Of all the high-end smartphones in the market, the most unique are the Galaxy Note phones. Launched by Samsung in middle of almost every year since the first one showed up at IFA Berlin in 2011, the Note follows Samsung Galaxy S series devices. But as it arrives a few months after the launch of the Galaxy S, the Note also becomes de facto flagship phone for Samsung for that particular year. The Galaxy Note 10+ and the Galaxy Note 10 that Samsung unveiled on Wednesday evening in New York live up to the tradition. These phones follow the Galaxy S10 series, and come with a slightly improved processor as well as a host of new features to become the flagship Samsung phones of 2019.
And of course, the Note is also unique because it is the only smartphone nowadays that comes with a native and well-integrated stylus experience. Every Note ships with S Pen inside it, and Note 10 series is no exception. In fact, it is this S Pen that makes the Note 10 unique. The new S Pen gets additional features in the Galaxy Note 10 and the Note 10+ and of these the most ambitious is the Air Gestures, but I feel the most useful and popular is going to be the Handwriting-To-Text.
All in good time though. First, what I think of the Note 10 and the Note 10+ design.
But even that in a while. Before that a quick look at the key hardware.
- This time there are two Note phones: The Note 10 and the Note 10+. The Note 10+ comes with a 6.8-inch OLED screen. Samsung calls it Dynamic OLED Screen, but dynamic or not, the OLED screens in the Note 10 and the Note 10+ are gorgeous. The Note 10 has a 6.3-inch screen. The pixel density is much higher on the Note 10+ screen because it has a 1440P display instead of 1080P in the Note 10. However, when I tried both the phones side-by-side I didn't find any meaningful difference in real life experience.
- There is new Exynos 9825 processor inside the two Notes.
- Both the Note 10 and the Note 10+ have three-camera setup. But the Note 10+ also has a VGA camera with Time of Flight technology (ToF). The main camera uses a 12-megapixel sensor. The zoom lens is paired with 12-megapixel camera and ultra-wide camera uses a 16-megapixel sensor. On the front there is a 10-megapixel shooter in both phones.
- In India the Note 10 is going to be available with 256GB storage and 8GB RAM. The Note 10+ comes with 12 GB RAM and option of either 256GB storage or 512GB RAM.
- There is a 3500 mAh battery inside the Note 10. The Note 10+ has 4300 mAh battery inside it.
- Both phones use Android 9 software customised by Samsung with its own One UI.
With the mundane details out of the way, let's take a look at the Note 10+ and Note 10. So far I have spent a couple of the hours with the devices so these are early impressions. You will get the India Today Tech review of the Note 10 later, but I like what I am seeing. And I particularly like what I am seeing on the Aura Glow Galaxy Note 10+. Both the Note 10 devices come in several colours - including funky red for the Note 10 and cool blue for the Note 10+ - but the one that is really fancy is the Aura Glow. The finish with this colour is such that it is iridescent. In other words, when light falls on this Aura Glow Note 10, it reflects colours in different hues depending on the angle at which the light is hitting the phone.
I also prefer, and this is again my first impression, the Note 10+ over the Note 10 in terms of size. The Note devices are indeed the kind of smartphones on which you do more: The quality of screen is fantastic, the performance is great, and that S Pen does help when you are jotting down your thoughts or annotating text and images. And all of that, along with watching videos or playing games, is more fun on the 6.8-inch screen of the Note 10+. Now, usually this large a screen makes a phone too big. Not the Note 10+ though. It is surprisingly usable despite its huge battery and large screen because Samsung has gotten rid of bezels almost entirely. There is a very thin chip below the display but that is all. Otherwise there is not even a notch here. The front camera is placed inside a punch-hole in the screen.
Not that the Note 10 is not fun. It is a compact phone, and even people who opt for small-screen phones with screen sizes of 5.5 inches or so will not mind the Note 10. It comes with a large 6.3-inch screen and yet it is small. But I am more impressed by the Note 10+. A large screen, a 4300 mAh battery, metal and glass body and yet this phone weighs less than 200 grams. Incredible!
