Monday, September 23, 2019

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The regular Galaxy Note 10 may be little more than a warm-up act,  but the Note 10 Plus is where you’ll find all the extra goodies. Just don’t come crying to me when you find out how much it costs.

There’s a lot to like about the Note 10 Plus, especially when you compare the two phones. Not only does it have a larger, WQHD+ resolution screen that measures 6.8in, but it also benefits from 12GB of RAM, supports faster charging speeds up to 45W, has a bigger 4,300mAh capacity battery as well as an added depth-of-field camera and microSD card slot. It can also be picked up in a 5G version, although you have to pay at least an extra £100 for the privilege.



The differences, as plentiful as they are, end there. Both Notes are the first to be powered by Samsung’s Exynos 9825 chipset and run the most recent version of Google’s mobile OS, Android 9 Pie, with Samsung’s One UI overlay plastered over the top. Lastly, the S Pen stylus returns with a few motion-based upgrades, but more on those later.

That’s an awful lot of money, but Apple’s smartphone lineup is even pricier. Perhaps its closest competitor, the iPhone Xs Max starts at £1,049 and includes a lowly 64GB of non-expandable storage. You’re going to have to cough up a total of £1,249 if you want the same amount of space as the Note 10 Plus, and it still won’t let you plug in a microSD card.

Of course, Apple isn’t the only other manufacturer in the big-sized phone business. Android rivals include Huawei’s P30 Pro, which can currently be scooped up for around £800, while Samsung’s other flagship, the Galaxy S10 Plus, goes for a for around £700.

Design, key features and S Pen

As you might expect, considering how much Samsung wants you to pay for one, the Galaxy Note 10 is far from lightweight. This certainly isn’t one of Samsung’s wallet-friendly A- or J-series handsets – this is a phone that’s positioned itself as one of the best choices for someone with large piles of cash to burn.

Just like its slightly cheaper sibling, the Note 10 Plus is Samsung’s best-looking phone to date. It has an enormous 6.8in display – the largest Samsung phone screen yet – that almost fills the front of the handset. A circular hole-punch notch, which houses the 10-megapixel selfie camera, eats into this somewhat at the top, but with a generous screen-to-body ratio of 95%, there’s not much space for it anywhere else.

 

There’s plenty special about the way the Note 10 Plus looks and feels too, with its glossy Gorilla Glass rear, rounded silver-tinted edges and corners, and its four cameras neatly arranged in a vertical line on the back of the phone. This is also the first Note with an in-display fingerprint reader for secure unlocking, bringing it in line with the Galaxy S10.

And despite that huge screen, the Note 10 Plus doesn’t feel particularly large. It measures 77mm wide, 162mm tall and 7.9mm thick – which isn’t much bigger than most flagship smartphones, and it isn’t brutish either, weighing 196g. The only thing I don’t particularly like about the design is the harsh-edged top and bottom sides of the phone, as well as the sharp corners, which tended to dig into my palm a little too much. I can’t imagine many people will be pleased about Samsung removing the 3.5mm headphone jack, either.

Samsung’s dinky S Pen stylus has also seen a slight upgrade. It still slots into the bottom right corner of the phone as usual and can be used to jot down notes and doodles even when the screen is off. However, Samsung has introduced what it calls “Air Actions”, which allows you to rotate the S Pen – sort of like a magic wand – to perform certain actions.



This only works with compatible applications, such as the native camera app for instance. Simply press and hold the button on the side, and wave your hand from left to right or vice versa and the app will switch between shooting modes. Waggle your hand up and down and it’ll alternate between the front and rear cameras, and you can also rotate the stylus clockwise or anti-clockwise to zoom in and out.

It’s certainly a neat little party trick, and it does come in handy when your phone is mounted on a tripod or out of arm’s reach. I only wish you had greater control with the zooming function – at the moment you can only zoom in and out in small 0.1x increments, which is rather slow.

The S Pen isn’t just about waggly gimmicks, though, and is actually a tremendously useful note-taking device. With up to ten hours of standby time, you can scribble even while the phone is locked, and use it to outline a specific portion of the screen that you want to screenshot. You can also use the S Pen to highlight extracts of a web page or document in order to translate the text to your desired language.

Display

Aside from being 0.5in larger across the diagonal, the resolution of the Note 10 Plus’ Dynamic AMOLED, HDR10+ screen is higher: QHD+ (3,040 x 1,440). It’s not that the Note 10 Plus has had an upgrade, but that the vanilla Note 10 has had a downgrade: the Note series of phones have all used QHD panels with every iteration since 2014.



This is the first of both phones that I’ve tested, and the Note 10 Plus’ screen came off rather well in our in-house tests. The screen’s colour reproduction is superb, striking a perfect balance between eye-popping saturation and colour accuracy. Measuring the display using a colorimeter, it reached 96.2% of the sRGB colour gamut in the browser using the phone’s ‘Natural’ screen profile and peaked at 715cd/m2 with the auto-brightness setting engaged.

There’s still support for HDR 10+ too, so movies and TV shows on Netflix and Prime Video that support this standard look spectacular. Colours seem to leap from the screen, and because it uses AMOLED technology, you can expect an impeccable, inky black level response and essentially perfect contrast.

Performance and battery life

Under its skin, the Note 10 Plus uses Samsung’s fresh-faced homebrew silicon, the Exynos 9825. This is the first time we’ve seen this chipset powering anything, which is built using a more efficient 7nm manufacturing process and consists of a quad-core Cortex-A55, dual-core Cortex-A75 and another dual-core custom CPU. As usual, however, other territories outside of the UK will feature Qualcomm’s equivalent processor – in this case, the brand-new Snapdragon 855 Plus.

