Samsung has been the king of the Android for years now, and it’s not slowing down by any means. In response to underwhelming sales of last year’s Galaxy S9, the company has launched the Galaxy S10, a family of powerhouse flagships that get a whole lot right.
Over the past week, I’ve been using the Galaxy S10 as my daily driver for this review. The $899 device is the middle of the company’s 2019 lineup, and it delivers a lot. Long story short, it’s an amazing, near perfect Android smartphone. However, its positioning makes it slightly tough to recommend.
Nomad case for Pixel 3
Years ago, Samsung was ridiculed mercilessly for designing its flagship phones out of sub-par materials, and for good reason. Now, though, the company is arguably one of the best when it comes to build quality. The metal and glass design Samsung has going on is simply great, and the refinements each year just make it better.
This time around, my favorite thing about the build is actually the look of the glass. Samsung has managed to add another layer to the colors of the glass panel even on the black model, offering a truly unique look compared to others, albeit a subtle one for the most part. It’s most obvious on the white and blue options, the latter of which we’ll talk about more in our Galaxy S10e review.
As for ports, Samsung doesn’t hold back much. There’s a USB-C port on the bottom as well as 3.5mm headphone jack. For now, Samsung is one of the few holdouts on the beloved audio port. Further, there’s a single speaker on the bottom that’s backed up by a slim speaker above the display. I’d personally rather add some bezel for true front-facing speakers, but I think that opinion is definitely in the minority nowadays.
I’ve also got to give Samsung some credit on the display glass. Out of the box, you get a pre-installed screen protector. While it is a plastic protector, it actually feels pretty incredible. I’m not sure if there’s an oleophobic coating or some other wizardry on the protector, but it feels better than some glass panels. As for the actual glass underneath, it’s pretty typical of flagship devices, meaning there are no complaints.
Long story short, though, the Galaxy S10 continues Samsung’s trend of killer hardware. It’s visually stunning, comfortable to hold, and premium in every sense of the word. Despite not being leaps and bounds over the Galaxy S9, S8, or even S7 in all reality, Samsung doesn’t make you doubt their hardware is worth the asking price.
The biggest talking point about the Galaxy S10 is the display. On this middle-sibling model, there’s a 6.1-inch display surrounded by slim bezels across the board. There is a “chin,” but it’s no thicker than the bezel on the iPhone X, and as slim if not slimmer than other Android phones.
To slim down the bezels, Samsung is using what it calls an “Infinity O” display. It avoids the notch by using a hole-punch for the camera sensor, but let’s be honest, it’s basically the same as a notch.
Shifted over to the right corner of the device, the hole-punch houses the front-facing camera… and that’s it. It takes up minimal screen space and doesn’t get in the way much, but personally, I’d rather have a notch just because it’s centered and feels like it wastes even less space. Either way, I don’t think it’s a big deal, and the hole-punch does offer up some very fun apps and wallpapers.
Outside of the cut-out, though, holy wow is this display awesome. Samsung never fails to impress when it comes to the display, and this one is another winner. It’s large, bright, and has accurate colors that are still quite vivid. The highlight here is that Samsung doesn’t seem to make things quite as overly saturated as they have in years past.
Samsung says that the display also reduces blue light naturally without affecting the colors on-screen. I can’t say that I feel any different looking at this display in dark rooms, but I can’t tell much of a difference looking at this display versus others.
Don’t worry, we’ll get to the fingerprint sensor in a bit.
SOFTWARE & PERFORMANCE |
Another thing Samsung was previously ridiculed for is software. In the past, TouchWiz was the worst part of any Samsung device. Over the years, the company has improved that dramatically, and the Galaxy S10 is the first device to run with Samsung’s new One UI.
One UI is a revamp of the company’s software the ground up, and it’s a really good one. Things are better organized, better designed, and there are some truly useful features. For example, you can swipe down in Samsung’s stock apps and the settings to bring menus within reach. Also, Samsung has gestures to replace the buttons which are easy to use for long-time Android users.
There’s even a full Night Mode baked in with a dark mode that affects the entire UI!
When it comes to the software, there’s really just not much to be said that’s negative. Samsung has finally crafted a UI that, for the most part, is truly solid. My main complaint is bloatware.
Samsung still packs in many of its own apps to duplicate Google’s, and when you use Samsung Smart Switch to set up the device, it actually skips installing Google apps like the Calendar. It’s also worse if you’re using a carrier device. The Verizon unit I tested was packed up with games and apps that I had no desire to touch. Thankfully, most of it can be removed.
As for the performance, the Galaxy S10 is the first home of the new Snapdragon 855 processor. That, alongside 8GB of RAM, makes this phone powerful. There’s not been a single time the Galaxy S10 has failed to keep up with my workflow, and OnePlus is the best comparison I can think of. Everything is snappy, and the 8GB of RAM keeps apps in memory for ages.
Strangely, heat seemed to be a relatively tough point for this phone. I didn’t put it through any stressing games, but on a couple of occasions, I noticed the device getting fairly warm either in my hand or my pocket. It’s a minor problem, but one worth noting. Your results may vary.
For the average Joe and the power user alike, the Galaxy S10 just doesn’t disappoint in the performance department.
FINGERPRINT SENSOR |
In-display fingerprint sensors are simply bad.
When rumors first came out that Samsung was going to ditch the traditional capacitive fingerprint sensor for an ultrasonic one under the display, I was actually excited. That’s because, to that point, I’d only tried optical fingerprint sensors which, in my experience, were pretty terrible.
I was hoping Samsung would prove that in-display fingerprint sensors could actually be good. Instead, we’ve just got a slightly more secure version of the same slow, inaccurate technology.
