Samsung's new Galaxy S10 is almost a master class in how to make a superb, premium smartphone
- Samsung's new Galaxy S10 comes with a welcome overhaul in design, performance, and features over previous Galaxy S phones.
- It's a fantastic smartphone that anyone would be happy with.
- That said, there are some disappointing aspects of the Galaxy S10.
Samsung's last few Galaxy S phones have been boringly good, but I can drop the "boring" part with the Galaxy S10.
Samsung's previous Galaxy S devices were some of the best smartphones you could buy, but the Galaxy S9 was an incremental update over the Galaxy S8.
The Galaxy S10 is an overhaul in design, performance, and features, all while maintaining the Samsung smartphone formula that makes its phones great.
That said, the Galaxy S10 isn't without its disappointments.
I've been using the Galaxy S10 Plus for more than a week, but almost everything mentioned below applies to the regular Galaxy S10 too.
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There's no doubt this is the best-looking smartphone Samsung has made so far — at least without a case.
You get the familiar Samsung Galaxy glass back and curved display edges, but the narrow display bezels are the most striking thing about the Galaxy S10 that differentiates it from previous Galaxy phones and pretty much any other Android phone.
But the Galaxy S10's good looks and narrow bezels disappear almost entirely with a thick-ish case. I used the phone with Incipio's new Aerolite case, and I had forgotten just how narrow the bezels were until I removed it. But good protective cases that are somewhat thick will do that to any phone.
The "hole punch" is better than the notch.
I don't really have any issues with the divisive display notch, but if I had to choose, I'd go for the hole-punch design over the notch.
The hole-punch design for the selfie camera(s) looks and feels far more efficient than the notch found on the iPhone XS and other Android phones. There's no wasted screen space with the hole-punch design, and it isn't as noticeable in everyday use.
And the hole-punch design doesn't interrupt the display's top edge, making for a solid rectangular display shape that complements the Galaxy S10's narrow bezels.
The display is fantastic, but I don't see the added benefits of Samsung's new "Dynamic Amoled" display that's supposedly better than previous Galaxy displays.
The Galaxy S10 touts a "Dynamic Amoled" display that supports HDR10+ and is great-looking, but I haven't noticed much of a difference from the Galaxy S8 or S9.
You get the same 1440p resolution as previous Galaxy phones (though the resolution is set to 1080p by default, also like previous Galaxy phones). Colours might be slightly more vibrant and richer but it's nothing to write someone with a Galaxy S8 or S9 about.
The HDR10+ works only with content that supports HDR10+, which I don't encounter much of daily. And I don't get the hype of HDR on videos. I've tried to understand how it looks better than non-HDR content, and I just don't see it. Perhaps I'm HDR-blind.
The Galaxy S10 works great out of the box with the latest processor and Samsung's new One UI.
The Galaxy S10 works as any new phone that comes with the latest processor should. It's fast and fluid while running and switching among apps.
But I've also noticed fewer stutters compared with previous Galaxy phones, which could be attributable to the generous 8 GB of RAM that comes standard on the S10 and S10 Plus, as well as Samsung's new One UI interface that runs on top of Android to make the S10 feel more ... Samsung-y.
That said, Samsung's One UI makes the S10 look and feel less like a Samsung phone and more like an alternative version of Google's Pixel UI from its Pixel phones. In my mind, that's a good thing.
Despite One UI's resemblance to Pixel UI, there's no guarantee you'll get updates as quickly or as often as Google's Pixel phones. Samsung is notoriously slow in delivering updates, at least for new versions of Android.
Samsung (or any other tech company) hasn't yet reinvented the battery, so there's nothing significant to report on battery life other than it's good.
You'll get comfortable battery life with the Galaxy S10, and it could even last into a second day without much issue, especially if you keep the display's default 1080p resolution and use wallpapers with a lot of black that prevent the screen from using power.
Setting the S10 to night mode, which makes the notifications shade and settings menu black, also helps with battery life.
I was averaging about 30% remaining battery life after 24 hours between charges, including regular daily use and no overnight charging.
Reverse wireless charging, or "Wireless PowerShare," is there if you need it. But I haven't run into a situation where I've needed to use it.
The best use for reverse wireless charging is to charge wireless accessories, like Samsung's new Galaxy Buds.
Otherwise, this is a feature that largely benefits your friends or family with low smartphone batteries. They'll get a top-up while you sit there unable to use your phone because it's charging someone else's phone. I suppose it can be a good jab at your iPhone-toting friends, as their iPhones would be getting rescued by a Samsung/Android phone.
It's the kind of feature you might never use, but it doesn't make the Galaxy S10 any worse. It's nice to have, I suppose.
The camera is great, and I love the new ultra-wide-angle camera that Samsung added for the first time.
As usual, Samsung's latest smartphone takes great photos, and the addition of the third ultra-wide lens is great.
I've been taking regular photos and following them up with ultra-wides, and I'm always happy I did.
But the ultra-wide camera hasn't quite become my default camera, because of the slight fish-eye effect, where straight edges tend to bow in toward the centre of the photo.
