Meet the 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10 Plus, which is here to prove us wrong whenever we collectively think “Wow, phone screens can’t get any bigger, can they?” Oh, they can.
At 6.8 inches, this is a massive Samsung phone with an equally sizable price. But it’s easy to fall in love with the screen and Aura Glow glass back if you’re into over-the-top smartphone opulence. It’s both class-leading and classy looking.
Of course, today’s best phones all have big screens, including several from Samsung. So the new Note 10 Plus goes beyond what the S10 Plus provided six months earlier, touting the handy, Note-exclusive S Pen with new wand-like gesture control tricks. Screens at these sizes are begging for a stylus, and when we called the S10 Plus the “almost-everything-included Samsung phone” this is what we meant. But there has to be more than that, and the Note 10 Plus mostly delivers.
Its five cameras offer a ‘Live Focus’ portrait mode with fun-to-use filters. Although the Pixel 3 beats Samsung’s main cameras in low light, the selective black-and-white Color Point and Big Circles filters took our selfie game to the next level. The Note 10 Plus has the best selfie camera we’ve ever tested.
Samsung goes a step further with ideas we didn’t need, though. Live Focus Video makes sense on paper, but test it just once and you’ll realize you don’t actually want distracting background blurring effects in your videos. The same goes for AR Doodle – neat to use once but highly unnecessary. It’s this year’s AR Emoji/Animoji. You’ll find these features and a stylus on the “normal” 6.4-inch Note 10, which has a more one-hand-friendly screen and cheaper price. But exclusive to Note 10 Plus are faster specs, a microSD card slot, bigger battery, and ultra-fast charging speeds.
Both 2019 Note phones are missing one thing: a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung finally caved to the critically unpopular trend in an effort to make its phones thinner and pack in a bigger battery.
Now, we’ll level with you on this luxury handset. What you’re getting for your money is a great camera in your pocket – but it’s actually not the best camera phone. And it’s fast – although, technically, it’s not the fastest phone you can buy, either. Forget all of that – the rankings, they, don’t matter: the Note 10 is Samsung’s best phone and, most importantly, the most fun we’ve had using a smartphone in 2019. This may be Samsung’s last great phone before the Galaxy Fold revolution.
The 6.8-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus screen is so big that we’re kind of craving the innovation of the Samsung Galaxy Fold and other foldable phones.
It takes up the entire front of the phone and then some, with an edge-to-edge design that has pixels spilling over the left and right sides. The curved display comes to a fine point, making it satisfyingly sharp in more ways than one. Samsung’s use of punchy colors, a pixel-dense Quad HD+ resolution, and high peak brightness have always made its Super AMOLED screens look superb. It’s just now maximized to seem extra immersive and worth all of that hand stretching.
Okay, the Note 10 Plus display doesn’t have a fluid, silky smooth 90Hz screen refresh rate seen in the OnePlus 7 Pro. And its curved edges do produce false touches if you tightly wrap your hand around screen. But no other phone has this good of a screen.
6.8 inches makes it sound almost too big – bigger than a 6.5-inch iPhone, right? Well, not really. Its width and girth are a fraction of a millimeter smaller than the iPhone XS Max if you measure it out, and it weighs less. It’s only a few millimeters taller. Samsung’s bigger-screen, smaller-body trick is that it uses a center-aligned punch hole to embed the front camera into the display. It’s 26% smaller than the top-right S10 camera hole and less intrusive than Apple’s ‘notch.’ We found it easy to ignore when watching Netflix.
The streamlined screen with the small punch-hole camera means there’s no room to fit the IR scanner used in the Note 9 and Note 8 for a quick and secure face unlock. In it’s place is the fancy ultra-sonic in-screen fingerprint sensor, which worked as a fine substitute in our tests. The tech seems to have improved in the S10 Plus.
There’s also one less button on the rails of this year’s Note. The power button is now on the left side, as it’s been combined with the much-maligned Bixby button. It’s a good move. Oh, Bixby remains a completely mediocre voice assistant and the power button’s move does take getting used to. But you’ll be way more mindful of this new ‘everything’ button and quit mistakenly pressing it thinking it’s volume down.
Not every design trade-off is so great – the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack isn’t here. Instead, Samsung uses the USB-C port so you can plug in included-in-the-box USB-C headphones. It had to happen sometime.
