Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ Review
Review indexDesign | In-display fingerprint scanner | Display and camera cutout | Software and interface | Bixby and Bixby Routines | Processor and memory | Camera | Sound quality and video playback | Battery life and charging | Conclusion
Since then, Samsung has been wowing the crowds with a new Galaxy S flagship every year, ultimately establishing itself as an innovator and a leader on the smartphone market. The Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ are the culmination of the company's efforts – packed with beautiful, edge-to-edge Infinity displays, versatile triple cameras, and a futuristic in-screen fingerprint scanner. Indeed, these are phones built for anyone who demands the very best – and doesn't mind spending at least $900 on getting it. But is one of these the right phone for you? I spent over two weeks with them to help answer that question.
In the box:
- Samsung Galaxy S10 or S10+ phone
- Charging cable
- Fast wall charger
- In-ear headphones
- Small, medium, and large earphone tips
- USB-C to microUSB adapter
- USB-C to USB-A adapter
- SIM ejector tool
- Quick start guide and other papers
While it is true that most modern smartphones look more or less identical, there's no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ are beautiful phones. Straight lines, gentle curves, and polished surfaces blend together in a device that's a pleasure to admire. The only "distraction" comes in the form of an array of sensors and cameras at the back, but it grew on me quickly.
All of the Galaxy S10 and S10+ colors look lovely in person. We have the Prism White Galaxy S10+ here for review, and light playfully bounces off of its shiny surface, reflected in a different hue when the phone is held at the right angle, reflecting a shade of fiery orange. Meanwhile, the Prism Green Galaxy S10 doesn't have the same light-bending effect, but the reflections have a striking depth to them. Seriously, it is sad to know that the glow of most Galaxy S10 phones would eventually end up obscured by a case.
On the topic of durability, Samsung is also offering a higher-end version of the Galaxy S10+ that swaps the glass back for one made of ceramic. This premium material may not feel any different to the touch but is more resistant to scratching.
Unfortunately, accidental tap rejection isn't perfect with either phone. In my day-to-day use, my fingers have unintentionally brushed against the curved area of the displays more than once, causing all sorts of undesired results, such as switching between lenses when in the Camera app or bringing up the controls when watching YouTube videos. These are rare occurrences, mind you, but I believe they can be eliminated by software refinements.
In-display fingerprint scanner
But so far, the fingerprint reader on the Galaxy S10+ has been neither as fast, nor as reliable as a traditional one. We let several people here at the office give it a try, and while it worked flawlessly for some, others had a hard time registering their finger and unlocking the phone afterward. Removing the stock screen protector did improve the reader's performance, but again, we were seeing the "No match" error pop up more often than we should. Another drawback of this in-display fingerprint solution is that there is no tactile indication of its placement, meaning that you have to rely solely on visual cues and muscle memory to hit the right spot.
Display and camera cutout
Is having a hole for the camera better than a notch? Well, this one's up for debate. You could say that Samsung's approach is a tad less distracting than a notch when watching full-screen video, while the uninterrupted status bar allows for more than three notification icons to fit up there (if you enable this option in Settings>Notifications>Status Bar). On the other hand, having a dark circle or oval in the upper corner throws off the symmetry of Samsung's design.
In any case, Samsung's unorthodox solution hasn't broken the looks or functionality of any apps or games we've run on the Galaxy S10+ so far. They simply ignore the cutout and the area to the side of it, with rare exceptions such as Google Maps and Cut the Rope 2 stretching all the way up to the top of the screen. The front camera can be "hidden" by applying a black background to the status bar, but that doesn't look pretty.
Camera cutout aside, the screens on the Galaxy S10 and S10+ look brilliant! By default, both are set to a resolution of 2280 by 1080 pixels to save battery and improve performance, and that's how I used the phones throughout most of my testing without any issues. But for maximum sharpness, the screens can be set to their native resolution of 3040 by 1440 from the display settings menu.
Software and interface
Some UI screens – the call log and contacts list, for example – have yet to be affected, and there's still no easy way of pulling down your notifications panel from any screen. But all in all, it is great to see Samsung improving the very foundation of its software experience, and we hope that others take note of its efforts.
Night Mode is another welcome addition to Samsung's software experience. When the mode is enabled, white backgrounds in Samsung's apps are replaced with dark ones, which saves power and puts less strain on your eyes. It even works in Samsung's web browser! However, Night Mode does not affect third-party apps like Facebook Messenger or Instagram. It does not apply to Google's apps like Gmail or Chrome either. Of course, if a third-party app has its own built-in dark/night mode, you're free to use that instead. Night Mode can be set to activate automatically after sunset, but I chose to leave it on all the time simply because I like the look of it.