It takes good selfies too, but Samsung wasted a huge opportunity to do something special with the dual-lens selfie camera on the Galaxy S10 Plus.
No problems with regular selfies here, except Samsung could have given the S10 an ultra-wide selfie camera.
There's a dual-lens selfie camera on the Galaxy S10 Plus, but one of the lenses is just a depth sensor for better portrait-mode shots. That's disappointing.
The Galaxy S10e and the Galaxy S10 can do portrait-mode shots with a single selfie lens, so it seems like a wasted opportunity to dedicate a secondary lens to something that a single selfie camera can already do.
What's worse is that the Galaxy S10 Plus and its depth-sensing lens don't take perfect portrait-mode shots. I've seen parts of my hair or headphones blurred as if they were part of the background when they shouldn't have been. You can see what I mean in my photo comparison of the Galaxy S10 Plus and the Pixel 3.
There is a slightly wider selfie option in the Galaxy S10 phones, but it's barely wider than regular selfies.
I found I ended up using the less secure facial recognition 90% of the time over the fancy new ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor.
Samsung's ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor is pretty good, and it works when your thumb is wet or dirty, unlike the OnePlus 6T's in-display fingerprint sensor. I say "pretty good" only because for some reason it simply refuses to register my fingerprint while I'm in bed.
One thing significantly slowed down the unlocking process to the point where I used the facial recognition most of the time: I had trouble with consistently hitting the scanning area with my thumb.
It takes forever for the fingerprint symbol to show up after picking up the phone, even with the always-on-display feature turned on. Muscle memory works most of the time, but not so much in the dark, at least with the Galaxy S10's in-display sensor.
So far, the OnePlus 6T still has the better in-display fingerprint-sensor experience. The fingerprint symbol appears immediately when I pick up the phone, and I immediately know where to place my thumb.
Thankfully, the Galaxy S10's issue is something that could easily be fixed with a software update, and I hope that "add fingerprint-sensor guides" gets on Samsung's list of things to improve.
One thing about in-display sensors in general: Having to look at the phone - even with muscle memory - to make sure I'm placing my thumb in the right place makes the unlocking process feel slower than using the good old-fashioned capacitive fingerprint sensors. With the Pixel 3 and other phones that use capacitive sensors, I can pick them up and feel exactly where I need to put my finger without looking, so they seem faster to unlock. There's just no physical guide or feedback for where you should put your thumb on phones with invisible sensors.
In-display fingerprint sensors may not be as picky with the dryness or cleanliness of your fingers, and it's nice to have the sensor on the front of the phone again, but it does feel like one step forward and one step back.
Samsung also missed an opportunity to do something fresh with the included fast charger.
The Galaxy S10 comes with the same stale fast charger and cable the company has been using for years. It feels cheap and flimsy compared with the charger for the R11,499 OnePlus 6T, thousands less than the R18,999 Galaxy S10 and the R20,999 Galaxy S10 Plus.
I suppose I'm grateful that Samsung includes a fast charger with its phones, since Apple makes you buy separate accessories for fast charging. And the cheap-feeling charger isn't a deal-breaker by any means.
Still, after using the OnePlus 6T and its charger for a few months, I felt as though Samsung could do better here, especially when you're spending so much on a premium luxury device.
The biggest shame is that Samsung is reserving its new, faster 25W charger for the Galaxy S10 5G. After using the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition's 30W charger, I thought Samsung's regular 15W fast charging felt slow. Including the Galaxy S10 5G's charger with the Galaxy S10 would have differentiated the Galaxy S10.
My only other complaint is nitpicky: The power button is positioned directly in line with the volume up button on the other side of the phone, and it's led me to take numerous accidental screenshots.
It's not a deal-breaker, but the power button is positioned way too high on the Galaxy S10 Plus' right edge.
It's a reach to press it, and it lines up with the volume up button on the other side of the phone, leading me to take many accidental screenshots when I'm trying to lock the phone.
This wasn't an issue on the Galaxy S9, whose power button was much further down.
Yea or nay?
There's a lot that's new with Samsung's Galaxy S10, making the S10 phones feel like an overhaul over previous Galaxy S phones and less like an incremental update, as the S9 did over the S8.
At the end of the day, the Galaxy S10 is very much a Samsung phone that employs Samsung's familiar formula, with a few little extras and updates that make a big difference. And that's a good thing.
You get one of the best designs and displays in the smartphone business, and the ultra-wide camera is a killer feature that previous Galaxy phones don't have. The regular camera is pretty great too!
One of the main disappointments here is the in-display fingerprint sensor, at least in its current state, where it's hard to use because there's little visual feedback about where you should put your thumb.
It's also a huge shame that Samsung dedicated an entire selfie camera on the Galaxy S10 Plus to depth-sensing when it could have added an ultra-wide selfie camera.
Still, it's a definite yea for the Galaxy S10, despite issues with the in-display fingerprint sensor and the lack of an ultra-wide selfie camera.
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