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The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is a phone for no-one, at least on the surface. Chopped together from parts and pieces Samsung found lying around its Wonka-like factory, the handset is something of a Frankenstein’s monster.
Its arrival was a little odd too, seeing as how it was launched months after the rest of the range, alongside the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite. That it then succeeds in being such an attractive all around package is a testament to the design chops of its creator.
To begin, the raison d’etre of the Note series is present and correct, the S Pen – it is still an interesting feature to have, and one which offers some unique functionality. For some, the ability to sign PDF documents on the fly will be a lifesaver, and using the device as a miniature graphics tablet for some on-the-go drawing is always fun. For just as many and more however the pen may never leave its silo.
Beyond the pen though, this is a Note, which means that even though it is a ‘Lite’ version, made of recycled parts, it still comes with an attractive shopping list of specifications – including a big battery, triple camera array, and Super AMOLED screen.
Some omissions are notable however. No specific toughened glass layer on the screen is mentioned, no kind of waterproofing is present, and the plastic rear feels as though it belongs on a device costing a fifth as much – but these drawbacks are met by myriad positives.
Chief among these is the presence of a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is no longer a guarantee, and we also appreciated the flat screen – there are no contentious side-curves here. Though the Note 10 Lite could never be confused with a £1,000/$1,000 flagship, it certainly feels worth the price of entry. Part of this is down to the user experience offered.
Samsung’s One UI is a breath of fresh air following the death of TouchWiz, and with 6GB of RAM as standard, base performance is generally no issue. With a chipset pinched from the days of the Samsung Galaxy S9 however, power efficiency isn’t its strong suit, neither is thermal performance – this phone gets hot under the collar with extended use.
Power users may also find they can’t play the latest games at maximum resolution, which is a shame given that rivals at around the same price are often offering the likes of the Snapdragon 855 Plus, or better, as standard.
For many, the bright 6.7-inch Super AMOLED screen with lively colors will more than make up for this, as will the versatile camera system. The pairing of a standard 12MP sensor with a 12MP telephoto (offering 2x optical zoom) and a 12MP ultra-wide is not quite as exotic a combination as it once was – but the performance of these snappers is nothing to sniff at.
With bags of detail, vibrant colors, and enough reach to cover almost any situation, they are a joy to use – topped off with an unexpectedly strong performance at night via the included ‘Night Mode’.
The large 4,500mAh battery also catches the eye, as the largest pack available in a Note smartphone to date, though unfortunately battery life doesn’t quite live up to expectations. While the phone will always last through a full day, it won’t go further.
This may partly be down to the size of the panel the handset is pushing, but it is at least a little down to the inefficient Exynos chipset used. Fast charging is there to help in a pinch too, however it doesn’t match the likes of Warp Charge on the OnePlus 8 for speed.
Continuing the list of let-downs, there is no water-proofing certification present, not that this is common at the price, and the single bottom-firing speaker is nothing to write home about.
We found that although it was acceptable indoors, it struggled badly to compete with almost any background noise. Performance over Bluetooth audio was also only passable, as we frequently experienced connection dropouts in odd places. The older chipset also means a lack of 5G connectivity, making this less future-proof than some rivals.
The £500/$500 segment is an interesting area – where value and performance are most on a knife edge. Samsung’s approach with the Galaxy Note 10 Lite echoes Apple’s recent passion for chopping old parts into new phones. And for the most part it works, as this is a very competent and compelling option.
But while competitors are targeting their devices very specifically, it leaves the Note 10 Lite without a unique selling point beyond the S Pen – which is a fun addition but ultimately a gimmick.
In trying to appeal to as broad an audience as it can, the Note 10 Lite, even at the price, isn’t really the ‘best’ phone for anyone – but it doesn’t have any deal-breaker weaknesses either. On these merits, it isn’t a complete success, but it is certainly worthy of attention.
- Thanks to UK mobile network Giffgaff for providing this review unit
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite price and release date
- Available in the UK from £529
- No word on availability in Australia and the US
- Different storage/RAM options available
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is available now in the UK for a starting price of £529 (roughly $675/AU$935), with no word on availability in the US and Australia. Announced in January, the device is pitched below the current Samsung Galaxy S20 range in terms of price, sitting in the upper mid-range.
- Plastic rear
- 199g weight
- Punch-hole selfie camera
The years of plastic have long since passed in the smartphone world – there are barely any phones today that aren’t two slabs of glass glued to a metal frame. Most plastic builds in the present appear only in the ultra-budget segment, under $150/£100, so the plastic used in the Note 10 Lite is notable by its very presence.
Odder still is Samsung’s intent to hide this presence as much as possible, through the odd naming ‘glasstic’ and by the feel, which is as slippery as glass and just as fond of fingerprints.
