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Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review: Finally, an S Pen in a smaller phone

Aura Glow loveliness
(Image: © Android Central)

Our 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+.

For

  • Incredible display
  • Hardware looks and feels expensive
  • Excellent performance
  • Consistent camera quality
  • Best stylus experience on any phone

Against

  • Battery life not befitting a Note
  • Low-light camera quality is weak
  • Software requires lots of tweaking
  • No headphone jack

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

The Note 10 deserves its own review, but the 10+ is still the main Note this year.

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

Galaxy Note 10 Hero

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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 (opens in new tab) 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

Galaxy Note 10+ in Aura Glow

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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 Samsung's incredible hardware quality is diminished by the Note 10's smaller size

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.

Galaxy Note 10 in front of books

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ specs

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.

S Pen fans can finally get the precise stylus input in a smaller phone.

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 is every bit the same as the Note 10+ in features and hardware — it's just smaller.

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

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 in Aura Glow

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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.

This isn't battery life that befits a 'Note' — it's fine, but not stellar like the 10+.

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.

Source: Android Central

The lack of an SD card slot will rub Note fans the wrong way, but 256GB is plenty for most people.

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+."

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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

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 in Aura Glow

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

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

If you've lusted after a Note but never got one because it was just too big, the Note 10 is an excellent phone.

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.

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.

