Galaxy S10 – All there is to know

For the 10-year anniversary of the Galaxy S series, Samsung has put together an excellent, well-rounded, device that should reinforce its leadership position for the time being. In this review, we’ll explore the design, speed, battery, and camera to help you choose if the Galaxy S10 should be your next phone.

Industrial Design

When it comes to industrial design, Samsung has innovated in a lot of ways for the past several years, including the massive usage of curved glass, to the near bezel-less designs.

This has not changed, and to push things a bit farther, Samsung is first to market with an OLED display with selfie camera(s) integrated into one or two punch holes. The Honor View 20 was the first handset to be announced with a punch-hole design, but… that was an LCD display.

The overall build quality of the Galaxy S10 is awe-inspiring, and the S10/S10+ is lighter than its S9/S9+ equivalent, despite having a larger screen, larger batteries, etc. If you like to feel a “more substantial” weight, Samsung offers a luxurious Ceramic version of the Galaxy S10+ loaded with the best of everything.

Ceramic phones are generally a bit more resistant to drops than Glass (the Essential-PH1was so resilient to drops), but it really depends on the ceramic’s thickness, and we’re not going to drop our S10+ on concrete quite yet to verify…

“EXTREMELY HIGH BATTERY CAPACITY AND PERFORMANCE PER CUBIC-MILLIMETER”

Whether you like the design or not is your choice, but I think that it looks beautiful and classy. It feels great in hand (I wear U.S M-size gloves), and the weird location of the Power button is the only thing that bothers me so far.

Aesthetics aside, the technical design of the Galaxy S10 is fantastic with extremely high battery capacity and performance per cubic-millimeter. That’s what mobility is about. Oh, and Samsung managed to do it while preserving everyone’s favorite: the 3.5mm audioconnector.

Battery Capacity (in mAh) per cubic-inch

Compared to the Galaxy S9, the S10 gets ~13% more battery, ~4.5% more display area but is ~8% smaller and ~7.5% lighter.

The S10+ chassis has similar improvements, except that it receives a whopping +17% of battery capacity from the S9+ and up to 2X the RAM.

The wired AKG earphones included in the box are neat-looking and sound great with all kinds of files, but particularly Hi-Res audio if you have any. For movies, Dolby Atmos is also supported if the content has been recorded that way.

Yes, the Bixby button (Bixby Key) is still on the left side BUT now you can remap the Bixby Key to launch another app. Samsung has turned something alienating into a potential productivity tool. I mapped it to the Camera app.

If you’ve missed the launch event and want a quick refresher on what’s new before reading the rest of the review, the S10 official introduction might help:

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Display: best in class!

Samsung totally dominates the OLED mobile display landscape with a ridiculously excellent blend of brightness, color accuracy (100% DCI-P3 coverage) and uniformity. The laser-cut hole(s) for the selfie cameras look neat and as low-key as possible.

The most crucial color metric for displays is the JNCD value (just noticeable color difference). A value of less than 3 means that most humans would consider the color reproduction to be “indistinguishable from perfect.” The Galaxy S10 gets an impressive 0.4 JNCD, making it the most accurate display ever tested (the iPhone Xs gets 0.8). Not so long ago, the Galaxy S7 had a JNCD of 3.

“THE MOST ACCURATE DISPLAY EVER TESTED”

You might not be able to “see” the difference, but Samsung has also been able to reduce the adverse effects of blue light, without affecting the color performance. That’s according to the TUV Eye Comfort with Reduced Blue Light certification. It works by using a different wavelength for the blue pixels.

Finally, the S10’s screen (and the software) is able to play 4K HDR10+ movies by using the dynamic HDR data embedded in the content. There are also certifications before phone makers can use the HDR10+ logo, so we know that this has been thoroughly tested.

OLED panel quality aside, every phone manufacturer has its own color-tuning, and with the Galaxy S10, Samsung has changed the default color tuning to a less saturated, more natural, style. If you like the previous punchy Samsung style, there’s a “vivid” mode in the display settings to make colors “pop.” It’s great to have more choices.

