I have to suspect that back in 2011 when the original Galaxy Note was released, not even Samsung knew it would become as popular as it did. By the standards of the time, the Note and its 5.3-inch screen were massive, and styluses were considered the mark of an inferior device. Instead of beelining toward the smartphone graveyard, though, the original Note helped redefine what we expected from phones and kicked off a series of hits (plus one spectacular miss).
I'll be up front with you though: The Galaxy Note 10+ ($1,099) isn't perfect. Some of the decisions Samsung made here will take a bit of getting used to, and some features felt like they were created for the sake of having something new to talk about. But Samsung has been polishing the Note formula for nearly a decade now, and it's still an incredibly potent one. If you've never felt much affection for the S Pen, I'm not sure the Note 10+ will change your mind. Even so, the Note 10+'s blend of performance, hardware quality and a genuinely useful stylus mean that it's still the best big phone you can buy right now.
- Big and beautiful screen
- Top-tier performance
- Some new S Pen features are excellent
- Flexible triple-camera system
- More expensive than previous Galaxy Notes
- The cameras still aren’t great in low light
- Battery life could be a little better
Author's note: Some of the features Samsung promised as part of the Note 10+ experience, like the 3D scanner demoed at Unpacked and the PlayGalaxyLink local game-streaming service, weren't ready while we were preparing this review. We'll update this review once we've been able to fully evaluate these new features, but we stand by our assessment and score as is.
Hardware and design
After years of incremental improvements, it probably won't come as a surprise that this year's Galaxy Note 10+ is a beautiful phone. The bezels around the 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display are nearly nonexistent. The metal frame and the front and rear glass panels fit together perfectly. And the Aura Glow finish on our review unit is absolutely eye-catching -- the best word to describe it shifting from blue to yellow and everything in between is "trippy." Unfortunately, apart from sparking conversations, the other thing this finish is really good for is showcasing how greasy your hands are.
At the risk of sounding a little too obvious, the Note is also a big phone: You're going to need two hands to use it. But Samsung has made better use of all this space by squeezing an even bigger screen into the Note 10+. DisplayMate has a rigorous breakdown of what makes it so excellent, and I'd suggest you read through if you're aching for technical detail. That said, this HDR10-certified display is excellent for curling up in bed and bingeing on movies, and it's more than bright enough for reading and note-taking under harsh sunlight. I do wish the company embraced the kind of high-refresh-rate displays used in devices like the Razer Phone and the OnePlus 7 Pro though. They make motion look so buttery smooth and spoil more-traditional displays for you.
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review | 17 Photos
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review | 17 Photos
Going into this, I was concerned that Samsung's decision to move its camera cutout into the center of the screen would be distracting. Nah. That hole is (thankfully) much smaller than the cutout used in the Galaxy S10s, and it's far enough out of the way that it's pretty easy to ignore. You'll still notice it from time to time, like when you're watching videos with brightly lit scenery, but trust me -- you'll find your eyes glazing over it quickly.
There is one thing I have to gripe about though. Compared to Samsung's last big phone, the Galaxy S10+, the Note 10+'s screen has narrower bezels and follows the curve of the glass a little too far down the phone's side. These are minute changes, but they're enough that the fleshy part of my hand near the thumb joint touches the bottom corner of the screen accidentally. I'll be scrolling through my Instagram feed and -- oops, I'm looking at my profile instead. And a few times, when I reached for the notification shade, I launched the camera by mistake. After talking to a few people who have also been testing the Note 10+, this might be more of a "me" problem. Still, you should test out a Note 10+ before you decide to buy one.
The Note 10+'s construction and mostly excellent screen are proof that Samsung is at the top of its game, but a few annoying design choices lead me to believe the company didn't think some things through. For instance, in 2017, Samsung effectively mandated that all of its premium smartphones would have a dedicated Bixby button to activate its homegrown virtual assistant. Too bad it was lousy and the button was easy to press accidentally. To Samsung's credit, the Bixby key is officially gone this year. Unfortunately, Samsung also moved the Note 10+'s power button to the left side. That probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but when was the last time you used a phone with all of its physical controls on the left? The decision runs counter to years of accepted smartphone practice, and even after a week, I still found myself reaching for the sleep/wake button on the wrong side.
The lack of a headphone jack is another thing. Now, I get that Bluetooth headphones have become nearly ubiquitous. Fair enough. What gets me is that in my conversations with Samsung, the company has been keen to portray the Note 10+ as a tool for creators. And I've heard from a fair number of creators who would have preferred that the headphone jack remain, so they could plug in accessories like external microphones. This is a niche case, but the Note line has always been niche. It would've been nice if Samsung left it in place for the power users the company has always pitched the Note to. In any case, Samsung made up its mind, and we have to live with it. Thankfully, the pack-in AKG USB-C earbuds are pretty good, and so are the Note 10+'s built-in speakers: They emphasize mids more than the Galaxy S10 speakers did, leading to slightly richer sound.