The Samsung Galaxy S10 is one of the first big flagships to hit the shelves in 2019. This year Samsung decided to grace us with not two, but three different Galaxy S models. And that’s not counting the 5G version about to arrive.
Below you’ll find our review of the phone that sits in between the Galaxy S10e and Galaxy S10 Plus.
The Galaxy S10 marks the biggest change to the design of the S series since the launch of the Galaxy S8. Key among the differences are the slightly slimmer bezels and a third ultra-wide camera on the back.
The fingerprint scanner is now on the front under the display, and there is now a cutout in the display for the front-facing camera. A lot of not-so-little things that certainly add up to a fresh approach.
The display, like any other Samsung flagship, is the star of the show. This time it’s for more than just its beautiful Super AMOLED screen. Sure, the 6.1-inch 3040 x 1440 screen on the Galaxy S10 has beautiful vivid colors, deep inky blacks, and it gets extremely bright.
This is par for the course in the family of phones and should be no surprise at this point. Samsung regularly wins awards for the best display each year.
What makes the display so special this year is actually two things: the cutout and in-display fingerprint scanner. As someone who hates screen notches with a passion I was very much on the fence about the cutout design.
The cutout differs from a notch by being disconnected from the screen bezel, taking up a minimal amount of space, and being pushed to the edge. The simple fact that the cutout is on the outer edge makes a big difference. This puts it on the periphery of your vision and draws less focus in day to day usage than if it were right in the middle of the display.
However, the cutout is still very much noticeable because it extends your status bar at the top. In fact, it is even more noticeable because of the abnormally large gap between it and your status bar icons.
It also shows up when watching videos in aspect ratios wider than 16:9 and can be more than slightly irritating. On the other hand, all of the games I tried seemed to restrict themselves from the status bar area meaning the cutout didn’t interfere with them.
In the end I can still say I’m not an advocate for the cutout display design. I did, however, come to love all the clever wallpapers that have been made specifically for the cutout. For that one reason, I was actually excited to have a cutout in the display.
Browsing through those wallpapers and swapping them out actually made having a cutout fun. If you’re getting an S10 for yourself make sure to check out this collection of hilarious wallpapers for it.
In display fingerprint scanner
Having a fingerprint scanner under the glass of the display is nothing new at this point. Samsung, for its part, is the first to use an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner while others utilize optical scanners. An ultrasonic scanner uses inaudible sound waves to map your fingerprint making it more secure and faster than optical scanners.
Out of the box, the performance of the fingerprint scanner was terrible. I was lucky if it read my finger one out of 10 tries. However, after an initial update, performance was dramatically improved.
As long as I had my finger properly aligned it worked 80-90 percent of the time on the first try. You can even further increase those odds by scanning the same finger more than once.
While not as fast or accurate as the scanner on the back of my Galaxy S9+ that I’ve been accustomed to, it still performed well enough to not harm the experience. The only thing I truly missed from the fingerprint scanner on the back, was the ability to drop down my notification tray using the swipe gesture.
Not much else has changed
Besides that, you’re looking at the same basic design principles we’ve seen for years now in Samsung smartphones. The use of a glass sandwich with glass on the front and back with a metal frame.
Similar to recent Samsung flagships you still get two speakers with one in the earpiece, a USB-C charging port, microSD card slot for expansion, and a headphone jack. Thank you, Samsung, for not letting the headphone jack die.
Unfortunately, the LED notification light has died with the ever-shrinking bezels as there just isn’t room for it. The always-on display takes the place of this for many occasions but it is still not as immediately visible when your phone is out of arm’s length.
This would have been a perfect opportunity for Samsung to embrace the cutout and add a glowing ring option that you could customize by color with apps. While Samsung hasn’t done this there are some talented developers working on it this very moment.
The buttons on the Galaxy S10 have a solid clicky feel to them as Samsung phones generally do. Now that you have the ability to reassign the Bixby button things are even better. My only complaint would be that the power button seemed a little too high as compared to previous models in the S series.
The Galaxy S10 is running Android 9 Pie with Samsung’s latest design overhaul One UI. For those unaware, One UI is an attempt to make your phone more usable with one hand. Samsung has done a good job with this by shifting most of the buttons you need down further on the screen while keeping information and text labels at the top.
This approach is well suited for the taller aspect ratio phones of the day but, for the most part, you’ll only see this in Samsung’s own apps such as the dialer, messenger, and clock apps.
Another fantastic feature added in One UI is the system-wide dark theme, or night mode. Once enabled, the bright blinding white of the settings menu and notifications panel is changed to black and gray.
