Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite Review: Democratizing the S Pen experience

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite Review: Democratizing the S Pen experience

The Samsung Galaxy Note series has a rich history of being the first proper big-screen phones that gained widespread popularity. The original Galaxy Note familiarized the “phablet” term and conventionalized larger footprint devices. The S Pen created its own niche. Big displays took over the world. However, with the increase in popularity came the increase in pricing. Samsung has steadily increased the prices of the Galaxy Note series each generation, to the point where the top-end Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ costs $1,100/₹79,999. The price of admission for Samsung’s most powerful phones each year has been creeping up. We know Galaxy Note users are loyal users because of the unique blend of functionality, but how loyal can they be in the face of stringent price increases? For how long can the consumer continue to pay top dollar for the latest Note flagship just to get the premium S Pen experience? Samsung is perfectly aware of this conundrum, and its answer to this question was to launch the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite last month.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite cuts down on the premium specifications found in the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy Note 10+. By removing wireless charging, certified water resistance, downgrading the display resolution to Full HD+ from QHD+, and moving to cheaper build materials, Samsung has been successful in moving down to a lower price tag. The biggest downgrade on paper is the SoC, where the Exynos 9825/Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 of the Galaxy Note 10 gives way for the Exynos 9810 SoC, which powered the two-year-old Samsung Galaxy S9 and Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The company’s portfolio becomes more confusing when considering that the Galaxy Note 10 Lite was launched alongside the Galaxy S10 Lite, which does have the faster Snapdragon 855, while losing out on the S Pen and the telephoto camera.

The question is: do the downgrades make the Galaxy Note 10 Lite a smart buy in the value flagship/upper mid-range segment, or are they big enough to become deal-breakers? How does the Note 10 Lite compare against the S10 Lite? How does it compare with affordable 2019 and 2020 flagships such as the OnePlus 7T, OnePlus 7 Pro, Realme X50 Pro, iQOO 3, Redmi K20 Pro, OPPO Reno 10x Zoom, ASUS ROG Phone II, and others? Are its negatives overshadowed by its positives? Let’s explore these questions in our full review.

Category Galaxy Note 10 Lite Specifications
Display 6.7-inch Full HD+
Super AMOLED Infinity-O Display
2400×1080 (394ppi)
Camera Rear Triple Camera
– Ultra Wide: 12MP, F2.2
– Wide-angle: 12MP, Dual Pixel AF F1.7 OIS
– Telephoto: 12MP, AF F2.4 OIS
Front 32MP, F2.2
Body 76.1 x 163.7 x 8.7mm, 199g
AP 10nm 64-bit Octa-core processor (Quad 2.7GHz + Quad 1.7GHz) – Exynos 9810
Memory 6/8GB RAM with 128GB internal storage
Battery 4,500mAh (typical)
OS Android 10

Review Summary

Pros Cons
  • Big AMOLED display with a centered hole-punch camera
  • The value proposition is unmatched for S Pen users
  • Good low light image quality with well-implemented night mode
  • 25W Super Fast Charging works well
  • Decent ergonomics
  • Poor system and real-world performance with perceptible frame drops
  • Glossy plastic back feels less premium than glass and is prone to fingerprints
  • Daylight camera image quality could be better
  • General value proposition isn’t that great

About this review: Samsung India sent me a review unit of the 8GB RAM/128GB storage variant of the Galaxy Note 10 Lite. All opinions in this review are my own. This review has been published after a full month of usage.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite – Design

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s design is a mashup of the designs of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and Samsung Galaxy S20+ along with a few unique variables thrown in.

Let’s start with the build quality. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite has an aluminum frame and a glossy plastic back, which Samsung refers to as “Glasstic”. This is an interesting combination. The aluminum frame is polished to look like glass, and the glossy plastic back also looks similar to glass at a distance. It is only when you hold the phone that you can notice the difference between plastic and glass. The glossy plastic finish here feels warmer than the glossy glass used on Samsung’s flagship phones as well as competitors in this price segment.

There is no doubt that the glossy plastic used here feels less premium than even glossy glass, let alone matte glass. In this price segment, most affordable flagships and upper mid-range phones use glass backs. The Galaxy Note 10’s Lite’s plastic back is both a plus and a minus. It feels less premium, but it’s also more durable. Plastic doesn’t have the breakage characteristics of glass. In the absence of aluminum, Samsung’s decision to cut costs in this aspect makes a certain amount of sense. It’s up to consumers’ priorities here. Thankfully, the phone’s fit and finish are as good as you can expect, with gently rounded corners. The plastic back is the only arguable negative here. I would have preferred a matte plastic finish, though.

On the front, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite employs the same design as the Galaxy Note 10+ and the Galaxy S20+. It has minimal bezels on all sides, with a hole punch 32MP front camera placed at the center near the top of the display. The bezels themselves aren’t as noticeably thin as the either the Galaxy S20+ or the Galaxy Note 10+, but they are fine for this price segment. With a screen-to-body ratio of 86.6%, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite is in the upper tier. The earpiece is placed on the top frame.

