Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S10 review

To Infinity-O and beyond

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Early Verdict

The Galaxy S10 is a fitting 10th anniversary phone for Samsung and its storied S series. It delivers on change with a novel-looking Infinity-O screen so large it displaces the front camera, and a triple-lens rear camera that takes ultra-wide photos. Its in-screen fingerprint sensor tech should serve you well, while its Wireless PowerShare could serve your friends well. That’s a lot of change – just know that it comes at a high price.

For

  • High screen-to-body ratio
  • In-screen fingerprint sensor
  • Wireless PowerShare perk

Against

  • Stunning price hike
  • Bixby button still exists

The Samsung Galaxy S10 has been engineered to be a conversation changer, a phone that’s intended to turn everyone’s yearly question of “Do I really need to upgrade?” into a more exclamatory “Do I really need to upgrade!”

Our hands-on time with the S10 proves that it does make this case, with some clear caveats.

It’s the 6.1-inch Infinity Display that really sells this phone. It introduces a nearly-edge-to-edge look that stretches top to bottom, with pixels spilling over the curved edges at the sides – there’s no room for big bezels on Samsung’s 2019 flagship smartphone.

Its new Infinity-O screen – also a feature of the Galaxy S10 Plus and cheaper Galaxy S10e – is so large it actually displaces the front camera, consigning it to a small ‘punch-hole’ in the screen. All of the important sensors are neatly tucked behind this vibrant and bright Super AMOLED display.

Also behind the glass is the new ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. You won’t find a fingerprint pad on the back anymore, or anywhere visibly on the phone. Samsung put its sensor – now invisible – on the front, where we feel it belongs.

The S10 officially makes punch-hole displays a trend after the idea debuted on the Honor View 20, and in-screen fingerprint sensors more mainstream after they appeared on the OnePlus 6T, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and a few Vivo phones. It’s all in the cause of achieving that impressive 93.1% screen-to-body ratio on the front of the phone.

Maximization is also the idea behind the Galaxy S10’s rear-facing triple-lens camera. Samsung’s camera array has lenses to take normal, telephoto and new ultra-wide photos. The ultra-wide camera is all about capturing more of what’s in front of you without having to back up.

Sure, LG phones have touted ultra-wide camera lenses for years, most recently the LG V40, but Samsung’s cameras have been more consistent in low-light conditions. The feature is finally in a a flagship-level phone you want.

The Galaxy S10 also has features everyone can get. Its Wireless PowerShare feature lets you use the back of the S10 to Qi charge another phone or the new Galaxy Buds, cloning the reverse wireless charging idea in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, a phone that’s not widely available in certain territories, including the US.

The Galaxy S10 is an amalgam of other handsets’ single hallmark features packed into one phone, while Samsung pioneers as many technical features as it can cram in – faster Wi-Fi 6 and HDR10+ are both firsts for smartphones. And that’s what Samsung does best really. 

There’s a hitch or two in Samsung’s masterplan to get everyone to upgrade to this particular handset. The S10 is expensive, even more so than last year’s Galaxy S9, although it’s markedly better value than the iPhone XS, which is more expensive and has a smaller 5.8-inch screen.

Then there’s the fact that Samsung’s biggest competition in 2019 may be Samsung. The Galaxy S10e is cheaper and almost as good, while the Galaxy S10 Plus is the phone you’ll want if you can handle its price and screen size – and that’s to say nothing of the Galaxy S10 5G and the foldable Samsung Galaxy X, which early adopters may look for true innovation at a higher price.

The Samsung Galaxy S10 marks a decade of Galaxy S phones, and while there’s been little innovation in recent years from the most popular smartphone brands, including Samsung (Bixby and AR EMoji don’t cut it), the S10 has enough newness to tempt you to upgrade. We’re still testing the camera, performance and battery life, but it’s already shaping up to be one of 2019’s best smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy S10 release date and price

The Samsung Galaxy S10 release date is Friday, March 8, which is one week earlier than last year’s phone. It was officially announced on February 20, with pre-orders opening right away in some countries. In the US, Galaxy S10 pre-orders start on February 21.

