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February 22, 2019


The Samsung Galaxy S10 has been engineered to be a conversation changer, a phone that’s intended to turn everyone’s yearly question of “Do I really need to upgrade?” into a more exclamatory “Do I really need to upgrade!”

Our hands-on time with the S10 proves that it does make this case, with some clear caveats.

It’s the 6.1-inch Infinity Display that really sells this phone. It introduces a nearly-edge-to-edge look that stretches top to bottom, with pixels spilling over the curved edges at the sides – there’s no room for big bezels on Samsung’s 2019 flagship smartphone.

Its new Infinity-O screen – also a feature of the Galaxy S10 Plus and cheaper Galaxy S10e – is so large it actually displaces the front camera, consigning it to a small ‘punch-hole’ in the screen. All of the important sensors are neatly tucked behind this vibrant and bright Super AMOLED display.

Also behind the glass is the new ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. You won’t find a fingerprint pad on the back anymore, or anywhere visibly on the phone. Samsung put its sensor – now invisible – on the front, where we feel it belongs.

The S10 officially makes punch-hole displays a trend after the idea debuted on the Honor View 20, and in-screen fingerprint sensors more mainstream after they appeared on the OnePlus 6T, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and a few Vivo phones. It’s all in the cause of achieving that impressive 93.1% screen-to-body ratio on the front of the phone.

Maximization is also the idea behind the Galaxy S10’s rear-facing triple-lens camera. Samsung’s camera array has lenses to take normal, telephoto and new ultra-wide photos. The ultra-wide camera is all about capturing more of what’s in front of you without having to back up.

Sure, LG phones have touted ultra-wide camera lenses for years, most recently the LG V40, but Samsung’s cameras have been more consistent in low-light conditions. The feature is finally in a a flagship-level phone you want.

The Galaxy S10 also has features everyone can get. Its Wireless PowerShare feature lets you use the back of the S10 to Qi charge another phone or the new Galaxy Buds, cloning the reverse wireless charging idea in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, a phone that’s not widely available in certain territories, including the US.

The Galaxy S10 is an amalgam of other handsets’ single hallmark features packed into one phone, while Samsung pioneers as many technical features as it can cram in – faster Wi-Fi 6 and HDR10+ are both firsts for smartphones. And that’s what Samsung does best really.

Galaxy S10 Hands

There’s a hitch or two in Samsung’s masterplan to get everyone to upgrade to this particular handset. The S10 is expensive, even more so than last year’s Galaxy S9, although it’s markedly better value than the iPhone XS, which is more expensive and has a smaller 5.8-inch screen.

Then there’s the fact that Samsung’s biggest competition in 2019 may be Samsung. The Galaxy S10e is cheaper and almost as good, while the Galaxy S10 Plus is the phone you’ll want if you can handle its price and screen size – and that’s to say nothing of the Galaxy S10 5G and the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which early adopters may look for true innovation at a higher price.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 marks a decade of Galaxy S phones, and while there’s been little innovation in recent years from the most popular smartphone brands, including Samsung (Bixby and AR EMoji don’t cut it), the S10 has enough newness to tempt you to upgrade. We’re still testing the camera, performance and battery life, but it’s already shaping up to be one of 2019’s best smartphones.

Display

SAMSUNG GALAXY S10 SPECS

Weight: 157g
Dimensions: 149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: QHD+
CPU: Octa-core chipset
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128/512GB
Battery: 3,400mAh
Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP

Samsung’s screens are so good “our competitors are even using them,” Samsung brand manager Paul Guzek told TechRadar, an all-too-obvious dig at Apple. It’s hard to disagree.

In fact, the Galaxy S10’s 6.1-inch Super AMOLED display panel looks better than anything Samsung sells its rivals. It has elegantly curved edges with pixels that spill over the sides, amped-up brightness for better outdoor visibility, and HDR10+ support for superior contrast and color.

The new Infinity-O display type is what stands out – for better or worse. Samsung has successfully avoided a notch cut-out at the top of its flagship phones, instead using a laser-cut hole in the top-right corner of the screen to embed the front-facing camera, as on the Honor View 20.

Is a ‘punch-hole’ camera more or less distracting than a notch? We’re going to reserve judgment for our final Samsung Galaxy S10 review, when we’ll put the phone through its paces in day-to-day use. One thing we can say right away though is that it’s given Samsung more screen real estate to play with than ever.

