Phones

Phablets of note

The Samsung Galaxy Note10+ smartphone comes in three colours - aura glow, aura black and aura white.
The Samsung Galaxy Note10+ smartphone comes in three colours - aura glow, aura black and aura white.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is great for using with one hand, while the 10+ has a longer battery life, gorgeous display and better camera

For the first time in five years, the Samsung Galaxy Note phablet series comes in two screen sizes - 6.3 inches and 6.8 inches. The Note10 and the larger Note 10+ will be available from Saturday.

DESIGN AND DISPLAY

Apart from the difference in screen sizes, both smartphones look almost identical, with their front and back made of Gorilla Glass 6 in a solid metal frame that is only 7.9mm thick.

The button under the volume rocker on the phone's left is no longer the Bixby (Samsung's voice assistant) button, unlike the Galaxy S and previous Note models. It is now the power button, which I like better as I hardly use Bixby.

There are thus no buttons on the right side, which takes some getting used to as most smartphones have their power button on the right.

There is also no more headphone jack - a move that is inevitable with more users using wireless headphones. Samsung has bundled a pair of the capable AKG USB-C wired in-ear headphones with the Note10 smartphones.

My only quibble is the lack of a bundled USB-C headphone jack dongle for those who want to use wired headphones.

Both models are available in colours described as aura glow (version tested) and aura black - basically, the colour of the phones' back. The Note10+ also comes in aura white.

  • FOR

    • Sleek design

    • Gorgeous display, especially in the Note10+

    • Superb all-round performance

    • Handwritten words to digital-text function a boon

    • Long battery life

    AGAINST

    • S Pen air gestures difficult to master

    • Phone's back is a smudge and fingerprint magnet

    • No USB-C headphone jack dongle

    • No microSD card slot with the Note10

  • SPECS/SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 10

  • PRICE: $1,398 (256GB); available from Saturday

    PROCESSOR: Exynos 9825 (quad-core 1.9GHz, dual-core 2.7GHz, dual-core 2.4GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.3-inch Full HD+ Dynamic Amoled, 2,280 x 1,080 pixels, 401 PPI pixel density, HDR10+ certified

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 9.0

    CAMERA: 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle, 12MP f/1.5 - f/2.4 wide-angle, 12MP f/2.1 telephoto (rear); 10MP f/2.2 (front)

    MEMORY: 256GB (non-upgradable); 8GB RAM BATTERY: Non-removable 3,500 mAh

    WEIGHT: 168g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4.5/5 DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4.5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4.5/5

  • SPECS/SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE10+

  • PRICE: $1,598 (256GB, version tested), $1,898 (512GB); available from Saturday

    PROCESSOR: Exynos 9825 (quad-core 1.9GHz, dual-core 2.7GHz, dual-core 2.4GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.8-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic Amoled, 3,040 x 1,440 pixels, 498 PPI pixel density, HDR10+ certified

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 9.0

    CAMERA: 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide-angle, 12MP f/1.5 - f/2.4 wide-angle, 12MP f/2.1 telephoto, VGA DepthVision (rear); 10MP f/2.2 (front)

    MEMORY: 256GB or 512GB (upgradable to 1TB via microSD); 12GB RAM

    BATTERY: Non-removable 4,300 mAh

    WEIGHT: 196g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 5/5

I find aura glow the most alluring as it reflects light like a prism. The back of the phone is a smudge and fingerprint magnet, though.

Unlike its predecessor, the Note9, which has thick bezels at the top and bottom, the Note 10 smartphones look like a full slab of display with their super-thin bezels and curved sides.

This is achieved by having a hole-punch, front-facing camera, which is sited at the top centre of the display. This hole is tiny and you will probably not notice it most of the time.

Instead of the rear fingerprint sensor found on the Note9, the Note10 models have an embedded ultrasonic fingerprint sensor near the bottom of the screen. It works much better than the ones on the S10 and S10+ smartphones.

The Note10's 6.3-inch display has only a full HD+ resolution of 2,280 x 1,080 pixels, less than the resolution of the Note9's (2,960 x 1,440 pixels). But the 6.8-inch display of the Note10+ has a much higher Quad HD+ resolution of 3,040 x 1,440 pixels. This is the best display on a smartphone I have seen.