Exceptional brightness

Samsung says that its display can reach 1200 NITs of brightness, but even that is conservative. On our S10+ unit, we measured a maximum brightness of 1363 NITs. Note that this level of brightness is only achievable in “Adaptive Brightness” mode because it’s designed to counter-act strong sunlight for relatively brief moments.

In manual brightness mode, the maximum brightness peaks at around ~750 NITs, which makes sense because your eyes will adapt to excess brightness over extended periods of time, and you will just waste battery life. LG also explained something similar when they introduced their LG G7 1000 NITs display.

In-display ultrasonic fingerprint reader

One of the new features of the Galaxy S10 is the Qualcomm 3D Sonic Sensor embedded in the display. It works by replacing the optical fingerprint sensor with a sensor that emits ultrasounds to create a 3D map of your fingerprint (it works like a radar).

Not only the 3D fingerprint is much more secure than a 2D one because there are more accurate details that are hard to fake. The Sonic Sensor also works if you have wet hands, something that would commonly thwart optical sensors. This Sonic Sensor seems compatible with adhesive screen protectors but has been reported to fail with protectors made of glass.

This fingerprint sensor works faster than any on-screen optical sensor we tested, but is not as fast as the older fingerprint readers, so there’s still room for improvement. I recommend displaying the fingerprint logo when the display is OFF (in the display settings), so you know where to put your finger to unlock.

Keep in mind that the Galaxy S10 2D face unlock is not secure, but can be used for convenience.

Camera: Ultimate camera image quality (IQ)

2018 was a wild year in the mobile camera world, and despite leading in low-light photography for the whole of 2018, Samsung fell behind Huawei when the Mate 20 Procame out with a 5X zoom + ultrawide setup. The lesson was learned, and that’s why the Galaxy S10/S10+ comes out of the gate with a triple-lens camera (16mm / 27mm / 52mm) that puts Samsung in the pole-position again.

The results are outstanding: in our Uber-G Camera IQ (image-quality) score, the Galaxy S10 gets 177 points where the Mate 20 Pro previously scored 167 points.  Our score is built from four mobile photography pillars:

Daylight: 187 (#1 with OnePlus 6T and iPhone XS)

Night: 194 (#1)

Zoom: 89

Ultrawide: 134 (#1)

As you can see, the Galaxy S10 ranks #1 in 3 out of 4 categories, with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro scoring higher in the zoom category, thanks to its 80mm optical zoom.

For Daylight, Night and Zoom photography, the Galaxy S10 has incremental improvements over the Galaxy Note 9 (which was itself very good). However, our tests clearly show that it is the new Ultrawide camera that propels the Galaxy S10 to the top. For much more information and photo samples, read our detailed review of the Galaxy S10 camera (rear camera).

Selfie (tested on Galaxy S10+ only)

Selfie image quality can be more subjective to assess, but focusing on the image details, the Galaxy S10 does improve quite a bit upon the Galaxy S9 and its predecessors. The photos are sharper than S9/Note9, with fewer background blur artifacts along the edges of the subject.

Both the selfie camera lens+sensor and the secondary bokeh sensor of the S10+ contribute to the quality improvements. The S10+ selfie camera has a wide angle lens, and when you switch to the narrow FoV, it merely gets cropped. We have not looked at the single-lens S10 selfie camera yet, so we may update this paragraph later.

Video features

For videographers, the most exciting feature is the Super-Steady stabilized video, which uses the primary camera in addition to the Ultrawide to stabilize the video. This mode only works with the primary lens, and you cannot shoot in 4K (the video processing might be too heavy).

HDR10 video recording is also an improvement over previous-gen videos. Although Snapdragon 845 was already capable of HDR10 recording, only Sony made use of it. HDR recording improves video exposure quality in ways that are often subtle, but it’s definitely a great thing to have.

Important: HDR video recording is still in beta and only works with the primary lens. You won’t be able to record in HDR with the Ultrawide camera. We’re not 100% sure why, but it is either due to the Ultrawide sensor not being able to record in HDR, or that it hasn’t passed the HDR certification yet.