The Galaxy S10 price is $899 / £799 / AU$1,349 / AED 3,199, meaning you’re going to be spending an additional $180 / £60 / AED 100 on this phone over the S9 launch price.

If you like the look of this phone but think that price is a tad high, you have two options: you can go for the cheaper Galaxy S10e, which starts at $749 / £669 / AU$1,199 / AED 2,699, or suck up the price hike, marvel at the new 6.1-inch screen and 128GB base storage, and realize that Apple charges $100 / £200 / AU$430 more for the 5.8-inch iPhone XS with 64GB of storage.

Ordering the Galaxy S10 in advance of March 8 will net you bonuses in some countries. In the US, for example, Samsung is offering free wireless Galaxy Buds worth $149 / AU$249 when you pre-order either the Galaxy S10 or Galaxy S10 Plus.

Display

Samsung Galaxy S10 specs

Weight: 157g
Dimensions: 149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8mm
OS: Android 9
Screen size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: QHD+
CPU: Octa-core chipset
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128/512GB
Battery: 3,400mAh
Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 10MP    

Samsung’s screens are so good “our competitors are even using them,” Samsung brand manager Paul Guzek told TechRadar, an all-too-obvious dig at Apple. It’s hard to disagree.

In fact, the Galaxy S10’s 6.1-inch Super AMOLED display panel looks better than anything Samsung sells its rivals. It has elegantly curved edges with pixels that spill over the sides, amped-up brightness for better outdoor visibility, and HDR10+ support for superior contrast and color.

The new Infinity-O display type is what stands out – for better or worse. Samsung has successfully avoided a notch cut-out at the top of its flagship phones, instead using a laser-cut hole in the top-right corner of the screen to embed the front-facing camera, as on the Honor View 20.

Is a ‘punch-hole’ camera more or less distracting than a notch? We’re going to reserve judgment for our final Samsung Galaxy S10 review, when we’ll put the phone through its paces in day-to-day use. One thing we can say right away though is that it’s given Samsung more screen real estate to play with than ever.

Don’t let the bigger 6.1-inch screen size scare you off. The S10’s dimensions are 149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8mm (it weighs 157g), so it’s only marginally taller and wider than the S9 with its 5.8-inch screen, and noticeably thinner and a bit lighter. Those marginal increases in height and width are due to the S10’s screen-to-body ratio of 93.1% (last year was 83.6%).

Bezel does outline the top and bottom of this display, even if we said it wasn’t big. Samsung’s top speaker still reigns, and there’s a thin but noticeable chin across the bottom; it’s less bezel rather than bezel-less. And the fact that the bottom bezel is larger than the top one catches our eye – it may be more distracting than the punch-hole.

There’s little to dislike regarding the new display – if the Infinity-O doesn’t distract day-to-day, and as mentioned we’ll update this review when we have more hands-on time with the S10.

Design

 

You’re not going to be overly surprised by the rest of the Samsung Galaxy S10 design, though there are a few notable enhancements, two hidden surprises, and an old classic here.

Its thinner aluminum frame is sandwiched between smooth glass, with the back coming in your choice of color: Flamingo Pink, Prism Black, Prism Blue, Prism White, Canary Yellow and Prism Green. Samsung Galaxy S10 colors will vary by region, with the US getting all but yellow and green.

There’s the smallest of camera bumps on the back, housing the triple-lens camera array, while we saw no signs of Samsung’s invisible reverse wireless charging module below this. It’s a particularly clean look in a world of camera bumps and rear-fingerprint sensors.

We had no difficulty activating Samsung’s Wireless PowerShare feature after turning it on via the quick settings notification shade. We placed our Galaxy Buds case on the lower third of the S10 back and the earbuds began charging almost instantly. It even charged our iPhone XS Max.

Samsung laid out two scenarios in which Wireless PowerShare would be helpful: charging a friend’s phone, or charging your Galaxy Buds at night, effectively making your plugged-in S10 a mobile Qi charger pad. Samsung noted, though, that PowerShare won’t work when the phone is below 30%.