22 Comments
  • I understand the Note 10 is not for everyone but definitely enjoying every bit of it!
  • I ordered the Note 10. I came from a Note 8 (smaller battery than this) then Note 9. Note 9 is awesome, but at the end of the day for me, was too big and heavy in my pocket. I have a S10 now, awaiting my Note 10 and the size is perfect, for me. Both my Note 9 and my S10 are 8gb/512gb models. I have 383gb free so 256 will be just fine.
  • Love my Note 10. Feels good in the hand. Much easier to carry in pocket.
  • Au contraire, I'm very happy to have a Galaxy Note 10 Plus the size of the Note 9 but with a LARGER SCREEN. That's more Amoled territory for my S Pen to make use of .
  • I have the 10+ and by far the fastest and nicest device I have ever owned it's lighting fast with ZERO LAG! I highly recommend the note10
  • Convince me that the S Pen is great. I have tried it at the T-Mobile store, but they hadn't even set it up properly so I couldn't use half the features. What do you use it for? Bonus points for convincing me that it makes for a good note-taking experience for business.
  • I don't even know why the Note 10 exists. It's barely cheaper than the Note 10+. People should spend the extra $100 and get the 10+.
  • I think the Note 10 is great. If I didn't already have the s10+ it would be my next phone. I guess I'm in the minority or something but the s10+/Note 10 is the absolute max size that I would carry - this race to tablet sized phones like the Note 10+ is stupid. Like we're all a bunch of teenage girls walking around all day with a phone in our hand. I'd like to think that some of us that are potential customers that actually work in a professional environment where walking around with a nearly 7" phone that's too big to fit in your pocket makes you look like an idiot....
  • That same argument was made about the Note 1. Which is smaller than my regular sized s10. No one cares what size phone you have. No one. Professional setting or not. They all look basically the same. You won't look professional with a 6.2 inch phone and unprofessional with a 6.8 inch phone.
  • I know that feeling of looking to those Teenage/Young girls with the big phones always in their hands because they are addicted to Social Media... But the Galaxy s10+ is kind of a big phone actually... And we can choose between a Galaxy S10e and a Note 10+ with simillar specs to choose from, the big phones aren't for most people but this time Samsung gave us more options to choose from.
  • Well, I don't care what people think looks too big or too little, but I will say that I have my Note 3 and iPhone 6S Plus out right now, and both of them feel big, bulky, and cumbersome compared to my current phone. PS: I do know of at least one teenage girl who has a good reason for a large phone: She's an anime artist!
  • Very good review Andrew. I like the whole "What I like/What I don't like" aspect, and it gives an overall balance to the article. It's nice. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Note 10 and 10+ are some of the prettiest phones out there.
    I'm not a stylus guy... I had more than my share of stylus use with Palm devices, and I consider NOT having to use a stylus a benefit. So, the Note is not for me specifically, but I can see why those who like a stylus use them. I do have a precision stylus (Notier) that I use with Floor Plan Creator for on-the-fly floor plans at work, but the few times a year I use it does not justify having it as a permanent part of my device that requires a compromise on the battery. Speaking of battery, have you used an app to monitor what is pulling the battery down? I won't mention what my phone is because people here get offended when I do, but it also has a 3,500 mAh battery, and I've never seen single digit battery levels unless I'm TRYING to drain it for testing purposes, and that sometimes takes until 3am. So I'm wondering what the difference is, since the battery is the exact same size, and the Note 10 has the more efficient SOC, and a more energy efficient display that runs at a lower resolution. I use mine hard too, with lots of gaming and video and a smartwatch tethered 24/7, and often powering a 4k HDMI Slimport output device to feed a big screen TV or external monitor for movies. Yet, my AVERAGE battery life is 23 hours per charge, with a screen on time of up to 9 hours. What gives?
  • Soooo... Tumbleweed? Crickets?
  • Very good review. I agree with pretty much all the points in the review. I came from the Note 9 which worked very well and had an amazing battery. Much like jmartin's comment, the size was just too big for my pocket most of the time. I would have liked for it to be $50 to $100 cheaper, but the incredible trade in I got for my Note 9 which was more than I had left to pay off was worth it for me to get a smaller device. I would have liked to keep the headphone jack or for them to also include an adapter for 3.5mm headphones. I ended up buying a USB-C to 3.5mm jack off ebay that did not have a DAC and subsequently did not not work. I got a Google Pixel one for $8 from Best Buy on sale that does work. I generally wait around two years to change, but I really wanted to go down in phone size. I don't notice the difference in screen quality coming from the 9 which I had in 4k mode. I think the Note 10 is a great device and works very well. I probably would have been fine just getting an S10, but there wasn't a $600 trade in for that device. My battery at the end of the day isn't nearly as full as the Note 9's was, but I tend to plug the phone in for my car ride to and from work (for Android Auto) which ends up helping. I wasn't a fan of the usability of the curved screen on the 9 or the 10, but I think currently Samsung phones tend to offer the most bang for the buck. I actually like the One UI that is currently being used. I don't really take a lot of pictures, especially at night. I just wanted a phone that was very fluid that would enhance my productivity at work as needed.
  • Love the Note 10! It's more compact and lighter then my previous Note 8, but has the same screen size.
    I could afford the Note 10+, but frankly, I'll notice the convenience of carrying around a smaller phone much more then I'll miss no SD card slot (Hey... I think 256gb will last me a while!), no 1440 screen (never once changed my Note 8 to 1440, which, by the way, is how it AND the Note 10+ comes from the factory), or the ToF lens... battery life is a bummer, but this phone has lasted me all day. Not a day goes by that I'm not in my car a few times, which, with a wireless car charging mount, makes topping off painless!
    Overall.. a GREAT phone that is much maligned!
  • I kinda like the easier size myself. My Note 3 and iPhone 6S Plus feel so bulky compared to my current device.
    I never changed the screen resolution on the Note 8 I use at work, but I'm kinda weird because I can see the difference plainly when side by side with a QHD+ display. It's not a big deal to me, the Note screen just looks "soft", but I found I can watch movies longer without eye fatigue when the resolution is higher. I don't know about the Note 10 being "much maligned". The media has been pretty nice to it overall, and I'm sure it will find its way to the best-of-the-best list here, if it's not there already. It's not like they would call it a dumpster fire for one problem... like they did for other phones ;)
  • I don't know...looking at photos side by side, the 10+ doesn't seem that much bigger to warrant some of the "lesser" features of the 10. Maybe you have to actually see them side by side to appreciate the difference.
  • Battery life not befitting a Note. Are you kidding me? 92 hours on GSMARENA's endurance test vs 97 hours for the Note 9 that you guys raved about and the Note 10 battery is 500 mAh smaller than the N9. At the moment I happen to have both the Note 10 and the 10+ and tonight my plus sits at 31% and last night at the same time my regular Note 10 was at 28% and usage was nearly identical. SOT on my plus is at 5:47 and my N10 was at 5:34. GSMARENA's endurance rating on the N10 plus was 107. Over the years I have found their battery testing as the best gauge for real world battery life. I haven't noticed any speed difference between the two or a noticeable difference in screen quality even with the plus resolution cranked up to 1440.
    I am truly on the fence over which one will stay and which one will go, but what I do know is battery life and performance are basically a wash and the N10 is a hell of a lot more comfortable to use every day especially if you have an active lifestyle. If I keep the plus, it will be because of the trade in difference on my S10e along with the probability that the plus will bring more trade in $'s than its smaller sibling when its time to pre-order the Note 11. All of the hype about the plus being so much better is a crock of bs. Samsung should be commended for all of the tech they were able to fit in the compact N10.
  • Battery life not befitting a Note? You rave about the battery life of the S10+ and the Note 10, not the plus, has equal if not better battery life than the S10+. I don't have an S10+, but I do have a Note 10 and a Note 10+ and the battery life difference is negligible in real world use so stop spreading false information. Yes, I realize this review is from 4 months ago. I like the smaller Note better and will be selling my Plus soon.
  • Is this a repost
  • Yes, when the writers have nothing to write, they regurgitate old crap. Way to go ac!
  • You gotta let that headphone jack thing go