The review has been updated to reflect changes to the in-display fingerprint reader performance after a software update and to include comments regarding our experience with the Galaxy S10.
phone for the first time. It was all the way back in 2010: when MP3 players were still a thing, 4G phones were a rarity, and I had just beaten Plants vs Zombies on my 9-inch netbook. As someone who wasn’t as involved with mobile tech as I am now, I was blown away by the phone’s slim, elegant design, and the large, vivid display was like nothing I had seen before.
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.
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.
But protecting your Galaxy in one way or another would be a good idea. As the case was with previous Galaxy models, the back and front sides of the S10 and S10+ are made of glass, and even though Samsung has made the jump to the tougher Gorilla Glass 6 on the front, we can’t imagine it lasting forever, even when the phone is held together and protected by a sturdy metal frame. In fact, the screen on our unprotected S10+ is already scuffed up from daily use. On the other hand, all Galaxy S10 models are IP68 certified, meaning that they are highly resistant to dust and water ingress.
We must point out that all Galaxy S10 models come with a pre-applied screen protector – a thin film of plastic, basically. While it scratches easily, having some protection is always better than leaving your pricey new gadget exposed – especially during the first few days when you haven’t bought a case for it yet. The protector is easy to peel off once you’re ready to remove or replace it. That moment will come sooner if you don’t have a case on your S10, judging by the way the protector on our naked S10 is already starting to peel off at the corners.
Face recognition is the only other lock method on the Galaxy S10+ relying on biometric data, but it’s of the basic kind. There’s no 3D face-scanning action going on, meaning that face unlock on the S10+ isn’t as secure as Face ID on the iPhone. Iris scanning is no longer available, and frankly, we don’t miss it.
As you’d expect out of a high-end phone, the screens on the Galaxy S10 and S10+ looks gorgeous, stretching from one corner to the other. Samsung had to think out of the box to achieve this level of immersiveness, as only trimming the bezels from all sides wouldn’t have been enough. As a result, we got Samsung’s Infinity-O display, instantly recognizable with its small cutout in the upper corner. This is where the front-facing camera resides.
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.
Color reproduction is highly accurate when the screen is in Natural mode, as confirmed by our measurements. But if you prefer punchier colors, there’s also the Vivid display mode, which adds a hint of saturation without overdoing it. There are no other display modes available, and we don’t think that more are needed.
Outdoor visibility with the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ is excellent, which should come as no surprise when the screens gets even brighter than those on the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy Note 9. At night, activating the blue light filter reduces the shades of blue that might mess up your sleep. This filter has been improved on the S10 series and has less of an impact on color reproduction. And a new Dark Mode replaces white backgrounds in apps with black ones to reduce eye strain and save battery.
Familiar features like the handy Always On Display are also present. As before, it shows the time, date, battery level, and notification badges when the phone is in standby. You can have the AOD shown all the time, but to save battery, you may turn it off or have it only show briefly when you tap the screen.
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.
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.
The clever part about Bixby Routines is that personalized recommendations based around your usage habits will start popping up only a couple of days after you enable the feature (as it is disabled by default). But if you consider yourself a power user, you should go straight ahead and browse the list of pre-loaded Routines, as the list contains some genuinely helpful ones. Routines are fully customizable, meaning that you can make your own from scratch.
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.
Hardly a surprise, the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ come equipped with the best hardware an Android phone can get today. This includes a Snapdragon 855 chip for units sold in the US or an Exynos 9820 chip for units sold internationally. Since we only have the Exynos models at our disposal, we can’t say if there are any significant differences between the two chips when it comes to performance or power consumption, but we can say that the Exynos 9820 handles everything we throw at it quite well, including heavier 3D games.
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!
The rear cameras on the Galaxy S10 and S10+ are practically identical, and for the first time on a Samsung flagship, we have not one, not two, but three cameras at the back. In the middle is the main camera with a standard viewing angle, while on its sides are a super wide-angle camera and a telephoto cam that brings your subject 2 times closer without any major losses in quality.
While Samsung isn’t the first phone maker to go with this type of camera setup, we applaud its choice of cameras, as such an arrangement is not only useful, but also fun to play with, and you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the flexibility it provides. Though one must be aware of the limitations these extra cameras have, most notably their lower sensitivity to light (read: more noise in low-light situations) and the GoPro-like distortion that the super wide-angle lens introduces. And while these two additional cameras are great having, chances are you’re still going to be using the main camera most of the time.
Confusingly, the selfie camera interface has a regular and a wide-angle mode, which may lead one to believe that the S10+ uses its secondary camera to enable these wide-angle shots. That’s not the case. In actuality, only the main 10MP camera is used: the wide-angle mode uses the entire field of view of the camera, while the regular mode simply crops the image to zoom in on your face.
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.
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.
Interestingly, we noticed that selfies from the iPhone XS tend to be more detailed, but that’s not something to be overly concerned with. After all, most shots end up compressed and posted on social media, and for that purpose, selfies from the S10 and S10+ are ideal.
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.
Thanks to its dual front-facing camera, the Galaxy S10+ takes better Live Focus selfies, as it does a better job of separating the subject from the background. With the S10, which only has a single front camera, you’ll be seeing more glitches along the edge between the background and the person being photographed.
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.
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.
The Galaxy S10 series comes with a set of in-ear headphones “tuned by AKG” that plug into the 3.5mm headphone jack. Judging by their audio properties, these are identical to the earphones bundled with last year’s Galaxy S9 series, which is a good thing. These do deliver punchy bass and clear treble, making them suitable for a wide spectrum of genres, and we believe most people would be quite happy with the sound they deliver.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, there are still imperfections about the Galaxy S10 and S10+ we can point at, but for the most part, we’d be nitpicking. Perhaps the only thing that we hope to see improved is the fingerprint reader in the screen. Its performance has gotten much better through software updates, but it still doesn’t feel quite as fast or as reliable as a traditional one.
If you’re already the owner of a Galaxy S9+ or a Note 9, then the Galaxy S10 and S10+ aren’t for you. Now that last year’s Galaxy phones have received their One UI software update, the only major reason to upgrade is the triple camera setup on the back. The Galaxy S10 series is for the folks still holding on to their trusty Galaxy S7s and Galaxy Note 4s – and there’s quite a lot of them out there, waiting for the opportunity to make the jump to something radically better. And if you’re one of them, we doubt that you’d be disappointed.
And if you’re torn between the two phones, all you need to keep in mind that with the bigger S10+, you’ll get more screen space, better battery life, and better Live Focus selfies. The S10, on the other hand, is a lot more convenient to handle due to its smaller size, all while being equally capable in terms of camera and processing performance.
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