Not only is this easier on the eyes, but with an AMOLED display panel, it can also add up to battery savings. Night mode has similar settings to the Blue Light filter, allowing you to manually toggle it on, off, or schedule it only for night time if you choose.
Along with One UI, Android 9 also brings some changes to the UI, most notably the quick settings panel and overview menu. Apps are now shown in a horizontal view rather than vertical, which can have a bit of a learning curve.
Android Pie also adds an inferior gesture-based navigation to the Pixel phones but One UI features its own take on gesture-based navigation. Overall, I find Samsung’s approach easier because all you have to do is swipe up over where each of the three navigation buttons used to reside.
Of course, there is a lot more to the Samsung Experience skin and One UI. To learn more about it you can check out our articles on the first 10 things to do with your S10 and nine tips and tricks for the Galaxy S10.
The camera might very well be the best reason to buy the Galaxy S10. It’s not that it is a huge improvement over the previous Samsung phones but it has more to do with the addition of the ultra-wide camera.
This year, along with the traditional 12-megapixel f/1.5-2.4 and 12MP f/2.4 telephoto cameras, Samsung has added a 16-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide camera. I have always been envious of the wide-angle cameras on LG phones and, finally, Samsung users have this option as well.
Overall, photos from the S10 were crisp and bright which is a common theme among Samsung flagships. Low light images showed good detail utilizing the low f/1.5 aperture with acceptable amounts of noise.
The Galaxy S10 also features a scene optimizer which is supposed to use software to detect what you’re photographing and enhance the photo based on the subject. In practice, I found all it did was increase the saturation and warm the photo up.
Whether it was a plate of food or a landscape this appeared to be the same result. If you think all your photos need an increase in saturation and a yellow filter applied then make sure to keep scene optimizer toggled on.
To be fair, scene optimizer also provides a couple of useful features, such as automatically switching to a bright night mode and automatically cropping documents.
Aside from taking photos, you also have access to Bixby Vision, AR Emoji, and stickers built into the camera app. All of these services don’t quite live up to their competition in Google Lens, Animoji, and Snapchat but are still there and semi-useful nevertheless. If you like to keep everything under one roof, or are a fan of Samsung, this is a good way to go.
The front-facing camera is a 10-megapixel shooter with an f/1.9 aperture. In the past, I’ve found selfies from Samsung flagships to be too blurry. It is as if they applied a beauty filter even with it disabled. The Galaxy S10 seems to improve upon this with slightly sharper results than previous generations. Regardless, it is still never as detailed as the selfies you can get from using the Google Camera app instead.
I never once found the performance to be lacking on the Samsung Galaxy S10. In day to day usage, I was able to load all my apps and swap between them without issue.
Samsung phones come with a lot of extra software (read: bloat) which ensures they’ll never be as fast as the Pixel or other phones running lighter skins. With that in mind, the Snapdragon 855 and 8GB RAM the Galaxy S10 is plenty snappy and doesn’t draw complaints from me.
If you are looking to upgrade from one of the S9 models you’ll see a 1-2 second improvement in the loading of larger games – at best. The Galaxy S10 is most certainly not a huge speed improvement over the last generation but it does move the needle forward.
Over the years I’ve been rather pleased with the battery life on Samsung flagships. The Galaxy S10, however, left me a little wanting in this respect.
In the past I was accustomed to getting 4-5 hours of screen on time from Samsung flagships. The 3400mAh battery in the Galaxy S10 provided me with closer to 3-4 hours on average. This was enough to get me through most days, but it certainly was a noticeable step down.
This year the Galaxy S series stuffs another trick up its sleeves. While wireless charging has been a mainstay in the series for years now, the Galaxy S10 offers reverse wireless charging. With this feature you’ll be able to charge up other phones and accessories wirelessly simply by placing them on the back of the phone.
This is great, but it’s another reason why I wish the S10 had a larger, higher capacity battery. But, to be clear, the charging is very slow and best left for accessories as opposed to juicing up someone else’s phone.
Samsung has again delivered one of the most featured packed phones on the market with a price to match. The Galaxy S10 offers up a great display, snappy performance, and one of the best camera experiences. Add in decent battery life, tons of options and additional software features and you have a phone that is built to satisfy a vast majority of users.
Although it will likely have more features than you’ll ever use or ever care about, it does provide something for everyone. That’s largely what helps keep Samsung at the top of the market; it builds a quality phone to please the masses. That doesn’t mean it is the perfect phone for everyone, but it’s one of the safest bets, particularly among Android phones.