Review: The Samsung Galaxy S10 is a flagship phone worthy of the title
The Samsung Galaxy S10 is the flagship Samsung smartphone for 2019, together with the cheaper S10e and the more expensive S10 Plus (at least until the Note 10 arrives). Does it represent a new high watermark for phone hardware and software? We've been putting it through its paces to find out.
While this phone isn't a huge leap forward from the Samsung Galaxy S9, it doesn't really need to be, and it's undoubtedly one of the best phones of 2019 no matter what your criteria. It's expensive, of course, and one of Samsung's challenges in the future is going to be getting people to pay premium prices in a world where phones like the Pixel 3a and OnePlus 7 exist.
That said, Samsung makes plenty of mid-range phones of its own so it knows the price vs performance balance that needs to be struck. The S10 definitely falls at the high price, high performance end of the spectrum.
Design and hardware
Samsung has been in the smartphone game for a very long time, and now seems to be able to push out sleek, polished, stylish handsets every time without fail. The 6.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S10 screams premium, all thin bezels and rounded edges, and looks fantastic from every angle.
The gorgeous, vibrant 1,440 x 3,040 pixel Super AMOLED display will come as no surprise to seasoned Samsung watchers either – Samsung phones traditionally have superb displays attached, and the S10 is no different. And while we wait for camera tech that works under screens to be developed, the hole-punch notch isn't a bad stopgap.
Around the back of the phone, the triple-lens camera has a slight bump but it's tastefully done. The fingerprint sensor has been moved under the display – and it works very well – which means there are no other interruptions on the back.
The volume and power buttons are present and correct and, as with previous handsets, you get a dedicated Bixby button too. If you're not a huge fan of Samsung's digital assistant, you can remap the button to launch a different app instead. Along the bottom of the phone is a single speaker grille, a USB-C port, and – yes – a headphone jack.
White, black, green, blue, yellow, pink and red are the color choices for the Samsung Galaxy S10, though they're not all available in all regions. Note too that the phone comes with a very thin screen protector already attached – you can choose to take this off but it's hardly noticeable if you decide the extra barrier to scratches and smashes is worth it.
With a screen-to-body ratio of nearly 90 percent, Samsung is to be applauded for what it's managed to do with the design of the S10. Perhaps the only complaint you can level against it is that it's too familiar, but smartphone design in general seems to have reached something of a plateau, and foldable phones aren't yet ready for the mainstream.
Specs and features
You'll struggle to find a more powerful smartphone than the Galaxy S10 this year. Under the hood there's a Snapdragon 855 or Exynos 9820 CPU depending on your region – the top chips of 2019 – and that's paired with no less than 8 GB of RAM. That should be plenty for even the most demanding tasks.
The two internal storage options are 128 GB and 512 GB, so it's either a standard spec or overkill as far as storage goes. We're happy that Samsung keeps including microSD slots on its phones, so you can in theory have 1 TB of storage available on the S10.
The battery is rated at 3,400 mAh and that should last you all day, Samsung promises. With fairly heavy use we were seeing 15-20 percent of a charge left by bedtime. We also ran an hour of YouTube streaming on full brightness at a normal audio level, which knocked down the battery from 100 to 88 percent – the equivalent of around 10 hours of video watching from a single charge, which isn't bad.
Down the years Samsung has added just about every feature you could want in a smartphone, and it's hard to imagine what else it could add. Wireless charging is here, as is fast charging, and the IP68 waterproofing and dustproofing is as good as you're going to get too. The phone can survive being submerged up to a depth of 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) for a period of 30 minutes.
Reversible wireless charging has been added for the first time, which means you can charge up other devices – another phone, wireless earbuds and so on – on the back of the S10, as long as there's 30 percent or more of a charge left on the S10. We're not sure anyone would want to give up precious battery life like this, and charging rates are slow, but it's something you might turn to in an emergency.
During our time with the S10 it sped through every task with ease and no hint of lag, whether that was a browser with dozens of tabs open or a graphically-intense mobile game. As you would expect from one of the best-specced phones of the moment, the S10 will stay very fast for a very long time before you need to upgrade it.
Camera and software
Photo quality continues to be important for phone buyers, but even here most handsets now offer "good enough" shots that will work fine for social media. With the triple-lens snapper on the back of the S10, Samsung is able to offer both 2x optical zoom and an ultra-wide angle mode for getting more in the shot.
As with previous S series phones, the rear-facing camera is a top-notch performer: it's fast, it's responsive, and it gets great results in nearly all situations. The extra AI-assisted tweaks for getting more from night shots or dull shots seem to work well, and we found ourselves impressed with the color balance and detail in almost all the photos the S10 took.
The HDR mode didn't always work wonders, especially in low light where dark patches would become especially murky. We're only talking about a small percentage of photos where the results were less than stellar though, and in general, we were very happy with the way the S10 was able to pick out colors and details in dark scenes.
Even on a dull day, this canal shot came out well. More photo examples can be seen in the gallery, as well as some extra commentary on the sort of results we got, but you shouldn't have any worries about the S10 letting you down in the photography department. The phone doesn't quite hit the heights of the Pixel 3 or the Huawei P30 Pro, but it comes very close.
As for software, we've got Android 9 Pie on board here, with Samsung's One UI on top. The recently-launched One UI means Samsung phones are now carrying software that's more useful and less bloated than ever before – it's still not quite as good as our favorite Android versions (OxygenOS from OnePlus and the Pixel Android from Google) but it's perfectly fine. You get a bunch of Samsung apps pre-installed, but they're easy to ignore if you don't want to use them.
Where Samsung software has always scored highly is in the way it adds extra features and options to the software, from color control to notification management. That's the case again here, and we like (for example) the way you can tweak the always on display to pick the most important information for the lock screen.
Price and verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S10 is a fantastic phone in almost every department: performance, design, camera capabilities, the features included, and so on. Even in the areas where it doesn't quite excel – battery life and software – it's still a strong device. It's easy to recommend the S10 to anyone looking for a new phone.
Perhaps the main competition for the S10 comes in the form of the slightly smaller and cheaper S10e, and the slightly bigger and more expensive S10 Plus. All three phones have the same internal specs, but come with different screen and battery sizes, as well as a few variations in the camera setup.
The S10e has a pocket-friendly 5.8-inch screen and makes do with a dual-lens rear camera, while the S10 Plus ups the screen size to 6.4 inches and has a dual-lens front-facing selfie camera (the rear camera on the S10 and S10 Plus is the same). Either of those combinations might appeal to you more than the standard Galaxy S10.
As we've mentioned, the quality of the mid-range smartphones on the market now should give you pause before buying any flagship phone, whether it's from Samsung, Apple, Google, or anyone else – cheaper phones have reached the stage where they're powerful enough and well-built enough to satisfy most people.
That said, if you can afford the price premium of the Galaxy S10, you're not going to be disappointed. It's Samsung's best phone yet, in a long line of prestigious handsets, and does everything you want a smartphone to do today and then some (check out the Samsung DeX desktop mode, for example).
The software still needs some refining, and the S10 cameras aren't quite the best in the business, but otherwise this is a fantastic phone to put in your pocket. The Galaxy S10 is available to buy now from US$899.99 unlocked.
Also, if you're particularly flush with cash and in an area with 5G connectivity (or in an area where it's coming soon), there's also a 5G version of the S10 to consider. As well as that next-gen cellular tech, the differences with the standard S10 are a huge 6.7 inch screen and a dual-lens selfie camera. You can buy the S10 5G now for US$1,299.
Product page: Samsung Galaxy S10