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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Incredible AMOLED display
Good battery life
Spotty in-screen fingerprint sensor
No more iris sensor
A big price jump from the Galaxy S9
Despite a spotty fingerprint sensor, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is a beautiful and brilliant smartphone, and one of the best high-end handsets of 2019 so far.
We purchased the Samsung Galaxy S10 so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Last year's Samsung Galaxy S9 was an excellent phone. But with a design carried over from the Galaxy S8—at a time in which other smartphone makers were pushing the envelope—it just lacked a certain spark compared to much of the premium smartphone competition. The Samsung Galaxy S10, released in early 2019, has reignited that spark.
With a new hole-punch design that allows Samsung to cover nearly the whole face of the phone with a gorgeous Dynamic OLED screen, the Galaxy S10 wows in a way that few other phones can match. And in typical Samsung flagship fashion, it's loaded with power and cutting-edge tech—although it also comes with a pretty significant price bump over last year's model.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 is a distinctive and beautiful smartphone. It’s the first major device to use what's called a “hole-punch display,” meaning the screen has a little hole cut out to fit the front-facing selfie camera. This is different from the larger camera “notch” featured on the top of the Apple iPhone XS screen and many Android smartphones.
The Galaxy S10’s hole-punch eliminates that big chunk of above-screen bezel that we saw on the Galaxy S9, and the below-screen bezel is also smaller. The screen isn't entirely edge-to-edge like on the iPhone XS (notch aside, of course), but it accomplishes a similar end result that is all the more immersive and eye-catching.
Of course, the end result is a hole in the screen, which takes some getting used to. It sticks out when playing games or watching a full-screen video, and can look a little out of place when using some apps. However, we actually preferred this hole-punch design and found it a lot less obtrusive than the notches seen on other phones.
Beyond the hole-punch, the Galaxy S10 largely sticks to the same familiar silhouette as the latest smartphones. It has a glass back and an aluminum frame that tapers to meet the curved screen on the sides. It's available in several reflective finishes: Prism White, Prism Black, Prism Blue, and Prism Green. Our Prism White model is especially alluring, with flashes of blue and pink when it catches the light.
We actually preferred the hole-punch design and found it a lot less obtrusive than the notches seen on other phones.
While the Galaxy S10 is a beautiful handset that makes a bolder impression than past models, Samsung made a couple of changes to their biometric features that don't benefit the overall experience. The first was putting the fingerprint sensor into the screen itself, right near the bottom. This is a recent addition to smartphones, as seen in the OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 Pro, although the optical in-display sensor on the Galaxy S10 is different than the ultrasonic sensors in those rivals.
We found this new sensor to be inconsistent. You have to press firmly against the glass to get a solid reading, and even then, it was hit-or-miss at recognizing our finger. It might be cool and flashy new tech, but we'd rather have the old kind of back-mounted sensor that works more reliably.
The Galaxy S10 has also scrapped the iris sensor used in past models. That diminishes the camera-based security functionality, which used to be able to combine face and iris scanning for a more secure result. As it is now, the Galaxy’s S10 2D face-scanning option is a far cry from the 3D-scanning available in the iPhone XS, and can potentially be fooled by a photo of your face. Between the inconsistent fingerprint sensor and the weakened camera security, some users might want to rely on a PIN code for security.
The Galaxy S10 is IP68 rated for dust and water resistance, and can survive a dunk in up to 1.5m of water for a maximum of 30 minutes. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom near the USB-C port. The Galaxy S10 is available with either 128 GB or 512 GB of internal storage, but it also has a microSD slot if you need more space.
The Galaxy S10 is also compatible with a couple of key accessories from Samsung. It can plug into a Gear VR headset for fun virtual reality experiences, and it also has a feature called Samsung DeX that allows you to hook it into an external monitor via a USB-C to HDMI cable (sold separately) to simulate a desktop PC. Samsung always packs its flagship phones with extra perks, and the Galaxy S10 is no exception.
Check out our guide to unlocking Samsung phones.
It doesn't take long to get the Galaxy S10 up and running. Once your SIM card is inserted in the pop-out slot on the top, hold the power button on the right side of the phone to turn it on.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 features Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 855 processor, and it's the most premium system-on-a-chip for Android phones, providing more power and speed than the Snapdragon 845 seen in the Google Pixel 3, OnePlus 6T, and even Samsung's own Galaxy S9 and Galaxy Note 9.
