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Galaxy Note 10 vs. S10: Honestly, we don't think the S Pen is worth it

A few hundred more will get you a bigger screen and a stylus. But we think it's better to save the extra cash.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
6 min read
$214 at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S10


  • Sharp screen
  • Long battery life
  • Noteworthy camera quality
  • Wirelessly charges other devices

Don't like

  • In-screen fingerprint reader is hit or miss
  • Lacks the distinction of S10 Plus and S10E
$950 at Samsung
Samsung Galaxy Note 10


  • The Galaxy Note 10 brings the best of Samsung's Note line in a compact body that sells for the right price.

Don't like

  • It lacks a microSD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Though both the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 launched last year, Samsung's 2019 flagship phones and ultraluxe phones are still fantastic devices. Both offer high-end specs that include brilliant AMOLED displays, powerful cameras and ultrafast processors. In addition, now that the 2020 Galaxy S20 is out, Samsung has discounted the Galaxy S10 significantly from its original price of $900 (£799, AU$1,349). Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are also out now, if you want to splurge.

If you're deciding between the two 2019 phones, we recommend the Galaxy S10. You'll get similar specs and performance to the Note 10 (give or take a few things that we'll go in detail about later), but at a lower cost. 

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Our detailed walk-through below compares these on the basis of design, camera, performance and storage. And for more comparisons, read CNET's Note 10 Plus vs. Note 9: Which Galaxy Note is the better buy? and Galaxy Note 20 vs. Note 20 Ultra vs. S20 vs. S20 Ultra: Samsung flagship specs compared.

Angela Lang/CNET

With its big display, cheaper price tag and comparable hardware specs to the Note 10, the Galaxy S10 is the better value. The phone's display is a tad smaller than the Note 10's by just 0.2 inch, but it has the same processor and nearly the same triple rear-camera setup. It also has a sharper display, a headphone jack and expandable memory. What you won't have, of course, is the embedded S Pen. But if you're not a power user and won't have much use for it anyway, go for the S10 and pocket the extra cash.

Read our Samsung Galaxy S10 review.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Is the Note 10's built-in stylus worth the several hundred dollars you'd be saving if you went with the Galaxy S10? To most users who can swipe and tap just fine without it, we'd say no. And since most of what's under the Note 10's hood is so similar to the Galaxy S10, we'd recommend going for that instead. However, if you truly think you'd get a lot of use out of the S Pen (which can do other things than draw, like remotely take photos and control apps), you won't be disappointed in the Note 10, as this is still an excellent, albeit expensive, phone.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review.

Watch this: Note 10 Plus isn't just great, it's outstanding

S Pen: The Note 10's ultimate benefit

You can't compare the Note 10 and the Galaxy S10 without first addressing the former's one big advantage: the S Pen smart pen stylus. Stored inside the Note 10, the S Pen adds extra functionality to productivity apps and features that are baked into the phone. In addition to quickly jotting down notes and doodles, you can use the S Pen as a remote, firing off the camera's shutter or controlling music on Spotify from a distance.

The S Pen is essentially the biggest draw of the Note 10 and you should ultimately decide if this is an important enough tool for you to pay more money for it. If you see yourself using the stylus often and have the budget for the Note 10, go for it. On the other hand, if it's not a necessary feature, save your money now and check out the Galaxy S10. If you're still on the fence between the two, then read on.


The Note 10 is all about the S Pen

Angela Lang/CNET

Design: Galaxy S10 has a sharper screen and headphone jack

When Samsung's first Note phone launched, its screen was notably much bigger than those of the phones that were out during the time. These days, however, many phones have generously sized screens, including the Galaxy S10. With its 6.1-inch display and the Note 10's 6.3 inches, you'll get a big-screen experience with either phone.

But the phones' displays differ in another way. The Galaxy S10 has a sharper 1440p resolution and a higher pixel density than the Note 10 (550 ppi compared with 401 ppi). Side by side, your eyes might not notice a difference between 1440p and 1080p. But if you watch a lot of video or play graphics-intensive games on your phone, the Galaxy S10's screen offers crisper details, at least on paper.

Because the Note 10 houses its stylus pen inside, the phone is slightly heavier and thicker. The phone also doesn't have a headphone jack, unlike the Galaxy S10. That means you'll have to use a dongle, wireless headphones or USB type-C headphones to listen to music and calls. 

