The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is, basically, a midsize Galaxy S10 with a pen. That’s perfect if the Note 10+ is too big for your hand and you want a stylus. For what it’s worth, using the S Pen on both size Notes side by side, it’s actually a better experience on the larger 10+ because it gives you a bigger canvas to draw on. But that doesn’t matter if you find the phone unwieldy. In my mind, that’s why you should be here. While the Note line has been synonymous with “big phone” in previous years, now that Samsung offers such a wide range of sizes among its flagships, the standard Note 10 is the phone to get for pairing the S Pen with a comfortable one-hand experience.
Size and Design
The key number for the Note 10 is 2.83, its width in inches. It’s just at the point where it’s comfortable to use in one hand. The Galaxy S10 is slightly narrower, at 2.77 inches, but there’s a good argument that a device any slimmer won’t be useful with the S Pen.
Left to right: Galaxy Note 10+, Galaxy Note 10
The shiny, rounded, and slightly slippery Note 10 measures 5.94 by 2.83 by 0.31 inches (HWD), weighs 5.93 ounces, and comes in black, pink, red, white, or a mirrored silver called Glow. Glow looks great in photos, but it’s a fingerprint nightmare. Pink and red are, unfortunately, impossible to find in the US. The curved screen and all-glass construction screams that you should put this phone in a case, with a pen-friendly screen protector.
The 19:9, 6.3-inch OLED screen feels very tall and narrow if you aren’t used to Samsung’s new form factors, and that doesn’t necessarily work well with the S Pen; we’re used to drawing on paper that’s basically 4:3, a much wider canvas. I usually love taller, narrower phones, but when you’re taking notes, more real estate is better. That argues for the bigger Note 10+ being superior for heavier stylus users, as long as you can handle it.
There are three cameras on the back, for wide-angle, standard, and “2x zoom” shots. The smaller Note 10 lacks the larger one’s rear IR depth-sensing camera, but right now that’s not being used for much (just for a measurement app, primarily).
The Note 10 is waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about that. The S Pen fits neatly into a slot at the bottom, near the main speaker and the USB-C port. There is no headphone jack, but you get some nice AKG-branded earbuds with the phone.
Performance and Battery
Most of the aspects of the Note 10+ carry over to the Note 10. It has the same processor, the same radios, the same call quality, and the same speaker.
There are a few changes, including a shift from 12GB of RAM to 8GB. Both models have 256GB storage options, with about 223GB free, although the bigger model has a 512GB option. Neither has expandable memory; the argument is that it’s much slower than the UFS 3.0 storage that Samsung is using.
Benchmark-wise, the Galaxy Note 10 performs just like the Note 10+, with one exception. They have the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and the same Samsung software, and that results in the same overall benchmark performance: slightly slower than OnePlus phones (which have more efficient software), but on par with other Samsung flagships. The lower-res screen, though, means better gaming frame rates: 39fps on the GFXBench Car Chase test as opposed to 23fps for WQHD+ phones, although if you knock the Note 10+ and S10+ down to 1080p screen mode, you end up getting similar results to the smaller Note 10.
The phone has less battery life than the bigger Note 10+, but it’s not as much as you’d expect going from a 3,500mAh battery down to a 2,900mAh cell. I got 10 hours, 8 minutes of video playback time versus 12 hours, 10 minutes on the Note 10+ (and 10 hours, 54 minutes on the standard Galaxy S10).
The smaller battery means that it doesn’t matter quite so much that the Note 10 doesn’t support the 45-watt fast charging that the larger phone does. It still supports 25-watt charging, which can juice it past 50 percent in half an hour, and to a full charge in an hour. It comes with a 25-watt charger.
What About 5G?
5G has to factor into any decision about high-end phones right now, but especially the Note series, as the Note 10+ is going to have several 5G models. I don’t see that as a plus, because the Note 10+’s 5G models are something of a mess. As I explain in my full story on the topic, none of them are going to support all of the frequency bands used by any major US carrier.
That means 5G is not a reason to choose the larger Note over the smaller one. It’s probably best just to pretend the 5G models don’t exist, unless you’re a 5G solution or app developer. Those folks will need to get hold of 5G phones now to develop killer apps for next year. The rest of us should just plow ahead and get the best 4G phone we can.
Which Note to Choose?
The Galaxy is full of stars. Handling Samsung’s smaller Galaxy Note 10, I’m struck by how similar its five flagship phones are this year, and how they let you precisely choose the feature set and price you want. With the company’s full array, we now have the Samsung Galaxy S10e, at $749; the S10, at $899; the Note 10, at $949; the S10+, at $999; and the Note 10+, at $1,099. There are the 5G variants too, for more money, but let’s stick with this list.
Come to the Note if you want the pen. If you don’t want the pen, get one of the Galaxy models. The Note line is currently the only phone line with a truly responsive, active stylus.
I’ve been using a lot of pen-enabled devices recently, and it strikes me how right Samsung has gotten things with the Note line. Beyond S Note, Samsung has managed to nurture a decent lineup of pen-enabled apps, including entries from Adobe, Autodesk, and Microsoft. You can’t always take that for granted; on the Onyx Boox Max 3, for instance, using any app other than Onyx’s own with the pen is an utter mess. On the Note, Microsoft OneNote is better than Evernote in terms of responsiveness.
The Galaxy Note 10 is a more affordable, more easily handled version of the Note 10+. What’s not to like? Slightly shorter battery life, for one, but also less screen real estate to draw on. If the Note experience is all about the pen, it turns out that having a slightly wider screen makes it less likely that your drawing or note-taking is going to slide off the side of the screen.
But as I said earlier, the Note 10 is a phone for smaller-handed artists and note-takers. And among Samsung’s plethora of options this year, it’s going to be just right for its very specific audience.