Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S10e review

Samsung's more affordable top-tier answer to the iPhone XR

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Early Verdict

The 'e' in Samsung Galaxy S10e stands for 'essential', which means it packs almost everything the S10 and S10 Plus have, at a lower price. You get a 5.8-inch screen, the same two primary cameras, and all-day battery life, but you’ll miss out on a third lens, slightly higher specs, and the in-screen fingerprint sensor. That's the tempting compromise offered by Samsung's answer to the iPhone XR.

For

  • Flagship quality at lower price
  • Smaller form factor

Against

  • Dual-camera compromise
  • No in-screen fingerprint scanner

The Samsung Galaxy S10e brings the company's flagship features to a new audience, with a noticeably lower price tag than the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus.

Samsung's Galaxy S line has always gone head-to-head with Apple's iPhones and Google's Pixel smartphones – and has been matching their ever-climbing prices. So after Apple chose to expand its flagship lineup with a more affordable model, it's unsurprising that Samsung has done the same – but the S10e isn't just the 'iPhone XR for Android'.

Okay, the parallels are tough to ignore, so we'll lay them out here: like the iPhone XR, the S10e ('e' for 'essential') lacks several of the flashier features of the pricier S10 and S10 Plus, but keeps the essential advances (like the high-powered processor). Plus, it retails for the same price as the iPhone XR in the US (it's cheaper than the XR in the UK).

The Samsung and Apple phones offer different experiences and features, so you won’t necessarily be picking between them – if you're a brand diehard, you'll just be wondering whether to go for the fully-featured S10/S10 Plus, or whether the S10e packs enough to justify the discount. 

Based on our hands-on time with the phone, there's a lot to like about the S10e, and the cut features aren't much missed.

Samsung Galaxy S10e price and release date

The Samsung Galaxy S10e price starts at $749 / £669 / AU$1,199 / AED 2,699 for the 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage version.

In the US, that's the same starting price as the iPhone XR (it’s cheaper in the UK, Australia and the Middle East), with the base-level iPhone only offering 64GB of space – you'll need to pay more for 128GB.

The Samsung Galaxy S10e release date is March 8, with S10e pre-orders open today, February 20, except in the US, where they open on February 21.

Samsung's pre-order bonus of a free set of Samsung Galaxy Buds is only for S10 and S10 Plus pre-orders though – there are no free buds for prospective S10e owners.

There’s also an 8GB/256GB variant of the Galaxy S10e, but it's not clear how much this will be, and which regions it'll be available in – we'll update this article as soon as we know.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Design and display

Samsung Galaxy S10e specs

Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 142.2 x 69.9 x 7.9mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 5.8-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2280
CPU: Octa-core chipset
RAM: 6/8GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 3,100mAh
Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP

Ironically, one of the Samsung Galaxy S10e's most attractive aspects is something its pricier siblings don't have: a smaller size.

The phone's body, stretching just past the 5.8-inch display and measuring 142.2 x 69.9 x 7.9mm, is certainly easier to handle for more petite hands, and it's also appealing for those who dislike big phones; at 150g, it's also the lightest of the three new Samsung flagships.

The Galaxy S10e is otherwise a smaller version of the other S10 phones, with a glass front and back sandwiching an aluminum frame – its flat display lacks the exaggerated curved edges of its bigger brothers, though, which makes it look slightly less premium in comparison.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

And yes, the Samsung Galaxy S10e's bezels are a bit wider, but the phone isn't noticeably thicker (not to the degree of the iPhone XR, anyway – whoops, slipped up comparing again there).

Like it’s larger S10 siblings, the S10e has a clean back, rounded corners and edges and minimal camera bump. It looks and feels premium, and the color options match those of the other phones: Flamingo Pink, Prism Black, Prism Blue, Prism White, Canary Yellow and Green. Sadly, the green and yellow hues won't be available to US customers.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

The 5.8-inch 19:9 screen is sharp, as expected of a Samsung AMOLED display, though its Full HD+ (2280 x 1080) resolution is lower than the wide QHD+ (3040 x 1440) of the S10 and S10 Plus. One more compromise: while all three phones have Gorilla Glass 5 on their rear covers, the S10e has it on the front display too, while its pricier siblings upgrade that protection to Corning Gorilla Glass 6.