This powerful chip is paired with a generous 8GB RAM, which helps ensure the phone never gets bogged down during multitasking.
One UI feels more streamlined and useful than past Samsung interfaces, and it feels like there are fewer unnecessary features.
The Galaxy S10 is impressively swift during day-to-day use. Getting around Android 9 Pie with Samsung's new One UI interface is smooth and effortless, apps and games load swiftly, and there's rarely a hitch in sight. High-performance games like Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG Mobile both ran as smoothly as we've seen them on any device.
Benchmark testing bears out the upgrade, as well. In the PCMark Work 2.0 test, the Galaxy S10 scored 9,276, almost 2,000 points higher than the Galaxy S9 and Note 9. In GFXBench's resource-intensive Car Chase test, the difference was much more modest, with a bump up to 21 frames per second from 19fps on the Galaxy S9, and the same max 60fps score on the GFXBench T-Rex test.
Take a look at our guide to Samsung Galaxy phones.
Using the Samsung Galaxy S10 on Verizon's 4G LTE network about 10 miles north of downtown Chicago, we saw typical speeds of about 32 to 36 Mbps download and 3 to 6 Mbps upload, with a rare peak of 48Mbps download and nearly 9 Mbps upload. The typical speed is pretty close to testing results from other handsets like the Galaxy S9 and iPhone XS Max.
In any case, browsing the web, streaming videos, and downloading content all felt very swift with the Galaxy S10, whether on LTE or Wi-Fi. It supports both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi.
Simply put, there's no better smartphone screen on the market today than the Galaxy S10's. Samsung has led the pack in this space for years now, and even provides the panels for rival phones like the iPhone XS. But the S10’s Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O display represents yet another step forward.
The Galaxy S10 has a bold and vibrant 6.1-inch display with impressive contrast and deep black levels. It’s also HDR10+ certified with brilliant dynamic range. Meanwhile, the Quad HD+ resolution of 3,040 x 1,440 packs in 550 pixels per inch, and ensures that text and high-resolution media look crisp and fantastic. It's also brighter than the Galaxy S9's panel, helping with readability while in sunlight.
The Galaxy S10 produces great stereo sound with one speaker at the bottom of the phone and another in the tiny earpiece above the display. It can't match dedicated speakers, of course, but the music and media playback is still loud and clear. Switching on Dolby Atmos support adds a bit more richness and expansiveness to the sound, too.
Speakerphone is just as clear and easy to hear, and call quality was excellent on both ends using our Verizon 4G LTE service.
Samsung has gone all-in on the multi-camera trend with the Galaxy S10: this device has three back cameras. The main wide-angle lens is similar to that of the Galaxy S9, with a 12-megapixel camera that can swap automatically (or manually) between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture settings, widening to let in more light or tightening to capture more detail when light is plentiful.
Newly added alongside that camera is a 12-megapixel (f/2.4) telephoto camera that allows for the kind of 2x optical zoom seen on most other dual-camera arrays, as well as a unique 16-megapixel (f/2.2) ultra-wide camera that provides a staggering 123-degree field of view.
The ultra-wide-angle lens is a feature we never knew we needed until now. In the camera app, it's labeled as "0.5 Zoom" because it pulls back so much compared to the 77-degree view of the standard camera. The view is extreme enough that the ultra-wide photos will look a little warped straight from the hardware, like a fisheye lens—but there's a software setting that can automatically correct the finished shot.
The Galaxy S10 wows in a way that few other phones can match.
What it all adds up to is one of the most versatile smartphone camera setups we've used to date. It doesn't have the kind of impressive zoom functionality as the Huawei P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, both of which offer 3x optical and 5x hybrid (optical/digital) zoom, but the ability to shift between three different views from a fixed position, play with aperture on the main camera, and play with advanced settings in Pro Mode makes it a photographer's delight.
Even with automatic settings enabled, we were very impressed by the camera’s results. Shots were typically highly detailed, with lifelike colors and strong dynamic range. Compared to the iPhone XS Max, we typically saw a bit more detail and vibrancy from the Galaxy S10, although both take excellent shots in most scenarios.
