Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: The Note 10 brings an S Pen to a phone size we haven't seen since the Note 3. That makes it a refreshing option for anyone who wants a smaller screen. But the high price and battery compromise make it a tough buy over a Galaxy S10+.
Hardware looks and feels expensive
Consistent camera quality
Best stylus experience on any phone
Battery life not befitting a Note
Low-light camera quality is weak
Software requires lots of tweaking
No headphone jack
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Samsung's Galaxy Note 10+ steals the headlines with its huge screen, top-end specs, and premium price, but that doesn't mean we should forget about the other Note 10. This is the first time Samsung has launched the "same" Note in two different sizes, and the differences between the models are big enough to warrant evaluating the Note 10 on its own.
The Note 10 fits between the S10+ and S10, while still packing the latest specs and features, including the complete S Pen experience, from the Note 10+. That adds up to a package that's more expensive, but smaller, than the Galaxy S10+. Does the novelty of having the S Pen inside a relatively compact phone warrant spending $950, a notable premium over the latest Galaxy S models? This review answers that question and lets you in on what it's like to use the Note 10.
Start with our Galaxy Note 10+ review
You may be saying, "wait, I thought Android Central already did a Note 10 review?" Well, you're right. We reviewed the Galaxy Note 10+, the larger of the two models, as our canonical review of the phones. It's bigger, more capable and clearly the "main" Note this year. It got the full review treatment, and stands as our definitive take. (We even put out a separate review of the Exynos-powered Note 10+).
But with its smaller size and lower price, the standard Galaxy Note 10 is clearly worth its own review. So after you're done getting caught up with everything the Note 10+ is capable of in the complete Galaxy Note 10+ review, you can get our take on just the Note 10 right here. If there's anything you think has been left out of this Note 10 review, chances are it's covered in the Note 10+ review — and that lets us focus on just what's unique about the smaller Note 10 itself.
Galaxy Note 10 Price and availability
The Galaxy Note 10 was released in late-2019, and while it's no longer the newest Note that Samsung sells (we now have the Note 20), it's still a darn good Android handset that's well worth talking about. Samsung launched the Note 10 with a retail price of $950, and now that it's been available for a while, it's not uncommon to find it being sold for considerably less.
For example, just take a look at what Samsung's offering on its official website. You can currently buy the Note 10 for just $700 with an eligible trade-in, along with being able to save another $70 if you're a student. Samsung runs promotions like this all the time, meaning there's always some kind of discount to be had.
On that note, you'll want to keep an eye out for upcoming shopping events like Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday. Both of these are known to offer substantial savings on a wide variety of products, including Samsung smartphones.
Galaxy Note 10 What I like
The best thing about the Note 10 is that it's fundamentally the same as the Note 10+. That starts with the hardware, which is exceptional in its design, components and overall build quality. Whether you get it in the best color, Aura Glow, or one of the more conservative options, the well-sculpted combination of metal and glass is great to look at and hold.
None of those great qualities in the hardware are diminished by its smaller size. You get a solid, high-end, exceptionally built phone — but one that more comfortably fits it your hand. The Note 10 is about 15% lighter, 10 mm shorter and 5 mm narrower than the Note 10+, which all adds up to a refreshingly small package. The Note 10 is smaller than the Galaxy S10+, and actually leans closer to the size of the standard S10. (If you can believe it, it's actually smaller than the Note 3.) If you have any concerns about being able to manage the size of the Note 10+, the Note 10 will be the phone for you.
The familiar Note 10+ experience continues with the display. Yes, it's smaller. And yes, it's "only" 1080p. That doesn't matter — this screen is wonderful to look at, just like the larger version. Colors, brightness and viewing angles are all typically great Samsung quality. And while the 6.3-inch panel doesn't feel quite as spacious as the 10+'s 6.8-inch, I never once felt cramped or lacking for viewing space — in the grand scheme of smartphones, this screen is still big enough for just about anyone.
The Note 10 is simply not a big phone, and that takes a minute to wrap your head around because we've always associated "Note" with "a phone that's bigger than anything else." But it's a great realization when you hold this relatively compact phone in your hand and still pop out the S Pen from its silo on command.
To Samsung's credit, it didn't limit or change the S Pen's capabilities one bit. And because the screen is still plenty big, you still have enough room to write, doodle and annotate without feeling cramped. It's still easy to question the value of the new "air motion" gestures, but as a precise input method it can't be matched anywhere else in the smartphone world. You either get the value of the S Pen, and feel like you can't live without it, or it's completely lost on you — thankfully Samsung also makes phones without the stylus for those of you who don't want it.
You also won't be able to notice any difference in performance with the Note 10. It's of course running on the same Snapdragon 855 platform, which is nowhere near stressed by any daily task you could throw at it, but the drop off to 8GB of RAM from 12 isn't noticeable. I didn't see any difference in software or app performance, nor did I observe apps being dumped from memory prematurely. Could the lesser amount of RAM be noticeable in a couple years with two big platform updates? Maybe — but right now, and for the near future, you'll be incredibly happy with 8GB.
The Note 10's camera array isn't technically the exact same, because it's lacking the fourth DepthVision camera on the back of the Note 10+, but functionally things are identical. The main, ultra-wide and telephoto cameras are all the same, as is the front-facing camera. And that means you're getting one of the better, most consistent, camera setups available today. I continue to praise Samsung's cameras for their colors, sharpness and shot-to-shot consistency. The ultra-wide camera is still fun to shoot with, and Samsung's latest video stabilization is excellent.
