Samsung's Galaxy Note 10+ is one of the finest phones on the market

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Thu August 22, 2019

Story highlights

  • The Galaxy Note 10+ starts at $1,099 for 256GB of storage
  • It's an all-star Android phone with a beautiful display and all the power of the S Pen

Believe it or not, the Galaxy Note is 8 years old. When it first came out, some mocked it, but it ultimately proved big-screen phones were here to stay (and not just a trend). And, it also added the stylus to the equation.

Whether you love it, hate it or are somewhere in the middle, the S Pen is a vital part of the Galaxy Note's identity. Although the stylus has been a point of contention among Android users, and surprise, surprise, the Note 10 and Note 10+ both keep it.

It does ditch the headphone jack, and is the first Samsung phone to do so. It seems like Samsung will finally dare to match Apple and will push its true wireless Galaxy Buds.

I've spent a week with the Note 10+. We've been through a lot and it's been my daily driver, so I'm ready to pen my thoughts. One thing to get out of the way though is that as a $1,000, high-end Android phone, it has the specs. Power doesn't differentiate the Note line as much as it once did. 

But optimization of software (like we saw on the S10 line), a massive battery, a more boxy design, updates to the S Pen and a three-camera setup certainly make the Note 10+ a worthy device.

Let's dive into Galaxy Note 10+.

It's not a redesigned S Pen, but the upgrades count

What better place to start than with what makes the Note a Note. The most significant change for the 2019 S Pen is in the software. Native to the Samsung Notes app, you now have built-in Optical Character Recognition (OCR). It's a big term that essentially means it will convert handwriting into text. So those notes you might jot down on your way to work or while in a meeting, even if it looks like chicken scratch, can be made into something more tangible. 

And it works well. I don't have the best penmanship, but it was able to figure out what I was writing, for the most part. I found myself jotting down quick memos or to-do lists on my Note 10+ while on the phone, commuting on the train or even in meetings. It's just a simple tap to convert and you can then export it to other apps. Or even copy and paste it. 

It might seem old school, but you could write a tweet, convert it, copy it, past it and tweet it out, kind of a neat way to get a task done.

With the hardware of the S Pen, Samsung added an accelerometer and gyroscope. It still connects over a dedicated Bluetooth connection and charger via the slot on the bottom of the Note 10+. Same goes for the Galaxy Note 10. 

It's a bit smaller than the one on the Note 9, but still keeps the design of an S-Pen. At the end of the day, it's a stylus with a clicker about a quarter down from the bottom. And that button, in conjunction with the new sensors, enables neat features.

People might call it a magic wand, but it's not like one you've seen on the Disney Channel.

With Air Actions, you'll be waving the S Pen around and gesturing with it. So with an app that supports it like the camera, you hold the button or click it to control different modes. And yes, you can even zoom in from far away. You can also easily switch between different shooting modes. Air Actions is a software development kit (SDK), and for now, there's a short list of what you can do with it.

AR Doodle is another app that makes use of the updated S Pen. You can draw on people, dogs and even in the object. It's fun, and from a privacy aspect, it's nice that it stays on the phone. But users might tire of it. 

The S Pen is still a great tool for taking screen shots (arguably the best method on any phone and it won't have you accidentally taking them, like on an iPhone). You can also multitask with ease and use it as a magnifying glass.

By this point you likely have made up your mind about the S Pen. And for 2019, it's not a full rethinking of it, but it's a nice upgrade. It remains the critical component that makes a Note a Note and likely will be a key factor when deciding on this phone over an S10+

Saying goodbye to bezels

Samsung makes outstanding displays. You get incredibly vibrant colors, super deep blacks that define contrast and a fast refresh rate to reduce blurs when gaming or watching videos. But the Note 10 line is getting rid of bezels. And for bezel-less on a big scale, the Note 10+ has a large 6.8-inch display.

The Infinity-O Super Display is moved as well. Rather than having a cut out in the top left-hand corner for one or two cameras, you now have a single circular hole in the center of the display at the top. And it's tiny. Truth be told, I like this location. Similar to the notch on the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max, it blends more easily into the environment. 

That small cutout axes the need for a top bezel and you won't find a bottom one, either. The main controls for Android, like home, back and multitasking are on the screen. You can also customize these in settings. And like previous Notes and the S10 line, the screen curves on the left and right sides. This can make it a pain with gaming, especially given the accidental touches. But it also gives you a jaw dropping display.

This truly bezel-less design is paired with uber high-end specifications (as a Note that costs more than $1,000 should be) for a 6.8-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display. More importantly, it has a 3040x1440 resolution, which comes out to 498 pixels per inch. That means you can see the details even up close. Viewing photos that were taken with the ultra-wide lens lets you immerse yourself into the detail. 

Similar to the S10 and S10+, the Note 10+ has an in-display fingerprint sensor. And it performs much better than the one that premiered on the S10 line.

For the first time in a while, through this combination of being super hi-res and nearly bezel-less, the Note 10+ feels like the future. And it's about time these expensive smartphones do that. 

