Don't leave your laptop for a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus just yet

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is an excellent Android phone for business buyers, but its usefulness as a laptop replacement is highly situational.

Don't leave your laptop for a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus just yet Samsung pitches the Note 10 Plus as a laptop replacement for remote and field workers. ZDNet's Bill Detwiler puts that claim to the test. Can it replace his MacBook Air on his next business trip?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus ($1,099) has received rave reviews as a consumer phone. In her review, CNET's Jessica Dolcort described the Note 10 Plus as "the total package and the best phone Samsung's made in years." Business reviews have also been generally positive, although a bit more skeptical about some of the phone's more work-focused features. Writing for ZDNet, Mathew Miller described the Note 10 Plus as "the most capable smartphone available today with lots of appeal to the enterprise user." And in his ZDNet Note 10 Plus review, Jason Cipriani wrote that the "Note 10 Plus has a lot to like," but that there "are a few things I'm not all that sure about yet."

Having used the phone for just over a week, I would agree with all my colleagues. The Note 10 Plus has everything I want in a phone: great performance, plenty of storage, all-day battery life, a bright and beautiful screen, an excellent camera, and the features I expect from a flagship phone (fingerprint/facial recognition, wireless charging, etc.). And of course, there's the Note's signature S Pen Bluetooth stylus, which sets it apart from other handsets and has a new, Air actions motion control feature on the Note 10.

If this was a traditional phone review, I'd write something like, "the Note 10 Plus is an excellent step forward in Samsung's Note line and one of the best Android phones I've tested," and leave it there. But this isn't a typical review.

I haven't been testing the Note 10 Plus from the perspective of an every-day phone consumer, enterprise user, or even a slightly jaded technophile like myself. I've been doing my best to evaluate the phone as a true laptop replacement for remote workers, field personnel, and frequent business travelers, which is how Samsung pitched the new Note 10 line to me and other business journalists at Unpacked. Having heard the same story as far back as 2011 with the Motorola Atrix and as recently as this year with Samsung's own Galaxy Fold, I was a bit skeptical. And after using the phone for a week and testing the Note 10 Plus' many work-friendly features, I'm still convinced that the phone's ability to replace your laptop is situational at best and there's one big reason why.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and 10 Plus

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (left) and Note 10 Plus (right)

Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Galaxy Note 10 Plus is not a PC replacement for office workers

In my ZDNet Monday Morning Opener article about how foldable phones could finally push office workers away from the PC, I outlined five features a phone needs to become a general-computing device for knowledge workers. The Note 10 Plus has all but one:

  1. Hardware on par with today's high-end tablets (CHECK): The Note 10 Plus isn't a replacement for a high-end CAD or video-editing workstation, but it has more than enough power to run standard enterprise productivity software and do basic photo/video work.
  2. Keyboard, mouse/trackpad, and external display support (CHECK): Using Samsung DeX, you can connect the Note 10 Plus to an external display, keyboard, and mouse. With the Note 10 line, Samsung expanded DeX to let you connect the phones to a Windows/macOS desktop or laptop. Using DeX on PC you can share the machine's keyboard, mouse, and screen; drag and drop files between the devices, and copy and paste text between the devices. You can even continue to use the Note 10 as a phone while using DeX.
  3. Constant connectivity and cellular access (CHECK): The Note 10 Plus is a phone, so yeah.
  4. Phone-like form factor and function (CHECK): Again the Note 10 Plus is a phone.
  5. Laptop- or tablet-sized touch display with a stylus (NOPE): Unfortunately, this is where the Note 10, Note 10 Plus, Note 10 Plus 5G, and all smartphones fall short in the laptop replacement game. Maybe it's just me, but I find it frustratingly difficult and painfully slow to create presentations, work with spreadsheets, or write anything longer than a sentence or two, on a screen that's 3 inches wide, especially when the on-screen keyboard is using a third of the display real estate. And yes, I could perform these "creation" tasks using the Note 10 Plus and DeX with a traditional keyboard/mouse/screen setup, but this means I either have to perform these functions only when I'm in the office or carry a laptop with me when I travel...the thing I'm trying to move away from. My primary work computer can't suddenly become dramatically less productive when not connected to an external input source or display.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 DeX Windows 10

A Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus running DeX on a Windows 10 laptop.

Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Galaxy Note 10 Plus could be a laptop replacement for workers who spend most of their time in the field

Just because the Galaxy Note 10 Plus isn't the laptop replacement I've been looking for, it could be the primary computing device for workers who spend most of their time either in the field or moving between branch offices.

I can easily see salespeople using the S Pen to click through the slides of a client presentation on a Note 10 Plus that's connected to a conference room TV.

Regional managers who travel between stores could work directly from their Note 10 Plus provided their company had an external keyboard/mouse/display combo or loaner computer available at each site.

And true field workers who rarely need to type on a keyboard during the day (like officers with the Chicago Police Department, which is running a pilot program with Samsung's DeX in Vehicle solution), could definitely use the Note 10 Plus for most tasks, if their companies take the time to ruggedize the phone...at a $1,099 a device you don't want to drop this thing on a factory floor or have it fall off the back of a truck on a construction site.

Also: Is Galaxy Note 10 the perfect phone for power users? Samsung thinks so

Galaxy Note 10 Plus takes us closer to a post-PC future

In the end, Samsung has taken us one step closer to a fully post-PC world with the Galaxy Note 10 Plus, but we're not there yet. Most office workers will need their desktops and laptops for a while longer. And, I think Samsung seems to agree with me since they announced the Galaxy Book S (a $999 cellular-connected, ARM-based laptop that runs Windows 10) at the same event used to launch the Note 10.

ZDNET'S MONDAY MORNING OPENER

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

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Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (US); Samsung Exynos (Korea)
  • Display: 6.3-inch AMOLED; 2280x1080; 401ppi (Galaxy Note 10); 6.8-inch AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels; 498ppi (Galaxy Note 10 Plus)
  • Operating system: Android 9.0 Pie
  • RAM: 8GB (Note 10); 12GB (Note 10 Plus)
  • Storage: 256GB (Note 10); 256GB/512GB (Note 10 Plus)
  • Cameras: 16MP F2.2 ultra-wide, 12MP 2PD AF F1.5/F2.4 OIS wide-angle, 12MP F2.1 OIS telephoto, 10MP 2PD AF F2.2 front-facing, and VGA DepthVision camera (Note 10 Plus and Note 10 Plus 5G only)
  • Water resistance: IP68 water and dust rating
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0 LE, ANT+, GPS, NFC, MST
  • Sensors (phone): Accelerometer, Barometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Heart Rate Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor, Pressure Sensor
  • Sensors (S Pen): 6-axis sensor with gyro and accelerometer
  • Battery: 3,500mAh (Galaxy Note 10) and 4,300mAh (Galaxy Note 10 Plus)
  • Dimensions and weight: 71.8 x 151.0 x 7.9mm, 168g (Note 10) and 77.2 x 162.3 x 7.9mm, 196g (Note 10 Plus)
  • Colors: Aura Glow, Aura Black, Aura White from carriers. Aura Blue for Note 10 Plus exclusively at Best Buy and Samsung.com