The day finally came and went. On August 7th 2019, Samsung officially unveiled the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+. Many of the leaks leading up to the announcement came true, even the less than…incredible ones. If the mixed reception to the Note 10 muddied the waters, one thing became clear by the end of the announcement event. The Note series is now suffering from an identity crisis.
iOS vs Android
iPhone vs Android. This ‘war’ dominates the mobile space, much akin to how PlayStation vs Xbox console war dominates the gaming space. Perhaps the best way to sum up whether iPhone or Android is better, is to describe the use cases for the user of a mobile device. If a user just wants a simpler smartphone experience, that is, a hyper-competent smartphone, then the iPhone is probably the best choice. However, if the user needs something more akin to a pocket-sized laptop, than Android would be the way to go.
This difference has gotten murkier over the years, with the major players in the Android space slowly simplifying their Android experiences, adding more and more iOS-like features to their Android skin. Samsung is perhaps the worst perpetrator of paring down, as they recognised their market space of being the lead Android competitor to iPhone. This is certainly true with the flagship Samsung Galaxy S series of phones. The likes of the S series slowly becoming closer and closer to iPhones over the years.
Yet, despite this, Samsung has always maintained a space for the mobile enthusiast. The user who needs or wants everything, with zero compromises in a smartphone.
Let’s talk about this user a bit. This person needs their phone to embody productivity. It needs to function as an extension of their laptop or desktop, or both. It needs to be the pocket computer incarnate. Capable of easily moving files between storage formats from one device to another. Able to easily mark up and edit documents. Use cases like these are what this user needs in a smartphone.
For this user, the only line of phones that filled this space was the Galaxy Note series. With the crown jewel, the Note 9 perhaps defining and filling this space the best. Looks be damned, I’ll be the first to tell you the Note 9 is the ugliest phone I’ve ever used. It’s this sharp, boxy rectangle with comparatively massive bezels all around. It’s heavy and thick, packing in a massive battery as well as space for the S-Pen, headphone jack, and removable SD card storage. Perhaps the least ergonomic phone by conventional standards out there.
Yet, because of all of this, it refuses to compromise. Which is the exact reason why myself and so many others were drawn to the Note 9 and loved it.
Not A Perfect 10
So surely, with how spectacularly the Note 9 was received among users, that the Note 10 would be even better, right? Surely Samsung would only improve on this success, right?
Well, after getting all the details about the Note 10, and as it’s now pending release, this is not the case at all. Quite the opposite.
The Note 10 represents an identity crisis for the Note series of phones. What was once known as the line of no compromises, has now been tarnished by a phone that compromises crucial features in what is perhaps an effort to appeal to a wider audience.
Starting with perhaps the biggest difference, which is that there are now two skews of the Note. There’s now the Note 10+ and the Note 10. This marks an end to just the lone phone to do anything and everything. And, while having a smaller model might be for the best because a 6.8 inch Note 10+ could be too large for people, the Note 10 doesn’t just act as a smaller Note phone, but it compromises in other ways as well.
For starters, the Note 10 only goes up to an FHD screen. This is…bizarre to say the least, when even the non + versions of Samsung S-phones have had the option to go up to QHD. Next on the list of compromises, is that the Note 10 has dropped the removable/expandable storage slot. Furthermore, while Samsung has been late to the party adopting ultra-fast charging, the Note 10 only supports 25W wired charging, while the Note 10+ is capable of 45W wired charging.
Internally, the Note 10 compromises as well, with only one option. 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage. Compared to the multitude of options the Note 10+ offers. One point of contention I’d like to bring up is that both models sport the Snapdragon 855 processor. The same processor in the S10 line of phones. Not the newest Snapdragon 855+ processor. Even the Exynos processor in everywhere but the USA and China models of the Note 10s isn’t Samsung’s latest and greatest. Don’t get me wrong, the processors are more than capable, but it’s still a shame to not see the latest and greatest in what is supposed to be the be all end all phone.
Both Phones Compromise
While I just criticised the Note 10 for compromising compared to its bigger brother, both phones share a set of compromises as well. Going back to the screen, Samsung, the leading display panel designer and manufacturer in the world, has neglected to put a 90Hz panel on the Note 10 series. This isn’t crucial, but when newcomers to the mobile space like Razer and ASUS are putting high refresh displays on their phones, you’d certainly expect a long industry leader to put one on their “be all, end all” phone as well.
Past the screen, there’s of course, the death of the headphone jack. Samsung, one of the last holdouts for including the headphone jack, has omitted one on the Note 10 series. Now, normally, I would be ok with this. The average consumer uses wireless headphones by and large, and in my opinion, it’s ok for the mainline of phones to omit the headphone jack.
What I’m not ok with, is that the phone targeted to the user that needs it to do everything and be everything dropped the headphone jack. This is such a stupid simple thing to not include for the “enthusiast” line of phones, that even just this omission alone is enough to dethrone the Note series as the ultimate power user device. Out of all the Samsung phones to drop the headphone jack, it should have been the upcoming S11 series. Samsung even shamelessly removed their advertisements criticising Apple for dropping the headphone jack.
The Note 10 and 10+ represent a serious misstep and identity crisis for Samsung and Note line. What was once the ultimate smartphone, capable of doing whatever even the most demanding of user would want to do, is now effectively a mainstream line of phones, more akin to the iPhone or Galaxy S series. In fact, the Note 10 and 10+ are effectively larger versions of the S10 series but with faster charging and instead of a headphone jack, you get a pen.
Thank you for reading. Besides these columns, I also host our Power Up Podcast, recorded live every Saturday at 3pm PST on our Twitch channel. If you’d like to read about the myths surrounding the next-gen game consoles, click here.