Galaxy Note 10 Hands-on: minimalistic aesthetics with new note-taking features for loyalists

Samsung seemingly had little leeway for improvement with the Galaxy Note 10 amid a saturated smartphone market; but in terms of design -- which duly deserves the "bezel-less" title -- and new note-taking features for brand loyalists, it has pulled it off.

To 5G or not to 5G? Galaxy Note 10 delivers 'extremely capable upgrade' for business users Samsung just announced its Galaxy Note series update with the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus. Expected internal updates were made, along with improvements to the S Pen capability and camera functionality. Read more: https://zd.net/2ZGxFST

It was never a question for me whether I would buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, being a proud owner of the Galaxy Note 8 for almost two years, because I really love the S-Pen stylus. I did hope, however, that the company would at least impress me a little with its new offering instead of taking my loyalty for granted.

But the Galaxy Note 9 had me worried; it offered little design changes to the Note 8 and the company added AR features that seemed to lean more on the 'fun' side of the device that I could care less for compared to the 'productivity' side that I was interested in.

At least in its first impression, the Galaxy Note 10 series -- as it now offers a 6.8-inch Plus model and a 6.3-inch smaller version -- has quelled my fears and delivers the upgrade that loyal Note fans will appreciate if they migrate.

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The Galaxy Note 10

A beautiful, minimalistic rectangle

The word bezel-less has been thrown around a lot lately by smartphone makers, but the Note 10 is arguably the first one that really, almost delivers. A Samsung representative said the screen takes up 94.2% of the front of the phone, but in the case of the Note 10, that number doesn't do it justice. The side bezels are barely noticeable -- almost a black outline -- and the top and bottom ones are really there to remind you that you are holding a smartphone.

The sides of the back cover of the phone, which folds upward to meet the curved screen of the front, have also been changed to more straight than the formerly circular design. I've always preferred the Note series' rectangular aesthetics over the S series' curvatures because it fit well with the productivity theme of the former, and this slight change accentuates that well and has seemed to be purposely done to differentiate the two brands. In other words, the Note 10 stays true to the series' aesthetic core but fine-tunes as well.

See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus vs Note 9: Is it worth the upgrade?  

The hole on the screen, where the front camera is located, now sits squarely at the top-center of the device, which Samsung says was done to improve selfie-taking and differs from the Galaxy S10 which has it at the top right side. The punch-in-hole design is relatively new so it remains to be seen whether the change will carry over to the Galaxy S11, but having the hole at the center does give it added attention. The back cameras are now placed vertically at the side unlike the S10's horizontal position. Overall, these minor changes seem to have been done to remind users that it's a Note and not an S series smartphone. So bravo Samsung, you've tried, and the changes are neither bad nor amazing.

Photographs don't necessary capture the Aurora color schemes well, which are gorgeous. Samsung first introduced this glossy feeling with the S6 series and its overall efforts since then have been on toning this down. The Note 10's display is the best so far in terms of the glossiness seeming measured.

Cynics will say every smartphone looks the same these days, which are just screens on a rectangle. The Note 10 falls squarely in that definition, but proudly so, and it's also a triumph in minimalist aesthetics that will give Apple a run for its money too.

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Note users can now covert memos into Microsoft Word files.

S Note text conversion to Microsoft Word

Users can now convert their handwriting on memos to text and this is by far the best addition to the Note series. The best among them is that you can now convert S Notes into Microsoft Word. Samsung says it supports 62 languages. The feature is easy to use and offered on the utility bar when using the S Note app.

The South Korean tech giant says it used thousands of samples for its algorithms on handwriting recognition, so for those with bad handwriting like myself, this is good news. I've tried the feature out writing Korean, English and some Chinese, and unless I was intentionally writing badly, the conversion worked relatively smoothly.

I've always instinctively used the S-Pen more than using the on-screen keyboard and my thumbs for on-the-go memos. This feature really adds utility and expandability to the stack of memos that I am sure most Note users already have. And obviously, this goes well with Samsung's partnership with Microsoft and increases the usability of Samsung DeX so workers can convert their workstation from their smartphones to notebooks to desktops smoothly, or use them in unison. It would depend on usage but the new feature has plenty of growth potential. I can see the next iteration of the Galaxy Note or an update of the Note app that will provide support for more text formats, such as direct conversions of memos to chat messages on WhatsApp or KakaoTalk.

The handwriting recognition is currently only on-device and neither has AI-level processing power or connection to the cloud. Integrating those areas could possibly allow for real-time conversion of memos to texts as they are being jotted down or the writing being shown on a big screen with participants in a conference. It's food for thought for now.

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Samsung has launched two versions of the Galaxy Note 10 which seems to be its plan to offer 5G customers more options at the year's end.

Image: Samsung

Will smaller model, 5G and loyalists save the day?

For the first time in the Note series, Samsung is offering the phone in two sizes: the 6.8-inch Galaxy Note 10 Plus and the 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 10. Despite the naming, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus is really the successor to the series' previous generation offerings and I feel most Note fans will be drawn to the bigger screen size.

The "regular" 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 10 does have some saving qualities though; despite the screen size, which is the same as the Note 8 and only slightly smaller than the Note 9's 6.4-inch, the phone looks surprisingly compact in real life and is very light to carry. Samsung says the new iteration was designed to introduce the S-Pen experience to new users, and if that is the goal post, it does its job. It's doubtful however that the new screen size will help the company sell more than 10 million units -- the traditional sales figure for the series.

See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 - 5 big questions to answer before you buy

The Galaxy Note 8 was one of Samsung's best sellers due to it soaking up the customers on stand-by after the Note 7 debacle so the Note 10 does theoretically have more customers in waiting compared to the Note 9 as it didn't have many customers ending their 2-year contracts. 

The 5G version is very expensive and will likely not be an immediate draw for customers, even among loyalists. Samsung seems to have intentionally set the price high with subsidies and drops in prices to come in a few months' time in mind. Remember there is only a limited number of 5G smartphones available so the plan seems to be to secure the early adopters, then offer two choices during the holiday season when phone prices plummet. With only a limited number of handsets on deck for customers, having a Note 10 Plus and a regular Note will seem like the option for most. 

Overall, the fourth quarter will decide whether this strategy works, coupled with the Galaxy Fold that will be launched at that time. And Samsung needs the boost as its second quarter earnings show.

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