Tuesday 17 September 2019

Tech review: Galaxy Note 10+

The almost-unbeatable business phone

Samsung Galaxy Note 10
Samsung Galaxy Note 10
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

For as long as they've been out, I've been a fan of Samsung Note phones. They've always positioned themselves as the unashamedly huge, powerful, long-battery-life handsets that looked down on rivals. I used a Note 2 obsessively for two years, then a Note 4 on and off for another couple of years.

Then came the overheating Note 7 three years ago and a hiatus as Samsung rebuilt the phone's reputation.

Now, the company has released, for the first time, two new Galaxy Note models - the 10 and 10+.

The latter (€1,119) is the dominating model again, with a 6.8-inch screen, the biggest on the Irish market.

This is the one I've been testing. I've only had it in my pocket for a few days, but that's enough so far for some solid impressions.

First, a bit about that huge screen. The 6.8-inch display doesn't actually feel as big in your hand as you'd imagine. This is because of the wafer-thin bezels on each side.

The quality is, unsurprisingly, superb. This is actually big enough to use as a legit Netflix or Amazon Prime screen on the move, without feeling you're compromising much compared with a tablet.

Small design features help navigation, too. There's a tab on the side of the screen you can tap to access frequently used apps, saving you a potentially two-handed requirement.

As noted above, if this display seems just a bit too big, Samsung has a smaller version, called the Note 10 (minus the '+'). This is a 6.3-inch device and, aside from that smaller screen, has a smaller battery and a few less sensors for the cameras (while retaining the three lenses).

For panel nerds, the Note 10+ screen has a lower refresh rate than one or two others on the market (notably the OnePlus 7 Pro).

What this means is that it seems just half a beat slower to respond or scroll than the higher 90hz rate of the OnePlus device. I suspect the vast majority won't notice or care about this, although I'd expect Samsung to up this refresh rate in its next batch of flagships.

Other than the size of the display, one of the more distinct things about the Note 10+ is the angularity of its design. Instead of rounded-off corners, it proudly sports something closer to resembling 90-degree corners. At first, I worried about the wear and tear this might cause in my pocket, where I keep the phone 99pc of the time.

But the effect is somewhat tempered by the cylindrical shape on either side of the phone. So far, no pocket holes.

As for the camera, I'll need to do more testing but have still come to some early conclusions.

Take it as read that this is a top-quality camera set-up; you wouldn't expect anything less from a flagship Samsung phone. Having said that, I think a comparison with Huawei's P30 Pro, currently the best all-round camera phone, is a worthwhile one and not wholly flattering.

I love that the Note 10+ gets that third ultra-wide lens that we see on most top-end models now - it's a very worthwhile addition that you'll get benefits from.

It's also slightly wider than the ultra-wide on the P30 Pro. This is also good and scores the Note 10+ some points.

But I'm a little surprised that Samsung has held the telephoto lens to a 2x zoom. This compares with 3x on some phones and 5x on the P30 Pro.

It's nowhere near a deal-breaker, but it possibly loses the Note 10+ the points it racked up for having that extra ultra-wide lens.

Another minor disappointment with the camera is that its new 'night' mode isn't as good as the night modes on either Google's Pixel phones or Huawei's devices.

On the plus side, there's an array of depth sensors beside the three cameras, to allow for nice portraits and emerging augmented reality effects, if that's your thing.

So far, the camera on this cannot be described as anything less than very, very good. It's definitely one of the top five on the market, meaning you're in good hands. But other brands are now matching Samsung's top camera phones or even creeping slightly ahead. At this point, it's worth giving an idea of the power and ability of this handset.

My test model has 256GB of storage and 8GB of Ram. It's hard to think of too many people who'll need more storage or power than this in a phone in 2019.

For comparison, most high-end phones have between 4GB and 6GB of Ram and between 64GB and 128GB of storage memory. Still, there's an even more pumped up version of the Note 10+ that offers an eye-watering 12GB of Ram and 512GB of storage, although this doesn't seem to be available on the Irish market.

One side-effect of being the absolute pinnacle of a muscle machine might be heat. So far, I have found that this phone gets warmer than any other flagship device I've used in the past year or two.

I need to be careful with language here: I'm not suggesting, for one second, that there is anything like the overheating problems its infamous and ill-fated predecessor of three years ago suffered. I just mean that when you ask it to do a few things at once, such as download an app while watching a video, the back of the phone gets really quite warm. One of the first things the device asked of me was to download a 300MB systems update, which I did; it was hot by the time it was finished.

Other than the muscle and the size of its screen, one of the most distinctive things about the Note has always been the presence of its click-out stylus, the 'S Pen'.

Personally, I've never been a committed user of a stylus, whether it's Samsung's S Pen or Apple's Pencil.

That said, Samsung has added some undeniably useful features to the new one here.

Probably the one that most will find favour with is its improved handwriting recognition. This extends to a search function. In other words, if you write out some notes with the S Pen, you can search for words within those scrawled notes later on. That's a nice trick.

Another potentially useful one is its ability to trigger photos from the camera. In theory, this means much more interesting selfies, or group shots, as you can better compose the picture. (Vloggers and Instragrammers, with their penchant for positioning themselves gazing up at a waterfall or paddling in a lagoon, might particularly appreciate this.)

But while the S Pen will undoubtedly delight Note fans, there will also be an interest in the new models ditching the 3.5mm headphone port. Samsung was the last major smartphone brand to keep the headphone port on a flagship phone. Instead, the new handsets will come with the familiar 3.5mm to USB-C dongle.

Contrary to suggestions at Samsung's launch, the Note 10+ is not a 5G-compatible phone. This is a little odd and one of the phone's downsides.

Never mind that Apple's iPhones won't be 5G-compatible for another year; this is supposed to be the hardcore power user's handset. To fully meet that description, I was hoping it would be 5G-enabled.

To be fair, there is a 5G version of the Note 10+, but it isn't available on the Irish market.

Instead, Samsung reserves its 5G presence for a top-end version of its S10 model. Otherwise, you'll need to buy a Huawei Mate 20 X.

Overall, the Galaxy Note 10+ is a hell of a smartphone. It's tailor-made for a business user more than almost any other handset out there.

I can see it selling very well in the Irish market. With 5G and that higher-hertz display, it would have been unbeatable.

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