We didn't notice much of a difference, although we'll wait for our full review to properly pass judgment. Something to note here though: Samsung sets the default resolution of all its phones to Full HD to save battery life, so if you've never tweaked your display settings on previous Samsung phones, you wouldn't notice the difference here.

What is noticeable, of course, is the 'punch-hole' camera, which gives the 'Infinity-O' display its name.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

The Galaxy S10e, like the S10, has a small hole in the top-right corner of its screen, and we’d be lying if we said it didn't keep catching our eye. It's hard to tell at this stage if it’ll be distracting during day-to-day use or if, like the notch, we’ll just learn to live with it.

The Samsung Galaxy S10e also misses out on another next-gen feature that’s present in the S10 and S10 Plus: the in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor.

Instead, the lower-price version has a good old-fashioned capacitive sensor located in the oversized power button on the upper part of the phone's right side. It functions as expected, is easy enough to reach and looks classy enough – it’s a little reminiscent of Sony's side-mounted digit readers. 

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Most importantly, this spares the clean back cover from being marred by a circular fingerprint sensor, as on the previous Galaxy S phones.

The only thing on the Galaxy S10e's rear (aside from a Samsung logo) is a modest rectangular camera bump, aligned horizontally, that’s ever-so-slightly raised – it's small enough not to catch on pockets or purses when putting the phone away or taking it out.

There's one more interruption to the casing to note, and you may well be thankful it's there: a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Samsung has retained its trash-talking high ground.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S10e has two rear cameras, and we'll look more closely at whether Samsung's dual shooters outperform the single camera on the iPhone XR in our full review; they could, however give the S10e a serious advantage, even if it's just in terms of utility.

The Galaxy S10e has inherited the S9's dual-aperture tech, meaning its 77-degree field-of-view 12MP main camera can switch between f/1.5 for low-light shots and f/2.4 for brighter scenes.

The extra lens is a 16MP f/2.2 super-wide 123-degree FOV camera, and given how useful these have been for zoomed-out casual smartphone photography, it's a welcome addition to the S10e’s arsenal.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Samsung has done impressive work with the software here, which seamlessly and immediately switches between lenses as you zoom in and out.

Crucially, these lenses are exactly the same across the S10 line, meaning photos from the more affordable S10e will be no less impressive than those from its pricier siblings.

But one of the camera’s budget compromises means it misses out on the 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens that Samsung has triumphantly added to the S10 and S10 Plus.

This may irk those who prefer optical over digital zoom (even the nominal 2x optical zoom on the S10 and S10 Plus), with optical zoom now a staple on multi-camera flagship phones.

Does that matter? Probably not for most users. The two prime cameras offer the most utility, and digital zoom is a functional (if not ideal) compromise.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

And the photo software is the big advantage anyway: Samsung has added a neural processing unit to the Galaxy S10 line, which quickly matches the scene the camera is seeing with one of 30 ‘scene optimizer’ settings (10 are new to the S10 generation) for particular subjects and environments.

Heck, there's even a new ‘shot suggestion’ feature that guides you to what the phone's AI believes will be a better shot.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

And it's not like the S10e is the only new Galaxy that’s missing out: it has the same lone 10MP f/1.9 front-facing camera as its siblings, but neither it nor the standard S10 enjoy the secondary 8MP f/2.2 depth camera that’s been added to the S10 Plus' selfie arsenal.

Battery

As for battery, the Samsung Galaxy S10e packs a respectable 3,100mAh unit. It’s smaller than the S10's 3,400mAh battery or the S10 Plus' beefy 4,100mAh capacity, but it should still keep your phone powered through the day – it’s slightly bigger than the S9's battery, so if you have that phone you can use that as a gauge. Samsung claims all its S10 models will achieve 24-hour battery life.

The Galaxy S10e can charge wirelessly, using Samsung's Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 tech, which the company claims charges faster than standard Qi wireless. 

And what's extra cool here is that the phone will also be able to use its own battery to wirelessly charge other Qi-compatible devices (including iPhones!). 

