Samsung Galaxy Note10+ Review

Display & Audio

The Note series traditionally has had the best display in a smartphone, and by every conventional metric, the display on the Note10+ excels – it’s got excellent vibrancy, contrast, resolution and brightness, is colour accurate and even HDR10+ certified. It is without a doubt an absolute joy to look at. The only notable omission from the display is a high refresh rate.

At this point you are either nodding your head in agreement or clueless as to what I am talking about, so I shall explain for the sake of the latter audience. A high refresh rate display – that is, higher than the conventional 60Hz – makes animations appear smoother, giving the impression of superior speed and responsiveness. Such a technology has been mainstream in the gaming industry for a long time, but has only recently started to trickle down to tablets and smartphones. If you’ve ever noticed how an iPad Pro’s display appears “smoother” than that of a regular iPad’s, that would be because the former has a higher refresh rate. Granted, high refresh rate is still a nascent technology in the smartphone industry and has yet to go mainstream, so it is likely that the majority of consumers will not notice or care about its absence on the Note10+. Still, with companies like OnePlus pushing out devices with 90Hz (Samsung-made) displays like the OnePlus 7 Pro and 7T, I would expect this technology to become mainstream by next year, and would be surprised if Samsung does not include it in its S11 or Note11 series of phones. 

It is worth noting that the other thousand-dollar phone, the brand-new iPhone 11 Pro, also does not have a high refresh rate display, so Samsung isn’t losing out to Apple on this front at least.

Moving on to other aspects of the display, Samsung has opted for a “hole-punch” cutout for its front camera, what it dubs the Infinity-O display. Unlike the S10 series of phones which have the cutout on the upper right side of the display, the Note10+ has opted to have it in the centre, so symmetry is restored. I do not mind this implementation – Samsung has even made the cutout smaller compared to the S10 series – and I find it to be less intrusive than the “teardrop” notch on my OnePlus 6T.

The move to an Infinity-O display has allowed Samsung to stretch the screen edge-to-edge, drastically increasing the diagonal size to 6.8” up from the 6.4” of the Note9 while maintaining roughly the same physical dimensions of the phone. This, coupled with the miniscule bezels around the display – just look at the difference between it and my OnePlus 6T – makes for an all-screen look and a truly immersive experience. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Samsung will embrace a fully notchless design next year; it’s already experimenting with swivel cameras on its A series of phones.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this immersive display. Other than the aforementioned accidental presses, the single hole-punch means that Samsung has had to leave out things like the iris scanner and notification LED present on the Note9 (though I doubt they will be missed); and while Samsung has still managed to provide stereo audio via the earpiece doubling as a speaker, the thin slit design of the earpiece is probably to blame for the fact that the back of the phone vibrates slightly when playing audio – not a deal-breaker, but it is noticeable. The curved screen also means my usual complaint of light catching on the curve when watching video.

Speaking of audio, the Dolby enhanced stereo speakers on the Note10+ are excellent. They are loud and clear, and even though one of the speakers is sideways-firing when the phone is in landscape, I could hardly tell given the rich stereo separation. There is no 3.5mm audio jack on the phone, but Samsung provides a good pair of AKG USB-C earphones in the box, and I guess it was about time. Some argue that this omission is a slap in the face especially for Note owners – who are all about that no-compromise lifestyle – but I personally cannot understand the fuss over the culling of jacks. Jack is dead, so buy a pair of Bluetooth earphones or use the included USB-C ones, and get over it.

Under the display is the ultrasonic fingerprint reader. While most early reviewers criticised its poor speed and accuracy, Samsung has drastically improved its performance in a software update in August. The fingerprint reader is now the best under-display unit that I’ve used; it’s extremely fast and accurate and I have absolutely no complaints.

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