Samsung makes fantastic phones, but every time I use one, a combination of factors eventually drives me to switch to something else. One UI just isn't my thing, and the cameras undergo far too much processing for my liking, despite how impressive the sensors themselves are. Software is a big priority for me, so I tend to gravitate towards phones from Google and OnePlus instead — each of which have plenty of shortcomings of their own.
But when I put my SIM card back into the Note 10 last week, I was instantly reminded of all the things I love about this phone, and why I carried it long after I finished my review last year. In fact, I'm not sure that I even want to switch back to my usual OnePlus 8 after I finish this re-review.
At a glance
Samsung Galaxy Note 10
Bottom line: Even a year on, the Galaxy Note 10 is a great phone with outstanding hardware, a beautiful display, good cameras, and fast software. You won't get modern features like 5G support, but there's little else to criticize.
- Gorgeous display with tight bezels
- S Pen support with remote operability
- Three great cameras
- Excellent battery life
- Improved with Android 10
- No 5G support
- Display is locked to 60Hz
- No headphone jack or microSD slot
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 What's still great
Every time I pick up the Note 10 after spending a few weeks on a different device, I'm taken aback by just how nice the design is. I can't seem to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes this phone feel so much nicer to my hands than even Samsung's other flagships like the newer Galaxy S20+ that I have sitting on my desk; the Note 10 isn't any thinner, and it sports the same aluminum and curved glass design, with the only major difference being the more squared-off corners.
Maybe it's just the size. I haven't spent much time with the standard S20 outside of Samsung's initial press briefing, but the S20+ just feels like a behemoth in my hand and pocket — as did the Star War Edition Note 10+ I got to check out last winter. The Note 10 feels like the perfect size that somehow feels compact yet spacious at the same time. The bezels are tight enough and the edges curved enough that the screen really seems to consume the entire face of the phone.
Even a year on, the Note 10's hardware feels shockingly modern.
Whatever it is, I absolutely adore the Note 10's hardware. The power button sitting below the volume rocker on the left side of the phone still feels like a bit of an oddity, but I've come around to it, and even as a staunch objector of hole-punch camera cutouts, I have to admit that the centered placement on the Note 10's display works much better than the S10's more intrusive offsetting.
That display is also still breathtaking, even if it's only 60Hz. Colors are fantastic (though way too saturated in the default color profile — Natural screen mode is the only way to go), and it gets plenty bright for outdoor use. There are plenty of valid complaints against curved displays, but I absolutely love them on the Note 10; they don't feel too extreme, and I've had zero issues with accidental touches. Though I'm still not a fan of Samsung's Edge Panels, which are among the first things I disable on Galaxy phones.
Of course, the S Pen is still great, too. I don't have any one particular use case for it (mostly because I switch phones too often to form a workflow with it), but I love just being able to scroll by hovering the S Pen near the top or bottom of the screen. Having a floating cursor is also great for highlighting text more precisely, and while I rarely use it, the option for handwriting memos is nice to have.
By far, the thing I enjoy most about the S Pen is its side button's function as a remote shutter for the camera. It's so nice to be able to prop the Note 10 up against a wall or mount it to a tripod and take a huge group photo without the clumsiness of a self-timer. The S Pen can also be used to start and stop video recordings, switch cameras, or even launch the camera software — it's super convenient, and something that I miss every time I switch away from the Note 10.
Admittedly, I wasn't sure which section of this re-review the camera discussion fits into, so I'll squeeze a bit of it into both the good and bad portions. The good news is that the Note 10 still has three excellent cameras that give you a decent range of perspectives, from 0.5x ultra-wide to 2x telephoto (with the option to zoom up to 10x digitally). Samsung is particularly great with ultra-wide cameras these days, and while the quality doesn't match up to that of the main sensor, there's little to complain about here.
Colors are shockingly consistent across all three cameras, though dynamic range suffers considerably with the ultra-wide lens. With a much smaller main sensor, the Note 10 obviously isn't going to give you the same kind of natural bokeh and low light performance that you'll get from the S20, but I'm still fairly impressed in both regards here.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 What hasn't aged well
On the other hand, Samsung's biggest imaging problem (depending on who you are) is still Samsung itself. The Note 10 takes great photos in most scenarios, but like the S20, it tries too hard to brighten scenes and make colors pop. The result of that is unnaturally lifted shadow details and a haloing/banding effect in skies that can't be edited out. For some folks, this means a more "Instagrammable" shot straight out of the camera, but as someone who likes to make the editing decisions myself, I'm not at all a fan.