Where the Galaxy S10 falls a bit short is with low-light photography. Our photos looked fine and about on-par with what we've seen from other flagship phones, but Google's Pixel 3 has a brilliant Night Sight mode that delivers startling detail in dark environments, and Huawei's P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro also have excellent “night modes.” Samsung's Scene Optimizer feature kicks on during nighttime shooting, but it just isn’t as effective.
The 10-megapixel (f/1.9) front-facing camera takes good selfies and solid software-aided portrait shots with blurred background. But it doesn't have any truly noteworthy new tricks to offer.
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The 3,400mAh battery pack in the Galaxy S10 is 400mAh larger than the previous model. And while it has to contend with a slightly larger screen, the S10’s battery is equipped to last longer and resist a heavier pummeling from games, media, and more.
With typical usage during testing, we usually finished the day with a 30-40% charge, although heavier usage days took us as low as 10%. It can certainly be pushed to the brink, and it's not as resilient as the 4,100 mAh pack in the larger Galaxy S10+ or the 4,000 mAh pack in the Galaxy Note 9. However, most users should have no trouble getting through a full day without a top-up.
Like other recent Galaxy S models, the Galaxy S10 supports wireless charging, so you can use this with a charging pad. This phone also introduces a new Wireless PowerShare feature, which lets you place another Qi-compatible phone against the back of the S10 to share some of your power. This feature can also be used to charge Samsung's Galaxy Buds earbuds and Galaxy Watch Active, which is a great perk for Samsung hardware aficionados.
The Galaxy S10 comes with Android 9 Pie with Samsung's new One UI interface on top. Samsung's previous Android skin was attractive and useful, but One UI has an even cleaner new aesthetic and emphasis on simplicity.
It tends to arrange menu options near the bottom of the phone, so that you can easily tap into things with one thumb before scrolling to fill the entire screen. Other perks include a dark mode, optional gesture controls for navigation, and new integration with Bixby, Samsung's virtual assistant. You can also teach it various situational routines for when you're driving, right before bed, etc.
Overall, One UI feels more streamlined and useful than past Samsung interfaces, and it feels like there are fewer unnecessary features packed into its Android experience. On the Galaxy S10, it's plenty speedy and attractive too.
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At $899 for the 128 GB model and $1,149 for the 512 GB edition, the Galaxy S10 represents a major leap in cost over the Galaxy S9, which started at just $720 for the base model. Granted, the Galaxy S10 introduces a host of upgrades and enhancements, but that price point is sure to put it out of reach for some prospective buyers.
Though the price is high, it’s still in the ballpark of the most premium phones these days, with the iPhone XS starting at $999 and the lower-specced Google Pixel at $799. If you're willing to spend that kind of money, then we think the Samsung Galaxy S10 is absolutely one of the best phones you can buy in this price bracket, and that it's worth the investment for such a powerful and capable handset.
On the other hand, if you like the allure of the Galaxy S10 but want to save some cash, the $749 Galaxy S10e is an option. It trims down a few key components and is a smidge smaller too, but in our limited time with it so far, we've found it to be a very comparable device. Stay tuned for our full review soon.
Samsung vs. Apple is the defining battle of the smartphone era, and the Galaxy S10 puts a new angle on the current competition. Both the Galaxy S10 and iPhone XS are premium (and very pricey) handsets with top-of-the-line tech, gorgeous screens, and sleek builds. Aside from the key difference in operating system, they're arguably more similar than they are different.
The Galaxy S10 has a better-looking screen, sleeker design, and a more versatile camera setup, while the iPhone XS packs in a more powerful processor and a better selection of apps in the iOS App Store. The iPhone XS also has a big advantage with the Face ID security system, which easily and securely unlocks your phone. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S10's camera-based security system is less secure, and the in-display fingerprint sensor isn't very reliable.
We can easily make a case for buying either one of these excellent phones if you're okay with the price tag. But with the Galaxy S10 at $899 and the iPhone XS at $999, that $100 difference could help sway more folks towards Samsung's offering.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 is one of the absolute best phones you can buy today.
This device brings some freshness to Samsung's familiar feature-packed approach to flagships. It's a gorgeous phone with the most impressive screen on the market, the triple-camera setup is versatile yet easy to use, and it has plenty of power within. If you can handle the high-end price tag, it doesn’t get much better than this.