’s also lighter and thinner. The Note 10 Plus weighs less than the iPhone XS Max and is just 0.2mm thicker.

If the Note seems too large, consider the standard Galaxy Note 10. It’s only a bit larger than the 5.8-inch iPhone XS, but has a 6.3-inch display.

I’m pleased Samsung has removed the Bixby button. The virtual assistant is now activated via a long press of the power button.

All the phone’s buttons are on the left side of the Note 10 Plus. I don’t have trouble reaching them, they’re a bit awkward. I’m used to buttons being on the right side. Strangely, pressing and holding the power button activates Bixby. If you want to turn the phone off, there’s a new toggle in the notification drawer. Thankfully, you can customize this, and I’ve set it to activate power options as normal.

The Note 10 Plus has the same ultrasonic fingerprint sensor as the S10 range, sitting under the glass on the front. It works well, but it’s not as fast as a traditional sensor on the back, and it has a slightly higher failure rate. I had to use the rear sensor a few times each day to unlock the phone.

There’s no headphone jack on the phone and no dongle in the box as consolation. Samsung says the headphone jack had to be removed to make more room for the battery. You do get USB-C AKG earbuds, but adding a dongle so Samsung’s biggest fans didn’t have to buy one separately would’ve been nice.

S Pen improvements

The S Pen stylus distinguishes the Note from the S series. It’s stored at the bottom of the phone, next to the USB-C port. Last year improved the stylus’ usability as Samsung added Bluetooth. That means the S Pen can activate certain features, like snapping a photo. The Note 10 Plus has its own star feature — the ability to convert handwriting to text.

You can quickly jot down notes on the Note 10 Plus, and the Notes app converts them into editable text formats, like Word .doc files. It’s a nice feature, but not without flaw.

This isn’t the most comfortable device to write on. The all-glass design makes it slippery, so the phone can slide around a bit while writing. I also has problems with transcription accuracy, so you’ll need to make sure your handwriting is legible. And since you can’t write a full sentence on a single line on the phone, formatting can look odd after it’s converted. Still, for those meetings where I forget my laptop, it’s a feature I’ll use, and converting to a Word .doc makes notes easy to share.

There’s also Air Actions, which Samsung recently announced alongside the Galaxy Tab S6. You can wave the S Pen like a wand to control apps. You can change camera modes with a swipe or change the camera zoom with a circular motion. I’ve used them to switch between Live Focus and Photo mode when taking selfies, but that’s about it. Air Actions primarily work in first-party apps; third-party developers can support them, but I’m not holding my breath.

The S Pen hasn’t forgotten its past tricks, from Live Messages to translating text. One fun new addition is AR Doodle, which lets you sketch augmented reality art over the real world using the camera on the phone. The camera can track faces, so you can draw a hat on someone’s head and watch it follow them around. The tracking isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun feature. I haven’t gotten a chance to test drawing “Everywhere,” because it keeps asking me to pan the phone so the camera can understand the surroundings. Nothing happens when I pan, though. I’ve asked Samsung about this, and if I’m missing something, and will update this section when I get it to work.

Overall, the S Pen’s features still feel like gimmicks. Using it to draw, take notes, and snap photos are what I use it for the most, but the latter is the only feature I miss when I switch to other phones.

Microsoft partnerships and DeX improvements

Converting handwriting to Word documents isn’t the only Microsoft partnership here. You can now link your phone to Windows PC or laptop, letting you see all your notifications and messages on the quick panel in Windows, and you can also “review recent photos.” It’s a welcome addition, especially since you can also mirror your phone’s screen and interact with it right from your PC. Microsoft said you’ll be able to answer and reject phone calls later this year too.

Connecting the phone to Windows is simple. You just need to make sure you have the Your Phone Microsoft app installed on your Windows PC or laptop, and then log in through the Note 10 Plus. I had to tweak which apps delivered notifications as it was a little overwhelming at first, but I’m happy there’s a good deal of customization.