When it works properly, the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor in the Galaxy S10 actually isn’t all that bad. It’s inherently slower than a capacitive sensor, but the real problem is that there’s no room for error here. It’s harder to place your finger correctly because there’s no physical difference in the spot you need to hit, and the spot itself is small.
After I took off the included screen protector, things honestly didn’t improve vastly. My accuracy rate improved slightly, as did speed, but it’s still nothing like a traditional sensor. I was hoping Samsung could prove doubters wrong and make a sensor worth using, but it’s clear this experiment has failed.
BATTERY LIFE & CHARGING |
The Galaxy S10 is the middle child, which means it also has the most middling battery life. The Galaxy S10 has a 3,400 mAh battery, just a bit behind the Galaxy S9+ from last year. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t translate to very good endurance.
In my use, the Galaxy S10 on average lasts from 8am until around 11pm before I hit roughly 15%. In that time, I’ll get around 2-3 hours of screen time using apps like Spotify, Slack, YouTube, Twitter, and messaging apps throughout the day. Your results may vary, but honestly, I’d recommend going for the S10+ if this sounds too minimal for you.
As for charging, you’ll have a few options. There’s wired charging over USB-C with the same ancient quick charger in the box. Samsung doesn’t mention USB-C Power Delivery like the Pixel offers anywhere in relation to the S10, but if you toss the S10 on the right PD charger, it will fast charge.
Further, there’s wireless charging again, including the fast variety. This is always appreciated and an easy way to circumvent the S10’s arguably poor battery life.
What’s very fun, though, is Wireless PowerShare. This feature flips the wireless charging back with a software toggle and lets you charge another device using your phone. That device charges at a slow 4.5W which means, for the most part, you probably won’t want to use this for another smartphone.
Where it comes in handy is for small accessories, like a watch or pair of headphones. There’s really not much to test here, as it works as Samsung advertises. With my AirPods v2 I could simply turn on the feature and they’d start charging immediately.
The only place I see it being useful, though, is when the phone is also plugged in. In that context, you can easily charge your phone and your second device with a single cable without any extra accessories, and that’s pretty awesome.
The thing about the Galaxy S10’s camera is that, realistically, not much has changed from the Galaxy S9. The quality of Samsung’s dual-aperture 12MP main camera sensor is still solid, though not quite as good as Google’s Pixel, but solid nonetheless. The same goes for the 2x telephoto lens. Samsung hasn’t evolved it’s camera much over the past few years, and this is probably the last year they can do so without feeling drastically behind the competition.
What’s new and exciting this year is the addition of a super wide-angle lens. This third camera has a 16MP sensor and a lens which sees at a 123-degree angle. It’s excellent, and that’s most of what there is to say about it. Quality is solid, although there’s no stabilization in video, and the ability to see at such a wide angle truly comes in handy.
The 123-degree wide-angle lens opens a world of possibilities
More or less, this sensor sees things the way you do. There’s also an option in the settings to have the phone automatically remove the admittedly noticeable distortion from these shots.
I’ll also give Samsung credit once again for its camera app. It’s easy to use, offers a lot of settings and features, and I love that you can move the shutter button to adjust the zoom level. Plus, this camera app is reliably fast, something Google should take notes from.
LITTLE THINGS |
Samsung has put a single speaker on the bottom of the Galaxy S10, and generally, that would be a thing to complain about. However, I’m fairly impressed. Given the form factor, the S10 is loud, clear, and has decent stereo performance by pushing audio through the earpiece as well. It’s not nearly as good as the Pixel 3 or Razer Phone, but for most people, this is just fine.
Call Quality & Network Performance
The Galaxy S10 I tested was a Verizon variant of the device running on that network. For the most part, I was pretty happy. Despite complaint of issues on some GSM networks, I didn’t note any problems on the S10 on Verizon compared to a Pixel 3 on Verizon in the same areas. Call quality was also solid with a crisp earpiece at the top and callers could hear me just fine as well.
Samsung Smart Switch
Setting up a new phone is my least favorite thing about reviews, but I’m happy that Android’s backup and restore features are getting better. For the Galaxy S10, I decided to give the company’s Smart Switch service a go, and it works pretty well. In just a few minutes, I could easily move over my files, pictures, and apps from one phone to another, but there was something that annoyed me.
With Smart Switch, Samsung goes around the Play Store for installing your applications which doesn’t automatically log you in. Rather, just the opposite. Where a normal Android backup will log you into some apps, Smart Switch won’t. Further, Samsung won’t install a lot of Google apps, specifically the ones that Samsung duplicates on their device. Sneaky.
Personally, I’ll stick to Google’s device backup next time I set up a Samsung device.
Yup, it’s got one.
FINAL THOUGHTS |
Here’s the thing about Samsung’s flagships. They’re all pretty good in one way or another. The Galaxy S10 is the latest in a long run of excellent phones from the company, and they’re just getting better and learning more along the way. While the Galaxy S10 might be the hardest to recommend in the company’s current lineup, that’s only because the Galaxy S10+ and S10e exist, and they’re all so close together.
For $899, the Galaxy S10 is truly an excellent smartphone. It’s cheaper than the latest iPhone, more capable than last year’s Pixel 3, and a solid step up from the Galaxy S8/S9. Right now, the Galaxy S10 is one of the three best Android smartphones you can buy, and the other two are its siblings.
Where to Buy Samsung Galaxy S10:
- Samsung (Unlocked)
- Amazon (Unlocked)
- Verizon: Galaxy S10 – Galaxy S10+
- T-Mobile: Galaxy S10 – Galaxy S10+
- AT&T: Galaxy S10 – Galaxy S10+
- B&H Photo Video (Unlocked): Galaxy S10 – Galaxy S10+