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Samsung's Galaxy Note 10+ is the best Android phone you can buy

VIDEO7:3607:36
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ has powerful cameras — we put them to the test
Key Points
  • Samsung's Galaxy Note 10+ is the best Android phone you can buy. It has a brilliant screen, a beautiful design and lots of fun features packed in.
  • It starts at $1,099, which is expensive for most people. But it offers pretty much anything you could want out of a phone, including great battery life, fast charging, tons of storage and water resistance.
  • It also has Samsung's S Pen stylus for jotting notes and new air gestures that let you control music, the camera and more.

Samsung's $1,099 Galaxy Note 10+ is the best Android phone you can buy. It's packed with everything most people want in a modern flagship device, from a great display to awesome cameras, even if there are a few sacrifices, such as no standard headphone jack.

Samsung and Apple's earnings reports have shown that buyers are reluctant to purchase phones that cost $1,000 or more, instead choosing to hang on to older devices for longer. But there are still buyers in the segment, and for folks who don't want an iPhone, the Galaxy Note 10+ is your best bet.

Here's what you need to know.

What's good

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I love that the sharp and huge display takes up almost the entire front of the phone without a notch like you'd find on the iPhone. (There's a tiny hole for the front-facing camera, but it didn't bother me.) It's definitely the highlight of the phone, and one reason you might consider it over an iPhone.

Also, despite its size, the Galaxy Note 10+ is thin and light. It doesn't feel as bulky as you'd think given the size of the screen. Its size makes it impossible to use with one hand without tweaking the software, but Note fans are used to that.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung's new "Aura Glow" color refracts light in a way that makes it look like a silvery rainbow, which is a nice premium touch despite its tendency to get super greasy and covered with fingerprints. It's the color you should buy if you want one. Just be prepared to constantly wipe it down like I did. Also, it's not as colorful in person as it appears in pictures or video, where the camera seems to pick up the colors better than an eye.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung includes three different cameras on the back. There's a regular camera, a secondary optical zoom camera and a third wide-angle lens that let me fit more of what I was shooting into a picture. I love the wide-angle lens, since it captures so much more than I'm used to and still isn't offered on iPhones. (Although the next iPhone is rumored to have a wide-angle camera.) I compared the regular camera to some of the best on the market, including the OnePlus 7 Pro, Google Pixel 3XL and iPhone XS Max.

The Galaxy Note 10+ was better than the OnePlus 7 Pro, with more accurate colors and sharpness when I snapped pictures of some flowers in my yard. But it fell behind the Pixel 3XL and iPhone XS Max on some pictures.

Here's the iPhone XS Max:

The same flower shot with the iPhone XS Max.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

And here's the Galaxy Note 10+:

A picture of a flower shot by the Galaxy Note 10+.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Yellow flowers popped so much more and looked more like real life on those phones than they did with the Galaxy Note 10+, where they looked a little dark. But the Note 10+ captured really stunning images of dark pink roses:

A picture of a flower shot by the Galaxy Note 10+.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

And of my dog, Mabel:

A picture of my dog Mabel.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Pictures always had lots of detail. The Galaxy Note 10 wasn't as good as the Pixel 3XL or iPhone XS Max at portrait pictures in my tests. It frequently blurred places that shouldn't have been blurred.

The video camera has a lot of new effects too. A new feature tries to blur the background of the subject with a "bokeh" effect. It worked OK, but parts of my hair were still blurry in the shot. The same thing happened when I tried filming in my back yard. Objects such as my grill were in focus, but if I moved suddenly the background came back into focus. The effect wasn't applied evenly at all. (Watch the video review in this story to see the effect in action.)

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ come with a unique new software feature called DeX that previously required you to hook up an external monitor and mouse to use. Now, you can plug the phone right into a PC or Mac and use the apps installed on your phone. In fact, I wrote about half of this review from the phone plugged into my work laptop.

It worked well, and I liked that I could drag and drop images right from the phone to my computer, but found that writing in the web browser had a small delay from when I was typing on my computer, which caused a bunch of typos. The model I tested has 8GB of RAM, but there's also a more expensive 12GB model that may help alleviate the sluggishness.

DeX with the Galaxy Note 10+
Samsung

Microsoft and Samsung partnered on a feature that lets you quickly connect to a Windows computer to send and receive text messages, see the photos on your phone and more. "Link to Windows" is embedded in the notification menu, and you just need to download an app called "Your Phone" to use it. This works with other Android phones too, but they don't have the "Link to Windows" pre-installed, so you need to download the separate Android app first. It worked well, and I liked that I could add images from my computer right into the text chat.