Both the volume buttons and the side button are placed on the right side of the phone. The left side contains the SIM tray, which is of the hybrid variety (dual nano-SIM or nano-SIM + microSD), as expected. There are two microphones. The 3.5mm headphone jack, which is not present in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 series, Samsung Galaxy S20 series, and even the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite (review), is present here. It’s placed on the bottom, along with the USB 2.0 Type-C port and the bottom-firing speaker. The earpiece does not double up as a secondary speaker. The S Pen’s enclosure is at the right side of the bottom. In terms of button feel, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s buttons do an admirable job as their stiffness and actuation force are fine. The volume button layout isn’t ideal, though, as they are placed a bit too high on the right-hand side.

The curved and rounded corners give way for the back, where we find the triple camera (12MP + 12MP + 12MP) setup. It’s placed in a square enclosure. This phone was released before the Galaxy S20 series, and the camera enclosure foreshadows that of the S20’s camera design. Whereas the Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy S20+ feature rectangular camera enclosures, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite goes with a more simple square one, with three cameras and an LED flash placed symmetrically inside. This design is different from that of the Galaxy Note 10+’s design, and it seems Samsung is standardizing this going forward. Aesthetically, it looks pleasing on the Galaxy Note 10 Lite because of the symmetry. A Samsung logo and regulatory text round out what’s left.

The Galaxy Note 10 Lite comes in three colors: Aura Black, Aura Glow, and Aura Red. The black color is a standard glossy finish, while the Aura Glow color is Samsung’s attempt to take on the gradient finishes that became so popular in 2018 and 2019. I got the Aura Red variant for review, which uses a single shade of red. As expected, it’s not the color you get if you don’t want your phone to stand out. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s Aura Red finish is more subdued than something like the OnePlus 7’s red color, but it still stands out, which can both be a good thing and a bad thing depending on where you stand. Aesthetically, I think it’s fair to say the Aura Glow color is the best option.

In terms of ergonomics, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite makes a good impression. Its weight of 199 grams is balanced, its thickness is fairly average, and although the 20:9 6.7-inch display is tall, it’s surprisingly manageable in the hand. The phone feels appreciably less dense than both the OnePlus 7 Pro and the OPPO Reno 10x Zoom, and it’s easy to use the phone for long periods without getting your hands tired.

Overall, Samsung gets a lot right with the design of the Galaxy Note 10 Lite. The plastic back is a downgrade in terms of feel, but an upgrade in terms of durability. You do lose out on IP68 certified water resistance, which is indeed a downer. Unfortunately, it’s not a common feature at this price point, though. The combined aesthetics of the centered hole-punch camera, the fairly small bezels, and the gently curved sides make this design a success both in terms of look and feel as well as ergonomics.

The box of the Galaxy Note 10 Lite contains a 25W USB-C PD 3.0 “Super Fast Charger” with PPS, a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, generic 3.5mm earphones, and a transparent plastic case. The company doesn’t bundle a USB Type-C to Type-A cable in the box. I understand why Type-C is necessary for USB-C PD 3.0, but it wouldn’t have hurt Samsung to bundle a Type-A cable as well, which would have enabled users to connect the phone to any PC with a USB Type-A port. The decision is acceptable considering cost-cutting to get down to this price point, but there is room for improvement here.


Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite – Display

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite has a 6.7-inch Full HD+ (2400×1080) Super AMOLED display with 20:9 aspect ratio, 394 PPI, and 60Hz refresh rate. For those readers still keeping score, the display’s dimensions are 155 mm x 70 mm, which means the display’s width isn’t as wide as the 6.7-inch diagonal makes it seem. As display diagonal sizes go higher, device makers are moving to ever taller-and-narrower aspect ratios such as 20:9 or even 21:9. At the 6.7-inch screen size, 20:9 makes sense, even though I personally would have preferred 19.5:9.

The display’s “Super AMOLED” nomenclature instead of the “Dynamic AMOLED” title Samsung is using for its newest generation AMOLED displays signifies that it’s an older panel. The lack of the “Dynamic” part means it doesn’t support HDR10+. It does support the older HDR10 standard, though. A major plus point is that the display is a fully flat panel, instead of having curved edges like the Galaxy Note 10 series or the Galaxy S20 series. This is a major boon for using the S Pen (scroll down for more detail on this in the Software section below). A flat display also ensures display screen estate isn’t wasted, there is less glare, and it works better with screen protectors. The aesthetics take a hit, for sure, but functionally, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s display is superior to that of the more expensive Note 10 variants.