Often, the retort to that is to shoot in manual mode or capture all of your photos in the RAW format, but those come with their own drawbacks that most people simply aren't willing to deal with; namely, larger file sizes and a slower, more tedious shooting process that can lead to missing the shot.
Samsung's biggest imaging problem is still Samsung itself.
Many were justifiably quick to decry the Note 10's removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack, along with support for microSD expansion (which still exists on the Note 10+), but at least for me as a longtime user of both Bluetooth headphones and cloud storage, these are non-issues. What continues to irk me about the Note 10 is its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor.
I've written plenty of times about how I'm not a fan of in-display sensors in general, but Samsung's sensor is especially bad, and it hasn't gotten any better with newer releases like the S20. I've lost track of how many times I've had to reprogram one thumb or the other, and especially after spending so much time with OnePlus's lightning-fast (though admittedly less secure) sensor, this one just doesn't cut it for me.
I'm also frustrated that Samsung still hasn't rolled out One UI 2.5, which likely won't be until some time after the Note 20's release. I'm not a huge fan of Samsung's default home screen experience, so I installed Lawnchair 2 last week — it feels much better to me, but in its current state, the Note 10 still doesn't support Android 10's gesture navigation while using a third-party launcher. That means I've had to revert back to the classic three-button layout, which works ... fine, but it certainly doesn't feel modern, and it's a bit silly that this is still an issue.
Being an older phone at this point, there are some other modern features the Note 10 is missing: namely, 5G support and a high refresh rate display. The former doesn't bother me much since I live in Indianapolis where T-Mobile's 5G network (which my carrier, Google Fi, relies on) is still relatively sparse, but coming from the OnePlus 8 and Galaxy S20+, which feature 90Hz and 120Hz displays respectively, the 60Hz panel on the Note 10 just feels off.
There are far worse problems to have, especially since the display is otherwise terrific, but it's worth mentioning if you're considering buying a Note 10 now, especially as we're nearing the announcement and subsequent release of the Note 20, which will assuredly have a 120Hz refresh rate, along with some version of the S20's massive new camera sensors.
At the time of publishing this article, the Note 10 is available for around $800 from most retailers, down from a launch price of $950. That puts it right in line with a few newer device like the LG V60, which offers similarly great cameras, tremendous battery life, more powerful specs, 5G support, and — depending on where you buy it — a free secondary screen attachment. I'm not a big fan of LG's software, but the V60 offers a ton of value for around the same price as the Note 10.
If photography is your main priority, you can also grab the Pixel 4 XL for just under $800. You won't get an ultra-wide tertiary lens, but the photos from its main sensor are absolutely unrivaled, particularly with its Night Sight and Astrophotography settings. I'm also a big fan of the Pixel 4's Face Unlock, especially now that it's gotten far wider app support.
Of course, within Samsung's own selection is the newer and more powerful S20 series. I still have a hard time recommending the S20 Ultra, which is both outlandishly expensive and still riddled with focusing issues on its main camera, but the 20+ trades the Note 10's S Pen for a faster processor, 5G support, improved cameras, and even better battery life. Of course, if you're into the standard Note 10, that's likely due to its small size — for that, you should consider the Galaxy S20.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Should you buy it?
Who it's for
- People who want a small device with a large screen
- People who can take advantage of the S Pen
- People who want modern Android 10 software
- People who love to take handwritten notes
Who it isn't for
- People who need 5G
- People who want a high refresh rate display
- People who want the best cameras around
Somehow, despite my desk being littered with newer and technically more modern phones, the Note 10 still feels like the most futuristic phone in my collection. The design is absolutely stunning, and everything from the cameras, battery life, performance, and software still feel perfectly high-end. Outside of hardware limitations like 5G support, I have yet to hit a wall that makes me wish I'd been using a newer phone instead.
4 out of 5
The only thing that holds me back from wholeheartedly recommending the Note 10 to prospective buyers right now is our current proximity to the revealing of the Note 20. We've seen enough leaks to know that it'll have the same style of massive camera sensors as the S20 series, and resolve issues like a lack of 5G support and a high refresh rate display. Frankly, I don't need much more than that to be sold on the small Note 20 — assuming it's similar in footprint to this phone.
If you absolutely have to buy a phone right now, I don't think you'll be let down by the Note 10. It's incredibly well-rounded, and while there are other phones that do particular things better, I think this phone serves as a great jack-of-all-trades device with very few compromises, even nearly a year into its lifecycle.