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Galaxy Note 10 first impressions: The art Samsung perfected

The sitcom Friends is, by and large, my most favourite sitcom of all time but it didn’t start out that way for me. I didn’t really think that the first few episodes were not that funny. I thought that the cast was a bit too try hard and that the story felt like a wannabe Seinfeld.

And I guess to a certain degree, Samsung’s Note series – to me – is like Friends. I didn’t like the idea of a large phone that had a stylus as an input device at first but today, I find myself clinging on to my two-year old Note 8 as the phone that I can’t leave home without.

The Note earns a special and permanent place in my pant pocket because Samsung worked hard to win me over.

While the original Note, release in 2011, seemed like a weird experiment. In a time when smartphone displays barely breached 4-inches, Samsung released a behemoth with a display spanning 5.3-inches, this was extremely large at the time.

Not only that, when all other phones at the time were emphasising touchscreens and interfaces that were designed for fingers, the Note had a UI that worked with a stylus. It was a real oddity.

Fast forward eight years and today, Samsung has unveiled the umpteenth iteration of its Note smartphone and while my time with the device was brief, I can say that the Note 10 the best Note yet. There’s almost nothing to fault about the Note 10. It seems Samsung has perfected the process of improving on the Note series to an art with each device being appreciably better than the one it replaces.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

For the first time, there will be two variants on offer, a 6.3-inch Note 10 and a 6.8-inch Note 10+. Typical of the breed, everything you get in the Note 10 series in the best that Samsung has to offer. This includes the best displays, the best cameras and the best processors with battery capacities to match.

In a nutshell, here’s a comparison between the Note 10 and Note 10+:

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

There’s not much splitting the two other than price, display size, camera and battery capacity. The distinction is done deliberately create a reasonable entry point for those who want a device with the capabilities of a Note but are not keen on forking a large amount of money just to give it a try.

The Note 10 was created specifically for that role while the Note 10+ with its larger display (the largest ever featured on a Note) and large battery is created for the Note power user.

Large display, small body

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The device feels really good in the hand. Something you can always expect from a Note. One of the first things you’ll notice about the device is that it feels light, lighter than what you expect it to be, given the size.

In terms of size, while the Note 10+ is the largest Note phone that Samsung has ever released, you certainly don’t feel it when you hold it. This is no surprise as the Note 10+ with its thinner bezels an Infinity-O display shares the same footprint as the Note 9. But the benefits of the bigger display are immediately appreciated especially when you’re using the device with the S Pen.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The display on the Note 10 is everything you can expect from a flagship a Samsung device. To trim the bezels down the front camera of the Note 10 is now housed in a hole located on the top-centre embedded right into the display. The viewing experience is what I can describe as immersive and full. Even with the smaller 6.3-inch Note 10, watching videos is a satisfying to experience.

The 6.8-inch display on the Note 10+ is the largest Samsung has featured in a Note. It has a screen to body ratio of over 94%. The bezels are so thin that the device doesn’t appear to have an earpiece at all.

Samsung designed the symmetrical infinity-o display with its punch-hole camera located right in the top middle to create a design element that sets the Note 10 apart from other devices but personally, I prefer the off-centre punch-hole design you get on the Galaxy S10 simply because I think it gives off an industrial vibe.

Stereo speakers tune by AKG

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The Note 10 carries on the stereo speakers tuned by AKG like its predecessor, the Note 9 and like its predecessor the sound staging is not symmetrical, meaning one side of the stereo sound will be softer than the other.

In this case, the top speaker is softer than the bottom firing one. However, the difference in volume no is not as noticeable like it was on the Note 9. Thanks in part, to an addition speaker orifice placed on the top frame of the device allowing for a bigger driver and as a result a louder speaker.

Though I would still like to have the stereo speakers that puts out the same volume on both sides simply because it makes a huge deal especially when watching videos and considering that the display on the Note 10 is probably the best smartphone displays Samsung has ever made, not having proper stereo speakers with the volume to match is a bit of a lost opportunity to turn the Note 10 into a proper powerhouse.

Colour choices

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The Note 10 and 10+ will be offered in a selection of standard colours like blue and pink but it will also come in a selection of what a Samsung calls “prismatic” colours, a pallet first seen on the Galaxy S10 and S10+. Samsung says that the colour theme resonates well with users hence Samsung are bringing the same colour effect to the Note 10 family.

Three will be available across the Note 10 and 10+ – Aura Glow, Aura Black and Aura White, however Samsung Malaysia has not yet confirmed which colours will be available locally.

