On February 20, Samsung is throwing a huge party in San Francisco, where it will take the wraps off its flagship smartphone lineup for 2019. Given the unbelievable amount of leaks that poured forth, we know just about everything Samsung is planning to show off. We’re going to learn all about the Galaxy S10.
This year we’re not just getting a device in two sizes but a big lineup of phones. As usual, there’s a Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus but also a downmarket version expected to be called the “Galaxy S10e.” Upmarket, there’s expected to eventually be a bigger, 5G version of the Galaxy S10, but it’s unclear how much we’ll hear about this model at this week’s show. Also in the high end of the spectrum is Samsung’s foldable smartphone, which will be at this event in some form.
That’s the short version. Now, let’s talk details!
Table of Contents
The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus
Samsung’s mainline flagships, the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, will still clearly share plenty of design DNA with the Galaxy S8, S9, Note8, and Note9 from the past two years. This year though, the devices are going to be leading the way in the mobile industry with a lot of “firsts” (or at least, “among the firsts”). In the US, the Galaxy S10 will be one of the first phones with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC. It’ll be one of the first phones with a hole-punch camera cutout instead of a notch. This will be our first look at Qualcomm’s ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader, and it will be one of the first devices with Wi-Fi 6 compatibility. At the very highest configuration, it will be the first phone with a whopping one terabyte storage. There’s no shortage of things to unpack here.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 is Qualcomm’s flagship SoC for 2019 and is expected to be in just about every high-end smartphone announced this year. This will be the first Qualcomm SoC built on a 7nm manufacturing process (from TSMC), putting Qualcomm’s best on even technology footing with Apple’s 7nm A12 Bionic SoC in the iPhone XS. Internationally the S10 will use the Exynos 9820, built on a not-as-good 8nm process.
The 855 CPU is branded “Kryo 485,” and it pairs four semi-custom 2.42GHz Cortex A76 Cores with four 1.8GHz Cortex A55-based cores. As usual, the four bigger cores (the Cortex A76 cores) will handle the heftier, more power-hungry workloads, while the smaller A55-based cores handle lower-power tasks like background processing. One difference this year, though, is the introduction of a boosted “Prime” core—one of the four A76 cores gets to be this chosen Prime core, with a clock speed of 2.84Ghz. Overall, Qualcomm is promising a 45 percent faster CPU and a 20 percent faster GPU.
The Snapdragon 855 will usher in the era of “Wi-Fi 6,” aka 802.11ax, for mobile devices. Wi-Fi 6 is the next generation of Wi-Fi, which also reworks the Wi-Fi version branding with a friendly, obvious version numbers. Today, Wi-Fi versions are identified with their complicated and scary IEEE-standards numbers, like “802.11g,” but because no regular person would think that “802.11ac” is than “802.11n,” the Wi-Fi Alliance has decided that straight-up version numbers will be considerably easier. So the next generation of Wi-Fi, technically called “802.11ax,” is going to be branded “Wi-Fi 6.” Today’s Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, is retconned to “Wi-Fi 5,” and it’s super-easy to know that “6” is better than “5.”
If you’re looking for specifics, you can’t do better than reading Jim Salter’s in-depth Wi-Fi 6 primer. The quick version is that, rather than boosting speeds for the umpteenth time, Wi-Fi 6 focuses on a long-needed foundational upgrade to everyone’s favorite mobile networking protocol. Wi-Fi’s dogged adherence to backward-compatibility has meant that we are still dealing with a lot of first-generation decisions made in 1996 that are, to put it nicely, sub-optimal. So Wi-Fi 6 will bring incredible innovations, like the ability for multiple devices to use the network at the same time and the ability to send data at the same time!
On today’s Wi-Fi networks, only one device is allowed to “speak” at a time, and it only goes in one direction at a time. By doing this back-and-forth as fast as possible, you can kind of create the illusion of a multi-device network.But needless to say, it does not scale well. So while Wi-Fi 6 is not going to get a huge theoretical max-speed boost (the top speed is 500 Mbps),it should manage crowded airways a lot better. Best of all, it’s going to do all of this while staying backward compatible with all your old stuff. Of course, you’ll need to buy a new router to use it.
Many devices last year followed the iPhone X’s lead and shipped a device with a notched camera cutout in the display, allowing them to maximize the pixels on the front of the phone while still leaving room for the camera. Samsung never shipped a notched device, though. Instead, the company is finally getting on the oddly-shaped-display bandwagon this year with something new: the “hole-punch” display. Rather than a notch cut out, which changes the shape of the display perimeter to make room for a camera, a hole-punch display uses the normal, rectangular form factor and carves a hole out of the display, giving an under-display camera visibility to the outside world.
On the Galaxy S10, Samsung’s camera hole is in the top-right corner. The smaller Galaxy S10 has a single front camera and a round camera hole, while the Galaxy S10+ has two front cameras (one is a wide-angle lens) and a pill-shaped camera hole. The hole punch is going to be an interesting new aesthetic choice in smartphone design, but Samsung’s particular implementation leaves something to be desired. The S10’s camera hole impedes deeper into the display than many competing notch designs, which makes it objectively worse.
Android’s compatibility rules require any display blemishes to be contained within the system status bar, so the Galaxy S10 is going to have a status bar that is double the normal height, just like an Essential Phone or Google Pixel 3 XL. Given the extra-high status bar, it seems designs like the OnePlus 6T, with its minimal teardrop notch contained in a normal status bar, are superior.
The smaller Galaxy S10 is expected to be outfitted with a 6.1-inch 3040×1440 OLED display, while the bigger Galaxy S10+ is expected to get a 6.4-inch 3040×1440 OLED display. Both these display sizes are bigger than their S9 counterparts: the S9 came in 5.8- and 6.2-inch sizes. Some of this larger screen size can be attributed to the slimmer bezels enabled by the camera cutout, which would allow for a bigger display in the same size package. According to a report from MySmartPrice, though, the S10 line is undergoing some dimension changes as well.
The S9 was 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5mm, but this year, S10 is going to be taller, wider, and thinner, clocking in at 149.9 x 71.6 x 8.1mm. The S9 Plus was 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm, and strangely, the report says the S10 Plus will be , wider, and thinner, expected to be 157.0 x 75.3 x 8.1mm. Width is the most important dimension of a device for things like one-handed usage, and with both devices getting wider, they should feel like larger devices in the hand.
One possible explanation for the wider body is a rumored big boost in battery capacity for the S10 and 10 Plus. The smaller S line is expected to jump from 3000mAh on the S9 to 3400mAh on the S10, while the bigger S Plus is supposedly going from 3500mAh to 4100mAh.