Unfortunately the Note 10 suffers from the same weak low-light performance of recent Samsung cameras, which is slightly more acceptable when the price is lower than the Note 10+ — but still upsetting in the grand scheme of smartphones. Look, you can get solid low-light shots — but you have to work for them way more than the Google Pixel 3 series or Huawei P30 Pro, and when things are really dark there's no comparison. I harped on this plenty already in my Note 10+ review so I don't need to go back to it here; but suffice to say another week using the Note 10 hasn't improved my feelings on the phone's low-light capabilities.
Galaxy Note 10 What I don't like
As is the case with every phone, a smaller size leads to compromises. With basically the same specs and features as the Note 10+, and most notably the same S Pen, the Note 10 has less room for battery. At 3500mAh, the battery is 18% smaller than the Note 10+'s — and that leads to about that percentage decrease in real-world battery life.
Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the Note 10+, and S10+ before that, but I'm a bit disappointed with the Note 10's battery life. Through my review period I was really pushing things, ending days with single-digit battery left and in some cases charging before bedtime. Using the Note 10 just like I did the Note 10+ and any other phone, with about 4 hours of "screen on" time, music streaming, lots of Bluetooth use and plenty of apps syncing, I was hitting 10% battery after about 14 hours of use. That's with pretty heavy usage, though, and when I kept things more casual I could go a full 16 hours without worrying much. But that experience showed me the Note 10 definitely doesn't offer the battery life the typical Note power user will want. Unlike the Note 10+ and S10+, I felt the need to tweak things (like Always On Display and Power Saving Mode) to limit battery drain like I did with the smaller Galaxy S10e.
Though the longevity doesn't match the Note 10+'s, the Note 10 does still have the same overall battery characteristics. It drains consistently throughout the day, and is reliable from day to day, which is important. Even if the battery doesn't last that long, knowing that you can at least rely on it to provide the same battery life on a regular basis is a consolation prize.
The Note 10 also tops out at 25W fast charging, rather than the crazy 45W of the Note 10+. But that difference in charging speed isn't so noticeable with the smaller capacity, and I can only assume it was omitted for heat dissipation reasons in the smaller phone.
The other hardware compromise on the Note 10, which is particularly significant for bigtime Note fans, is the lack of an SD card slot. With 256GB of storage, I was never anywhere near short on storage with the Note 10 — even with all of my apps and data loated up, I only used 50GB. It's frustrating to see the SD card slot dropped from such a capable phone, while the smaller Galaxy S10e still has it, but here we are. I know the many hardcore users will want that SD card slot, whether out of the box or a year down the road, and for them I can only say "buy the Note 10+."
Fun thing: Note 10+ vs Note 10 SIM/SD tray. The Note 10's tray is so narrow it has to hold the SIM lengthwise and isn't wide enough for a microSD card.
But the tray is surprisingly long ... and the metal cap is nearly as wide as the Note 10+'s. pic.twitter.com/u9Ib8adrIzFun thing: Note 10+ vs Note 10 SIM/SD tray. The Note 10's tray is so narrow it has to hold the SIM lengthwise and isn't wide enough for a microSD card.
But the tray is surprisingly long ... and the metal cap is nearly as wide as the Note 10+'s. pic.twitter.com/u9Ib8adrIz— Andrew Martonik (@andrewmartonik) August 26, 2019August 26, 2019
Battery life, screen size and the SD card slot are the only real compromises to speak of compared to the larger Note 10+. It stands to reason, then, that the only general downsides of the Note 10 are simply the same as its larger sibling. There's no headphone jack here, and despite the fact that no amount of complaining is going to bring it back it's still a bugbear for some people. Samsung's software is still in need of customization and tweaking to get it set up the way you want it, even though the company's made strides with many of its default settings for features.
Galaxy Note 10 Bottom line
The Note 10 ultimately lands in the same conundrum as the Note 10+: due to its price and minimal points of differentiation, it isn't a clear choice for most people to buy over a Galaxy S. Just like the Note 10+, the Note 10 is more expensive than a Galaxy S10 or S10+ for little change in capabilities or experience, aside from the S Pen.
4 out of 5
The value is even tougher to understand for the Note 10, which is out-classed in screen size and battery life by the Galaxy S10+ — but is still less expensive. At least the Note 10+ can hang its hat on having the biggest screen and biggest battery of the Galaxy lineup, even if you have to pay extra for it. The Note 10, however, is charging you more than the cost of a Galaxy S10+, but giving you less — making the trade-off for that S Pen larger.
For anyone who has lusted after a Galaxy Note for years but never bought one for the fact that it was just too big, the Note 10 is an excellent phone. It brings the complete S Pen experience, backed by everything that makes Galaxy phones so great, in a size that's more manageable in your hand and in your pocket. If you'll make use of the S Pen, this is an incredible phone. But when the value of the stylus is in doubt, you're once again better off choosing a slightly smaller Galaxy S10 or slightly larger S10+ and saving some money.
The smaller Note has a big punch
Samsung does a lot with (a little) less.
The Note 10 brings the unique and capable S Pen down to a phone size that's much more manageable. But anyone who isn't drawn to the stylus capabilities should consider saving money with a Galaxy S10 or S10+ instead.
Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.