Speaking of computers, the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+ ship with 256GB of storage out of the box, which is more than my MacBook Air. That's plenty of space for movies and games and, if you want more, the Galaxy Note 10+ has a microSD card slot.

Battery life is also really good. I took it off the charger at 1 p.m. with a full battery and, at 7:45 a.m. the next day I still had 18% left. The battery menu said my screen had been on for about 5½ hours, which included playing games, chatting, watching "Dumb and Dumber" and listening to music.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Galaxy Note 10+ fully charges in just an hour thanks to the included 25W charger. But because of the way fast charging works, most of that charging is done even faster. After just 30 minutes, the phone went from 17% to 76% in my tests.

As a reminder, Apple still ships its iPhones with a measly 5W charger, even though they work with faster ones, like the charger that ships with an iPad. Samsung will sell a 45W optional charger that'll help you fill the battery even faster. If you prefer wireless charging, it also supports faster 15W charging, versus 7.5W for an iPhone.

Samsung redesigned the S Pen, its stylus that hides away inside the phone when you don't need it. The pen has a new unibody design with chamfered edges that makes it feel more solid, but it still feels like a relatively simple plastic stylus.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I liked being able to jot down notes on my phone, but I usually prefer just typing them out since I have messy handwriting. It's also supposed to convert your writing to text if you want to export to places such as Microsoft Word.

It didn't understand my handwriting at all.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

But, given my messy handwriting, a note that said "Hey buy lunch today" came out as "Hey bu y)inch today." If I'm going to use this, it needs to be perfect every time, and my handwriting is just too messy. You can see another example in the photo above.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The S Pen also supports a new feature called Air Gestures so you can flip the camera from front-facing to rear-facing, zoom in and more. I liked that I could also use it to adjust the volume of a movie I was watching without touching the screen.

Finally, the Galaxy Note 10+ is still water resistant, so it can be dropped in a pool without being damaged. I ran it under the sink and it was just fine, which means you won't have to worry if you get caught in a downpour.

What's bad

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung introduced its software called One UI on earlier devices such as the Galaxy S10. It's a vast improvement over Samsung's old TouchWiz software, but it lacks some of the special features Google makes such as call screening, which is exclusive to Pixel phones. While Samsung is good at providing security updates, it's slow in offering the latest version of Android. Google will launch Android 10 in the fall, but Note 10 owners probably shouldn't expect it until a year from now.

The Bixby panel isn't very useful, I prefer the Google Today feed on a Pixel.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I also still don't like Bixby. It's Samsung's assistant and can be used to control the phone by voice. That's useful if you want to dim the display or open a Spotify playlist, but there are other aspects that aren't good. The Bixby panel on the left side of the screen, for example, is a clunky user interface for widgets that aren't useful. By default, there are widgets for various theme stores and things I don't want to buy. The only ones I like are calendar and weather, and I ended up just turning it off completely. I prefer the much more useful Google implementation with the Google Today Feed, which shows news stories it knows I'm interested in, details on my upcoming flights, the weather, traffic and more, all in a much cleaner user interface. Samsung should just use that.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It doesn't bother me that there isn't a headphone jack on the Galaxy Note 10 or Galaxy Note 10+. I switched to Bluetooth headphones long ago. But Note fans are particularly vocal and upset that Samsung removed it, as I saw in the comments in our YouTube video for the Galaxy Note 10 hands-on.

People still want this, but Samsung removed the headphone jack to make room for a larger battery. It includes a set of good headphones in the box, but they use USB-C, which means you can't charge with a cable and listen to music at the same time. You can, however, charge wirelessly while listening to tunes. Also, Samsung does not include a dongle to add support for traditional headphones.

Should you buy it?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+
Todd Haselton | CNBC

If you love the Galaxy Note family, the Galaxy Note 10+ is a no-brainer. I haven't spent enough time with the regular Galaxy Note 10, but the smaller size is compelling. I love the fast charging, the huge screen, the good battery life, solid cameras, fun S Pen and first-class design. It's a great phone.

If you're just a huge Android fan, you might want to wait until October when Google announces the Pixel 4 to see what it offers. As for iPhone owners: If you're tied into Apple's ecosystem of apps, TV, Apple News and iMessage, it's hard to leave, and you might want to see what Apple introduces in September when the new iPhones are expected.

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