Samsung has historically been a known quantity in the Android world: great hardware, good cameras, software you put up with. And while the Galaxy S10 family is largely what you’ve come to expect, there are highs and lows here that aren’t necessarily in keeping with Samsung tradition. You can see our full reviews of the Galaxy S10+ and S10e for more in-depth analysis, but here are our five favorite and five least favorite things about the S10 line in a nutshell.
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Samsung’s displays are the best in the business. That’s nothing new, but its phones this year raised the bar yet again; as David put it in his reviews, they’re the “best ever, but better than that.” Across all three S10 models, screens are bright, colorful, and tack-sharp. The S10 and S10+ sport 1440p OLED panels; the S10e has a resolution of 1080p, but still shares its big brothers’ strengths in being bright and vivid as all get-out.
Appropriately responsive and smooth, with a Snapdragon 855 and between six and 12 (twelve!) gigabytes of RAM, depending on your preferred model and options. The S10 line is crazy fast, capable of handling any task you might want to throw at a phone without breaking a sweat.
The S10 and S10+ have a lot of cameras. Around back there are wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle, and telephoto shooters; up front, the S10+ has two cameras for selfies in that robot-face cutout (although one is just for sensing depth). The combination of cameras on the back gives you great flexibility in how you frame a shot, without having to resort to digital zoom or cropping after the fact.
Everything there was to like about the S9’s setup lives on here; in good light, photos are detailed and colorful. The selfie camera is a marked improvement for Samsung, producing more detailed photos than the front-facing cameras of the company’s previous offerings. And hey, the depth sensor can sense depth, so, bonus.
Both the regular S10 and S10e ditch the front-facing depth camera and and the S10e lacks telephoto, but they still take great photos with the primary cameras they do have.
Since Google’s take on stock Android stopped being bad around the KitKat era, it’s been a phone industry trope to mock Samsung’s skins; they’ve always been over the top and just kind of ugly. Iterations have seen improvements, but with its newest offering in One UI, the manufacturer has taken a running leap forward in design. It’s still colorful and maybe a touch childlike, but it’s far more reserved and cohesive than TouchWiz or the Samsung Experience ever were.
Samsung’s apps have been rethought, too, with an eye to the increasingly huge displays phones are shipping with: important UI elements are clustered toward the bottom of the screen, within thumb’s reach, until you scroll to reveal more content. It all seems much more thoughtful, and it’s a needed breath of fresh air.
If you want to get even more out of the new-and-improved software, check out our 25 tips and tricks on how to do just that.
Bells and whistles
The S10 line nails a lot of the big features, and there are plenty of subtler things to love about it, too. It’s got Samsung Pay, which is accepted basically everywhere that takes credit cards. There’s expandable storage via microSD. To the delight of Samsung loyalists, the manufacturer is among the last to include 3.5-millimeter headphone jacks in its flagships. Want a case? Every accessory-maker under the sun has some for Samsung devices. Even reverse wireless charging, while maybe a bit gimmicky, can come in handy in a pinch. Phone-adjacent quality of life is very high here.
Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner
Bezels large enough to house fingerprint scanners are thoroughly extinct. The alternative is to either put it on a different side of the phone — the back is the popular choice — or, more recently, under the display. Samsung opted for the latter in the S10 and S10+, and the result isn’t great. The ultrasonic scanner bounces sound waves off your finger, and using software magic, reads the reverberations to determine whether the layout of your fingerprint matches what the phone has on file. It all sounds very slick and futuristic, but in practice, it’s just frustrating.
It’s impossible to find by feel, it’s not particularly accurate, and it’s not as fast as the sensor on the S9. Software updates have helped matters to an extent, but it’s still slower and less accurate than a capacitive scanner. The Galaxy S10e’s fingerprint scanner is embedded in the power button, and it works swimmingly. If only all three models shared that design.
The Galaxy S10 and S10+ are big phones — even by 2019 standards, the S10+ is imposing, with a 6.4-inch screen. Super-slim bezels help, but few among us can reach the top of the thing while using it one-handed. Samsung’s software has been tweaked with this in mind, but the hardware is designed like our hands have been growing along with our screens.
Like most glass phones, all three S10 devices are smooth and slick (“incredibly, ridiculously slippery,” in David’s words), with rounded corners that offer little to grip. That fact is just as much an indictment of modern smartphone design on the whole, but the S10+ makes matters worse with power and volume keys that are positioned frustratingly high on its sides; just locking the screen without using two hands can take some shimmying. Given that glass is prone to breaking if you drop it on concrete (and that this is some exceedingly pricey glass), you’ll probably want a case.
We can’t predict the future, of course, but Samsung’s track record with software updates isn’t great. Galaxy S9 devices only started getting Android 9 Pie in January — nearly five months after the update first landed on Pixel devices and the Essential Phone. The S8 line first saw the update just a few weeks ago, and S7 phones are still waiting. Should a phone you paid four figures for, one you could reasonably have for three or four years or longer, be months behind on major software updates? (No, it definitely shouldn’t.)
While the primary cameras on all three S10 phones are really great, the extras — the ultra-wide and, on the S10 and S10+, telephoto — are not stellar. By comparison, they produce sub-par images, with shots from the ultra-wide lenses exhibiting distortion around the edges, and telephoto pics often coming out soft and grainy. Low-light performance is all-around disappointing, too, compared to stiff competition from the likes of Google and Huawei.
I’ve danced around this, but it has to be said outright: paying $1,000 to $1,600 for a phone is rough. Yes, the non-plus S10 is less expensive, starting at $900, but these prices are just too darn high. Sure, inflation is rampant industry-wide, and yes, these are extremely competent devices you could hold onto for years. Still, in 2023, when your phone is scuffed up and quite likely running an out-of-date version of Android, it probably won’t feel like it was worth spending a grand (or more) on. The S10e is more reasonably priced, but it’s missing a number of its big brothers’ fancier features, and implicitly positioning $750 as a “budget” price point is unsavory.
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