Lastly, both phones have black and white variants, but the Galaxy S10 comes in four more colors as well: green, blue, silver and red. The Note 10 has one extra "fun" color, known specifically as Aura Glow. With its iridescent shine and striking color gradient, though, this third color variant is really, really fun.

Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, S10E: Every camera lens and curve

See all photos

Camera: Galaxy S10 and Note 10 are nearly identical

For the most part, both phones have the same triple rear-camera setup and video features: a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 16-megapixel ultrawide-angle shooter and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens. Both have a 10-megapixel front-facing camera too.

But Samsung did tweak the camera hardware slightly between the two phones. For the selfie and telephoto cameras, the Galaxy S10 has a fixed aperture lens at f/1.9 and f.2.4 respectively. The Note 10 uses a slightly narrower f/2.1 aperture on the selfie camera and f/2.2 on the telephoto by comparison. Generally, the larger the aperture (or the smaller the f-stop number), the more light the camera can capture. This can help capture sharper low-light photos that don't suffer from camera shake. However, despite the slight differences in hardware, in most scenarios, you shouldn't notice much difference in photo quality between either of these phones. (Note that on both phones, the main wide-angle camera has a variable aperture that can shift between f/1.5 and f/2.4.)

At launch, the Note 10 did have a few extra camera features that the Galaxy S10 didn't have, like applying bokeh blur on video and Night Mode on the front-facing camera. However, many of those features have been ported over to the Galaxy S10 with an October 2019 update. Both phones also have newer Galaxy S20 camera updates like Single Take and Night Hyperlapse.

For more on photo quality, check out photos taken with the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 here.

Galaxy S10 vs. Pixel 3 sample photos

See all photos

Galaxy S10 and Note 10's performance and battery: About equal

Both phones have 8GB of RAM and are equipped with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, but depending on what market you're in, some models of the Note 10 have a Samsung Exynos 9825 processor. 

We didn't run benchmark tests on these two specific phones, but we did on the Galaxy S10 Plus and Note 10 Plus, which also share the same Snapdragon 855 processor. Both phones scored similar Geekbench 4 and 3DMark Slingshot Unlimited test results. However, the Galaxy S10 Plus did have a lower score on 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test (57,320) than the Note 10 Plus (79,190). In any case, both the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 have lightning-quick processors and there should be little difference in performance and speed when it comes to day-to-day tasks.

Given its slightly larger screen, it makes sense that the Note 10 has a slightly larger battery. But the Note 10's 3,500-mAh battery actually clocked in the same 18-hour runtime as the Galaxy S10's 3,400-mAh battery for continuous video playback in Airplane mode. 


The S10 has a headphone jack while the Note 10 does not.

Angela Lang/CNET

Storage: Note 10 doesn't have expandable memory

One important thing to note is that unlike the Galaxy S10, the Note 10 does not have expandable memory. This shouldn't be a huge deal given that the phone comes with 256GB of onboard storage, but for those who shoot a lot of photos or 4K video, this is something to consider.

Meanwhile, you can use a microSD card with the Galaxy S10. However, it has two storage tiers that, funnily enough, sit below and above the Note 10's: 128GB and 512GB. Only you can decide how much storage is enough, but opting for the 128GB model of the Galaxy S10 and investing in a microSD card later (a 128GB card runs for about $30) is the cheapest way to go.

Galaxy S10 vs. Galaxy Note 10

Samsung Galaxy S10Samsung Galaxy Note 10
Display size, resolution 6.1-inch AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels6.3-inch AMOLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 550 ppi401 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 5.9x2.77x0.31 in5.94x2.83x0.31 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 149.9x70.4x7.8 mm151x71.8x7.9 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 5.53 oz; 157g5.93 oz; 168g
Mobile software Android 9.0 PieAndroid 9.0 Pie
Camera 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultrawide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto)12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultrawide angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel10-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor or Samsung Exynos 9825
Storage 128GB, 512GB256GB
Expandable storage Up to 512GBNo
Battery 3,400 mAh3,500 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screenIn-screen
Connector USB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack YesNo
Special features Wireless PowerShare; hole-punch screen notch; water-resistant (IP68)S Pen stylus; Wireless PowerShare; hole-punch screen notch; water-resistant (IP68)