Also invisible – this time around the front – is the fingerprint sensor. While a lot of Android phones have used a rear-facing fingerprint sensor, Samsung stuck with the front-facing physical sensor pad all the way up to the Galaxy S7. So the switch to the back felt foreign on Samsung phones – but it’s come back to the front in the S10, this time tucked underneath the glass.

This is an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, different from the optical sensors on the OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, for example. Samsung uses Qualcomm-backed tech that’s said to be better, and more secure, by making a 3D scan of your print, but we’ll have to test it out day-to-day. So far, it’s unlocked the phone when we put our thumb on the lower-third of the device. More literal impressions to come in our full review.

And here’s a welcomed classic that hasn’t changed since the first S phone a decade ago: the 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung is one of the few phone makers that includes the standard headphone jack in 2019 – and it’s doing it despite introducing the wireless Galaxy Buds.

Camera

Samsung wants you to take photos at any angle, so the Galaxy S10 has a triple-lens camera on back with a 12MP regular lens, 12MP optically zoomed telephoto lens, and a brand new 16MP ultra-wide lens.

We’re going to take a hard look at the camera, how it compared to the class-leading Pixel 3, and determine how good the ultra-wide photos look. Samsung’s 123-degree field of view is rather wide, which serves the purpose of not having to back up to get everything in a shot. But that may result in an unnatural fisheye look. This ultra-wide camera also lacks OIS compared to the other two lenses.

On the front, we have a single 10MP camera with dual auto-focuses. If you upgrade to the S10 Plus, you’ll also get an 8MP camera meant for enhancing depth in portrait photos.

Scene optimizer gains 10 new categories, with Samsung’s camera AI now able to tell the difference between a cat and dog to fine tune things like white balance. Shot Suggestions is a new feature that uses the neural processor engine to nudge you to properly level your shots or frame subjects better.

On the video side, the software has been upgraded to record in HDR10+ and offer Digital Video Stabilization. Samsung says that this is meant to make all of your Ultra HD video as smooth as an action cam. Shots fired, GoPro Hero7 Black.

Specs and battery life

The Samsung Galaxy S10 gets proper under-the-hood upgrades, touting the new top-of-the-line Snapdragon or Exynos chipsets, depending on which country you live in. It should be plenty fast.

It’ll also come with 8GB of RAM – a serious upgrade over the 4GB of RAM in last year’s S9 – and includes options for 128GB or 512GB of internal storage. There’s no 64GB version to worry about here, and Samsung still supports expandable storage.

It contains a 3,400mAh battery, an upgrade over the 3,000mAh capacity of the S9. Because of the bigger screen, officially, Samsung is still claiming all-day battery life if not a bit more.

Also onboard is next-gen Wi-Fi 6, which will support seamless transition between Wi-Fi routers and is four times faster than 802.11ax. It should deliver a 20% speed boost, but you’ll need a new router to really get any use out of this feature.

What you won’t get on this phone is the S10 Plus and Note 9-exclusive vapor chamber cooling. If you’re a gamer, you may want to upgrade to the larger phone for more than just the bigger screen.

Early verdict

The Galaxy S10 is a deserved 10th anniversary phone for Samsung and its storied S series. Its new display type lays out more pixels across less body, has a triple-lens camera so you can now take ultra-wide photos, and contains a bigger battery surrounded by beefier specs.

You’ll like all of these features, while your friends will like the new Wireless PowerShare perk. The S10 marks an anniversary, but it also marks something a bit different among smartphones. It disrupts the sameness of smartphones just enough to become a tempting upgrade. 

The price, however, may give you second thoughts. That’s where the Galaxy S10e plays an important role.

Our Galaxy S10 hands-on review isn’t finished yet. This phone requires a lot more testing and day-to-day use to determine if the three-eyed rear camera is the best in the world and the ‘punch-hole’ Infinity-O display is the style of screen we want to stare at in 2019.

All images credit: TechRadar

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.