The Note’s secret weapon is the S Pen stylus, and this year’s phone comes with some neat new tricks. None of them will convince you to buy this pricey phone, however.
It’s the returning functionality that is far more persuasive when you unsheathe the S Pen from the bottom right corner of the Note 10 Plus frame. It’s shorter and thinner than before, but still accomplishes the same great fine-tipped note-taking. The S Pen is the best way to capture and annotate screenshots on a phone, while Screen Off Memo remains the fastest way to scribble down quick notes as fast as you can pop out the stylus. No need to turn the Note 10 display on.
Remote Shutter returns from the Note 9, and it’s the best way to take photos from a distance thanks to the S Pen’s Bluetooth LE capabilities. New with the Note 10 Plus is the gyroscope and accelerometer for even more magic via ‘Air Gestures.’
Air Gestures allow you to zoom in and out of the camera view with a clockwise-counterclockwise rotation, and swipe through menus using a left and right flick motion. Getting these new functions to work took almost too much training. The S Pen allowed us to become the maestro of taking selfies, conducting the camera app to snap in multiple modes and take an endless parade of fun Live Focus shots. It worked for the most part, except you really new a tripod for this.
Taking remote photos with the Note 10 in New York City isn’t easy without a tripod, as the city is filled with domed trash cans and few flat surfaces. You’ll get a lot of unflattering low-angle shots by sticking this on the ground. Are you really going to carry around a tripod for a smartphone, though?
The other new S Pen feature is better handwriting recognition. It kind of works, but obvious mistakes still happen. It ironically had a problem converting our handwritten words “This is text” into printed text a few times. It is better, but better is subjective.
The Note 10 Plus delivers on the hype of five cameras, with varying perspectives and superb performance from all, something we did find on the six-camera-lens LG G8.Advertisement
There are four cameras on back, with the main 12MP camera capturing scenes with the bright and punchy colors Samsung photos are known for. It’s solid, albeit almost exactly like the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus camera. Low light photos look better than ever thanks to a dedicated Night Mode. Without it, people’s skin looks like a 1990s glamor portrait when Photoshop first came on the scene – so much unfortunate airbrushing going on.
With Night Mode enabled, we do see less aggressive smoothing, but more noise as exposure is increased. In most dark scenarios, we found it to be a better trade off. But for this reason, the Google Pixel 3, with its superior post-processing in Night Sight mode, remains the overall winner for your nighttime and bar-restaurant shots.
What stands out the most are the Note 10 Plus 12MP f/2.1 telephoto and 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lenses. They offer photos at varying perspectives, while a VGA Depth lens (exclusive to the Note 10 Plus) aides in applying ‘Live Focus’ bokeh to photos (the smaller Note 10 relies on software blurring).
We were able to capture scenes in new ways: up close without distortion via the 2x zoom telephoto lens, and cramming more in frame thanks to the wide-angle lens – without having to back up to get everything in the shot.
The other highlight is the small punch-hole that embeds a 10MP front camera in the screen. With fun-to-manipulate Live Focus filters on selfie photos, we were able to make subjects (often us) really stand out.
Color Point returns from the S10 series to be our favorite filter, but there’s a new one we like almost as much: Big Circles. This fresh software-produced bokeh filter blurs the background with distant lights taking on a natural-looking bulbous shape.
The Pixel 3 also offers excellent selfie photos, and we appreciate Google’s use of two camera lenses on front, with one for wide-angle group selfie photos. But overall, we had more fun using the Note 10 Plus front camera and everyone we showed was wowed by the selective-black-and-white Color Point filter.
The return of Samsung’s video editor, now retooled for 2019, is a welcome addition. It’s built into the gallery app and easy to use, almost as if it’s a simplified version of Adobe Premier Rush. And it pairs nicely with the S Pen for fine-tuning edits on the timeline.
Live Focus Video seems like a natural progression, since we do love to use Live Focus photos. Blurring the background behind moving subjects is cool at times, especially when isolating a colorful subject against a black-and-white scene with Color Point or making your room appear on the fritz with the static-filled Glitch filter.
But Live Focus Video is a bit too inconsistent to readily use outside of a “Hey doesn’t this video look neat?” social media post. Unlike Live Focus photos, you shouldn’t use this until the edges of foreground subjects are a little more defined. It’s better than the very similar feature on the LG G8, but that’s not saying a lot.
So it is very clear that Samsung is putting some brilliant shooter in their phones for a while.