Nimish SawantFeb 21, 2020 16:16:26 IST
It’s not even been two months since 2020 and Samsung has already unveiled six phones so far: the S10 Lite and Note10 Lite in January, followed by the flagships S20, S20 Plus and S20 Ultra earlier this month, and more recently, the Galaxy A71. While the S20 series follows Samsung’s usual launch calendar, the S10 Lite and Note10 Lite came out of nowhere. The S10 Lite is clearly a response to the growing hegemony of Chinese smartphone brands in the sub-40k segment such as OnePlus. The Note10 Lite, on the other hand, seems to be more of a confused addition to the list.
Allow me to explain.
Samsung’s Note series lineup has always been targeted at the business user, what with its large display, the presence of an S Pen and a long-lasting battery. Over the years, Samsung has upped the style quotient on the Note series as well with curved edge displays. The Note10 and Note10+ were launched in the second half of 2019, where again, Samsung broke away from its tradition of launching just one Note variant. With the Note10 Lite, there is now a third variant, and frankly, I can’t think of any other reason than that Samsung is trying to do what it does with the budget segment — populate the category with different products across price brackets.
Given that this is a cheaper Note10, here’s what’s missing: a glass back, water resistance, wireless charging, high refresh rate display, and a current gen flagship chipset (it’s running an older Exynos chip). So, is the Note 10Lite just meant to be a budget variant of its flagship sibling, geared at attracting new buyers to the S Pen? Or is there something more to it? Here’s what I learnt.
Design language quite similar to S10 Lite
The design language of the Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite isn’t very different from the Galaxy S10 Lite. It also employs glastic (a mix of plastic and glass) on the rear of the device. But as compared to the S10 Lite, the rectangular camera module on the Note 10 Lite is almost flush with the rear. It is a thicker phone, however. Grip is enhanced thanks to the curve of the glastic around the edges.
On the front, you have a 6.7-inch Infinity O display with the earpiece speaker present in a slit just above the selfie camera. The bezels are pretty darn thin on this one too. It comes in three colours Aura Red (the one I’m reviewing), Aura Glow and Aura Black.
The phone has a shiny metal frame with the power/standby and volume rocker on the right hand edge, a hybrid dual SIM tray on the left hand side, and a clean top edge. The base has the USB Type-C charging and data transfer port, speaker grille, a 3.5 mm audio jack on the left hand side, and the Galaxy S Pen on the right which supports air-gestures and comes with the same clickable top which can be customised to perform certain functions. It comes with 0.7 mm tip and 4,096 levels of pressure. The button along the length of the S Pen can be programmed to control certain actions with single and double presses.
As with the S10 Lite, there is no IP rating for dust and water protection here. The phone is thicker, most likely designed that way to accommodate the S Pen, it feels great in the hand and isn’t that slippery. Thanks to the use of plastic on the back, it is vulnerable to scratches and does manage to collect a lot of smudges. One-handed operation is possible but not desirable. All in all, it’s a pleasant design and looks like a younger sibling of the flagship Note10.
Display: 6.7-inch Super AMOLED
Resolution: 1,080 x 2,400 pixels (395 PPI)
Chipset: Exynos 9810
CPU: Octa-core (4x 2.7 GHz Mongoose M3 CPU and 4x 1.7 GHz Cortex-A55 CPU)
GPU: Mali G72 MP18
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 128 GB
OS: Android 10 with One UI 2 interface
Rear cameras: 12 MP primary (f/1.7) with 1.4 micron pixel and OIS + 12 MP telephoto (f/2.4) with 1 micron pixels and OIS + 12 MP ultrawide (f/2.2)
Front camera: 32 MP with f/2.2 and 0.8 micron pixels
Battery Capacity: 4,500 mAh
Audio jack: Yes
Display continues to shine
Coming from reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite, the display specs on the Note10 Lite are the same: 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display with 1,080 x 2,400 pixel resolution which offers a 395 PPI pixel density coming in a 20:9 aspect ratio.
Most of my observations aren’t much different from what I experienced on the S10 Lite. The Super AMOLED display ensures that contrast is great, the display can get really bright and there is no colour shift when you see it from an angle. Sunlight legibility is top notch as well. The auto-brightness wasn’t the best though and just seems to switch levels at random, which can get very annoying when trying to read or doing something with the phone. Things were only tolerable when I disabled the feature. Hopefully, this is just a minor bug that will be fixed in an upcoming update. The S10 Lite didn’t have this problem.
