Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs Galaxy Note 9: What’s new? Worth an upgrade?
That new design
Depending on which side of the fence you sit, the old Galaxy Note 9 and Note 8 might look anywhere between “meh” and “plain ugly” to you. Their design just took the shape of the Galaxy S line from their respective year and made it more rectangular.
The Note 10 devices, on the other hand, have branched off from that formula and come with their own, unique look. We’d say it certainly looks fresh, futuristic, and is an improvement over last year’s Note. Still, some might find its central-placed camera punch-hole on the display to be off-putting, or the side-placed vertical camera module on the back to be asymmetrical and un-Samsung-like. Beauty is, indeed, subjective and all we can do is point your attention towards these details.
It’s definitely worth noting (he-he) that this year, we get two models of the Galaxy Note. The non-plus version is actually something that a certain section of the die-hard fans have been dreaming about for some years now — a compact (comparatively speaking) Samsung phone equipped with an S Pen. Indeed, the regular Galaxy Note 10 is about the size of the regular Galaxy S10 from earlier this year, which is pretty cool!
There are also new colors. As gradients are today’s top trend, Samsung decided to release the new Aura Glow, which is more of a “chameleon”, moving swiftly through a few different shades as the light hits it from different angles. If you are into flashy handsets, it’ll be hard for any of the Note 9’s variations to beat that one. For fans of more subdued tones, there still are Aura Black and Aura White, which are both much less flashy than their naming scheme suggests.
So, the Note 10 line definitely has more going for it in the design department than the previous models. Let’s move on.
Hardware and camera
Depending on which region of the world you live in, your Note 10 and Note 10+ will come with either a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor or a home-made Samsung Exynos 9825 SoC. The former is for US-bound Notes, while the latter will be available in international markets.
Both chips are built on a 7 nm process and both show a lot of prowess. The Snapdragon 855 is already tried-and-tested on a number of flagship phones that launched this year, all of which showed stellar performance in real-life use. The Exynos line is usually frowned upon as slightly inferior, but Samsung has been very proudly pumping us up about this new model and we are willing to give the 9825 the benefit of the doubt — let it prove itself first.
One point that will certainly irk the passionate fan is that the small Note 10 does not have the QHD+ (1440 x 3040) resolution, especially since Samsung has been doing QHD for years now. Instead, its screen “only” has 1080 x 2280 pixels (FHD+), which one would argue is a bit stingy at the price of $950. On a 6.3-inch display, this still does make for a density of 400 pixels-per-inch, so we do think it wouldn’t be a problem in everyday use. The only time it might feel like a downgrade is when you are using VR goggles with your phone.
The new Notes also have the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the display. So, say hello to front-mounted fingerprint scanning, something that was sorely missed for the past couple of years.
All that said, last year’s Note 9 is powered by — of course — last-gen hardware. That being the Snapdragon 845 in the US and Exynos 9810 for the rest of the world. Both variants have proven that they have the chops to deal with anything you throw at them. So, while technically “old hardware”, the Note 9 is perfectly capable of providing a flagship experience even today, no worries. If you go back even further to a Note 8, you will definitely see a drop in performance, so if you have one of the 2-year old Notes, we’d suggest you consider an upgrade.
Where the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ truly shine is their internal storage. Last year’s Note 9 offered 128 GB for the starting price of $999. This year’s Note 10 starts at $949 for a 256 GB model. There’s still a negative, though — these small Note 10 units will not have a microSD card slot. If you want that, you’ll need to splurge for the bigger Note 10+, but at least it also starts at 256 GB.
On paper, the battery capacities look vastly different. The Note 10 comes with a 3,500 mAh cell, the Note 10+ has a 4,300 mAh one. But we wouldn’t go and thrash the Note 10 just yet — the Galaxy S10 had a 3,400 mAh juice box and it did just fine in day-to-day use. Chances are, the Note 10 will surprise us with pretty respectable battery life, especially since it only needs to power a 1080p screen. For comparison’s sake — the Note 9 had a 4,000 mAh cell, so this year’s Note 10+ is a tiny upgrade over that.
In terms of camera, you get a slight upgrade. The Note 9 already had a stellar setup, with a 12 MP main camera and a 12 MP telephoto one for portraits. The Note 10 adds a third, ultra-wide camera with a 16 MP sensor for those big landscape shots or action snaps. The Note 10+ does one better with its own “DepthVision Camera” — yet another sensor added whose sole purpose is to help with object detection and better 3D space scans. In other words, it’s there to improve the performance of Augmented Reality apps and Portrait Mode edge detection.
So, while the Note 10 and Note 10+ certainly continue to evolve the Samsung hardware, we’d say the Note 9 can still hold its own pretty well. Unless you truly demand an ultra-wide-angle camera or a depth-detection sensor that is. Hey, at least the Note 9 has a QHD resolution screen, which is not something the Note 10 can say for itself.
UI and S Pen
Samsung’s One UI has been pretty uniform over the past year. Sammy made it its mission to get its software under control and have it look and perform similarly across its different device lines and generations, which is pretty respectable. In other words, we expect the Note 10’s software to be extremely close to what you can get on the Note 9 or even the Note 8 right now.
Now that this is covered, Samsung is focusing on services. DeX has been upgraded with a new feature, called “DeX for PC”. This time around, you’re not using an external display — you plug in the Note 10 directly into a computer, mac, or laptop. From there, you can drag and drop files straight from one device to the other as well as mirror your phone’s screen on the PC and use your apps with a keyboard and mouse. Additionally, there’s a new “Link to Windows” feature, which allows your Note 10 to wirelessly stream notifications, text messages, and even recent photos straight to your desktop.
We would hope for some of these features to become available on “older” top-tier Sammy phones via software updates — the Galaxy S10 line is certainly still very much in fashion and deserving of these, and the Note 9 and S9 are definitely not lagging behind by that much.
The one new thing that does look like that it might remain a Note 10 exclusive is the new Air Actions for the S Pen. Basically, you have 5 different S Pen actions that the phone can read, which are fully customizable. Waving the pen in a horizontal or vertical fashion, rotating it, or pressing its one button once or twice can all be programmed to perform different functions on the phone. This is basically an evolution of the Note 9’s S Pen, which could also be used as a remote control but in a more limited fashion — you only got to press the S Pen button and its functions were pre-programmed and limited to media / presentation playback or a camera shutter trigger.
The new Note 10 and Note 10+ have a lot of allure to them. Samsung sure knows how to make a promising and desirable Android flagship. They are super stylish, extremely powerful, and come with a bunch of nifty features.
However, if you step back a bit… no, a bit further — yeah, that’s the spot. And now, if you look at the whole picture, they are not that much of an upgrade over the Note 9. They are certainly and most definitely nice, but your good ol’ Note 9 still has a lot to give!
Now, if you happen to hate the look of the 2018 Notes, if you really, really want an ultra-wide-angle camera, if you want a cute and compact phone that still rocks an S Pen, or you crave that PC integration and don’t want to wait and see if it will come to your phone via an update — then yeah, there’s some reasoning to get the Note 10 or Note 10+.
And for those of you that are on a Note 8 or something around that generation, we’d say — it’s worth an upgrade!