I’m not a fan of the persistent notification, but I toggled off all notifications in Android’s settings. It would have been neat if this integration could let you control your PC from your phone when you’re not nearby, but perhaps it will come in time.

I haven’t seen anything to suggest I can mirror the Note 10 Plus’ screen and control it from my PC, but I’ve asked Samsung if this feature is available yet.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung’s DeX mode, the desktop Android interface that pops up when you plug the phone into an external monitor, has gained a new feature. You can plug the Note 10 Plus into a Windows laptop or MacBook via a standard USB cable and a DeX application will pop up on the computer like a virtual app. I’m not sure why I’d use a desktop interface from my phone on my laptop, but it does work well.

Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The software on the phone remains unchanged from the Galaxy S10. It’s running One UI, Samsung’s layer over Android 9 Pie. It’s slick and visually pleasing. The downside is that Google is set to launch Android Q this month, but Samsung probably won’t have the update ready until early 2020.

Speedy performance

Samsung’s Snapdragon 855 processor powers the Note 10 Plus, paired with 12GB of RAM. It’s more than enough for most people, as we’ve seen the same power inside the S10 Plus. Apps open quickly and transitioning between them is fluid. It’s a shame the Snapdragon 855 Plus isn’t here, however. That slightly upgraded chip can be found in the Asus ROG Phone 2, and Qualcomm said it delivers better graphics performance.

Here are a few benchmark results:

  • AnTuTu 3DBench: 358,160
  • Geekbench 4 CPU: 3,388  single-core; 10,157 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 4,656 (Vulkan)

The power inside this phone will not disappoint anyone, and the benchmarks largely prove it. The AnTuTu score is among the top in our list of phones we have tested, though it’s short of the OnePlus 7 Pro. The Geekbench scores match up to the competition, though single-core results are still lower than the iPhone XS Max.

Games like PUBG: Mobile and Alto’s Odyssey have been flying by without any issues, and the phone got noticeably warm around after 45 minutes of gameplay.

There’s support for the UFS 3.0 specification, which means you’ll see faster loading screens in games thanks to faster read/write times. It’s difficult to see this impact on day-to-day performance, but everything feels buttery smooth.

There’s 256GB of internal storage and a MicroSD card slot, a perk of the Note 10 Plus over the Note 10. A 512GB model is also available.

A familiar camera

The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus brought a versatile camera system to Samsung’s flagship range. The Note 10 Plus is similar, but not the same. It has three cameras: a 12-megapixel main lens with a variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture and optical image stabilization, a 12-megapixel f/2.1 telephoto lens (with OIS), and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture. The telephoto lens has a wider aperture, so it should take slightly better low-light photos.

There’s also a time-of-flight sensor here (VGA f/1.4) – that’s not present on the standard Note 10 – which helps capture better depth for portrait mode photos and videos.

The camera app operates smoothly and snaps photos quickly, and overall the experience is almost exactly the same as the Galaxy S10 Plus. I like the versatility of the triple camera lenses. Here are a few early examples.

These are all solid photos, but I have minor quibbles. The telephoto lens oversharpens photos sometimes. Live Focus doesn’t seem better than on the S10 Plus, considering the depth sensor, and in one of the images of the dog above you can see it fails almost completely. Also, Night Mode sometimes looks worse than using the standard camera.

I think the camera can compete with favorites like the Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei P30 Pro, but won’t beat them overall.

There are several new video features worth mentioning, one of which hails from the S10 5G — Live Focus Video. It’s Samsung’s portrait mode, but for videos, blurring the background for a DSLR-like effect. It works…if the subject doesn’t move much.

Samsung has improved the Steady Shot mode, which stabilizes video. It’s now available for use in Hyperlapse time-lapse videos. Finally, Samsung is adding a feature called Zoom-in Mic. It directs the microphones on the phone to the subject the camera is pointing at to improve audio quality, and zeroes in as you zoom in. I haven’t had a chance to see (or hear) this in action yet, but I’ve experienced it on older phones from HTC and LG.