The finish applied to give this glass-like initial feel has a few drawbacks – the first of which is how slippery it makes the handset; this is a phone fond of taking a forward tumble off sofas. It also means that scratches seem to appear with the passing wind. 10 minutes in a pocket with some keys will leave the Note 10 Lite looking as though it has been attacked by an angry cat.
From almost any other perspective however, the phone is very modern in its design. There is a punch-hole selfie camera sitting at the top of the screen, while an in-screen fingerprint sensor pulls duty for biometric security.
The S Pen sits gracefully out of sight in its discreet silo, and the triple camera array at the rear is housed within a tasteful ‘stovetop’ square. This is a design language that Samsung has worked with and refined for some time now, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is as comfortable out on the street as it is in the boardroom.
That said, due to the dimensions, while one-handed use is possible, it isn’t necessarily desirable. The portly 199g heft will mean cramps for all but the largest of mitts, while those with smaller hands can forget about it entirely. All buttons on the device rest on its right side, not ideal for lefties, and there is no sign of the much maligned ‘Bixby button’ – so a standard layout overall.
The inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack is very welcome, while the solo mono speaker is less so, we would have liked to see dual stereo units at this price. Overall however, as we expect from Samsung at this point, build quality on the Galaxy Note 10 Lite is excellent, as is its balance – nothing about the device – plastic aside – feels cheap or out of place.
Three different color options (black, white and red) are offered, with the latter being the only entry to show a hint of personality. All offer the same glossy finish, though the lighter colors will do a better job of hiding fingerprints.
- 6.7-inch display
- Super AMOLED technology
- No high refresh rate
The 6.7-inch display of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite makes a great first impression. Being their primary manufacturer globally, Samsung knows a thing or two about making a nice AMOLED panel, and this is no exception.
To begin with, color accuracy is mostly good – mixing true-to-life tones with a little pop and verve, meaning that images, text, and video stand out without looking ridiculous.
Brightness too is a high point, with the display reaching a maximum of 800 nits, which allowed it to easily combat a bright summer sun in our tests. This high brightness also allows for HDR10 compliance, meaning a correspondingly great viewing experience if you have the right content.
With the screen being OLED-based, all of the expected benefits are in tow. Blacks are infinite and contrast levels are pleasing to the eye. There is also an implementation of the always-on display, showing the time, notification information, and more when the device is locked. This gives a small hit to battery life as might be expected, but is a definite positive for those who keep their phone flat on a table while working.
Resolution-wise there is nothing to complain about either, the 1080 x 2400 panel means a pixel density of roughly 394 pixels per inch, which is more than adequate. With a microscope positioned an inch from the display, issues might be found, but in any other use case there is no reason to complain.
One point we did take issue with is the positioning of the punch-hole selfie cam. In the middle, not skewed to one side, it is a victory for symmetry but not for usability. When viewing any video content the hole makes its presence known and is impossible to fully forget.
Another annoyance is the under-display fingerprint sensor, which is slow, unreliable, and generally a pain to use. This issue is unfortunate, given that the standards of such options have been raised so high by the likes of OnePlus – instant recognition should be a given.
The lack of a high-refresh rate for the screen can be seen as a disappointment also. While 90Hz is fast becoming the norm at the price point, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is left behind at 60Hz. Maybe a by-product of the older chipset used, it could have been a significant quality of life inclusion and will leave this phone feeling increasingly dated with time.
- Three 12MP cameras: telephoto, standard and ultra-wide
- A useful night mode is offered
- The main sensor has an f/1.7 aperture
Only a few years ago, having three cameras on a smartphone would be considered the very definition of overkill – but in 2020 it is the least we expect. The Note 10 Lite has a standard setup for Samsung, meaning an ultra-wide, a telephoto and a standard lens, each with 12MP to call their own. There is no megapixel madness to be found here.
That is if you exclude the selfie camera, which clocks in at 32MP, enough to lovingly reveal every pore.
Samsung’s camera app holds little in the way of surprises – it is the same combination of overly complex menus it has always been. Like Sony, Samsung likes to present a lot of options, to the detriment of the cohesion of the experience. With the Galaxy Note 10 Lite, Samsung has included a little Bixby to combat this confusion, and in a shock twist it mostly succeeds.
The phone will do its best to analyze scenes and recommend the best settings and composition for each frame. If the lights go down, the recommendation for activating Night Mode will pop up for instance. We found these suggestions mostly intuitive, and most will benefit from leaving them on.
Photo quality, across the board, is great. Colors are punchy without being overly saturated, there is a good level of detail without excessive sharpening, and images produced have a nice sense of depth.
Between the different lenses there are a few drops and changes in quality however, most notably in the white balance. The ultra-wide sensor in particular skews warmer than the other snappers, while the tele