The Bluetooth pen on Samsung’s powerful new phone adds to the cost and its uses are limited.
Is note taking on the Note’s screen and navigating using the S Pen worth the $200 premium, compared with Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S10+? For me, the answer is no.
The best use of the S Pen, other than for turning your handwriting into neat digital text, is as a remote control. You can set your phone down up to 4.5m away and take self-portraits and videos by pressing the S Pen’s button.
It now has motion sensitivity, too, so it can be used as a sort of Bluetooth wand. Allowing that is a built-in, six-axis motion sensor, including an accelerometer and gyroscope, so it can interpret your swipes and circular movements.
Now you can make air gestures in front of your phone. For instance, when you point the pen at the phone while pressing the device’s button, you can navigate through phone settings, including in the camera app, shuttling between modes and zooming in and out without having to touch the phone.
The gestures are a bit fiddly but work as intended once you’ve mastered them. They would be worth persevering with if S Pen gestures were widely enabled in the third-party apps we spend most of our time using. But there’s a limited selection available, although you can skip tracks and adjust the volume in Spotify and add and shuffle through videos in YouTube. Samsung has a software developer kit allowing app makers to S Pen-enable their software. We’ll have to wait and see if they come up with any compelling uses.
Where the S Pen also comes into its own is in editing videos on the phone. Normally, I will upload videos to iMovie on my Mac because the controls in video apps are too finely drawn for fingers. The S Pen makes editing video, in the Samsung video app at least, a pleasure.
An AR Doodle feature makes good use of the S Pen, letting you augment a live video image of yourself with artistic flourishes.
I can’t draw to save myself and scribbling on the Note’s screen has not become any more compelling for me over the years, despite the pen’s improvements. But it isn’t just about the pen.
It has a large (4300mAh) battery, which gets me through the best part of two days’ use, and fast charging for 30 minutes will give you enough power for most of a day’s typical use. Powered by the Snapdragon 855 processor and with 256GB of memory, it is also powerful enough to easily handle video editing, gaming and multitasking. But its camera set-up is largely the same as the S10’s. And Samsung does away with the headphone jack for the Note 10, which will put off some people.
Many of the phone’s attributes are available in much cheaper pen-free Android models such as the Oppo Reno 10x Zoom ($1299) and the Huawei Mate 30, which should debut here in the next few months. Still, compared with the iPhone 11 Pro Max (from $2449) the Note 10+ represents exceptional value.
Samsung’s standard Galaxy range, the S10+, which costs about $1400, and the S10, which was on sale recently for $999, are the Note’s real competitors. Try before you buy and have a scribble in-store to see if the S Pen will make your life easier.
Price: Note 10+ from $1899;
Note 10 (6.5-inch) from $1699
This article was first published in the October 12, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.