Don’t let the bigger 6.1-inch screen size scare you off. The S10’s dimensions are 149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8mm (it weighs 157g), so it’s only marginally taller and wider than the S9 with its 5.8-inch screen, and noticeably thinner and a bit lighter. Those marginal increases in height and width are due to the S10’s screen-to-body ratio of 93.1% (last year was 83.6%).

Galaxy S10 Display

Design

You’re not going to be overly surprised by the rest of the Samsung Galaxy S10 design, though there are a few notable enhancements, two hidden surprises, and an old classic here.

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Its thinner aluminum frame is sandwiched between smooth glass, with the back coming in your choice of color: Flamingo Pink, Prism Black, Prism Blue, Prism White, Canary Yellow and Prism Green. Samsung Galaxy S10 colors will vary by region, with the US getting all but yellow and green.

There’s the smallest of camera bumps on the back, housing the triple-lens camera array, while we saw no signs of Samsung’s invisible reverse wireless charging module below this. It’s a particularly clean look in a world of camera bumps and rear-fingerprint sensors.

We had no difficulty activating Samsung’s Wireless PowerShare feature after turning it on via the quick settings notification shade. We placed our Galaxy Buds case on the lower third of the S10 back and the earbuds began charging almost instantly. It even charged our iPhone XS Max.

Samsung laid out two scenarios in which Wireless PowerShare would be helpful: charging a friend’s phone, or charging your Galaxy Buds at night, effectively making your plugged-in S10 a mobile Qi charger pad. Samsung noted, though, that PowerShare won’t work when the phone is below 30%.

Also invisible – this time around the front – is the fingerprint sensor. While a lot of Android phones have used a rear-facing fingerprint sensor, Samsung stuck with the front-facing physical sensor pad all the way up to the Galaxy S7. So the switch to the back felt foreign on Samsung phones – but it’s come back to the front in the S10, this time tucked underneath the glass.

This is an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, different from the optical sensors on the OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, for example. Samsung uses Qualcomm-backed tech that’s said to be better, and more secure, by making a 3D scan of your print, but we’ll have to test it out day-to-day. So far, it’s unlocked the phone when we put our thumb on the lower-third of the device. More literal impressions to come in our full review.

And here’s a welcomed classic that hasn’t changed since the first S phone a decade ago: the 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung is one of the few phone makers that includes the standard headphone jack in 2019 – and it’s doing it despite introducing the wireless Galaxy Buds.

Camera

Samsung wants you to take photos at any angle, so the Galaxy S10 has a triple-lens camera on back with a 12MP regular lens, 12MP optically zoomed telephoto lens, and a brand new 16MP ultra-wide lens.

We got to test the S10 camera via our S10 Plus review unit (they have the same cameras), and got impressive results. Here’s the gallery:

Image 1 of 14

Here’s the same shot in Live Focus (Samsung’s portrait mode). It properly blurs the background, and you can change the background blur intensity even after the shot is taken. Samsung also includes blur filters: artistic, spin, zoom and color point (which in this case made the background black and white). They’re actually really cool looking.

The Galaxy S10 camera takes excellent photos, even in mixed and low light conditions. It’s not too dark on our subject, US Mobile Editor David Lumb, and the bright moving flames are captured with detail without being overexposed.

Shot suggestions helped us frame up the shot. This camera reticle can be helpful and you don’t have to snap the photo. The shutter just activates when you hover over the reticle ‘Best Shot’ dot. But it’s not always accurate. Sometimes it stuck the circle off-center in a group shot for no apparent reason. Overall, it’s a nice touch with some room for improvement.

In our ongoing Galaxy S10 camera review, we’ve noticed subjects up close with enough light contain excellent detail. Rejoice food photo takers. The scene optimizer AI works well for food.

The 12MP camera gives us a lot of detail, and while vibrancy and saturation are cranked up a bit compared to an iPhone, Samsung’s camera no longer makes food look oversaturated and alien looking. There was a time when Samsung’s cameras would make hotdogs, for example, look fire engine red by amping up contrast.

Testing the blur effect of the main camera (without switching to portrait mode) proved to give us the depth effect we desired. Strong detail in the foreground, with rich bokeh in the background.

