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Note 10 Plus vs. Note 9: Which phone should you buy?

Let's work out if you need to spend more on the latest Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, or less on last year's Note 9.

The Galaxy Note 10 Plus is a seriously good phone -- we've called it the best phone Samsung has made in years. But the premium Note 10 Plus comes at a cost, with prices starting at $1,100 (£999, AU$1,699). So if you want a big screen phone with a stylus, great performance and all-day battery life, do you need to spend that much money on this year's flagship, or will last year's (also excellent) Note 9 be enough?

To work out if you should pay more for the Note 10 Plus, or less for the Note 9, I used both phones for a week and compared them side-by-side on everything from camera quality to design to how they performed in everyday situations. Watch the video at the top of the article for my full impressions or read on for the abridged version.

Note that these products are independently chosen by our editors, based on hands-on testing. CNET may get a share of the revenue from the sale of products from the links.

Angela Lang/CNET

Want the best that Android has to offer? You'll find almost everything you want (except a headphone jack) in Samsung's current flagship phone. The Note 10 Plus has an excellent 6.8-inch screen, expandable storage and a wide-angle camera. Starting at $1,099 there's no doubt that this is an expensive phone, but its performance and all-day battery life may justify the cost.

Angela Lang/CNET

Last year's Galaxy Note 9 is still an excellent buy, especially if you value some of the hardware options it has over the Note 10 Plus such as a headphone jack and iris scanner. While it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the newer phone, the screen still looks great and the cameras perform well. It's also been marked down since the Note 10 and 10 Plus release, so it's a much better deal.

Wherefore art thou, headphone jack?

By now you're probably well aware that the headphone jack has disappeared from the Note 10 Plus, so if you are a fan of wired headphones the choice is easy: the Note 9. There's also no dongle provided in the box of the Note 10 Plus if you do want to connect 3.5mm headphones.

The Note 9 has some other design cues that are absent from the more expensive phone, such as the notification light and a fingerprint scanner at the back. The Note 10 Plus has an in-screen fingerprint scanner (just like the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus before it) and I found it to be very responsive, but there were still one or two occasions when it wouldn't register my print compared to the almost 100% accuracy on the Note 9's reader.

The way you turn off the phone is slightly different on both: with the Note 9 the power button is on the right while the Note 10 Plus has a remappable button and the volume rocker to the left of the screen. (Note: you can also remap the Bixby button on the Note 9.)

samsung-galaxy-note-9-note-10-plus-comparison-2
Angela Lang/CNET

When it comes to display quality, both phones are excellent. The Note 10 Plus gives you more screen real estate (even though the overall dimensions are similar to the Note 9), thanks to the 6.8-inch edge-to-edge Infinity O display, with the front-facing camera integrated at the top of the screen. The 6.4-inch Note 9 display is also great to look at, but you will have to contend with bezels at the top and bottom of the phone.

I'll admit the Note 9 is a little easier to use one-handed as it's a tiny bit narrower than the Note 10 Plus but I preferred the newer phone for when I was able to use it with both hands: kicking back watching videos or using the S Pen.

The material finish on the Note 10 Plus looks fabulous but it is a fingerprint magnet. As soon as I took it out of the box, I'd smudged up the back. You can, of course, use a case, but then you may lose the iridescent effect from the aura glow or aura blue finishes if you choose those colors.

Then again, you may not need to use a case because the Note 10 Plus uses Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and back to protect against drops. The Note 9 uses the previous generation Gorilla Glass 5.

S Pen gets a boost on the Note 10 Plus

One reason to buy a Samsung Galaxy Note over any other Galaxy or Android phone is because of the stylus. I didn't find there was much difference between the sensitivity and accuracy of the S Pen on the Note 10 Plus compared to the Note 9, although you do get a couple additional features if you go for the newer phone.

Air gestures let you control some apps (like the camera or YouTube) by pressing the S Pen button and moving the stylus side to side, up and down or even in a circle. It might seem like a gimmick on paper but I actually enjoyed using it, especially when it came to switching between modes remotely on the camera or changing tracks in a music app like Spotify.