The responsiveness to the stylus is great and I liked the palm rejection on offer which lets you take down notes with ease.
I enjoyed watching HDR content on Netflix and YouTube on the Note 10 Lite. Image quality was superb and despite the glossy display, the visibility of darker scenes didn’t turn the display into a mirror. The Infinity O display doesn’t interfere with viewing video content as such.
You can set the display to look natural or if you like the punchy colours, set it to vivid. Natural mode was what I stuck with.
I don’t think the refresh rate of 90 Hz or 120 Hz really matters for the kind of audience the Note 10 Lite is targeted at, so the 60 Hz refresh rate is good for most use cases here.
Performance and Software
With the S10 Lite, Samsung had gone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, which even though a generation old, was the first instance of Samsung offering a Qualcomm chipset on its S-series phones in India. The Note10 Lite, however, comes with an Exynos 9810 chipset, which is two generations old and was last seen on the Note 9.
I was a bit confused with this choice to be honest. Agreed, it is still a powerful chipset, but why go with a two-year old chipset when you just launched another device with a more powerful one?
The benchmark scores are in line with the Note 9. Geekbench 5 gives a score of 703 for single core and 2,039 for multi-core as compared to 739 and 2,675 respectively for the Galaxy S10 Lite, which sports the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. While this may look like a lot, in terms of real life usage, there was barely any instance where I found the Note10 Lite to be lacking. The Note 9 is still quite a capable device, so the chipset powering it on the Note10 Lite is still quite relevant.
The Note10 Lite is also able to play games at the highest settings. I had no issues playing Mortal Kombat 11, PUBG Lite or Asphalt 9 at the highest settings. Warmth was observed on the underside of the phone and especially around the metal edges. But things never got too hot. And no, there was no instance of any app shutdown due to overheating.
The single downward firing speaker is strictly average. Yes, it’s loud enough to forego the needs of an earphone, but the sound quality isn’t that rich. Thankfully, Samsung offers a 3.5 mm audio jack. While the earphones come bundled in the box, I would recommend you use your personal earphones. Call quality is great with the earpiece speaker being loud enough for most conversations.
The Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite runs on Android 10 with One UI 2 interface atop it. One UI clearly has brought in a lot of improvements over the former Samsung Experience and TouchWiz UI. It really helps a lot with one-handed operations as the menus are much easier to reach in the lower half of the display. It’s certainly a much more refined version of the interface and the response is great. The experience is not much different from the one on the S10 Lite. I have spoken at length about it in the S10 Lite review, so I won’t repeat the same things. But yes, this I do need to repeat — fingerprint unlock is noticeably slow on the Note10 Lite as well.
The only addition here is thanks to the S Pen which comes with a boat load of features, a lot of which are similar to the ones seen on the Note10 / Note10+ S Pen.
The raison d’etre for the Note lineup of Samsung phones is the S Pen. Over the generations, it has become more intelligent. The S Pen on the Note10 Lite offers many of the same features that one had seen on the Note 10 series. As with the Note10 / Note10+, the S Pen here is also Bluetooth enabled thereby letting you use it as a magic wand — but really those air gestures get boring after a while. You can program the button along the length of the S Pen to perform certain functions on single/double presses depending on the app which you are in.
Air View lets you hover your S Pen over things and preview information such as reminders in your calendar, preview images in the gallery, seeing a preview of a webpage by hovering over a link, and more. If, like me, you dislike that S Pen pointer while taking down notes, you can disable it in the Settings > S Pen > Show pointer toggle. You also get the ability to live translate, which I used a lot when reading German articles. Even though the translation is powered by Google Translate, it only translates individual words, not entire sentences, which can be a bit of a bummer.
I liked the handwriting recognition feature which converts your handwritten notes into proper text and numbers.
Using the S Pen for taking down notes is a great experience as there is barely any noticeable lag as you are jotting down your pointers. Thanks to the 4,096 levels of pressure (honestly, there is no way to test that number) if you are into doodling or sketching, it comes in handy.
The camera is good, but what’s with the aggressive noise reduction?
The Note series of devices from Samsung have not really been the ‘camera phones’ as much as the S-series have been. The Note10 Lite has taken the more traditional route with its camera sensors. Unlike the S10 Lite, which sports a 48 MP primary sensor, the Note10 Lite comes with a 12 MP primary sensor with an f/1.7 aperture and a pixel size of 1.4 microns with support for optical image stabilisation (OIS). OIS support is also present for the other 12 MP camera which offers 2x optical zoom and has an aperture of f/2.4 with a pixel size of 1 micron. The other camera is the 12 MP ultrawide camera with an f/2.2 aperture. And no, you don’t get a variable aperture on the primary camera like we had seen on the Note 10/10+. On the front, there is a 32 MP sensor which offers pixel binned 8 MP selfies. It has an f/2.2 aperture with a pixel size of 0.8 microns.
