Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S smartphone line is back with the Galaxy S10 and S10+. Since the launch of the Galaxy S8 in 2017, Samsung has stuck with the same basic design for two years across four major devices: the S8, Note8, S9, and Note9. The Galaxy S10 firmly fits into the Galaxy S8 family tree, but with new display and fingerprint technology, the S10 represents the biggest design upgrade since that release in 2017.
As usual, Samsung is gunning for the title of “spec-sheet champion” with the Galaxy S10, and the company is turning in devices with bigger displays, bigger batteries, faster SoCs, more RAM, and more storage. This is one of the first devices that gives us a look at the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, and it’s also one of the first devices with “Wi-Fi 6,” aka 802.11ax support. The S10 is also the first device with a Qualcomm-made ultrasonic fingerprint reader, and it features Samsung’s new “hole-punch” display tech for the camera cutout. If all that’s not enough for you, the Galaxy S10+ can hit even more stratospherically high configurations—and prices—that would rival some laptops, topping out at 12GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for a whopping $1,600.
We reviewed the bigger Galaxy S10+, where even the base configuration results in a $1,000 smartphone. And if spending that much cash, we’re not really in the mood for the kinds of excuses and compromises that would be acceptable at a lower price point. When a device manufacturer turns up with sky-high prices like this, it’s only fair to go in with sky-high expectations.
Design and build quality
|SPECS AT A GLANCE|
|Galaxy S10||Galaxy S10+|
|SCREEN||3040×1440 6.1″ (550ppi) OLED||3040×1440 6.4″ (522ppi) OLED|
|OS||Android 9 Pie
with Samsung One UI
|CPU||Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Four Cortex A76-based cores (One 2.84GHz, three 2.41Ghz) and four Cortex A55-based cores at 1.78GHz
|STORAGE||128GB, 512GB, plus Micro SD slot||128GB, 512GB or 1TB, plus Micro SD slot|
|NETWORKING||802.11b/g/n/ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC|
|PORTS||USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|REAR CAMERA||12 MP Main (f/1.5-2.4, 1.4µm)
12 MP Telephoto ( f/2.4 1.0µm)
16 MP wide angle (f/2.2, 1.0µm)
|FRONT CAMERA||10 MP (f/1.9, 1.22µm)||10 MP Main (f/1.9, 1.22µm)
8 MP Wide Angle (f/2.2, 1.12µm)
|SIZE||149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8 mm||157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8 mm|
|WEIGHT||157 g||175 g|
|OTHER PERKS||wireless charging, in-screen fingerprint sensor, Samsung Pay, Bixby button, IP68 water and dust resistance|
If you’ve seen a Samsung phone from the last two years, you’re already familiar with the basic construction of the Galaxy S10. There’s a glass front and a glass back. The long edges of both glass panels curve to meet a shiny metal band around the sides. The display curves along with the glass panel, distorting the edges of the screen somewhat. Like most glass backs, the rear panel is a huge fingerprint magnet that gets slimy pretty much the second you take it out of the box. I briefly considered photographing it while wearing rubber gloves.
Along the sides there are virtually no changes from past models, which is a good thing. The bottom still has a USB-C port, along with a bottom-firing speaker that teams up with the earpiece for stereo sound. There’s still a Bixby-launching hardware button and still a combo SIM card and MicroSD slot.
There is, famously, still a headphone jack on the bottom of the Galaxy S10, which makes it one of the only flagship smartphones still packing the universally-compatible analog audio port, sparing headphone-jack users from a lifetime of misplaced dongles and the choice between charging and listening to music. On an ultra-premium device like this—which manages to find room for two extra rear cameras, one extra front camera, an extra hardware button for Bixby, and a heart-rate monitor—removing something as useful as a headphone jack would make zero sense. So kudos to Samsung for keeping it.
There is quite an abundance of tweaks to the Galaxy S formula this year. Both devices are about the same size as their Galaxy S9 counterparts (give or take a few millimeters), but Samsung has managed to cram in bigger displays and bigger batteries. The smaller device moves from a 5.8-inch display on the S9 to 6.1-inches on the S10. The S10 Plus is up to 6.4-inches—the same size as the Galaxy Note9—compared to the 6.2-inch display on the S9+. With the S10+ display now matching the Note series, rumor has it the Note10 display will be even bigger in response.
