Thursday, June 25, 2020

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite review

Two-minute review

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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

(Image credit: Future | Amit Mishra for TechRadar India)

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.

Design

  • 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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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.

(Image credit: Future | Amit Mishra for TechRadar India)

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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Display

  • 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.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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.

Camera

  • 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.

(Image credit: Future | Amit Mishra for TechRadar India)

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 telephoto applies a touch more sharpening.

True to Samsung’s apparent preferences, noise is banished and colors are generally baked a little longer than some might prefer, but for most the images produced will be considered excellent. A nice surprise too is the effectiveness of the Night Mode. This, in dark scenes, improves brightness, detail, color and contrast via a series of long exposures, and is one of the best examples of such a mode we’ve seen at the price.

Still, there are sacrifices when compared to Samsung’s newer efforts - for example the zoom here is ‘merely’ 2x as opposed to 10x on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. There’s also no mechanically variable aperture, nor a high megapixel count. Regardless this is a great overall camera package.

Video is recorded at a maximum resolution of 4K, and footage is lively, detailed, and good overall. The selfie camera captures decent detail, but has limited dynamic range, and the included beauty effects are contentious at best. Set those sliders to maximum and you’ll look like the waxy alien you’ve always dreamed of being.

Camera samples

Image 1 of 5

Night mode does a good job of restoring colors to dark scenes.

Night mode does a good job of restoring colors to dark scenes. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Click here to see the full resolution image

Image 2 of 5

The ultra-wide has nice detail, but an overly warm cast.

The ultra-wide has nice detail, but an overly warm cast. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Click here to see the full resolution image

Image 3 of 5

Standard images are detailed and lively.

Standard images are detailed and lively. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Click here to see the full resolution image

Image 4 of 5

At 5x zoom images are acceptable.

At 5x zoom images are acceptable. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Click here to see the full resolution image

Image 5 of 5

At 10x zoom images begin to resemble an oil painting.

At 10x zoom images begin to resemble an oil painting. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Click here to see the full resolution image

Specs and performance

  • Older chipset used
  • 6GB of RAM
  • Runs Android 10

With a chipset from the days of the Galaxy S9, our expectations for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite were not exactly astronomical. Since the S9 launched, chipsets have become more powerful, smaller, and more efficient, even at the mid-range - so using an older offering is an interesting and risky gambit.

To begin with benchmarks, the scores achieved by the device in Geekbench 5 aren’t too shabby. The Exynos 9810 chipset has 8 cores, with four clocked at 1.79GHz and the others at 2.70GHz.

Running Geekbench, it achieves a single core score of 689 and a multi core score of 2,052 - it is blown out of the water by the likes of the iPhone 11, which achieves 1,325 and 3,445 respectively. But it's a similar result to the Samsung Galaxy S10 or Galaxy S10e from 2019, with a divergence of around 50 points from the two.

But these tests are artificial, and in everyday life our experience proved to be a little different. Performance is adequate for the most part, and navigating around the interface certainly presents no issues.

Games, so long as they aren’t too taxing, work fine, however the likes of PUBG on high graphics settings will prove to be too much for the handset. Against others at the same price point, the likes of OnePlus and Realme offer more bang for the buck, but for most people the Samsung will prove to have adequate power.

With 6GB of RAM as standard, apps stay in memory without disappearing, but whether there is enough of an overhead to handle hundreds of app installs and software updates over the years is another matter. Especially with an older chipset there is no guarantee of a smooth experience in the future - this may be worth bearing in mind if you plan to sell the device post-contract.

This is compounded by the famous issue Samsung has with long-term lag build-up, though only time will tell if this raises its ugly head here.

(Image credit: Future | Amit Mishra for TechRadar India)

Battery life

  • 4,500mAh battery
  • 18W fast charger included
  • Lasts one day on a charge

Batteries in smartphones are becoming bigger as chipsets become smaller and more efficient - as such expectations for battery life are growing higher with every passing year. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite packs a 4,500mAh unit inside, a very promising size, but for the most part we found its performance to be adequate at best.

The combination of the large bright screen and the less efficient chipset means that while the Note will always make it through a day, it isn’t capable of stretching into a second.

Leaving the plug at 7am, we found that it would usually be creeping into the 20% territory past 8pm, which is respectable but the minimum that might be expected at the price point. With such a large pack, we always found ourselves expecting more, as Huawei has been able to achieve with the likes of the Huawei P30 Pro.

Running a full resolution video at half brightness for 90 minutes across Wi-Fi saw the battery drop from 100% to 84%, which is a relatively strong showing - however video playback times have always been a particular strong suit of Samsung's.

Charging speeds leave something to be desired, however. Although the 18W fast charger included in the box is a nice addition, it doesn’t compete with the likes of the charging solutions offered by Realme with its X2 Pro. While that device can charge to around 100% after 30 minutes, the Note still takes over an hour to reach a full charge, which isn’t a deal-breaker but is certainly an area for improvement.

No wireless charging option is offered, which is a shame, but for those who haven’t invested in a charging pad this will make little difference.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Buy it if...

You need a phone with a stylus
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is the only mid-range smartphone sporting the S Pen, complete with all of Samsung’s tech wizardry.

You need a dependable camera
With a versatile camera array backed up by great image quality, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is a formidable imaging machine.

You need a big screen
The panel on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is expansive, colorful, and great for watching movies on. The AMOLED screen tech means that every image has bags of pop.

Don't buy it if...

You need the best battery life
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite has a big battery pack but will rarely make it beyond a single day of use. Many rivals manage to eke more run time from their power packs.

You want the best performance
With a two generation old chipset, power efficiency and speed aren’t a strong suit of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite - it is very possible to get more bang for the buck.

You need the very ‘best’ smartphone
Though it isn’t bad in any particular area, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite doesn’t exceed the achievements of its peers - it is a jack of all trades and a master of none.

First reviewed: June 2020

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