Teardown: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G
Image credit: Samsung
A mobile that’s more about the battle for 5G-handset supremacy than practical use.
Samsung’s latest fifth-generation mobile comms handset, the flagship Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, is, for all the engineering skill within it, something of an anomaly.
If you are the kind of person comfortable with replacing your smartphone every 12 months and paying a premium price (starting at $1,300 – or £1,080 – for the 256GB model), there are aspects that recommend the device. However, the overall message must be caveat emptor.
First, the phone is designed only for full-5G capability on networks that operate in the millimetre-wave (24GHz to 100GHz) spectrum. For now, that is of little use to a UK customer where the initial 5G rollout is concentrating on mid-band spectrum, typically between 3.4GHz and 3.6GHz.
On mm-wave networks, such as that operated by Verizon in the US, download speeds of greater than 1Gbps are being reported, compared with expectations of around 300Mbps for mid-band. But there’s a catch. A mm-wave signal has limited range and travels poorly through obstacles. Even something as simple as turning to face a base station rather than having your back to it can significantly increase the speed.
From a British perspective, the Note 10 5G+ is essentially a science project (although another Samsung handset, the Galaxy 10 5G, can be used in the UK on urban mid-band networks).
A further set of frustrations, exposed by an iFixit teardown, is that the Note 10 5G+ is not that easy to fix. Its team scored the handset at 3 out of 10.
It retains the same size as other top-tier members of the Note family, with its 6.8-inch diagonal AMOLED display. But the addition of new technology obviously means more pressure on space. For example, Samsung has moved to stacked circuit boards and there was the need to accommodate a sizeable mm-wave antenna module.
The designers have then dropped the standard headphone port to free up area, favouring Bluetooth or the USB-C port for audio.
The greater load extracted by 5G and its download speeds place more load on the high-conductivity vapour chamber plates used to control heat.
The company has also moved to a five-camera system – four at up to 16MP resolution in the main rear array and a 10MP front selfie cam.
Finally, the wireless S Pen stylus has been given a makeover, a tip of the Sorting Hat to budding Harrys and Hermiones.
The presence of standard Phillips fasteners and the use of modular components makes repair and maintenance somewhat easier, however iFixit makes three more downbeat observations.
Every repair starts with painstakingly ungluing the fragile glass rear cover.
Replacing the glued-down battery is tougher than ever, especially with board interconnect cables to work around.
All-too-common display repairs require either a complete teardown or replacing half the phone.
“We’ll call this teardown a win, but we can’t say we’re the biggest fans of this Note,” its team concludes.
One other decision puzzling analysts is that while the Note 10+ 5G uses Qualcomm’s 855 apps processor, it does not take advantage of the chip’s and the associated X55 modem’s support for 5G spectrum outside mm-wave.
Other reviewers have noted that the phone is well built, robust enough to withstand daily use. Repairs should be rare. But the Note 10+ 5G does primarily exist as another bid by Samsung to establish early technology leadership in an emerging smartphone market by winning plaudits from those with the deepest pockets.
That should not necessarily be simply dismissed out of hand. US reviewers who have been given tours with the phone on early Verizon mm-wave deployments in cities such as Providence, Rhode Island and Chicago, Illinois, report downloading entire seasons from Netflix in a matter of minutes, and just a few seconds for feature films. The ultimate potential of ultra-wideband is being demonstrated.
Similarly, as the larger camera array shows, the increasingly margin-challenged handset market needs to keep adding features at the top end that will then trickle down through various companies’ ranges. The question then is how do you fit those and account for greater performance within form factors that are generally thought to be at their limit? And 5G, whatever spectrum is used, is a major heatsink issue too.
This is engineering to admire, but it also probably needs a few revs – and, given that 5G is in its early days, these are likely to come in short order. At $1,300 for a not-that-future-proofed and network-limited handset, the Note 10+ 5G is likely to be a tough sell, even where mm-wave access is being made available. As a taste of things to come, though, it’s a little more welcome.
Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G
Key components: exploded view
1. Rear assembly
2. Mid-frame A
3. Rear camera
4. Motherboard (top stack)
5. Front camera
6. SIM/MicroSD tray
7. Millimetre wave antenna
8. Earpiece speaker
10. Front display
11. Mid-frame B
13. Motherboard (bottom stack)
14. Millimetre wave antenna module
16. Mid-frame C
17. USB-C board
19. Vibration motor
21. S Pen cover A
22. S Pen board
23. S Pen stylus tip
24. S Pen cover B
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.