Samsung Galaxy S10 hands-on review: A bigger, better, brighter Galaxy

It's no folding phone, but the S10 is still out of this world

Samsung S10
  • Notch-free display; Bigger battery; Superb design
  • Hard to keep clean; Unspecified chip set

We have now experienced a full decade of Samsung's Galaxy smartphones and, in that time, they've stepped out of the shadow of the iPhone and superseded it in many ways. It's a milestone that Apple's own flagship range actually reached in 2017, with the iPhone X, but its large-screen design looked more like the Samsung S8, which was unveiled almost half a year before it.

So, then, what would Samsung do to mark the Galaxy series' 10th year?

The Galaxy Fold will certainly steal the spotlight, but there are also three new flagship models in its Galaxy series: the S10, the S10+ and a new budget version, the S10e - a device seemingly destined to be compared to the iPhone XR.

What's more, the company has announced it will launch a 5G-powered S10 handset sometime in the summer. The three other S10 products will be available for pre-order from 20 February and will go on sale on 8 March.

Samsung revealed on 20 February that the Galaxy Fold would be joining its smartphone range, its first shot at the folding design. We've covered this curiosity in a separate article, but for now, let's take a closer look at the S10.

Samsung Galaxy S10 hands-on: Design

Since the S8, the design of the Galaxy series has largely been the same, which is not a criticism as the rest of the market has quite clearly followed suit; cue the iPhone X and Huawei P20 range.

For the S10, the main aesthetic difference is that the new Infinity Display O is significantly bigger than anything previous, has almost no bezel at the top, and the front camera is housed within the screen itself, in the top corner.

The S10 is both taller and wider than the S9 at 149.9 x 70.4 mm, but it's lighter at 157g and thinner at 7.8mm. Like its predecessors, it's a lovely looking smartphone, with its beautiful 6.1in display and all-glass body. However, as with the previous models, it's easy to smear and smudge with fingerprints.

Visit the rear and you'll see there's a big change to the camera arrangements. Three lenses (five in total if you opt for the S10+) have now been rearraged into a horizontal bar. While these are all neat changes, they're hardly massive ones, but this is largely down to the S8 and S9 being such superb handsets; as such, they're harder to improve upon.

Samsung Galaxy S10 hands-on: Display

Samsung rarely disappoints when it comes to screens, which is why other manufacturers use its display technology in their own devices. Indeed, the screen on the S10 looks very special indeed.

The Infinity Display O is a refreshed version of the S8 and S9's Infinity Display, and has gone beyond its predecessor, virtually stretching from top edge to bottom with very little in the way of bezels. It's a stunning 6.1in QHD+ dynamic AMOLED dynamic display, which supports HDR10+, Samsung and Amazon's collaborative enhanced take on the high dynamic range standard.

The aspect ratio is 19:9, which is a slight change from the S9's 18:9 and, according to Samsung, its brightness peaks out at 1200 nits and can produce one million colours, with minimal blue light emission.

Without testing it fully, we can't back those claims up just yet, but it does look exceedingly bright, crisp and full of colour. It's particularly satisfying to see a 'pinhole' camera embedded into the screen - as a cut out of sorts - which, until you use it, is rather inconspicuous. Thus, the whole screen is actually of use. 

Samsung Galaxy S10 hands-on: Specs and features

In the processing department, the S10 uses an octa-core 8nm chip, but there isn't much detail on which chip this actually is. Samsung usually uses Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon system-on-a-chip in the US (potentially the 855) and its own Exynos chips in Europe. In December, the company unveiled the Exynos 9820 (which presumably powers the S10), promising faster performance with less of a toll on the battery, but we won't know about that till we run our full tests on the S10.

