Better late than never. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when we look at the Galaxy Note 10 Lite from Samsung. The South Korean brand was a formidable champion in the Indian smartphone market. At one point, it seemed like Samsung would remain untamed in India. Then came the invasion by Chinese smartphone makers, and now Samsung has dropped from lead to become number three player. Samsung’s loss in India is a cause of the concern for the company, which has negligible market share in China. With India being the fastest growing smartphone market, its importance cannot be underplayed. But, Samsung has been taking note and is preparing a comeback.
The first signs of that comeback can be seen in the premium smartphone segment. We are particularly talking about the segment where smartphones are priced above Rs 30,000. Samsung has launched not one, but two challengers – Galaxy S10 Lite and Galaxy Note 10 Lite. The devices form a two-pronged attack on OnePlus, the leader in the above Rs 30,000 price segment in India. There is a lot to like about these devices. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite, in particular, is interesting because it shows that you don’t need to spend Rs 70,000 to get a phone with S Pen. But, is S Pen enough to make Galaxy Note 10 Lite worth buying? Or is there more upside with this device? Read on to find out.
Design and Display
When you look at the Galaxy Note 10+ with its big display, minimal bezels and huge punch hole cutout at the front, you know we are talking premium. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite does not exhibit any of those premium characteristics. The thin bezels are replaced by prominent bezels at the sides of the display. They are not distracting but at the same time, you cannot un-see them. The bezel is prominent at the chin, which has become difficult to trim even for Apple. The back panel is made from glass and plastic. The critics of this device might argue that the OnePlus 7T has glass back. However, there is not much advantage in using a glass back over glastic back.
The overall design language is almost identical to the Galaxy S10 Lite. There is a volume rocker on the right hand side. There is also a side button that can be used either as a power button or as a Bixby button. It is set to Bixby by default, and it makes sense to change it to power immediately. The left edge only has a slot for hybrid SIM card slot, while the top is home to a microphone and antenna bands. At the bottom, you will find the headphone jack, USB Type-C port, and a slot for S Pen. At 199 grams, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite is heavy, but it doesn’t feel that way when you hold it in your hand. From the square camera module on the back to the red finish on our review unit, there’s a lot to like about the smartphone.
The Galaxy Note 10 Lite sports a 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display with FHD+ resolution. At 2400×1080 pixels, it is not pixel dense. When we compared the display to the Super AMOLED Plus screen on the Galaxy S10 Lite, the latter was a clear winner. This is an area where Samsung should not have made any compromises. But they did anyway. The Note 10 Lite’s display supports only HDR and not HDR10. It is bright and produces good visuals, but is not as bright or vivid as the display on the Galaxy S10 Lite. Under direct sunlight, this panel gets bright enough for you to see everything clearly. However, the display seems lacking when you compare with other devices in this price point. It is important to note that Samsung supports only 60Hz and not 90Hz seen on the OnePlus 7T.
Performance and Battery Life
To reach that starting price of Rs 38,999, Samsung had to make compromises. One area where it did make a big compromise is the chipset. The Galaxy Note 10 Lite uses two generations old Exynos 9810 mobile processor. This is an octa-core processor fabricated using a 10nm process and paired with a Mali-G72 MP18 GPU. In our tests, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite definitely did not come out on top. It scored lower than the Galaxy S10 Lite and OnePlus 7T in benchmark tests. Those results were evident while playing games as well. If you play PUBG Mobile, the game starts with the highest graphics setting. As soon as you start the gameplay, the device starts to heat up. In 15-20 minutes, it starts to get warm, and soon reaches a point where it gets too hot to touch.
Since it uses plastic for the back panel, it cools down rather fast. However, I don’t think anyone should fancy long sessions of PUBG Mobile or other graphic-intensive games on Galaxy Note 10 Lite. It is also true with Alto’s Odyssey, where the device did get warm after some time. The Mali graphics are not the most capable out there, and this generation’s old platform does not help either. Our review unit comes with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. Even at the highest of hardware configuration, we noticed issues with gameplay. I just want to highlight that games themselves played smoothly and without any frame drops. When I changed PUBG Mobile settings to medium graphics, I could continue playing longer. But it is a compromise over gameplay settings available with Galaxy S10 Lite and OnePlus 7T.
When it comes to basic apps, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite works without any issues. It is fast, stable and reliable at the same time. But in my opinion, Samsung would have been better off using the same chipset found on the Galaxy S10 series. In terms of battery life, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite is better than most average smartphones. It packs a 4,500mAh battery and during my time with the device, I averaged between four and six hours of screen on time. I found myself charging it everyday but it was never out of a need to top up. For most users, I think Galaxy Note 10 Lite will act as a day and a half kind of smartphone. It also has an optical in-display fingerprint sensor, which is quick but less reliable. The bottom firing single speaker is surprisingly loud but you might end up blocking it.