New camera software features

The Galaxy S10 has a Shot Suggestion feature that uses AI to suggest where to point the camera, to take the best photo. It also makes sure that photos are leveled, a feature that I would love to have in all situations, in addition to the 3×3 grid. Personally, I tend to disable the AI features, but you can give it a try and see if you like it.

At the launch, Samsung also presented a tight Instagram integration that we might add to this test later since it was not available at publishing time.

Equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, the Galaxy S10 is among the most powerful handsets in virtually every aspect. In general, there are few perceptible differences between phones that use the same processor, but the Galaxy S10 has a vapor-chamber cooling system that might give it a small edge with more extended gaming or VR sessions.

The graphics performance gap is particularly noticeable for current benchmarks like 3DMark Slingshot Extreme in which the Snapdragon 855 easily pulls ahead of the competition. For older games and benchmarks, the iPhone XS can compete very well. If you’re curious, look at the charts in the photo gallery.

Wireless performance

With a 4G LTE CAT20 modem, the Galaxy S10 is capable of peak download speeds of 2 Gbps and uploads of 316 Mbps. Of course, it is unlikely to reach these speeds in real-world conditions, but higher peak speeds usually correlate with higher average speeds as well.

Battery: nice capacity upgrade

With battery capacities of 3400 mAh and 4100 mAh, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ are good upgrades from the Galaxy S9/S9+ (+13% and +17% respectively).

The Galaxy S10 also gets to become a wireless charger for other devices. Introduced by Huawei some time ago, this feature can charge a phone very slowly, but it makes a lot more sense to use it to charge earbuds or smartwatches, it’s a great thing to have included it.

Our (wired) battery charging test of the Galaxy S10+ shows a charging speed of 53 mAh/mn, which is a bit faster than the Galaxy S9+, but not impressive when compared to the 100 mAh/mn of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Many OnePlus/Oppo devices also charge at speeds between 60-70 mAh/mn.

A 100% difference in charging speed might be a sway factor for battery conscious users who absolutely require an ultra-fast charging capability. Regular users should not worry too much.

To put things in perspective, the Galaxy S10+ charges 2.5X faster than the iPhone XS Max, but the Mate 20 Pro charges 2X faster than the Galaxy S10+.

Software: new user interface and automation

The Samsung Galaxy S10 runs on Android 9 and comes loaded with Samsung apps such as DEX which turns the phone into a “Windowed” computer when connected to a large display. However, there are a couple of new features we recommend looking at:

Samsung One UI

Presented during the 2018 Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) in San Francisco, One UI is Samsung’s latest User Interface refresh, with a ton of usability improvements. One UI tackles the large-display nature of modern smartphones and is optimized to be friendly during one-handed usage, for example by moving many buttons and options to the bottom of the screen.

A Dark Mode is also included by default which can be great when using the phone at night, but also if you want to save a little bit of battery life (OLED displays spend no power on black pixels).

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Bixby Routines

Bixby helps you automate tasks that would otherwise take several taps to execute or that you want to be executed automatically at a certain time, under specific conditions.

A good example of that is the default “Save battery at night”, which will automatically disable BT, turn off the Always-On display, shut down WIFI and Mobile data if your phone isn’t connected to a charger at night. That way your battery remains as high as possible when you wake up.

Conclusion: The Android smartphone to beat

The Galaxy S10 is a near-perfect smartphone. It is a very balanced handset that performs extremely well at everything. The battery charging performance is perhaps the only crack the otherwise impenetrable armor. For everything else that matters, (camera, display, processor, design) – The Galaxy S10 either leads or finds itself in the leading group.

“THE GALAXY S10 IS SIMPLY EXCELLENT AND WE WARMLY RECOMMEND IT”

We find the industrial design to be beautiful, but the more important point is the quality of the materials and how good the general build is. The Galaxy S10 is simply excellent and we warmly recommend it and giving it an “All-stars” rating.

Overall product rating: 10/10

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