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(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung Galaxy Note has always been a big phone. Yes, the original launched in 2011 with a 5.3-inch screen had a huge display, considering that the HTC Sensation XL launched the same year was only 4.7-inches.

In recent years the tables have turned, all phones are big and the Note's distinctive feature is no longer its size - but the S Pen functions it supports.

That makes the Note 10 even more interesting, because Samsung is now offering a smaller Note alongside the larger Note 10+. So how does the smaller Note perform?

Our quick take

A smaller Galaxy Note may have some appeal for those who have always wanted the S Pen, but have always been put off by the sheer size of the Note. It's now more compact, but does perhaps offer a more affordable Note model to choose alongside the Note 10+. 

There are some compromises along the way though: this smaller Note 10 isn't the spec-busting powerhouse that Note phones have been before, stepping down in a couple of areas along the way.

On the whole though, this device of firsts has a lot of appeal. It still offers that S Pen experience while offering plenty of power in a package that's now a little more pocketable.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 initial review: A smaller Note experience

Samsung Galaxy Note 10


A Galaxy Note, but more compact

  • 151.0 x 71.8 x 7.9mm, 168g
  • IP68 water protection
  • In-display fingerprint scanner

The Galaxy Note 10 now sits alongside the Galaxy Note 10+. Just to explain how these two phones fit together, the regular Note 10 is the smaller version, while the Note 10+ is the larger. This is really a new addition to the family, while the Note 10+ continues on from the Note 9 and previous handsets. 

With that you get the same design as the larger model, using a fusion of metal and glass with an IP68 waterproofing level. It comes in a range of colours (depending on your region), all with a glossy glass finish.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Note 10 image 9

The Note 10 has squarer corners than the Galaxy S10, partly to accommodate the S Pen that slides into the body, but it still carries that Infinity Display, in this guise as Infinity-O, with a single front camera in the centre. 

Around the back you'll notice that there's no fingerprint sensor as this is now an ultrasonic unit under the display at the front as we saw in the Galaxy S10 models.

Smaller, lighter and more compact, this is a Galaxy Note that's going to be easier to slip into your pocket or bag, while still giving you access to all those S Pen features - and of course, coming in at a slightly lower price than the Note 10+. If you've always wanted a Note, but have considered it to be too large, this could be the phone for you.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Note 10 image 11

It feels like a great size for a phone, but at the same time it's very close to the Galaxy S10. The display is slightly larger, with an increase in screen to body ratio, pushing those bezels back a little further compared to the older phone.

One thing you'll notice isn't there is the 3.5mm headphone socket. Samsung has finally dropped that connection on the Note (on both models), but is offering AKG-tuned Dolby Atmos speakers, so at least you'll get good sound from the phone itself.

A new S Pen 

  • Unibody S Pen design
  • 6-axis motion sensing
  • Bluetooth low energy 

With any story about the Galaxy Note, it would be remiss not to talk about the S Pen. It is, after all, the S Pen that really sets this phone aside from other members of the Galaxy family - and if you're not interested in using it, you can save yourself some money getting one of Samsung's regular devices instead

This is a new S Pen. It has a new battery technology inside that will give it 10 hours of life, it charges when you insert it into the phone and it connects via Bluetooth low energy.

That connection provides a range of features and these have expanded over previous versions of the Note. It will give you remote control of things like presentations, but you now get greater motion controls thanks to a new Air Gestures feature.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Note 10 image 2

This will allow you, for example, to switch camera modes or zoom the camera in, using swipes and spirals with the S Pen. That means you can be 10 metres away from your phone and still have controls. It sounds great, but it's perhaps a niche thing as naturally, you'll need something to hold your phone, like a tripod - and how many people actually do that on a regular basis? 

The S Pen is available to third-party developers, so there's every chance that there will be other applications that can make use of the motion detection skills.

