Maybe it isn’t the worst thing that the pricey new Galaxy Note 10 flagship smartphones that Samsung unveiled today at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center arrive with relatively little fanfare, notwithstanding the NBA venue.
The Note 10 and Note 10+ hit stores on Aug. 23 at starting prices around $950 and $1,100, respectively, with a 5G 10+ version exclusive (for now) to Verizon starting at $1,300. (Preorders begin just after midnight, Aug. 8.)
The latest devices are surely state of the art, with robust specs (bigger battery, more memory) and vivid stand-out near-edge to edge displays, with reduced bezels and a tiny cutout for the front camera.
But at first glance what Samsung brings here are mostly incremental feature upgrades that frankly aren’t likely to wow anybody. And regrettably Samsung is following the lead of Apple in removing the standard headphone jack, though AKG USB-C headphones are included in the box.
High-priced phones are a consumer turnoff
I keep coming back to price. The new Notes are expensive, but no less so than Apple’s rival iPhones will probably cost when they likely surface next month. Hard as it may be to get you to part with four digits to pay for a premium smartphone, at least Samsung isn’t asking you to fork over nearly two grand like it is for the Galaxy Fold that, following a lengthy delay caused by display issues, goes on sale in September.
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Still, consumers are understandably reluctant to pay even half as much as the Fold for a phone, even with monthly payment options and trade-in deals that help cushion sticker shock. Just ask Apple.
Notes have a fiery past
The Note used to be the Samsung flagship that appeared to stretch and test the boundaries of what consumers might want – that designation, for better or worse, is now foisted on the Fold.
For their part, Galaxy Notes have had quite the history since the original burst onto the scene in 2011. That Note was the first handset to popularize the now common phablet phone category, so named because the devices fit somewhere between a large-display smartphone and small screen tablet. Enticed by their relatively mammoth screens and S Pen stylus, Samsung’s Note customers became its most loyal.
That loyalty was famously put to the test just three years ago when some batteries on the Note 7 caught fire forcing Samsung to eventually kill the model. The Note faithful stuck with the company.
Large screens, modest-sized form factor
The new Note 10 has a lovely 6.3-inch display and Note 10+ a ginormous 6.8-inches, the first time Samsung has brought out new Notes in two sizes. For comparison purposes – that original Note had a 5.3-inch display.
Today’s there’s a plethora of rival phones with generous screen sizes, and Samsung’s own Galaxy S10+ that came out in March has a 6.4-inch screen, and the S10+ 5G, a massive 6.7-inch display.
I do credit Samsung for managing to squeeze the larger 10+ display, the biggest ever on a Note, onto a device that is thinner and lighter than the Galaxy Note 9 and only a tad wider. The Note 9 also had a 6.4-inch display.
Improved S Pen stylus
The Note differentiator compared to the Galaxy S series devices continues to be the S Pen, and on the Note 10’s Samsung has made some modest improvements to its stylus.
Through Bluetooth Low Energy “Air action” gestures, you can control music playback or the camera from a distance – hold down a button on the pen and rotate it to have the camera on a tripod zoom, for example. Samsung is also opening up this S Pen gesture capability to developers.
When you jot notes on the screen with the S Pen, something you could always do, you can now convert that handwriting to text and export the results to the Microsoft Word.
In a brief test, the phone recognized and correctly converted even my lousy handwriting, missing only on the spacing between two words.
You can also use the S Pen to help you do more precise video editing.
Samsung also made it easier to connect the Notes to a Windows PC and to highlight his company’s collaboration with Microsoft, Samsung executive DJ Koh was joined on the Brooklyn stage by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
New camera features
On the video front, Samsung has added a Live Focus Video feature the company says will add depth-of-field enhancements to blur the background and let you focus on your main subject. A new zoom-in mic will help amplify the audio to whoever or whatever is in the frame, potentially useful if say you’re recording musicians in a smallish venue.
There’s also a new augmented reality doodle feature that will let you draw silly faces on top of a person, and a 3D scanner to capture objects you might later print on a 3D printer.
And Samsung says it has added a night mode feature to the front camera for shooting selfies in dim light.
It’s premature to tell how well any of these features will fare, or how the Note 10 camera measures up to other Samsung devices or the strong smartphone cameras on Apple, Google, Huawei and OnePlus handsets.
Samsung will tell you that productivity-oriented Note customers tend to prioritize battery above all else and the Note 10+ battery is larger than the one in the Note 9, despite the similar form factor. The phones are capable of fast charging, with the Note 10+ able to last through the day, Samsung says, after only a half hour of charging, provided you step up to an optional higher capacity charger.
As with other recent Samsung phones, you can wirelessly charge accessories such as a Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Buds by placing them on top of the Notes.
The Note also has the “ultrasonic” fingerprint sensor embedded underneath the screen that uses soundwaves to identify your finger. The feature debuted on the S10 line but wasn’t super reliable; hopefully that changes on the Note 10s.
The latest devices bump up the memory – 8GB for the Note 10, 16GB for the 10+ – and base storage (256GB for the Note 10; 256GB/512GB for the Note 10+). But only the Note 10+ lets you bolster the storage through microSD.
The phones come in Aura Black, Aura White and Aura Glow (a prismatic effect), with an Aura Blue version exclusive to Best Buy and Samsung.com in the U.S.
We’ll be putting the new Notes through its paces in the coming weeks.
Readers, Would you consider buying the Note 10s? Share your thoughts. Email: email@example.com; Follow @edbaig at Twitter