By default, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ come with on-screen buttons for navigation, but those who are feeling adventurous may turn those off and use Samsung's gesture-based navigation instead. The idea is simple: you swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen in the spots where the classic on-screen buttons would normally reside. A longer swipe up from the middle activates Google's assistant. You can switch between two apps with a single action by swiping from the middle to the side.
That's cool and all, but what's the point? Well, since there is no navigation bar at the bottom, you do gain a small amount of screen space for apps and games to expand into. Also, exiting out of full-screen apps is done with a single action. Other than that, there are no major practical benefits to Samsung's gestures, and so far, they don't feel any more convenient to use than the classic on-screen buttons, not to mention that a thicker case may make them more difficult to execute. On a related note, Samsung's official cases are shaped in a way that accommodates gesture navigation.
Bixby and Bixby Routines
Samsung's virtual assistant, Bixby, is present on the Galaxy S10 series, and one of its key new abilities is called Bixby Routines. Think of it as a set of instructions executed at a given time or place. For instance, you can have your S10 or S10+ automatically switch to silent mode, activate its blue light filter, and mute notifications after 9:00PM. Or you may set it to launch a particular app when it detects that you're in the car or connected to a given Wi-Fi network.
And speaking of Bixby, the dedicated Bixby button on the side can now be remapped – a feature that fans have been demanding for years. While a single press would still open Samsung's assistant, a double press can be configured to open a frequently used app (or vice versa: single tap for any app, double press for Bixby). The button cannot be disabled completely, however, and holding down the Bixby key will always open Bixby Voice.
Processor and memory
Samsung has also thrown in a vapor chamber cooling system in the S10+ – a wide copper pipe, basically, designed to pull heat away from the chip. This allows it to run faster for longer periods of time while handling more intense loads. The S10 has a simpler cooling system.
RAM starts at 8GB for both phones, which is more than enough for the average Android user. However, those who demand the very best or find themselves using Samsung's DeX Mode often may consider the 12GB Galaxy S10+ variant.
Storage starts at the generous 128GB, but variants with 512 are also on sale. Even a monstrous 1TB model of the S10+ can be purchased. And with both, you still get a microSD card slot on top of that!
Images out of the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ stand out with sharp details and well-filtered noise. Their overall appearance, however, is greatly affected by Samsung's Image Optimizer feature, which is enabled by default (and can be disabled). It works by detecting the type of scene you're shooting – whether it's a fancy meal, a cute puppy, or a city landscape, for example – and fine-tunes the camera settings as it sees fit. We've noticed that as a result, pictures of flowers and natural landscapes have overly saturated colors. It's the kind of look that would get you more likes on Instagram, even though it's not one as true to reality as possible.
Low-light performance is, again, very similar to that of the Note 9 and Galaxy S9+. Instead of having a dedicated Night Mode, as some other high-end phones do, the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ rely on their Scene Optimizer to handle low-light situations. There are no noticeable delays due to additional image processing. What is noticeable, however, is the greater presence of digital noise. Overall, low-light images look very good, with tamed highlights and details in shadowy areas. Yet the Pixel 3 remains the leader in low-light imaging with its Night Sight photos.
Shooting with the telephoto camera gives you 2x zoom without quality degradation, and the results look great... as long as you have enough light. If the light isn't enough, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ simply switch to their more sensitive main camera (without letting you know of this) and do digital zoom instead, which results in poorer image quality. This, however, is how all phones with a secondary telephoto camera behave, so we can't take off any points for it.
As for the wide-angle camera, it is ideal for shooting in tight spots, such as bars and cafes, or for fitting majestic landscapes in a single shot. However, you'll be seeing more noise and less detail in low-light scenes, and since the camera lacks autofocus, it isn't suitable for close-ups.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 phones are among the few that have a front camera with autofocus. And it works fast, so regardless of whether you have your phone up to your nose or your arm extended as far as possible, your face will look nice and sharp.
Selfies look great overall. Enabled by default, a Beauty Mode covers slight imperfections, and the strength of the effect can be increased or reduced. Auto HDR compensates for uneven lighting, so I was able to take decent self-portraits even with the sun shining behind me. The lens is wide enough to fit several people and some background as context in the frame. Keep in mind that in low light, the camera is more susceptible to letting in motion blur, so be sure to keep your hand steady in such situations.
Samsung introduced Live Focus with the Galaxy Note 8 as an answer to Apple's Portrait Mode and its artistically blurred backgrounds. It is found on the Galaxy S10 and S10+ as well, but the way it works is different, and we don't think that we're fans of the change. You see, Live Focus on previous Galaxy phones took the portrait photo with the telephoto cam, while the S10 series uses the main one instead. Telephoto cams are more suitable for portraits because they have less distortion and a narrower field of view that puts the accent of the shot on the person in it. The main camera is much wider, and as a result, Live Focus shots don't look as artistic. The difference is subtle, but it is definitely there.