The display’s Full HD+ (1080p) resolution is fine at this price point, even at a 6.7-inch diagonal. Even the Galaxy S20 series ships with Full HD+ resolution out of the box. Thanks to advancements in subpixel anti-aliasing, Full HD+ OLED displays have become much better in terms of clarity over the last few years.

The Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s display has average brightness when adjusted manually, going to a maximum of 300-350 nits. Thankfully, it has an active High Brightness Mode (HBM) that takes the display’s brightness to ~700 nits at 100% APL in sunlight, as long as auto-brightness is enabled. This means that sunlight legibility isn’t an issue, and content can be made out on the display even under direct sunlight.

Thanks to AMOLED’s theoretically infinite contrast, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite has no issues with display contrast. In terms of viewing angles, though, it’s apparent that the phone’s display is not as good as the more expensive Galaxy Note 10 and the Note 10+. I would say it’s two generations old (n-2) in terms of the quality of color shift. The display still has a visible angular color shift and a rainbow out interference effect at extreme angles, which is a common characteristic of Samsung’s cheaper AMOLED displays. Samsung solved this issue in its flagship phones in 2018, but the Note 10 Lite appears to be using a mid-range panel that still exhibits angular color shift. The OnePlus 7T, therefore, has a superior display with a newer emitter, higher auto-brightness, and better viewing angles with no apparent angular color shift. The OnePlus 7 Pro also has a superior display here.

Samsung ships the display out of the box with the Natural color screen mode applied, which is a good decision. That means we get accurate colors out-of-the-box, although this setting has been known to have different defaults in different regions (for example, the Galaxy S10 phones came with Vivid color mode set as the default in India). The Natural mode supports automatic color management for the DCI-P3 and sRGB gamuts. It’s still early days, but color management has become much more pervasive in new Android phone launches since 2019. The Natural mode’s color accuracy is perceptibly very good. The one issue here is the warm white point. Grayscale, saturation, and gamut accuracy all seem fine in comparison to the OnePlus 7 Pro’s calibrated display. There are still minor issues with black clipping, but for the most part, the Note 10 Lite provides a good experience. Users wanting intentionally saturated, punchy colors have the option of using Vivid mode.

The display’s 60Hz refresh rate can be negatively compared with high refresh rate (HFR) displays that are making their way to the price point and even below. The 90Hz-featuring OnePlus 7T and the OnePlus 7 Pro can both be bought for the same price, and they are actually due for a refresh. The Realme X50 Pro (first impressions) has led the 2020 affordable flagship charge, and it has a 90Hz OLED display. Even the much cheaper POCO X2 (review) has a 120Hz IPS LCD. As explained before, high refresh rate displays make a significant difference in device smoothness and overall responsiveness. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite, unfortunately, has nothing beyond ordinary to present here. Even the Galaxy S20 phones ship with 60Hz refresh rate out of the box because of power efficiency concerns over the high 120Hz display refresh rate.

The centered hole-punch camera on the Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s display is good in terms of usability. It’s less distracting than the right-placed camera on the Galaxy S10 series, for example, and it’s small enough not to become a major distraction. Hole punch cameras are the new normal for phone launches in 2020, and the Galaxy Note 10 Lite doesn’t deviate from the trend.

Overall, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s display is fine for the price, but it’s not superb. Is it as good as the display of the Galaxy Note 10+? No. Does it have to be? No. When compared to its price competitors, the display is indeed lacking in a few major aspects such as color shifting and the lack of a high refresh rate. On the other hand, a flat display is a plus point for the phone’s USP: the S Pen. Other aspects such as brightness and color accuracy are handled competently by Samsung.


Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite – Performance

System performance

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite is powered by the aging, two-year-old Exynos 9810 SoC, which powered the Exynos variants of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9 series. There are no two ways to put this: this is a major downgrade from other fair competitors, the Galaxy Note 10+, or even upper mid-range phones. The Exynos 9810 SoC wasn’t good even in 2018 against a well-implemented Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. In 2020, it’s performance isn’t even in the league of any Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 flagship. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite has an upper mid-range/affordable flagship price tag, but its SoC is anything but that. The first Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 flagships have arrived on the market, and while the Note 10 Lite competes with them on price, it cannot do anything in terms of an even performance comparison against the new contenders.

In 2018, we didn’t have the opportunity to test the Exynos 9810 in the Galaxy S9/Galaxy Note 9. Readers interested in the SoC can check out AnandTech’s coverage to see where the SoC is deficient against the competition, with major weaknesses in the scheduler, an obsolete hotplugging mechanism, poorly implemented big cores, issues with the memory subsystem, and middling GPU performance for the time. It’s fair to say the SoC has not aged well.

Has Samsung made any improvements to the Exynos 9810 after two years? Let’s find out. This was never going to be a winning comparison for the Galaxy Note 10 Lite. Even its own cousin, the Galaxy S10 Lite, is outfitted with the much, much better Snapdragon 855 SoC. This is purely an example of cost-cutting, but it doesn’t even make sens