Games, videos and photos look fabulous, with vivid colours, great contrast and high dynamic range.

S PEN

The S Pen, the differentiator of the Note series, now lasts 10 hours on a single charge, compared with the 30-minute battery life provided by the Note9's S Pen.

Like with its predecessor, clicking on the S Pen's button allows you to remotely take a photo. But the new S Pen has new tricks called Air actions that allow you to control the device using gestures while wielding the stylus in camera mode.

For instance, rotate the stylus clockwise in the air to zoom in with the camera and do the opposite to zoom out. Change the camera mode by waving the stylus left or right.

However, it is difficult to execute the air gestures as they require users to accurately time the pressing or releasing of the S Pen button with the gestures. Otherwise, you could end up taking a photo instead of zooming in.

Less finicky is the function that converts handwritten notes to digital text. Select the function in Samsung Notes and tap on your handwritten notes to convert them into text that can be exported to Word or in the PDF format.

Another highlight of the S Pen is AR Doodle, in which you can doodle on a face from the smartphone's screen in real time. The doodles will move according to the movement of the face.

CAMERA

The Note10 and Note10+ have gained an ultra wide-angle camera - with a coverage of 123 degrees and great for capturing landscapes - in addition to the wide-angle and telephoto cameras that are also found in the Note9.

The Note10+ has an additional time-of-flight camera - called DepthVision - for 3D mapping and to aid in the gauging of distances between camera and subjects (for bokeh effect or background blur).

Comparing the portrait photos taken with the bokeh effect switched on, the background blurring looks more natural in the Note10+ than the Note10.

But both Note10 smartphones are capable of shooting superb still images with great dynamic range and punchy colours. Autofocusing is fast and accurate.

There is also a Night mode, which vastly improves the sharpness of night shots with minimum noise artefacts. While this mode is better than the one on the iPhone XS, it is not as sharp and noise-free as the Google Pixel 3's Night Sight mode.

Another interesting addition to the Note10 series is the zoom-in microphone that is able to highlight the audio source you prefer.

To test, I shot a video of my nephews watching YouTube on their phones, with one sitting 5m away and the other next to me.

When I pinched on the screen to direct the zoom-in microphone at the nephew who is further away, I could hear the audio from his smartphone more clearly than that from his brother's phone.

PERFORMANCE

Both the Note10 and Note10+ have the same Samsung Exynos 9825 octa-core processor. However, the Note10 has only 8GB of system memory compared with 12GB in the Note10+.

In the GeekBench 4 benchmark test, the Note10 scored 4,520 (single-core) and 9,288 (multi-core), while the Note10+ scored 4,513 (single-core) and 10,646 (multi-core).

By comparison, last year's Note9 scored 3,760 points (single-core) and 9,094 points (multi-core).

In real-life scenarios, apps launch instantly and feel super responsive on both smartphones. Playing games such as popular survival shooter PUBG Mobile and mech game War Robots feels smooth with the graphics looking superb.

Plus, the Note10 supports the latest guise of Samsung's DeX technology, which allows certain Samsung smartphones to have a desktop PC-like interface.

Connect the Note10 to a PC or Mac and you will be able work on the document or spreadsheet in your Note10 using your PC's monitor, keyboard and mouse.

I connected the Note10 to my 2016 Apple MacBook Pro in DeX mode without any issues.

And it allows me to play Android games, such as War Robots, on the laptop.

BATTERY LIFE

The Note10+ has a 4,300mAh battery, while the Note10 a 3,500mAh one.

Battery mileage depends on usage, of course. For me, both smartphones easily sailed through my regular work day, which included regularly checking Facebook and Instagram feeds and replying to e-mails and messages. Both have about 45 per cent of battery life left at the end of the day.

In a video-loop battery test, the Note10+ performed slightly better than the Note10, clocking 17 hours 45 minutes compared with 17 hours 30 minutes.

The Note9 lasted 15 hours 27 minutes in this test.

NOTE10 OR NOTE10+?

The Note10 continues to be the epitome of the ideal phablet. The Note10 is great for using with one hand, but my personal pick is the Note10+ for its longer battery life, gorgeous display and slightly better camera.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'Phablets of note'. Print Edition | Subscribe