In terms of video, the Note10 Lite supports 4K recording at 60 fps and offers electronic image stabilisation. But the Super Steady OIS is only offered at Full HD. The front camera is also capable of shooting 4K videos, just like the rear camera.
I can’t really complain about the daylight pics. Everything is as one would expect from this camera. Images are detailed, dynamic range is great, and there isn’t any colour shifting in the final output. Only with the ultra-wide angle lens, was purple fringing noticeable around the edges, as was the sharpness drop off. With the primary camera, the image sharpness is retained around the corners as well.
I would have also liked it if the noise reduction algorithms didn’t go into overdrive as soon as the light levels dropped as it smoothens out textures a bit too much. This is something I had noticed on the Galaxy S10 Lite as well. I don’t know if this is intentional to keep the final images a tad less sharper than those seen on its flagship S10 and Note10.
With low light photographs, you will notice softer images in comparison to daylight photos, and that tends to keep the noise under control. Night mode brightens up the scene and is able to offer a better dynamic range, but the the overall image is nothing like what the actual scene is like.
The 32 MP camera on the front offers pixel binned selfies which are good to use. There is a noticeable amount of skin smoothening even during daylight selfies. The low light selfies show a definite amount of noise. Sharpness drop off around the edges is quite noticeable in selfies. You can also shoot 4K videos from the front camera, which wasn’t half as bad. I can see a lot of vloggers using this. The bundled headset’s microphone is able to drown out the surrounding noise well.
Just like most flagship Samsung devices, the Note10 Lite also comes with Live Focus a.k.a. portrait mode. I wouldn’t say it’s the best, but it is close enough. In terms of edge detection, it was at par with the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite, smudging the hair in eight out of ten shots. The details on the face or the subject are well captured. Notice the hair on this cat’s face in this image.
The Galaxy Note 10 Lite is capable of shooting up to 4K at 60 fps and electronic stabilisation is available till that resolution. In the day, footage is great so long as you are not walking and shooting (you can notice the jitter as you walk) or panning (framing is conspicuous) too much. As light levels drop, sharpness is lost. Shooting in Super Steady OIS mode makes the footage steady for sure, but adds an increasing layer of softness despite the lighting conditions, making the footage look waxy. Video at night is completely lacking in detail, so unless it’s really required, I’d stay away from it. There are gimmicky features such as AR typing. which animates what you are writing atop video footage. I mean it’s good to have the feature, but you will rarely end up using it much, unless you’re a college going student or something.
The audio in recorded video was a bit off at times. In some instances, I noticed that the stereo balance was off, in street scenarios, stereo separation wasn’t that great.
The Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite comes with the same 4,500 mAh battery that we saw with the Galaxy S10 Lite. In terms of the usage, on a regular day with two email accounts on sync, constantly buzzing Telegram, Slack, WhatsApp accounts, taking down notes with the S Pen 10-12 times a day, 30-40 photos a day, an hour of video streaming, and a couple of hours of podcasts, gave me around a little over a day. A regular business user would not do a third of these things, so the battery life can easily stretch to a day and half for the majority of users. PC Mark for Android gave me around 11 hours 42 mins of continuous playback.
The bundled 25 W charger ensures that the phone charges within 70 minutes, which is great. This phone is indeed a workhorse.
Verdict and Price in India
Go for the Samsung Galaxy Note10 Lite if, and only if, the S Pen is going to be of immense value to you and you see yourself completely invested in making use of it. The Note10 Lite manages to do most things right, and as a stylus-sporting smartphone, at Rs 38,990, it has zero competition in this price segment. This is the Note10 Lite’s only USP though.
Samsung looks set to attract new buyers into the Note ecosystem and hopes to convert them to flagship Note phone users eventually. We will have to see if this strategy works out for the Korean giant.
If you are not sure about S Pen and what value it will add in your day-to-day usage, just go for the Galaxy S10 Lite — it’s the next best offering from Samsung if you are not looking at its pricey flagship phones.
Get the OnePlus 7T if you want performance and/or are still not completely sold on Samsung’s latest Lite offerings, or feel the Note 10 Lite has made one too many compromises to cut costs.
Build and Design: 8/10
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