Samsung calls this feature Wireless PowerShare, which is undoubtedly catchier than the 'Reverse Wireless Charging' moniker that Huawei used to describe the feature when it debuted in the Mate 20 Pro

By and large, this slow method of recharging other devices isn't ideal during a typical day, but Samsung makes a compelling case for its usefulness: plug in the S10e using its USB-C port, turn Wireless PowerShare on and park another device (say, the new Galaxy Buds) atop the phone to juice it up overnight. 

Boom: you only need one power outlet and charging cable.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Specs and performance

You’re likely be picking up the Samsung Galaxy S10e to save yourself a bit of money while getting the best elements of the S10 line – and as far as specs go, the S10e barely compromises. 

Samsung has adopted a baseline of 128GB of internal storage across the S10 line, which is a generous and long-overdue standardization.

The S10e starts with slightly less RAM than its siblings – 6GB instead of 8GB – but that’s still a hefty amount of memory; in our brief time with the phone we found it zippy enough for casual use and switching between apps, which wasn’t a surprise considering the power under the hood and Samsung’s polish.

Crucially, the S10e wasn’t noticeably slower than the S10 or S10 Plus in our hands-on testing. But if you do want to boost its lower specs, you can opt for a Galaxy S10e configuration with 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage for an as-yet undisclosed price bump.

There’s also a microSD slot should you want to upgrade your storage manually (up to 512GB). 

The S10e has all the same sensors as its pricier siblings – accelerometer, barometer, gyro sensor, and so on – with the notable exception of the heart rate sensor.

That often-forgotten-about rear-mounted sensor has been in Samsung’s flagship phone line since the Galaxy S5, and its absence here is telling. Will users actually miss the ability to check their heart rate? Or is this a vestigial feature that’ll be cut from future Samsung phones to reduce cost and free up internal space?

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

The Galaxy S10e, like the rest of the S10 line, comes with Android 9 Pie out of the box, which may be more salt in the wound for owners of older Samsung phones who haven’t gotten the upgrade yet.

As expected, Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant returns, and once again gets a dedicated button below the volume rocker on the left side of the phone – and Samsung has introduced some helpful AI-powered sub-features to the notoriously unpopular voice assistant.

Bixby Routines, for example, has some pre-loaded setting profiles which you can toggle, and which will switch around your settings based on cues – one will trigger if you connect to your car over Bluetooth, for example, shutting down Wi-Fi and making other driving-optimized adjustments on your phone. Samsung claims Bixby will even learn your usage patterns and suggest new routines.

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S10e misses out on a few fun new features (and a third camera) that are in the S10 and S10 Plus, and is thus pitched as a basic flagship phone compared to Samsung’s top-tier handsets.

But pretend its pricier siblings don’t exist and the S10e is a powerful smartphone, full of top specs and with the snappy style of a flagship device.

In other words, the S10e beats out other flagships around its cost tier. True, this year’s OnePlus 7 may pack comparable specs at a notably lower price, but at least Samsung’s handsets have a bit more decorative panache to separate them from the black rectangle pack. Plus, the S10e is coming out much, much sooner.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Strictly speaking, the Galaxy S10e has a leg-up over the iPhone XR in a few crucial areas. It has an AMOLED screen rather than an LCD display, a slightly bigger battery, a microSD card slot, double the baseline storage and RAM, two rear cameras, a fingerprint sensor if you’re not a fan of Face ID, and a smaller, lighter form factor. Oh – and the S10e has a headphone jack. QED, iHaters.

You can chalk some of this superiority up to the S10e's release nearly six months after that of the iPhone XR, and that also gives the S10e a head-start to harness some next-gen industry advances like Wi-Fi 6, which Samsung’s new flagships all support.

But the more likely clash will be choosing between the S10e and the fully-featured S10, which doesn't cost a huge amount more (especially if you're splitting the cost over a contract).

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is a solid phone that deserves to swipe some market share away from top-tier smartphones with sky-high prices. It may be too pricey to make it onto our list of the best budget phones, but it’s shaping up to be one of the best options if your budget for flagship phones is the same as it was two years ago.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.