Tech Guide

Samsung shakes up its Galaxy Note lineup with three new models starting at $950

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 10 lineup — thin, light and powerful
Key Points
  • Samsung just announced the Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note 10+ and Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.
  • They're thin, light and really powerful. There's an option for everyone, as long as you're willing to spend at least $950 on a new phone.
  • It gives Samsung a chance to appeal to phone buyers before Apple's expected iPhone launch in September.

Samsung announced its new lineup of premium smartphones on Wednesday: the Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note 10+ and Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.

This is Samsung's shot to get its latest and greatest phones on the market before Apple launches its new iPhones in the fall. And there's a lot to like, as you're willing to spend at least $950.

The market of people willing to shell out about $1,000 for a phone is shrinking, as many continue to hold on to phones for longer than ever. That means it's important for Samsung to get its new Note phones out the door and appeal to these shoppers before Apple launches its new iPhones in September.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

This is also the first time Samsung has launched more than one model of its fan-favorite Galaxy Note phone, which helps it cater to as many of those buyers as possible. There's a model for people who don't like "huge" phones, there's a big one for power users and there's a 5G variant for folks who want to future-proof for next-generation networks that are beginning to roll out now.

All three phones will be available to order at 12:01 a.m. ET Thursday, and they will be in stores on Aug. 23. The 5G variant will be a Verizon Wireless exclusive to start.

I had a chance to check out Samsung's new phones earlier this week. Here's what you need to know about them.

The Galaxy Note 10

This Galaxy Note 10 has a really unique finish that changes colors in the light.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Galaxy Note 10 is the phone most people should buy.

Samsung's $950 Galaxy Note 10 has a 6.3-inch screen, which is the biggest difference from the 6.8-inch screen on the Galaxy Note 10+. Samsung said it's launching a smaller version in case some customers find the full-sized Note to be too large. And that's a good strategy, since earlier Note phones have felt a bit bulky and heavy. This year, the Galaxy Note 10 feels much lighter and thinner. The phones are still big, but since the screen takes up most of the front of the phone, they don't feel as large as earlier models.

The screen is the one big selling point. It's probably the best on any phone you can buy. It's sharp, colorful and really bright. But so are the screens on most other high-end phones, including Samsung's Galaxy S10 devices that launched earlier this year. Apple's iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max use a similar display technology. The Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ stand out against iPhones by including just a tiny cut-out for the front-camera. The rest of the face of the phone is entirely screen, which means things like videos and photos tend to pop a bit more, since there aren't any big bezels or notches to distract you.

See how this Galaxy Note 10 changed colors in the light?
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The finishes on the phones are gorgeous. These might be the best looking phones on the market, and I particularly like the silver "aura glow" finish that seems to change colors depending on how it catches the light.

There are three cameras on the back, and they seemed pretty good in my short time with them. One gives you 2x optical zoom, another is for wide-angle pictures, which I love since it lets you fit more into a picture. There's also another standard camera which, when used in tandem with the optical zoom lens, lets you shoot portrait pictures. I took a quick one and it looked on a par with what I get from an iPhone XS, but I'll reserve final judgement for a full review.

The S Pen (Don't call it a stylus!) is also improved. I usually like it, but don't find myself using it to write much since it's kind of light and awkward to hold. I like some of the improvements Samsung made to the ergonomics, which make writing a bit more natural. It's a unibody design now, so it feels a bit more sturdy, and it has beveled edges that make it easier to grip. It's still a hair on the tiny side, though. Some new S Pen features coming include gesture support, so you can set up the phone and then control things like the camera's zoom without touching the phone. It's neat, if a bit gimmicky. But Samsung is appealing to its power users who probably like these features.

This Galaxy Note 10 looks silver here.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung has always put a focus on bigger and faster-charging batteries. This year, it removed the standard headphone jack to squeeze in as big of a battery as possible. It says customers can also charge the Galaxy Note 10 fully in about an hour, or get a day's use after it's plugged in for 30 minutes. I love that. The faster a phone charges, the less I have to worry about battery life.

Finally, you'll get four times the storage of an entry-level iPhone. Samsung is shipping the Note 10 with 256GB of storage, which is far more than most people probably need. But there's no microSD card slot, so you can't add more storage as you could with previous Note models.

Galaxy Note 10+

The Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The $1,099 Galaxy Note 10+ is a larger version of Galaxy Note 10, but it has a few important changes that will appeal to hardcore Note fans.

First, it has an even bigger 6.8-inch screen. I'm a fan of big phones, so I love its size. It's also really thin and light, so the phone didn't feel too cumbersome. But it's definitely not a phone for one-handed use. The Note 10+ has a bigger battery and will be available with either 256GB or 512GB of storage, which is a ton. There's also a microSD card slot so you can add even more storage. This is appealing for people who install a lot of games, download a lot of movies and, importantly, shoot a lot of high-res video. And video editing is pretty fun with the S Pen, which made it easier for me to tap in and select specific frames of a shot.

I love this blue color of the Galaxy Note 10+.
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The Galaxy Note 10+ will also include up to 12GB of RAM, compared with 8GB of RAM in the Galaxy Note 10. This should mean smoother performance while running lots of applications at once, including in Samsung's "Dex" desktop environment, which lets you connect a monitor, mouse and keyboard and use the phone as a sort of mini PC. DeX will also let you plug your phone into a PC or Mac and run apps on your phone in a secure windowed environment. Previously, you had to connect it to a display. This has been primarily an enterprise play for Samsung before, but I'm curious to see how well it works after more time with one.

They're much thinner and lighter than ever before.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Note 10+ also has a "time of flight" sensor on the back, which uses light beams to better measure the distance between objects. For now, this is mostly used to take better portrait photos, but it can also enhance augmented reality apps and games. It's not a must-have feature today, but could be useful in the future as more AR apps become available.

The Galaxy Note 10+ otherwise has the same three cameras as the standard version. The S Pen has the same functions as it does on the regular Galaxy Note 10, too.

Galaxy Note 10+ 5G

The Galaxy Note 10+
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Verizon will have an early exclusive on the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G that, as its name implies, supports 5G networks. It's otherwise identical to the Galaxy Note 10+. If you don't think you're going to upgrade your phone for three or four years and have a lot to spend, then this is for you.

But I think most people should probably hold off on buying a 5G phone right now. Verizon said its 5G network will only cover half of the U.S. in 2020 and it currently covers only limited areas in a small number of cities. Verizon will sell the 256GB model for $1,299.99 and the 512GB model for $1,399.99. That's a lot for a 5G phone you can't use in most places yet.

Some final thoughts

The Galaxy Note 10+ and S Pen.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There's much to talk about with these phones, and I'll revisit those topics in my review. The Note 10 and Note 10+ offer pretty much anything you might want out of an Android phone, including things like an in-screen fingerprint reader, fast wireless charging, support for charging other devices wirelessly and water and dust resistance.

Samsung's One UI software is still front and center, and it was a big improvement over older software when it first launched on the Galaxy S10. Still, I prefer Google's own tweaks to Android, which is exclusive to its Pixel phones. Having quick access to Google's "Today" feed with things like news, calendar, travel plans and Google Assistant is more appealing to me than the Samsung's Bixby assistant screen on the Galaxy Note 10. Others may feel differently.

Importantly, the Note 10 and Note 10+ are Samsung's chance to get its absolute best phones out ahead of the new iPhones, which are expected in September. Without knowing much about what Apple has planned, and withholding judgment for our final review, Samsung's Note 10 phones already seem to set a pretty high bar. People who loved earlier Note phones are going to like these a lot.