The best big phones on the market are getting an upgrade.
At an event in Brooklyn, New York, today (Aug. 7), Samsung unveiled its two latest big phones, the Note 10 and 10+.
Much like every Note model before them, what separates the Note 10 and 10+ from Samsung’s other devices is the massive screens, and the phones’ built-in styluses.
The new phones have gotten a bit of a design refresh over the great Note 9, which itself was mainly a rehash of the excellent Note 8. Gone is the top bar that held the phone’s sensors and receiver, replaced by a single camera centered in the new massive display that extends down to a small border at the bottom of the device.
There are other minor changes to the design: There are now three cameras on the rear of the phone, shifted to the right side of the device. There’s no fingerprint reader on the back either, as it’s now built into the bottom of the phone’s display. Samsung has also shifted all of the buttons to the left side of the phone, apparently to make it easier to operate with one hand. Overall, the design of the device remains rather boxy, which perhaps isn’t that surprising, given the phone can be used like a notepad and pen.
Samsung said it opted to create two Note devices for the first time after listening to customers who really liked the concept of the Note, but not the massive size. The smaller Note 10 will have a display 6.3-inch tall—roughly comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S10+, released in March, which has a 6.4-inch display—whereas the 10+ will have a giant 6.8-inch screen, just about an inch smaller than the display on an iPad Mini. (The Note 9’s display was 6.4 inches.)
According to Samsung, Note owners are among the company’s most loyal, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the smaller Note phone will cannibalize some of the buyers of Samsung’s larger Galaxy phones, or bring in new customers.
The three cameras on the back are intended for regular, close-up, and wide-angle shots. They’re effectively the same cameras found in the Galaxy S10+, which were excellent, with a few minor aperture tweaks.
Both phones also have large batteries—3500 mAh and 4300 mAh respectively—which should last most users well beyond a day. They also have a super-fast charging function that allows for about a full day’s use on a 30-minute charge, Samsung said.
The phones also have a ton of storage, with 256 GB now the base amount of storage on a note device, and a massive amount of memory. The standard Note 10 features 8 GB of memory, and the Note 10+ has 12 GB—far more than what’s likely inside the computer you have at home or work.
It’s more than looks
It’s mainly these powerful new internals that drive what’s most intriguing about these new devices.
The camera has new functions, such as the ability to produce a live “bokeh” style focus on video—a feat that most smartphone manufacturers have so far only been able to pull off on still images. There’s also a new “zoom-in mic” feature on videos, where the sound in a video is isolated to the person or thing you’re focusing on as you zoom in—Samsung compares it to a boom microphone, but using software instead of a large microphone on a pole.
The S Pen, the included stylus with the Note line, has also received a large upgrade this time out. It’s been redesigned to be more balanced in the user’s hand as they write, Samsung said, and it can now perform a variety of new functions. Handwritten notes in Samsung’s Notes app can be transferred directly into Microsoft Word (the two companies worked together to bring a range of Office productivity tie-ins to the Note line), and if your handwriting isn’t terrible (mine is), it’ll automatically convert your notes into text.
The S Pen also has new “air actions,” which allow the Note user to control their device using a series swipes of the stylus in mid-air, which may make them look like a rather mad conductor. These air actions could well end up being yet another Samsung gimmick that no one uses, but the company said it’s opening up the development kit software for the function, meaning we could see it being implemented in third-party software in the future.
The stylus can also be used to create “AR doodles” on videos and photos taken with the Note. Users can snap a shot and then draw on the subjects in their images, and the phone will lock their drawings to the people as they move around. It’s a like a build-your-own Snapchat filter. Here’s me as a pirate:
The new devices also feature an update to Samsung’s DeX productivity software, where plugging a Galaxy or Note phone into a computer monitor turns the device into a sort of desktop computer. Older models used to require complicated docks and proprietary cables, but now a simple USB-C cable—like the one that comes in the box with a Note 10—will transform the phone into a computer. Note owners can also plug their phones into their existing computers, fire up the DeX software as a window on the computer, and use it to easily drag-and-drop photos and other files right from the phone onto their computer’s hard drive.
A costly upgrade
Samsung is also going to be releasing a 5G model of the Note 10+ in certain regions. In the US, it’ll be exclusive to Verizon for a few months. All three devices will be available for preorder from tomorrow, and in stores Aug. 23. The Note 10 will start at $949, and the 10+ at $1,099. Samsung didn’t release the price for the 5G model, but suggested that it would be at aa similar premium as the 5G Galaxy S10 model was over the S10+, which is about $300, potentially placing the device close to $1,400.
Will all these tweaks and new models, has Samsung done enough to sway consumers to upgrade to these pricey devices, especially as it introduces ever-more models of phones? Patrick Moorhead, the founder and chief analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told Quartz that the new features will likely be enough to convince current Note 8 owners to upgrade, who will be forming a large portion of the demand for the Note 10.
And although Samsung now has about seven phones that you could consider to be the company’s “flagship” device (between the four Galaxy S10 models and the three new Note 10 models), Moorhead sees adding more phones to Samsung’s lineup as the right call right now. “In maturing markets like smartphones, successful companies further segment their product lines and this is what Samsung is doing,” Moorhead said. “Power users will love the 6.8-inch display, but for some, it will be a big turnoff. Many users will want the pen but want the smaller, 6.3-inch display.”