What I am still ambivalent about is the design of the Note 10 and Note 10+. The design of these two phones has been tweaked a little compared to earlier Note phones but it is still the same design language that Samsung is using for the last 3 years. The top and bottom edges of the Note 10 devices have straight lines and look little blocky. The side edges are have been rounded well, which makes the phone feel a bit in hands better.
The Note 10 and the Note 10+ have been built extremely well. Gorilla glass, metal frame, fantastic finishing all of that is there. The build quality is nice and puts a phone like the Pixel 3 XL to shame. But I wish there would have been some more design changes, to bring in a bit of freshness to the Note series.
Probably, for one more year Samsung has decided to play it safe. Why fix something that ain't broke, or so goes the saying. And I understand that. But I feel it's also time for Samsung to spice up the design.
On design a couple of other points: The Note 10 and the Note 10+ are waterproof phones with IP68 certification. Using the phones in rain should be fine, using them underwater while swimming may not be. Two, the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone from the Note 10 phones to accommodate bigger batteries. So, you can say that finally Samsung joins the likes of Apple, OnePlus and Google in getting rid of this port. For better or worse.
Super fast, promising cameras
There is lot of cool hardware inside the Note 10. And this hardware - at least 8GB RAM and Exynos 9825 - means these are fast phones. When I used the Note 10 and the Note 10+ I found that they are extremely fast phones. Fast at launching apps, fast at opening camera app and then clicking images, fast at rendering a web page and seamless at switching apps when a user moves from one open app to another.
The cameras too seem extremely promising. Cameras in the top-end Samsung phones have always been fairly good. But this time, and again this is my first impression, I feel there is some much-needed improvement in the telephoto camera. Almost all phones struggle at offering great image quality through the zoom lens, but it seems to be that the Note 10 gets it right. Check some of the images I clicked with the Note 10+.
The Note 10+, as I noted earlier, has an additional feature - the ToF camera. This is going to be used by the Note 10+ to offer users a feature that will let them create new AR and virtual 3D experiences. It sounds fun and will be fun for a while when you try it but I don't think this is going to be a kind of feature that will prove particularly popular.
The features that I feel will prove popular could be the live focus during video recording, which lets users blur background while shooting footage. Equally useful could be the doodling videos while shooting them, using the S Pen.
A Note for those who create
The real appeal of the Galaxy Note 10, however, is not in its gorgeous screen, which is extremely bright and shows superb colours, or its speed or its seemingly capable cameras, or that tantalising hint of great battery life, particularly with the Note 10+ that has the 4300 mAh battery inside it, but its S Pen and some of the features that are unique to the Note 10.
Every year, Samsung adds to the functionality of the S Pen. And this year too the S Pen gets some new features. One of these features is air gestures, which will use several sensors in the S Pen to identify a gesture when a user waves the stylus over or in front of the phone like a magic wand, and perform tasks. When I tried these gestures, I found them interesting but not particularly useful. But usefulness - just like the beauty - is in the eyes of beholder. If you shoot a lot of solo videos, you will definitely love the air gestures. In other words, if you create content or are a vlogger, it is possible that, combined with new improved video editing, life focus and doodling on video footage, the air gestures may make the Note 10 a perfect phone for you.
The case of Handwriting-To-Text is different. I love this feature. It recognises your handwriting and then turns what is in the Note app into text. It then also lets you export the file into various formats like Word and PDF.
Samsung believes that Note 10 series primarily appeals to creators, people who do stuff, who create, who annotate marketing campaigns while on the go. And it believes that these people will benefit greatly from improved DeX. So, the DeX has been improved. It now works by using the regular USB cable that Samsung ships with the Note 10 to connect to a computer and then it lets people access the phone apps or phone files on the larger screen. There is also a new feature Windows Link that the company has created in partnership with Microsoft, which too is aimed at seamless computer-phone connectivity.
So, what do I make of the Note 10? It's kind of a complete device. It has got the powerful hardware, premium looks and impressive set of features. Sure, it will cost consumers a lot of money - in India expect the starting price of above Rs 65,000 - but in return not only consumers will likely get a phone that is not only great or at least as good as any other at everything usual but also offers a few unique features that, when used to their full potential, can make Note 10 a dream come true for content creators or professionals on the go.
Disclaimer: The writer's travel and stay in New York have been arranged by Samsung.