For the entirety of the Galaxy Note’s existence, it has always been The Big Phone. It was the first mainstream phone to push the envelope of screen size — so much so that, at first, we dubbed it a “phablet” because it seemed so silly big. Sure, it had Samsung’s latest tech and features, plus that stylus, but the Note was first and foremost about the big screen.
Eight years on from the first Note, big phones are no longer novel. So instead of just one Galaxy Note this year, we have two: big and bigger. We’ve already covered the “bigger” model in our review of the Note 10 Plus, so I’m going to look at the $949.99 Note 10.
Much of the Note 10 is the same as its bigger sibling: it has the same processor, the same S Pen stylus, the same software, the same angular design and premium feel, and the same camera system. The difference is that it’s smaller, with “just” a 6.3-inch display compared to the 10 Plus’ gargantuan 6.8-inch screen. The Note 10 is the smallest Note phone ever released, roughly the size of the mainstream Galaxy S10 or iPhone XR.
That smaller size gives the Note 10 the potential to be something that no prior Note has been: the ideal premium smartphone for everyone. It comes with all of the bells and whistles, yet it isn’t such an enormous thing that it doesn’t fit in any of my pockets and can’t be used without two hands and lots of concentration. That’s more than I can say for the otherwise stellar OnePlus 7 Pro and every other Note phone I’ve ever used.
But after using the Note 10 for the better part of the past two weeks, I’ve determined that it’s little more than an S10 with an S Pen.
- Excellent build quality
- Bright, colorful display
- Smooth performance
- Versatile camera system
- Loud, clear speakers
- The smallest phone you can get with an S Pen
- Expensive compared to similar phones
- No headphone jack
- No SD card expansion
- Underwhelming battery life
- In-screen fingerprint reader can be slow and unreliable
The Note 10 has the same aluminum frame plus glass construction as the Note 10 Plus. It is just as premium feeling as its bigger sibling, and the fit and finish are at the top of what you can get from a smartphone in 2019. It’s just a really nice thing to hold in your hands.
The point of the matter is if you’ve long been intrigued by the S Pen’s capabilities but put off by the fact that you needed to buy a giant phone to get them, the Note 10 puts the S Pen in a smaller phone than ever before.
That is the only real reason to purchase the Note 10. Sure, it’s an excellent phone with great performance, a beautiful screen, and a premium design. But the Galaxy S10 is also an excellent phone with great performance, a beautiful screen, and a premium design. Six months after its release date, the S10 is frequently on sale for hundreds of dollars less than the Note 10. It makes the Note 10 a really tough sell — unless you want a phone with a pen, then it’s the only game in town.
Though it may not be readily apparent from reading its spec sheet, the Note has changed more this year than it has with any prior model. No longer the King of the Big Phone Hill, the Note 10 is something else.
It’s the phone that comes with a pen.
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