This is the trump card for the Galaxy Note 10 Lite and trust me, it works like a charm. There are three cameras on the back all using a 12-megapixel sensors. The main shooter has a wide f/1.7 aperture with dual pixel autofocus and optical image stabilization. The telephoto lens has f/2.4 aperture and optical image stabilization. The third ultra wide-angle lens lacks OIS and has f/2.2 aperture. I have to say the Galaxy Note 10 Lite’s main 12-megapixel camera clicks really good pictures. The colors are not as saturated as they used to be on older Galaxy phones. The pictures are sharp with vivid details and almost accurate exposure.
One area where the camera literally shines is with autofocus. When you click with the Galaxy Note 10 Lite, you don’t have to worry about autofocus. It does not struggle to lock onto a subject. The end results are always without any ghosting effects. When you switch to a telephoto camera, the results are fine, but they don’t quite leave you impressed. I don’t think telephoto cameras are still any good on mobile devices. The ultra wide-angle camera, on the other hand, is wider than normal. It has 12mm equivalent focal length when most other devices have 16mm or 17mm equivalent focal length. As a result, you get pictures that are wider than what you are used to.
If you get too close to your subject with the ultra wide-angle camera, you will see fisheye effects. In terms of results, it tends to put focus on the foreground while background generally lacks details. It does not take bad pictures but it does not take the best either. In comparison with OnePlus 7T and Galaxy S10 Lite, we found Note 10 Lite to do better in most scenarios but it did not come out as a clear winner. In other words, you won’t be disappointed if you get those two devices for imaging experience in particular. Similarly, the portrait mode on the Galaxy Note 10 Lite also works well in wide and ultra wide modes.
There are excellent details and edge detection and decent separation between foreground and the background. I was also particularly impressed with the selfie camera, which uses a 32-megapixel sensor. Samsung has tried to make this a camera-centric smartphone and it does not disappoint. However, the lack of Qualcomm ISP definitely hurts the end result. I am firmly in that boat which believes that Galaxy Note 10 Lite would have been much better with a Snapdragon 855 SoC. Unfortunately, Samsung has delivered a platter that is full but not quite mouth watering or delicious.
S Pen and Software
Your decision to buy the Galaxy Note 10 Lite will depend on one thing – S Pen. As soon as we published our first impressions, there were some comments that you will use S Pen for a day or two and then give up. Honestly, I used S Pen just a moment back to create a shopping list. If you understand how to put the S Pen to use then it can become a delight to use. As soon as you pull out the S Pen out of its holding slot, Samsung gives option for Screen Off Memo. Here you can take notes even when the display is off. With the screen on, you get even more options.
You can write on the screen, which will come handy for editors and business professionals to pass notes or edits. You also get options for live messages and AR Doodles. One of my favorite features with S Pen is Air actions. This mode turns the S Pen into a remote control. You can use it as a remote shutter for your camera, control music, among other things. The support with third-party apps remain limited, but it does few things really well. There is also Penup mode where you can color objects or drawings like you would do as a 5 to 10 year old. Is S Pen fun to use? Definitely. Is it productive to use? Yes. Does it get boring after sometime? No, it does not.
Speaking of software, the Galaxy Note 10 Lite runs One UI 2.0 based on Android 10. As someone who is using a Galaxy device after a long gap, I found One UI to be a huge departure from the TouchWiz era. It has been designed with reachability in mind, which works well for this big 6.7-inch display. The device comes with January security patch and Samsung has only gotten good with software recently. The whole interface is intuitive to use and does not have remnants of rival operating systems or skin. It is smooth and fluid and there are no weird bugs or crash elements included anywhere. It is clearly one of the best Android skins out there right now.
Verdict: Should you buy?
In order to reach this price point, Samsung has cut quite a few corners. I am not sure if all those corners cut make sense. To begin with, Samsung has made a huge mistake by opting for Exynos 9810 for this smartphone. Considering customers use a phone for not more than three years, it does not make sense to begin with a two generation old chipset. A good example would be the fact that Samsung sells its Galaxy flagships with Snapdragon in key markets like the US.
The S Pen remains unique in this segment. The camera, on the other hand, is only fan-Samsung-tastic. It does not quite come across as the ultimate champion in this price point. As a result, recommending this over other devices becomes difficult. If you are into playing a lot of games then you would be better off with OnePlus 7T or Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Lite. If your use cases are not that elaborate and if you plan to use S Pen everyday then get Galaxy Note 10 Lite.