There’s just a single selfie camera with 10 megapixels and an f/2.2 aperture. It’s not the same as the 10-megapixel f/1.9 camera on the S10, and likely won’t perform as well in low light because it doesn’t have as wide an aperture. However, Samsung has added Night Mode, which is also available on the selfie camera, and it should up the quality in dark environments. I haven’t had a chance to use this yet, but will soon.

Fast charge a beefy battery

There’s a massive 4,300mAh battery in the Note 10 Plus, and I’ve frequently ended days of medium usage with around 25 percent remaining by 8 p.m. That’s not the result I’d like to see. I did crank the screen resolution to the max (it’s 2,280 x 1,080 by default), which drains more battery. I’ll run more tests in coming days.

It’s great to have a large battery packed in a thin phone (7.9mm), but this is a common trend with the latest phones. Huawei put a 4,200mAh battery into the 7.57mm thin P30 Pro, and it has the best battery life we’ve seen. So far, it doesn’t look like the Note 10 Plus can beat it.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus
Note 10 on the left in the international-only Aura Pink color. The Note 10 Plus is on the right. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Battery capacity is only a part of the story. Samsung phones are often slow to charge due to outdated fast charge technology. The Galaxy S10, for example, uses the Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 spec, which was announced in 2015. Competitors like LG have moved on to the latest Quick Charge 4+ standard.

Thankfully, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus charges faster, and comes with a 25-watt charger in the box. It still only supports Quick Charge 2.0 (it uses USB Power Delivery 3.0), but with the 25-watt charger, you should see marked improvements. I plugged the phone when it was at 17 percent, and it reached 41 percent in 30 minutes, and 63 percent an hour later. Those aren’t the most impressive numbers, but it’s definitely faster than the Galaxy S10 range. I’ll be testing this on different outlets to see if there are any improvements.

The Note 10 Plus can charge even quicker than that, but you need to buy a 45-watt charger that’s sold separately. With the 45-watt brick, the Samsung phone can rival OnePlus’ Warp Charge 30 for the OnePlus 7 Pro, or Oppo’s Super VOOC for the Find X. It’s a shame the larger charger isn’t included (it’s $50). I don’t have this charger yet but will nab one on launch day to see how much faster the phone charges.

Wireless charging happens over Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, and the Wireless Powershare feature makes a return from the S10 range, so you can top up other devices that support wireless charging like your friend’s iPhone XS or a pair of Galaxy Buds. The only other phones with this feature are from Huawei.

5G: The next-gen network

You can use 5G with Samsung’s latest Note phone, but you need to buy the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. The standard Note 10 Plus only supports Wi-Fi 6 and LTE. It’s the same device, but the 5G variant is two grams heavier.

Samsung has announced a new feature called Play Galaxy Link that ties into the new 5G network. It lets you connect the Note 10 Plus 5G to your Windows PC and stream installed PC games to the phone, so you can play them anywhere in the world. Unlike Google’s upcoming Stadia service, the games are still powered by your computer. Details are light, such as streaming quality and whether it can access games from Steam, but it’s one feature of the Note 10 Plus I can’t wait to try out (it still works on all Note 10 models).

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is $1,100 and available for pre-order. Samsung is offering $150 in store credit for those who pre-order, and official sales start August 23. The standard Note 10 costs $950.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G costs $1,300 for the 256GB model and $1,400 for the 512GB version. It’s exclusive to Verizon first, but it will make its way to the other carriers later. It shares the same availability details as the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus. If you’re on Verizon, check out our guide to the carrier’s 5G rollout to see if your city is on the list of 5G cities. You can check out all the deals and prices from various carriers on the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus here.

Wrap up

The Note 10 Plus is an all-around winner and excels in looks, but no one feature grabs me. It offers many incremental updates that enhance the experience but don’t leap ahead of the competition. Battery life, performance, screen quality, and camera quality all post strong results, but don’t stand out above competitors. A few features, like the camera, are a timid side-step instead of a clear stride forward. That’s a problem for a $1,100 flagship smartphone.

I’ll be updating this review as I spend more time with the phone to reach my final verdict.


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