We tapped the background to get that in focus, and the bokeh gave our foreground some nice blur. The detail in the background is crisp – like the fried chicken.

The Galaxy S10 camera sometimes looks better than real life. Its blues and orangey-reds here really pop, while the white doesn’t appear to be too warm to along with it (before you often couldn’t have one without the other). We still feel the Google Pixel 3 Night Sight mode does a better job, but Samsung is very close. More comparisons to come.

Here’s a well-lit location of two subjects. The photo avoids being too warm, striking fairly good color and white balance.

Here’s the same shot from the new ultra-wide camera. The hard part about such a wide camera is that there’s often needless excess in there. Cropping or using the regular lens is just fine. Not every shot deserves this camera lens, but it creates a neat effect in the situations.

Here’s another ultra-wide photo we took using the S10 camera. This is a more appropriate picture demonstrating some of the elements you’d miss with the tighter regular lens.

The S10 is good at active tracking fast-moving subjects. Case in point, it was able to capture these bright flames as they moved in the San Francisco wind. They’re crisp, not blurry, and not overexposed despite the camera also needing to capture the dark stones.

We still find the Samsung’s camera to amp up vibrancy and saturation, also applying an Instagram filter ahead of time. This works well for us, but comes down to taste. The iPhone XS we use often has true-to-life colors, but next to the S10 or Google Pixel 3, they look rather drab.

 

We’re going to take a hard look at the camera, how it compared to the class-leading Pixel 3, and determine how good the ultra-wide photos look. Samsung’s 123-degree field of view is rather wide, which serves the purpose of not having to back up to get everything in a shot. But that may result in an unnatural fisheye look. This ultra-wide camera also lacks OIS compared to the other two lenses.

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On the front, we have a single 10MP camera with dual auto-focuses. If you upgrade to the S10 Plus, you’ll also get an 8MP camera meant for enhancing depth in portrait photos.

Scene optimizer gains 10 new categories, with Samsung’s camera AI now able to tell the difference between a cat and dog to fine tune things like white balance. Shot Suggestions is a new feature that uses the neural processor engine to nudge you to properly level your shots or frame subjects better.

On the video side, the software has been upgraded to record in HDR10+ and offer Digital Video Stabilization. Samsung says that this is meant to make all of your Ultra HD video as smooth as an action cam. Shots fired, GoPro Hero7 Black.

Specs and battery life

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The Samsung Galaxy S10 gets proper under-the-hood upgrades, touting the new top-of-the-line Snapdragon or Exynos chipsets, depending on which country you live in.

It’s plenty fast. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset we benchmarked came back with a record-breaking multi-score speed… for Android. The iPhone XS is still a bit faster, but Samsung is very close at 11,002 to Apple’s 11,481.

It also comes with 8GB of RAM – a serious upgrade over the 4GB of RAM in last year’s S9 – and includes options for 128GB or 512GB of internal storage. There’s no 64GB version to worry about here, and Samsung still supports expandable storage.

It contains a 3,400mAh battery, an upgrade over the 3,000mAh capacity of the S9. Because of the bigger screen, officially, Samsung is still claiming all-day battery life if not a bit more.

Also onboard is next-gen Wi-Fi 6, which will support seamless transition between Wi-Fi routers and is four times faster than 802.11ax. It should deliver a 20% speed boost, but you’ll need a new router to really get any use out of this feature.

What you won’t get on this phone is the S10 Plus and Note 9-exclusive vapor chamber cooling. If you’re a gamer, you may want to upgrade to the larger phone for more than just the bigger screen.

Early verdict

The Galaxy S10 is a deserved 10th anniversary phone for Samsung and its storied S series. Its new display type lays out more pixels across less body, has a triple-lens camera so you can now take ultra-wide photos, and contains a bigger battery surrounded by beefier specs.

You’ll like all of these features, while your friends will like the new Wireless PowerShare perk. The S10 marks an anniversary, but it also marks something a bit different among smartphones. It disrupts the sameness of smartphones just enough to become a tempting upgrade.

The price, however, may give you second thoughts. That’s where the Galaxy S10e plays an important role.

Our Galaxy S10 hands-on review isn’t finished yet. This phone requires a lot more testing and day-to-day use to determine if the three-eyed rear camera is the best in the world and the ‘punch-hole’ Infinity-O display is the style of screen we want to stare at in 2019.

All images credit: TechRadar

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