To spice things up, Samsung has thrown in several new background blur effects. These are fun to play with, and you can switch from one to another or modify its strength even after you've captured the image.
Yup, those are still around, and Samsung has put some effort into making them more fun to use. Unfortunately, AR Emoji still look kind of creepy and have a hard time tracking your facial features, judging by how my eyebrows and eyelids twitch as I struggle to make an expression. The new Mask Mode is somewhat amusing, though, as it places the head of your avatar on top of a real-world you.
We also tried the new Body Tracking mode. Basically, it adds your AR Emoji into the viewfinder, and when a person is detected, your virtual avatar starts copying their moves. Tracking isn't perfect, but it's good enough to have a little fun with this feature. It has a long way to go before it becomes a hit, though.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ are powerful video-recording machines capable of shooting beautiful video at up to 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. Image quality is really good, as expected, but comparable to what the Galaxy S9+ and the Galaxy Note 9 can produce. The true superpower of the Galaxy S10 and S10+ is their ability to switch between any of their rear cameras on the fly. If you want to zoom out, just switch over to the wide-angle cam, and if you want to get closer, you can totally zoom in using the telephoto cam. Not all phones with dual or triple cameras let you do that.
Video with the front-facing cam can be shot at up to 4K resolution, which is a rarity among today's smartphones. As you might guess, the footage looks brilliant due to the extra resolution, but its quality degrades drastically in low light.
Samsung has added the option to shoot HDR10+ video with the Galaxy S10 series. Having this option enabled produces footage with a bit more detail in the highlights. Compatibility could be an issue, however. Videos you've recorded in HDR10+ look fine on the phone's screen, but Instagram can't process their colors correctly and Facebook Messenger fails to share them at all. The HDR10+ option is disabled by default and should be enabled only by folks who know what it does.
Sound quality and video playback
As their predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ come with stereo speakers – one on its bottom and another in the earpiece. The sound is equally loud and clear on both, especially in the vocal range, while music is accompanied by a decent (for a phone) amount of bass. The speakers don't crackle at maximum volume, but then again, I rarely found myself needing to crank up the volume to the max. Overall, the sound quality is comparable to that of the Galaxy S9+ from last year, meaning that it's really good for a phone.
On the media playback side, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ stand out with support for HDR10+ video support. HDR video files are encoded with a wider range of colors for greater contrast and a more life-like image, and HDR10+ enhances these properties further by adding control over the screen's brightness. Unsurprisingly, the HDR experience isn't as striking as it is when watching HDR video on a high-end 4K TV, but it is enjoyable. As mentioned above, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ can record HDR10+ video with their main rear camera, although compatibility may be an issue if you try to share such files.
Battery life and charging
The Galaxy S10+ comes with a 4100mAh battery, which is one of the biggest ever fitted inside a Samsung smartphone. This is why we were a bit disappointed when the S10+ lasted "only" 8 hours when subjected to our custom battery test. On one hand, this is a great score. The Galaxy S10+ easily lasts through a day of heavy usage, as our real-life experience confirms. On the other hand, the Galaxy S9+ and the Galaxy Note 9 scored higher despite their smaller batteries. Still, we'd say that the Galaxy S10+ performs respectably for a 2019 high-end phone.
As expected, the phones come with a fast charger in the box. The full recharge times are far from record breaking, but they mark an improvement over last year's top-of-the-line Galaxies.
But the most peculiar charging feature on the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ is called Wireless PowerShare. In a nutshell, the phones can not only fast-charge wirelessly, but also wirelessly charge other devices, including phones and accessories. At first, I did expect this to be yet another gimmick meant to be rubbed in the noses of rival companies, but now I think it's a feature nice having. For example, being able to charge a set of Galaxy Buds or a Galaxy Watch is convenient and reasonably fast: a 30-minute charge added an extra 21% of battery to my 46mm Galaxy Watch model, which is enough charge for it to last a day. This came at the cost of 9% of battery charge consumed from the phone. Better yet, you can wirelessly charge other devices while the Galaxy S10+ itself is being charged from its wired charger, meaning that you don't have to carry a charger for your Galaxy Watch while traveling.
However, charging other phones via Wireless PowerShare is slow and rather inefficient. An iPhone XS Plus gained 10% of battery after 30 minutes of charging, while our S10+ lost 22%. A Galaxy Note 9 gained 13% over the same period of time, while the S10+ lost 25% of its battery reserve.
You can now read: