Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

I still remember the day when I saw a Galaxy S 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. And the Galaxy S10+ is the culmination of the company’s efforts – packed with a beautiful, edge-to-edge Infinity display, a versatile triple camera setup, and a futuristic in-screen fingerprint scanner. Indeed, this is a phone built for anyone who demands the very best – and doesn’t mind spending a $1000 on getting it. But should you get one? I spent over a week with the Galaxy S10+ to find out.

In the box:

  • Samsung Galaxy 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

 

Design

While it is true that most modern smartphones look more or less identical, there’s no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a beautiful phone. 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.

Samsung has so far announced four different color variants of the Galaxy S10+: Flamingo Pink and Prism Blue for those who like to stand out, as well as Prism Black and Prism White for those who favor a more neutral appearance. All four look lovely in person. Light playfully bounces off of the shiny surface, reflected in a different hue when the phone is held at the right angle. This subtle pearlescent effect appears to be most noticeable on the white model, which reflects a shade of fiery orange when tilted. Seriously, it is sad to know that the glow of most Galaxy S10 phones would eventually end up obscured by a case.

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

But protecting your Galaxy S10+ 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+ are made of glass, and even though Samsung has made the jump to the tougher Gorilla Glass 6, we can’t imagine it lasting forever, even when the phone is held together and protected by a sturdy metal frame. 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 the Galaxy S10+ comes 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.

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.

In the hand, the Galaxy S10+ would feel familiar to any Galaxy user with its shape. It’s a slippery phone, as you would expect, and getting a good hold of it can be tricky with those curved sides and that skinny frame. Unfortunately, accidental tap rejection isn’t perfect at this time. In my day-to-day use, my fingers have unintentionally brushed against the curved area of the display 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.

What can’t be changed through software updates, however, is the positioning of the power button. It is placed high on the right edge of the phone, and reaching it isn’t as effortless as it was on the S9, for instance. We’re assuming that Samsung moved it up there to eliminate interference with the dedicated Bixby button positioned on the other side of the phone.

In-display fingerprint scanner

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review
Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

Without a doubt, one of the coolest features on the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is the fingerprint reader on the display (or underneath it, rather). This new type of fingerprint scanning tech pulses ultrasonic waves at your finger and reads the reflections to create a hard-to-spoof, three-dimensional image of it. Better yet, the reader is on the front of the phone, at a spot where it is easy to reach. Both the Galaxy S8 and S9 had their scanners at the back, which wasn’t an ideal placement.

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.

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.

Display and camera cutout

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

As you’d expect out of a $1000 phone, the screen on the Galaxy 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 dual 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 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 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.

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review
Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

Camera cutout aside, the screen on the Galaxy S10+ looks brilliant! By default, it is set to a resolution of 2280 by 1080 pixels to save battery and improve performance, and that’s how I used the phone throughout most of my testing without any issues. But for maximum sharpness, you can easily set the display to its 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. It comes in Vivid mode by default, which adds a slight 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+ is excellent, which should come as no surprise when the screen 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.

Software and interface

One UI – this is the name of Samsung’s new user interface, and the changes that it brings aren’t merely visual. Based on Android 9.0 Pie, it adds extra features like Digital Wellbeing and Lift to Wake, but most importantly, the software has been rethought at its very core. It is built around the idea of making today’s huge smartphones less cumbersome to use, which is step in the right direction in a time when 6-inch screens are the norm. To achieve its goal, Samsung has tweaked many of its stock apps to bring actionable elements, such as buttons and menus that you need to tap on, down to the bottom half of the screen. Sure, it’s a simple concept, but it works! Reaching that text message or that photo at the very top of the list is now only a matter of bringing it down closer to your thumb with a swipe.

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+ comes 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.

Gesture navigation - Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

Gesture navigation

Bixby and Bixby Routines

Samsung’s virtual assistant, Bixby, is present on the Galaxy S10+, 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+ 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.

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

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 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.

Bixby Routines

Processor and memory

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

Hardly a surprise, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ comes 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 latter 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.

Samsung has also thrown in a vapor chamber cooling system – 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.

RAM starts at 8GB, 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 256, 512, and even a whopping 1TB built in can be purchased. And you still get a microSD card slot on top of that!

Camera

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

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.

The wide-angle, main, and telephoto cameras on the Galaxy S10+ in action

On the front of the Galaxy S10+ we have a dual selfie camera setup. One of these is a 10MP main camera with autofocus and the ability to shoot 4K video, while the secondary cam is a depth sensor that aids in the creation of depth effects when Live Focus mode is applied.

Front cam - Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review
Front cam - Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

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.

Samsung’s camera UI hasn’t changed much, but we do need to point out several minor tweaks. One is the new set of buttons for switching between the regular, telephoto, and wide-angle cameras. It is less confusing than the “1x/2x” toggle we had last year, and for finer control over the zoom level, you simply slide your fingers across the button area. Samsung’s Scene Optimizer – a feature introduced with the Galaxy Note 9 – is also present.

Main camera interface

Image Quality

After taking hundreds of photos and making several camera comparisons with the Galaxy S10+, we can say that we’re pleased with its camera performance. However, image quality is very close – if not identical – to what we’ve seen from the Galaxy S9+ and the Galaxy Note 9 already. The only thing truly putting the S10+ ahead of its predecessors is the additional wide-angle camera.

Images out of the Samsung Galaxy 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+ relies on its 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 light isn’t enough, the Galaxy S10+ simply switches to its more sensitive main camera (without letting you know of this) and does 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.

Selfies

The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is one of the few smartphones 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+ are ideal.

Live Focus

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+ 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+ uses its 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 Galaxy S10+’s 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.

Left to right – Galaxy S10+, iPhone XS Max, Galaxy Note 9

That aside, Samsung’s Live Focus images stand out with their accurate object separation, meaning that you’ll rarely see any weird gaps or borders around the line separating your subject from the background. The quality of portraits drops significantly in low light, but that’s the case with every camera that supports portrait mode.

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.

AR Emoji

Yup, those are still around, and Samsung has put effort in 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.

Video

The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a powerful video-recording machine 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+ is its ability to switch between any of its 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+. 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 S10+, 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 its predecessors, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ comes with stereo speakers – one on its bottom and another in the earpiece. The sound is loud and clear, 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.

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review
Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

The Galaxy S10+ 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+ stands 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 4KTV, but it is enjoyable. On a related note, the Galaxy S10+ can record HDR10+ video with its 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, both 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 phone comes with a fast charger in the box, and it’s capable of filling up its empty battery in 100 minutes. That’s far from a record-breaking figure, but it is an improvement over last year’s top-of-the-line Galaxies.

Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review
Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review
But the most peculiar charging feature on the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is called Wireless PowerShare. In a nutshell, the phone 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.

Conclusion

Samsung wanted to create something remarkable for the Galaxy line’s 10th anniversary, and for the most part, it succeeded. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ does look like a phone from the future with its brilliant display and the fingerprint reader built into it. The software experience makes sense, and we’re glad to see Samsung approaching it from a more practical perspective rather than just cramming in features for the sake of having them. And no less importantly, the hardware behind that software is the most powerful you can get on an Android phone today.
Samsung Galaxy S10+ Review

Alas, the Galaxy S10+ is not a perfect smartphone. It still has its notable flaws here and there, the most significant of them being the rather temperamental fingerprint reader. Before you get one, it is highly recommended to visit a retail store, give the reader a try, and decide if you’re fine with its performance. On a related note, we are expecting to receive a software update meant to improve the reader’s performance. We’ll update our review accordingly if its reliability changes for the better.

If you’re already the owner of a Galaxy S9+ or a Note 9, then the Galaxy S10+ isn’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 S10+’s 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.

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