You can also use the Note 10 Plus to transcribe your handwriting from the S Pen automatically. It's fairly accurate, although it can get things wrong if you have particularly messy handwriting.

The Note 9 doesn't have air gestures, but it does have Bluetooth so you can use it as a remote to take photos, or customize it further for some other apps like the Gallery in the settings menu.

samsung-galaxy-note-9-note-10-plus-comparison-1
Angela Lang/CNET

Camera: Wide-angle and night mode, advantage Note 10 Plus

One of my favorite additions to the Note 10 Plus is the ultra wide-angle camera that accompanies the regular wide-angle and 2x telephoto lens on the Note 10 Plus. (There's also a depth-sensing camera used for 3D scanning.) This configuration is not new to the Galaxy family, however, as it's the same camera setup found on the Galaxy S10 Plus 5G.

On the Note 9 you only get a regular wide lens and a 2x telephoto lens around the back. Overall I think the results from the cameras are fairly close, with the exception of that wide-angle lens which I love using on the Note 10 Plus. Dynamic range is a little wider on the Note 10 Plus, although for most people you won't notice much of a difference at all between photos taken in good light on either phone.

Where there is a bigger difference is the Note 10 Plus's dedicated night mode. It helps brighten up the scene and bring out details in the shadows that you might ordinarily miss on the Note 9. (The Note 9 is also getting this dedicated night mode in an over-the-air update, although my phone hasn't received it yet.)

4K video recording is great on both. The Note 10 Plus has better stabilization with its super steady mode -- but it's only active at 1080p. You also get live focus video on the newer phone which lets you blur the background behind your subject to make them stand out. I found the result looked best when using the selfie camera rather than the rear camera, but it's not a feature I would use often at all and for me, not worth the upgrade over the Note 9. Find photo and video samples in the video at the top of this page.

Battery life and performance is a close call

Both these phones are absolute beasts when it comes to performance. You can find the full benchmark results in our Note 9 and Note 10 Plus reviews respectively. But in real-world situations I didn't encounter any discernible difference between the two when I was taking and editing 4K video, playing graphics-intensive games or having a multitude of apps running in the background.

Your mileage will vary when it comes to battery life and a lot does come down to how you use your phone. But for my usage, which generally included watching videos, making a few calls, using maps, recording 4K video and editing photos, I was able to get through an entire day with anywhere between 15% to 25% battery remaining on both the Note 9 and Note 10 Plus. The Note 10 Plus does have a slightly higher capacity battery and the option of a 45W charger (which costs extra) for even faster charging.

Just tell me which Note I should buy!

The Galaxy Note is Samsung's flagship phone for a reason. Both are great devices that promise to give you a fantastic Android experience -- to me, a lot of the decision about which one to choose does come down to how much you're willing to invest in a phone. Sorry to be a tease, but if you want my full answer on which phone I would choose, you'll find it in the video at the top of the page.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus vs. Note 9 specs


Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Display size, resolution 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels 6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 498 ppi 516 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.39x3.04x0.31 in 6.37x3.01x0.35 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 162.3x77.2x7.9 mm 161.9x76.4x8.8 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.91 oz; 196g 7.09 oz; 201g
Mobile software Android 9.0 Pie Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera 12-megapixel (wide angle), 16-megapixel (ultra-wide angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto), 3D depth (HQVGA) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, or Samsung Exynos 9825 Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz)
Storage 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 512GB
RAM 12GB 6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TB 512GB
Battery 4,300mAh 4,000mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen Back of phone
Connector USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No Yes
Special features Wireless PowerShare; water resistant (IP68); S Pen stylus with Bluetooth connectivity and Air actions Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; S Pen with Bluetooth connectivity; Iris and facial scanning
Price off-contract (USD) $1,100 $1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB)*
Price (GBP) £999
£899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB)*
Price (AUD) $1,699 AU$1,499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB)*

* Prices at launch

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