Samsung is installing a screen protector on the Note 10+ (and the Note 10). It's similar to what we saw on the S10e, S10 and S10+, but it's safe to remove, unlike the one on the Galaxy Fold. Truth be told, it's not the worst or the best protector, but you're likely better adding a third party one. 

A beautiful design with unique button placements

For the Note 10+, the Bixby button is out. The new home for the volume rocker and unlock button is on the left side, near the top. Given the size of the phone, this might be a stretch for some folks, but since the size is on par with the Note 9, most users should be OK. 

You still get the USB-C port and S Pen slot on the bottom. The top is a combination SIM and microSD card slot. Important note: The 10+ features expandable storage, but the 10 does not. And all of this is held together with a frame, but the star of the Note 10+'s design story is on the back.

The color of the new phone, called Aura Glow, is incredible and beautiful. The reflective and glossy surface creates unique rainbow hues, making it a talking point with people in the office, on the train and even on the street. Depending on your hold, the array of colors can differ, and the 10+ also comes in Aura White, Aura Black and Aura Blue. 

But this shiny frosted silver back has secrets. It might be the hardest smartphone to photograph and it is a fingerprint magnet, but even so, the Aura Glow is spectacular.

You'll definitely want a case to stop fingerprint smudges or invest in a ton of microfiber cloths.

Top-notch hardware and really long battery life

The Note line has always been about power and performance. And most high-end Android phones have met that requirement. But if you want the most powerful Note, the Note 10+ is the obvious choice.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor powers it with a massive 12 GB of RAM. That might be more than your laptop. It's also paired with either 256 GB or 512 GB of internal storage, and you can expand it via a microSD card. It's boosted to the max when it comes to hardware.

All of this, along with the 4,300mAh battery is powering Android 9.0 Pie with the Samsung One user interface. It's the same one that we saw on the S10e, S10and S10+. Samsung does an excellent job of merging software and hardware, but not to the degree that Apple does. 

The software is relatively clean, but the Note 10+ packs a lot of features — gimmicks and fully thought out ones. It can be tough to find several features and I hate how you turn off the phone. You don't just push the button. You have to pull down from the top navigation bar and hit the power button icon to power down, restart it or enter emergency mode.

That being said, it performs well. I didn't experience any slowdown with apps and the new Game Booster performed well in Fortnite, PUBG and Asphalt 9. These processor and graphic-intensive games excel on the Note 10+

Everyday use with social media, checking email, texting or messaging with third-party apps, streaming and browsing the web all went well.

The other star of the show is the 4,300mAh battery. The Note 10+ easily lasted a day with heavy and intense use. It's tough to make this phone reach 0%. You will easily get a full day of use, if not more, but it comes with a 25-watt super-fast charger, and if that's not enough, Samsung makes a 45-watt fast charger. It also supports 15-watt fast charging via a wireless charger.

And Wireless PowerShare is back, so you can charge any Qi-enabled device on the back of your Note 10+. Just remember it's a trickle charge, so don't expect a fast increase in percentage. 

An engaging triple camera experience

If you liked the triple camera setup on the S10 and S10+, you'll love the three on the Note 10+. These are almost identical setups. You get a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 12-megapixel standard lens and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens. And the photos look great.

It doesn't do all the enhancements as the Pixel 3, and when really examining these, those might come out on top. But for the everyday consumer, you're going to love taking photos on the Galaxy Note 10+. It's also an engaging experience within the camera app. Switching between the three is a joy.

You can see an array of test shots below in the gallery. The shot of the vessel at Hudson Yards in NYC is a great example of why I'm impressed with cameras on the Note 10+.

Night Mode can be hit or miss, mainly depending on the conditions. The Pixel's NightSight mode still comes out on top, but I hope that Samsung will make strides to improve. In some cases, you'll be better off with the normal camera mode. 

While you don't have a choice of two lenses on the front, the single 10-megapixel camera with an 80-degree field of view performs well. It's fine for selfies (although Samsung still smooths out skin by default), snapchats and even video calls.

The camera experience is a joyful, even if familiar, experience on the Note 10+.

Bottom line

The Galaxy Note 10+ is an impressive smartphone for 2019, but the choice ultimately comes down to the S Pen. It's a personal opinion, but I certainly like the appeal of taking notes while on the go. It gives you the feel of the paper.

Once you make that call, you can rest assured that this is a powerhouse. The 6.8-inch screen is gorgeous with excellent color reproduction, it's fast — thanks to a monstrous 12 GB of RAM — and the battery will last all day. It's what a flagship phone should be in 2019.

But the Galaxy S10+ ($999.99; samsung.com) matches almost all of this, minus the S Pen, so is it worth a couple hundred bucks? For some folks, the answer is a huge yes. Oh, and you can't get the awesome Aura Glow on another device, except the smaller Note 10. We will have more on the mini-Note with a 6.3-inch display in the coming weeks.

The Galaxy Note 10+ is available with a starting price of $1,099 from Samsung.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed prices at the time of publication.