What we can see is that a bigger battery has been fitted into this thinner chassis. The S9 ran on a 3,000mAh battery, which was one of the poorer parts of it. For the S10, the company has gone for a 3,400mAh battery, which is actually only a little bit smaller than the S9+. If you manage to use up all that power, you can use the inbuilt wireless charging, as you could with the S9. There's also a new 'wireless power-share' feature, first seen on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, that allows you to use the S10 as a portable charger, and wirelessly share its battery with other Qi-compatible devices.

Memory has doubled with 8GB RAM instead of the 4GB the S9 had, and there's also 128GB of internal storage, expandable to 512GB via a microSD slot.

For biometric security, Samsung has shunned the rear fingerprint scanner and gone for an in-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, which is said to be un-spoofable by 2D images, due to its fine detail in mapping out every edge of your finger. As with every new high-end smartphone today, AI will also run quietly in the background, improving your photos and curbing power usage. The S10 will learn about you and begin predicting your favourite apps and planning out your day, which could prove very useful. 

Samsung Galaxy S10 hands-on: Camera

Arguably, most of the consumer excitement will be around the cameras and manufacturers are putting a lot of effort into delivering the most advanced smartphone photography around. There's also a trend of one-upping with each flagship, which began with the Huawei P20 Pro's triple camera array and has already been superseded with the LG V40 and its five cameras. This will no doubt continue until the right number of cameras have been found, but we are running out of space to hold the phone without capturing your fingers in photos.

For the S10, Samsung has gone with a (now) conservative four cameras. On the rear, there is a triple camera setup, with a dual pixel 12 MP f1.4/2.4 aperture wide-angle lens with optical image stabilisation, a 12 MP telephoto lens with an aperture of f2.4 and OIS, and a 16 MP ultra wide f2.2 aperture lens.

On the front, there's a dual pixel 8 MP AF camera appearing as a little circular cut out in the screen. On top of this is a super steady video function, for capturing moving objects.

Samsung Galaxy S10+, S10e and S105G roundup

As is standard, the S10 has a plus model which is essentially a bigger S10. The only differences are the size of the device and its larger battery pack, plus an extra front-facing 8 MP camera. Interestingly, the device will stay the same in thickness at 7.8mm but hold a 4,100 mAh battery.

Like Apple, with its iPhone XR, Samsung has some idea about how much its phones have shot up in price over the last 10 years, so it's launched a Galaxy S10e. This is a "compact flagship" with all the capabilities of the S10, only with one fewer camera, a smaller battery at 3,100mAh, and less RAM. The display also doesn't curve like that on the S10 and S10+. It does come in an exclusive Canary Yellow, so that's something.

There's also the Galaxy S105G, Samsung's bid for the 5G market. This thing will be huge, almost like the foldable phone - without the folding part. Its dimensions are 162.6 x 77.1 x 7.94mm, which is significantly bigger than the S10+. The screen will be a whopping 6.7in and the battery is 4,500mAh. It sounds like an absolute beast, but it's worth pointing out that if 5G doesn't come in before 2020, this could be a waste of time.

Samsung Galaxy S10 hands-on: Verdict

We love the notch free Infinity Display O approach, and the promise of a faster, more powerful chip and better battery life; but is this enough of an evolution?

The smartphone market on whole is struggling, but within that, newer, innovative manufacturers are doing things Samsung (and Apple), should be worried about - for a smaller price. OnePlus has been pushing the boundaries for innovation while undercutting Apple and Samsung with the OnePlus 6 and 6T. So too has Huawei, with its P20 and P20 Pro, which took the market by storm last year.

Without getting it in for testing, there's a limit to how much we can definitively say about the Galaxy S10, but on first impressions it seems to be an extremely polished and capable phone. Despite that, however, we're struggling to get particularly excited about the S10 - it's probably going to be another best-in-class winner for Samsung, but after dazzling us with the S8 and S9, the S10 feels like less of an achievement somehow. Stay tuned for our full review once we've had a chance to fully test it.

Verdict

While we love the notch-free Infinity Display O, the suped-up battery, and the promise of the 8nm chip, the S10 isn't exciting enough - if only it folded.

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