The Note 10 Plus also benefits from an overly generous 12GB of RAM for multitasking, rather than the 8GB of RAM in the regular model. As for storage, you’re restricted to 256GB, but with the option to expand this by a further 1TB via microSD. The Note 10 Plus’ battery is also larger at 4,200mAh in capacity and supports charging speeds up to 45W – although, the included charger is only 25W.

Speed-wise, there are certainly no surprises. The Note 10 Plus is as powerful as they come, with Samsung delivering a phone that’s instantaneously responsive, storming through our CPU benchmarking tests. It’s faster than both the P30 Pro and Galaxy S10 Plus in the Geekbench 4 single- and multi-core processing benchmark, although it isn’t quite as rapid as the iPhone Xs Max – which is currently the fastest smartphone on the market.

Gaming performance is equally impressive, even on the phone’s native WQHD+ screen resolution. This is an area where the Galaxy Note 10 Plus is much improved over its forebear, managing a perfect 60fps average in the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 on-screen test, and an impressive 24fps in the GPU-straining Car Chase benchmark.

Having said that, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus’ stamina hasn’t taken a hit either, despite all of this power. In our video rundown test, with the screen set to the phone’s native resolution and at 170cd/m2 brightness, the Note 10 Plus lasted 19hrs 56mins on a single charge. Dial the resolution down to FHD+, and we managed to squeeze out almost an extra hour under the same conditions.

Software

Equally impressive as the phone’s performance and battery life is the simplicity and responsiveness of the phone’s user interface. The Note 10 Plus uses Android 9 Pie – with an upgrade to Android 10 pencilled in for the near future – but with Samsung’s own One UI launcher placed over the top.

We first tapped away at this new interface with Samsung’s trio of Galaxy S10 phones earlier in the year, and it remains the best software Samsung has ever used on any of its phones. The UI has a clean, simple look to it and is remarkably easy to navigate. It can also be customised to your liking, allowing you to adjust the phone’s vibration intensity and the size of the app icons – which are a little large by default.

There are still a few minor issues in some areas, of course, and it doesn’t quite match the sheer simplicity of the Google Pixel 3’s Pixel Launcher. Samsung still insists on preloading the phone with its own versions of applications for instance – such as the browser, email and calendar apps – which simply aren’t anywhere near as good as the default Google applications.

Camera

A long vertical strip of cameras can be found on the back of the phone, which includes the same dual-aperture (f/1.5, f/2.4) 12-megapixel sensor and 2x telephoto zoom lens from last year’s handset. What’s new is the addition of a 123-degree wide-angle camera, as well as a special depth-sensing unit for more effective blurred background photography – which is exclusive to the Note 10 Plus.



How about that image quality then? Well, to put things simply, it’s sublime. Pictures are packed with detail, texture and punchy colours. No matter the lighting conditions, the Note 10 Plus is capable of capturing some truly exceptional pictures – especially when you use the wide-angle lens for your scenery shots.

There’s no shortage of shooting modes, either. You can easily adjust the level of background blur with the ‘Live focus’ mode for stills and video, record 240fps super slow-mo footage, brighten up images with the ‘Night’ mode, and tinker with more intricate settings in the ‘Pro’ mode. That’s not forgetting about the new filters you can apply to images and video, too, such as the black and white ‘colour pop’ and a vaporwave-inspired “glitch’ filter.

I particularly enjoyed playing with the new ‘AR doodle’ feature, which allows you to draw whatever you like on the screen with the S Pen before recording your video. Draw glasses and a silly moustache on someone’s face, for instance, and your doodles will accurately track the person and follow them around as soon as you tap the shutter button.



In fact, there’s so much stuff on offer here that it can be a little bit daunting at first. It’s clear that Samsung is trying to squeeze as many features into its native camera app as possible, but I do think that most, if not all, of these different shooting modes can serve a useful purpose. Although, I still don’t understand the point in a dedicated ‘food’ mode, but perhaps that’s just me being a little bit old-fashioned.

When it comes to video, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus can record 4K footage at 60fps, although optical image stabilisation is only available at 1080p. You can, however, enable Samsung’s ‘Super steady’ feature in the camera settings, which essentially applies electronic image stabilisation to all recording modes. The footage isn’t quite as rock-steady as if It was strapped to a dedicated gimbal such as the DJI Osmo Mobile 3, but it does the job.

The recording quality, on the other hand, is superb. The footage is crisp and detailed with superb dynamic range, especially if you film in 4K with HDR 10+ enabled – although this feature is restricted to 30fps, and most third-party video players don’t support HDR10+ playback at the time of writing.

Verdict

It’s abundantly clear that the Galaxy Note 10 Plus is Samsung’s best phone yet. Your wallet might be preemptively running for the hills, but no other phone from Samsung, or any manufacturer for that matter, offers quite as well-rounded of an approach as this.

In the week I’ve spent using it as my main device, I've reached the realisation that not only is this Samsung’s best phone yet – by quite a margin in fact – but I'm even willing to go one step further. Okay, I’ll say it: the Galaxy Note 10 Plus is the best smartphone – Android or otherwise – that I’ve ever had the pleasure of using, and I genuinely don’t want to give it back.

Not only is it the fastest Samsung phone ever, but it’s the biggest too. The cameras – as plentiful as they are – are absolutely superb, especially when it comes to video, and the battery life is sensational.

Indeed, of the two models, the Note 10 Plus is the phone I’d choose over anything else – if I had enough money, that is. It might require two hands and a mountain of cash, but it really doesn’t get much better than this.

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