In search of the perfect compact phone: Samsung Galaxy S10e

In search of the perfect compact phone: Samsung Galaxy S10e
As you might already know, I'm very fond of compact phones and lament their untimely demise. My struggles with modern big-screen devices led to constant frustration and nostalgic waves far too premature for my age. I searched for an alternative and came across two phones that might just do the trick – the recently released iPhone SE 2020 and last year's Samsung Galaxy S10e. In my previous article, I kind of disregarded both as viable options, but after giving it some thought, I decided to do a little test run and give each model a chance, starting with the Galaxy S10e.

First impressions

The Samsung Galaxy S10e features a 5.8-inch AMOLED display, which is pretty respectable considering the overall size of the phone. The bezels are still there, although they're exactly the right size – small enough not to spoil the design, and large enough to mitigate any accidental touches with your palm. There's a bit of a chin, and the circular cutout for the selfie camera is still there at the upper right corner, but overall the front of the phone looks clean and stylish. 

In my previous article, I got flamed for calling the S10e design plasticky. Getting reacquainted with the phone, I can say that I stand by my words. Although the back is listed as glass (Gorilla Glass 5), it's either very thin or some kind of a polymer with glass mixed in it. When you tap with your fingernail on the back, it produces quite a hollow and "cheap" noise. It's a subjective matter, of course, but I've tested so many mid-rangers that felt much more premium in the hand and can't help but feel a bit disappointed.

Visually, the Galaxy S10e looks cool and sleek, but it's not as small as I've expected it to be. Placed next to my daily driver — the Huawei Mate 20 Pro — the S10e doesn't inspire you to call it a mini.

Weight and pocketability

The first thing you notice when you take the phone in your hand is how lightweight it is—the Galaxy S10e weights 5.29 oz (150 g). The phone feels quite lighter compared to my Mate 20 Pro (6.67 oz). Handling a lighter phone is a treat, surprisingly. I used to like heavy phones due to the overall sturdy and premium feel you're getting from the extra weight, but lighter is always more practical. Holding the Galaxy S10e between your thumb and index finger is easy and pleasant.

The rounded sides make the phone easy on the hand, and combined with the reduced weight and size, the Galaxy S10e would've been an ergonomic dream if it wasn't for one key flaw. This phone is very slippery. It's like an ice cube in your hand. The aluminum sides are polished or lacquered in a way that everything just slides off, including the skin of your hand. The glass back doesn't help either. After I had had a couple of drop-scares, I gave up and put a case on.

The case cured all the slippery problems but defeated the design purpose of the glass and metal build. Other than that, the Galaxy S10e is very easy to carry around - it fits nearly every pocket and it's quite light.

Thumb comfort, one-hand operation

Using the Galaxy S10e with one hand is a big improvement over much larger phones like my wife's Galaxy S9+ or the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. However, when holding the S10e naturally in your hand, you still can't reach the top of the screen with your thumb. You need to adjust your grip a bit in order to pull the notification panel or reach interface elements at the top. When you take into account the slippery metal and glass, it becomes evident that a case is a must.

Samsung made a strange decision putting the fingerprint capacitive sensor very high up on the right side of the phone. When you hold the Galaxy S10e with your pinky under the device to secure it from sliding, your thumb just can't reach the scanner. If you put your thumb on the reader, it becomes very hard to reach the interface icons on the bottom of the screen. Very frustrating!

Typing and media consumption

Here's an interesting fact for you. The Samsung Galaxy S10e is wider than the S20 and almost as wide as the regular S10 model. This means that typing isn't an issue as the virtual keyboard is almost the same as the one found on much larger phones. You can type with one hand without any issues – there's practically no learning curve.

Watching videos on the Galaxy S10e is a pleasure – Samsung is famous for its spectacular AMOLED screens. And because there are almost no bezels, the 5.8-inch screen doesn't feel small. The punch-hole camera cutout is annoying at first, but you quickly adapt, and after an hour or so, you just stop noticing it. I was afraid that my OCD wouldn't be happy with a black circle on every video I watch, but it really wasn't a problem.

Small phone = small battery?

Another interesting thing is that the Galaxy S10e is very power efficient. I expected the 3100 mAh battery to drain fast, considering the powerful chipset, but it wasn't the case. Maybe the Full HD+ resolution of the screen has something to do with it, but I was able to get a full 24 hours even with heavy use. You can stretch that to two full days with some discipline.


Key findings after a week with the Galaxy S10e

  • Lightweight and easy to hold with just two fingers
  • Fits almost every pocket
  • Slippery without a case
  • Awesome display and pleasing sound
  • The Fingerprint sensor is awkwardly positioned
  • Decent battery life considering the size
  • Gets hot under pressure and thermal throttling becomes an issue

Is the Galaxy S10e compact-worthy?

So, can this phone satisfy my "compact" needs? Unfortunately, the answer is no. True, the Galaxy S10e is smaller than every flagship out there, but it's just not small enough. You still have to perform some hand gymnastics if you want to use the phone with one hand, and it doesn't feel like a mini. When placed next to a "regular" flagship, the S10e looks smaller but not by much. The phone is excellent in every other aspect, though. It's fast, looks cool, snaps great images, has an amazing screen. However, my search is not over. Moving on to the iPhone SE 2020.

To be continued...

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