Aura Glow is the hero colour and my favourite. It has a pearl-like effect that changes colour depending on how the light hits it. The way I would describe it is like how the surface of a soap bubble changes colour slightly depending on which angle you view it. It’s quite mesmerising to see and one that fits the design language of the Note 10 very well.

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A better S Pen

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

A Note is not a Note if it weren’t for the S Pen, the stylus that seemed out of place in the first Note has now been thoroughly enhanced. The latest version in the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ gets a unibody construction and now uses a Lithium-Titanate battery that’s charges faster and lasts longer.

In the hands, the new S Pen doesn’t feel any different from the one that comes with the Note 9 but you can certainly do more with it. Samsung realised that Note users are using the S Pen for more than just writing and because of that they brought a whole host of new and more advanced S Pen features specific for the Note 10.

You can now edit and reformat your scribbles, elements like colour and size of your writing can be changed after the fact. This may sound like a minor enhancement but it’s a huge deal for diligent notetaker as it allows you to better manage your notes.

You can also now digitise your handwriting and export it direct to PDF as well as Microsoft Word. This is possible through deep learning and handwriting analysis from the many years of Note users using the device as a writing pad. The digitising is done in real-time.

Do more with the S Pen

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The Note 9 introduced an S Pen that can work as a remote allowing you to take pictures and flick through slides by pressing the button on the S Pen.

With the Note 10 this is enhanced further with gestures – Samsung calls it “Air Action”. Now, not only can you take pictures and flick through slides using the S Pen but you can use gestures to do more. A swipe up with the S Pen in the camera app for example, activates the front camera while a circular clockwise motion zooms the camera and a circular motion in the opposite direction zooms out.

Air Action works when you’re watching videos or listening to music too. A swipe to the right with the S Pen takes you to the next track while a swipe to the left takes you to the previous track. A swipe up increases the volume and to decrease the volume, you simply swipe down.

It’s a novel innovation and one that I can see many will be using regularly. Note users are a curious bunch. While a majority agree that having a stylus is a major appeal for using a Note, only a third actually use it on a regular basis. Having functions like Air Action built into the S Pen makes it immensely more versatile and useful, which in turn, encourages more people to use it.

The Air Action gestures and what they do are fully customisable as well so you can set it up to do exactly what you want it to. Samsung will also make the “Air Action” SDK available to developers allowing them to include the feature into their apps and even games.

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AR Doodle

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Another notable feature of the Note 10 is AR Doodle. The new S Pen also allows you to draw and scribble right onto video while you’re recording them. With the power of AR, you can add design element into video recordings in real time and manipulate the elements in 3D space. It’s an interesting feature that, while I have very little use for, I’m sure many will find fun to use.

A more integrated Dex

A big part of the appeal of the Note 10 for me is the new Dex. Dex is now an integrated experience and works seamlessly in the Windows or Mac environments. Where previously Dex acts like a stand-alone application that replicates as desktop environment, the new Dex allows you to access files and reply to messages on the Note 10 seamlessly in Windows or Mac. Essentially, Dex now works like a companion app that connects the Note to your computer. You can also drag and drop files from your computer right into the Note 10 via Dex.

Work with what you have and make it better

Like Friends, the Note series gets better as it progressed. Better features were introduced with each new iteration. While it’s very easy to put every conceivable feature into a device, Samsung has refined the process to an art adding only meaningful enhancements to the Note 10 series.

At the end of the Note 10 and Note 10+ continues a strong tradition you’ve come to expect from the Note series. That is to say all the latest and best in hardware, software and feature. There is indeed very little to fault with the latest Note.

While the Note 10 and Note 10+ loses out on some huge fan favourites like expandable memory (in the case of the Note 10) and the headphone jack, these shortcomings do not take away what the Note 10 is capable of.

But…with the plethora of cheap and very capable smartphones available in the market right now, is being great enough? It’s no secret that interest in high-end devices is seeing a decline with consumers gravitating more towards cheap and good phones rather than expensive flagships. 

Does the Note 10 have what it takes to reignite the market’s interest in high-end devices? It’s hard to say. Maybe, if the price is right. But what the Note series has going for it is that with the Note, Samsung has successfully crafted a niche that it now owns.

Where eight years ago, Samsung was criticised for creating the Note because of its unusually large form-factor, large display devices now dominate the market, so much so that even Apple jumped onto the bandwagon. We have the Note to thank for that.

In that respect, the Note has been revolutionary, and Samsung has continued a steady pace of innovation with the Note throughout the years with much success. However, now, the Note could be facing one of its toughest challenges yet. Can it compete with itself?


Amin Ashaari