Both the S10 and S10+ come with considerable improvements in battery density. The Galaxy S10 battery grew 400mAh from last year and is now 3400mAh, while the S10 Plus jumps 600mAh to 4100mAh. Samsung’s battery capacities have mostly been standing still since the explosive battery problems forced the company to recall and cancel the Galaxy Note 7, with the Galaxy S7, S8, and S9 all clocking in at 3000mah, while the larger versions all hang around 3500mAh. That launch disaster of 2016 is years behind Samsung now though, and the company finally seems ready to start pushing the battery envelope again.
The hole-punch display
The trademark design feature of the Galaxy S10 is the new display. Like many other phones released in the last year, it comes with top and bottom bezels so slim there’s no room for the front components any more. With very little dead space on the front of the device, the front camera and other sensors have to encroach on the screen. Many manufacturers have been using a display with a notch cut out of it to house these components, but Samsung is taking a slightly different approach and cutting a camera hole right out of the display.
Samsung calls this the “Infinity-O Display,” but colloquially we’ve been calling it the “hole-punch display” because it looks like someone took a hole-punch tool to the OLED panel. In reality, Samsung really take an OLED panel and cut a hole out of it, but because just about any mechanical tool would shatter the wafer-thin OLED panel, the company used a “proprietary laser-cutting technology” to surgically slice away the unwanted pixels. The hard part about cutting a hole in an existing display is that Samsung’s laser needs to be tuned to cut away only certain layers of the OLED panel. Since OLED panels need to be airtight to work, some kind of “advanced barrier technology” is placed around the hole perimeter to seal everything up.
While Samsung’s hole-punch display is unique and distinctive, if the goal is “have a front camera while minimally interfering with the screen,” there are better options out there. Samsung’s camera hole goes deeper into the display than a lot of other solutions, so you have less uninterrupted room for apps. Android requires presenting apps with an uninterrupted rectangular area, so the status bar needs to surround any screen blemishes. With the S10 design, this means the status bar needs to be twice as tall as normal. As for the actual icons inside the status bar, they all just start to the left of the camera hole.
Given the extra-tall status bar, I think a minimal notch design, like what is present on the much less expensive, $629 OnePlus 6T, is a better design. You still get a front camera with all the usual sensors, but OnePlus manages to contain everything in the normal status-bar size. Samsung’s design seems to focus just on looking unique rather than fitting functionality in the smallest space possible. Unfortunately for Samsung, competitors like Huawei have already stolen its thunder and beaten the company to market with hole-punch displays.
In landscape, the camera hole is not surrounded by the status bar. But it still gets quarantined by Android with a black box by default, giving apps an uninterrupted rectangular area. Videos from YouTube and Netflix work just fine like this, since there is still enough room to fit the 16:9 videos into the 19:9 display. For landscape apps, Samsung gives you the option to change how apps interact with the hole punch with an “Aspect ratio” setting. “Auto” is the normal option with a black bar, and “full screen” will let apps draw around the camera hole. Just hope it doesn’t block anything!
The unique aspect of the hole punch design over a notch is that you get pixels all the way around the camera cutout. Samsung uses this for one unique flare: if you switch to the front camera in the camera app, you’ll get a quick swirl of white pixels around the camera hole. Third-party apps have come up with all sorts of cute uses for the camera. There are already varioussites and apps dedicated to cleverly hiding or highlighting the hole punch with various wallpaper designs. There are even apps that wrap a battery indicator or a notification ring around the hole punch.
Samsung gives you two front cameras on the Galaxy S10+, but the second camera doesn’t have a whole lot of uses. Like the Pixel 3, the idea behind Samsung’s dual front cameras is that one is for normal selfies while the second is for wide-angle selfies, kind of like having a build-in selfie stick. The problem with Samsung’s implementation is that there is a barely any difference between the two focal lengths: 22mm and 26mm. The Pixel 3 uses 18mm and 28mm lenses, giving you a more dramatic difference between the two choices.
The camera isn’t the only thing Samsung has hidden inside the display. First, as illustrated by iFixit, the proximity and brightness sensors live behind the display, too. Just to the left of the camera hole are three vertical spots in the display where the sensors can peer through the pixels. Unlike the camera, these don’t interfere with the display at all, and they are completely invisible while using the phone. Even if you shine a flashlight into the display and go looking for them, they are still nearly invisible. As for the biggest item hidden behind the display….