The Ultimate Do-It-All Smartphone: A Review of Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+
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I’ve been traveling the world with the same backpack for half a decade. The tux I’m wearing to my sister’s wedding was custom-made in Beijing — in 2010. Even my television is nearly 10 years old. But I seem to update my smartphone at least once a year. Like many other road warriors, I’ve found that having the latest and greatest device can really improve the travel experience, especially when it comes to getting the perfect shot.
Most recently, I’ve been using an Apple iPhone XS Max, which performs well almost across the board, with the exception of capturing photos in low-light — I often carry a Google Pixel 3 XL for that. Between the two devices, I’ve managed to snap some pretty incredible photos and videos at home, onboard and at my destinations. But, like most sane people, I’d prefer to carry just one smartphone, rather than two. After spending a week with Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+, I think I’ve finally found the one.
Models, Price and How to Buy
Any way you look at it, Samsung’s Galaxy Note is a very large device. The Note10+ has a massive 6.8-inch screen, besting the 6.5-inch display on Apple’s iPhone XS Max. Fortunately there’s now a more manageable 6.3-inch version, the Note10 — a better fit for smaller hands, perhaps.
The smaller Note10 is priced at $950, with 256GB of internal storage, and is available in three colors: Aura Glow (the colorful version pictured here), black and white. The Note10+ is priced at $1,100 (256GB) or $1,200 (512GB) and available in the same colors, plus blue. There’s also a 5G version, which can connect to Verizon’s super-fast (but still very limited) next-gen network. That model is priced at $1,300 (256GB) and available in the same colors as the smaller Note. The Note10+ is expandable by up to 1TB via a microSD card.
All three models include a USB charger, power and data cable, USB-C headphones and a SIM card ejector in the box. There’s also a factory-installed protective film, but mine has barely survived the first week of use, so I imagine I’ll need to replace it soon.
Samsung’s also offering some pretty exceptional trade-in deals, with up to $600 off when you trade in a Galaxy S10 or the previous-generation Note 9:
You’ll be eligible for a similar discount with recent iPhone models, too, including the previous-generation iPhone X:
Be sure to consider using a card that offers purchase protection, as outlined in more detail below.
Design and Form-Factor
The Note10 looks and feels like a very solid phone, but I found it to be surprisingly light. That said, it’s no slouch when it comes to durability — the device has an IP68 water-resistance rating, just like Apple’s latest iPhones, which means it shouldn’t sustain damage after going to a depth of roughly 5 feet for up to 30 minutes. While you shouldn’t worry about getting caught in a monsoon, Samsung suggests avoiding taking it for a swim in the ocean or pool.
There’s only so much you can do with a smartphone when it comes to design, but I feel like Samsung’s done a great job of differentiating it from the iPhone. As the device’s name implies, sketching (or at least marking up the screen) is a key component here, so each handset includes a plastic stylus, or “S Pen.”
Both models have large edge-to-edge displays — what Samsung’s calling “Infinity-O” — and a small “hole punch” selfie camera up top. I got used to seeing the camera right away, though — it’s far less substantial than the iPhone X’s “notch.” As I mentioned, the front is also covered by a removable factory-installed screen protector, but mine is already starting to scratch and bubble up after just a week of use.
One major downside (in my opinion) is that Samsung did away with the headphone jack. With a phone this large, it’s challenging to argue that a small 3.5mm jack was taking up too much space, but alas, the industry-standard connector is no more. To make matters worse, Samsung doesn’t include a USB-C adapter in the box, but you can order one separately for 15 bucks.
For me, this is what it’s all about — capturing photos and videos for TPG content. And, fortunately, Samsung’s invested significantly in making the Note10 a top-notch photography device. It’s so good, in fact, that I can easily justify leaving my regular gear at home, be it my interchangeable-lens camera with a wide-angle lens or my video-stabilizing DJI Osmo gimbal.
From a whale-watching tour near Brier Island to a 6-hour kayaking trek through the Bay of Fundy — with some expected rain thrown in for good measure — the device’s water resistance really came in handy last weekend during a trip to Nova Scotia.
I stored the Note in a waterproof pouch for much of the kayak trip, but I pulled it out a handful of times to shoot — the image quality was outstanding, especially with the ideal lighting conditions during our Bay of Fundy tour.
The Note is also a video champ, thanks in no small part to the improved Super Steady mode, which works when you’re shooting 1080/60p video. It’s hard to believe the footage below came out of a gimbal-less smartphone.
That ultra-wide camera is really where it’s at, though. There’s significant distortion when you’re standing close to your subject, but if you’re able to look past it — or find it appealing, as some shooters do — there’s no easier way to fit more into a frame in tight shooting environments, such as the tiny lighthouse we visited below.
The selfie camera worked well, too — it’s not nearly as wide as the ultra-wide cam on the back, but it did the trick in a pinch.
The Note also has a special food mode, that brings your dish into focus while blurring other elements in the image. It seemed to work as advertised, but I preferred shooting food using the regular photo option.
Low-light was a different story, though. The Note’s night mode made a huge difference, as long as you remember to keep the phone steady in especially-dim settings.
Finally, the stylus. You can use the plastic pen’s button to capture photos, which is great for tripod-assisted selfies. You can even move through different settings using various gestures — something I still have yet to master. The S Pen also makes it far easier to add notes and sketches on various social-media platforms, as I did with my Instagram Story.
It’s also handy for jotting down quick notes — I don’t have the steadiest hand, but the phone didn’t have any trouble instantly converting my handwriting to text.
I spent most of my smartphone time shooting, but the note did come in handy for watching content as well, given that my United flights to and from Halifax (YHZ) didn’t offer seat-back entertainment. The large, super-sharp 6.8-inch display was perfect for the hour-long flight. I’d probably want something larger for a longer trip, but it did the trick here.