There are some greater applications in the phone however. There's a clever AR doodle feature that will let you draw on a video and have those animations stay in place - for example - drawing a moustache on your friend. Samsung Notes is now more friendly with other services, so you can turn your hand-written notes into a Word document or PDF, for example, part of a closer working arrangement between Microsoft and the Galaxy Note. 

For those interested in work, the Note 10 naturally supports DeX, so you can use it to power a desktop display. Otherwise the Note 10 runs on Android Pie with Samsung's One UI interface over the top.

A smaller display

  • 6.3-inch AMOLED display
  • 2280 x 1080 pixels, 401ppi
  • HDR 10+ support

We mentioned that this is a smaller display and it's not just the size that drops - it's the resolution too. That also separates the Note 10 from the Galaxy S10 which has a higher resolution - even if the default is full HD+. Our first impressions are that you can't really tell - although under closer scrutiny that drop in resolution might reveal itself.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Note 10 image 8

It's a move that's likely to have been made to lower the costs in building the phone and bring in a lower price - although some will see this as Samsung moving away from something it has consistently done - offer high resolutions on these flagship devices.

It is, however, an AMOLED display and from what we've seen, it is bright, vibrant and everything you've come to expect from Samsung - including support for HDR content

We've not had the chance to test it to a great extent, so we don't know if the curves will throw up any touch sensitivity issues (which they sometimes do) and we really haven't had the chance to get a feel for how the S Pen fits with a smaller space. It might divide opinion, as we can't help feeling that the larger the space to scrawl, the better.

Hardware with a nod to gaming 

  • Exynos or Qualcomm depending on region
  • 8GB RAM, 256GB storage - no microSD
  • 3500mAh battery with 45W charging 

While the Note 10 will get the same core power as the Note 10+, there will be a drop to 8GB RAM for this version, while storage starts at 256GB. It looks like there's going to be no microSD support on the Note 10, which again is an odd move for a company that's backed microSD widely on devices. 

The actual platform that the phone runs on will depend on the region you live in. For Europe, that's going to be Exynos and there's not going to be a 5G version of this handset Europe, unlike the larger Note 10+. That may differ in other regions - with some devices running on Qualcomm hardware.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Note 10 image 5

We've not been able to test the performance of the phone from the brief time that we've spent with it, but we do know that Samsung is taking gaming more seriously, with a game mode that uses AI to determine exactly what your phone needs optimising. There's also a vapour chamber for cooling when the processor is under load.

There's a 3500mAh battery, smaller than the Note 10+, and again we have no idea what the performance of that battery will be. Samsung's Galaxy S didn't fair so well on battery performance, but there is the promise of faster charging at 45W - although that fast charger is an accessory you'll have to buy. 

Yes, you do get wireless Powershare if you want to share your battery with someone else. 

Note 10 cameras 

  • Main: 12MP, dual aperture f/1.5 + f/2.4, OIS
  • Ultra-wide: 16MP, f/2.2
  • Tele: 12MP, f/2.1 OIS 

There are three cameras on the rear of the Galaxy Note 10 and these broadly reflect those found on the Galaxy S10. It's slightly different to the Note 10+ which includes a fourth DepthVision sensor, but the main cameras are more or less the same.

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In the time we've spent with the Note 10 we've not had the chance to gauge their performance, but we'd expect the same consistently good performance that we've experienced on other Samsung devices in 2019.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Note 10 image 6

It's a good selection of cameras, offering a wide range of shooting options and a nice smooth transition from one to the other. Exactly what difference the lack of the DepthVision sensor will make on the Note 10 compared to the Note 10+ remains to be seen, something we'll examine in more detail when we review the phone.

What's interesting is that neither Note 10 model has two cameras on the front: while the S10+ and the S10 5G both have dual front cameras, Samsung seems to have dropped that, while making the camera hole smaller on the front - perhaps to reduce the impact that it has on the display overall.

To recap

A Note with a smaller screen, but all that S Pen performance. There have been some compromises made to this flagship device to present a smaller model, but in reality, if you've always thought the Note was too big for you - you finally have a smaller and cheaper device to choose.

Writing by Chris Hall.