Netflix has recently become my content-consuming go-to, but you of course have access to the full array of Android applications, which number well into the millions. I typically focus on a number of apps, all of which are available on both iOS and Android, with the exception of Apple Podcasts. I’ve been using Spotify for that instead, which even comes along with a free six-month Premium subscription for first-time Samsung users.
Like the various computers I’ve used over the years, I’ve found that my smartphones tend to feel a bit sluggish as the months go on. Right now, the Note10 feels blazing fast, but it’s too early to tell how it’ll perform after months or a year of downloading apps, opening endless browser tabs and capturing countless photos and video clips. Right now, it feels like the speediest smartphone I’ve ever used, and I hope it stays that way.
It is worth noting that the display isn’t quite as bright as what you get with the iPhone XS, but I didn’t have any issues seeing it during my various outdoor adventures. I didn’t even notice the difference until I held the devices side-by-side.
At this point, just about any high-end smartphone you buy should handle content capture, video editing and even advanced handheld games. The biggest variable I’ve found is battery life, so I was especially intrigued by a feature Samsung’s calling “all-day battery.”
Of course, a full day of battery life means very different things to different people. On the road, I’m spending hours with my device, navigating on foot or in a car, looking up restaurants and attractions, keeping in touch with the office and snapping photos and videos at every turn. Will the battery last all day for me? I really put it to the test on my trip to Nova Scotia last weekend, where the device managed to handle all of that plus a couple hours of hotspot usage in the car.
The battery finally died at dinner — not bad for a day that started with a long walk in NYC and ended with a five-hour drive through one of the most picturesque regions of the North America’s Atlantic coastline.
Protect Your Investment
You can make your purchase directly through Samsung, or you might be able to earn bonus points if you buy your Note via an online portal, instead. Where you buy isn’t quite as important as how you buy, though. I’d recommend using a card that offers purchase protection, including:
|Card||Maximum Coverage Amount
||Maximum Coverage Amount Per Year||Coverage Duration (days)||Earning Rate(s)||Annual Fee|
|United Club Card||$10,000 per claim||$50,000||120||2x directly purchased United tickets, 1.5x other||$450|
|American Express® Gold Card||$10,000 per incident||$50,000||90||4x at restaurants worldwide, 4x U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year; then 1x), 3x directly purchased airline tickets or airfare purchases through amextravel.com, 1x other. Terms apply.||$250 (see rates & fees)|
|Ink Business Cash Credit Card||$10,000 per claim||$50,000||120||5% office supply stores/telecom (up to $25,000, then 1%), 2% gas stations/restaurants (up to $25,000, then 1%), 1% other||$0|
|Citi Premier® Card||$10,000 per incident||$50,000||90||3x on travel including gas stations, 2x on restaurants and entertainment, 1x other||$95|
|Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express||$1,000 per incident||$50,000||90||3% U.S. supermarkets on the first $6,000 per calendar year; (then 1%), 2% U.S. gas stations/select U.S. department stores, 1% other. Terms apply.||$0 (see rates & fees)|
(No longer open to new applicants)
|$500 per claim||$50,000||120||5% bonus categories each quarter, 1% other||$0|
The information for the United Club, Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Then, after you have your device, be sure to pay your mobile bill with a card that offers cell phone loss and damage protection, including:
|Card||Coverage/Deductible||Notable Exclusions||Earn rate on cell phone bill||Annual Fee|
|Ink Business Preferred Credit Card||Up to $600 per claim, $1,800 per 12-month period/$100 deductible||Lost phones||3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points*||$95|
|Citi Prestige® Card||Up to $1,000 per claim, $1,500 per 12-month period/$50 deductible||Cosmetic damage that doesn’t affect phone’s ability to function, lost phones||1 Citi point per dollar||$495|
|Citi Premier® Card||Up to $800 per claim, $1,000 per 12-month period/$50 deductible||Cosmetic damage that doesn’t affect phone’s ability to function, lost phones||1 Citi point per dollar||$95|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card||Up to $600 per claim, $1,000 per 12-month period/$50 deductible||Cosmetic damage that doesn’t affect phone’s ability to function, lost phones||1% cash back||$0|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Up to $600 per claim, $1,200 per 12-month period/$25 deductible||Lost phones||1 point per dollar||$0|
|Uber Visa||Up to $600 per claim, $1,200 per 12-month period/$25 deductible||Lost phones||1% cash back||$0|
|U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card||Up to $600 per claim, $1,200 per 12-month period||Lost phones||None||$0|
While I’ve reviewed a number of flagship smartphones during my Engadget days — including the very first review of the world’s first Galaxy Note — I came at this review strictly from the perspective of a frequent traveler, putting the Note10 through the wringer on the road. I didn’t run any benchmarks, download high-end games or run speedtests on a handful of different networks. If you’re after something more detailed, I’d recommend heading over to any number of the reviews you’ll find on gadget sites around the web.
As a traveler, however, I absolutely love the Note10+. Aside from the factory-installed screen protector, which is already showing some wear and tear, the only significant downside for me is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone port. Wide-angle distortion may end up being an annoyance as well, especially when it comes time to work on some flight reviews, and the camera’s night mode isn’t quite as powerful as Google’s Night Sight, but I’m otherwise very impressed. It’s easily the best smartphone I’ve ever used — I’m eager to see what Apple has up its sleeve for next month.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+ is available to order now, and is expected to make its way to customers beginning Aug. 23. In the meantime, be sure to check out 5 Reasons Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 Is the Best Pick for Travelers for additional Galaxy Note10+ features, image samples and more.
Featured photo by Orli Friedman / The Points Guy.
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