Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the new Samsung Galaxy smartphone features a gorgeous display, excellent camera system, and lightning-fast performance. If that adulation sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard some version of it repeated several times over the last decade. Why the echo? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Samsung keeps pumping out top-caliber smartphones. Which brings us to this company’s latest smartphone, the Galaxy S10. Does this flagship live up to Samsung’s storied tradition? To find out, we took it for a month-long test drive. Here’s how it fared.
My Three Samsungs
Samsung’s latest flagship comes in multiple iterations: the S10, S10+, and S10e. (Another version, the Verizon-only S10 5G, arrives later this month.) The difference between the variants is mostly tied to screen size, though the overall camera systems are incrementally better as you move up the chain. Of the three, I opted for the standard S10, because its 6.1-inch screen is my preferred not-too-big, not-too-small display.
If you only have 10 seconds to sell someone on the S10, 9 of those seconds should be spent on the display. In short: It’s about as close to perfect as you’re going to get from a smartphone—and that’s coming from a lifelong iPhone user. Spec-wise, the S10’s display is a 6.1-inch bezel-less AMOLED touchscreen, with QHD+ 3040 x 1440 resolution, a 19:9 aspect ratio, and Gorilla Glass 6 protection. That all sounds nice—and it is—but what will matter to users is that the screen looks objectively gorgeous. And when I say objectively, I mean that it has undergone non-biased, verifiable testing in which it has flat-out smashed records for color accuracy, contrast, and brightness. And speaking of brightness: I spent the majority of the time testing the S10 in the Dominican Republic, and I can’t overstate how well the screen performs in direct sunlight. Whereas I had to shield my iPhone from the sun with my hand, with the S10 I could still see the content on the screen, no hand shield required.
Of course, the quality of the S10’s display is only half the story. The other headline is that the S10 foregoes the current design de riguer—i.e., the "notch"—and instead features the “Infinity-O” display. In place of the notch, the new edge-to-edge display comes with a front-facing camera that's been punched through the screen. The cutout is intended to be less obtrusive than the more obvious notch, which, since its inception, has had its fair share of detractors. I, for one, don’t mind the notch. Or maybe I’m just used to it. Either way, I do have to admit that having a hole punch in place of a notch is a more aesthetically pleasing experience. It just looks better, whether you’re staring at the lock screen, scrolling an article, or streaming a show.
As for the rest of the S10’s design: it’s pretty standard flagship stuff. Aluminum back with Gorilla Glass 5 protection. Three horizontally aligned rear cameras inside a nice little window. Power button on the right, volume rocker and Bixby key on the left. USB-C and 3.5mm ports on the bottom. I got to test my favorite color of the bunch—Prism Blue—which I think looks pretty sharp. It’s exactly what you’d expect from an Android phone. Though, to be fair, our expectations are fairly high.
The S10 and S10 Plus share the same triple rear camera setup, which is a great offering from Samsung. No photo FOMO in case you opt for the standard over the Plus. The setup includes a 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto, and a 16MP ultra-wide lens. On the front, there’s a 10MP selfie camera. If you opt for the S10 Plus, you’ll get an additional camera—an 8MP depth-sensing lens—but this also widens the punch hole, which starts to infringe on the whole inconspicuous design feature.
The camera app and interface are similar to the Note9’s, though with some notable enhancements and expansions to select modes. Of those, “Shot Suggestion” was probably the most interesting. Essentially, the phone analyzes the scene and suggests optimal framing. I didn’t always agree with the phone’s suggestion, but I liked having it as an option. On top of that, there are about a million other camera modes and features, probably too many for a basic, meat-and-potatoes smartphone photographer like myself. The Pro mode, for example, I was afraid to go near. But for users with a higher level of expertise, you can adjust ISO settings, shutter speed, and white balance; you can also choose between different apertures and a whole lot more. Still, even without using all the advanced modes, I was happy with most of the photos I took.
Software, User Interface, and Performance
Currently, the S10 comes with Samsung’s One UI running over Android Pie. Both were introduced to the Galaxy line via updates to the Note9, but the S10 is the first Samsung phone to ship with them onboard. The overall user experience is familiar enough, with everything looking and behaving very Android-y. This time around there seemed to be a bigger focus on single-handed use, for which I very much am in favor.
One of the bigger UI features is Samsung’s Ultrasonic Fingerprint, which is an inventive take on the fingerprint scanner. Instead of a physical button, the sensor is built directly into the display, so you can press directly on the screen to unlock. It’s a cool function that works really well once you get the hang of it—there’s a little bit of sweet spot you have to hit for the S10 to read your print correctly. The S10 also has Face Unlock on board in case you prefer to go that route. I’m not wild about facial recognition tech—I switch between my glasses and contacts a lot, which constantly seems to confuse my iPhone. But the S10 didn’t seem to have any trouble recognizing me with or without the specs. I don’t know if that’s because it’s very sophisticated or more easily fooled than the iPhone. Either way, it became my preferred method for unlocking the phone.
In sports culture, championship fatigue is what happens when you get so accustomed to the same team winning over and over, you start to get tired of them. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever develop that with Samsung. I can’t fathom ever getting tired of these phones, but I am no longer even remotely surprised when an incredible Samsung phone lands in front of me. And that’s basically what happened with the S10. Was I impressed with nearly every single facet of this phone? Yes. Was I blown away by it? No. When you’re the best, people expect the best. I expected an incredible phone. I got one.
But all that aside, would I recommend the Galaxy S10? Absolutely. If you’re an Android user who’s ready for an update, or you’re an iPhone user who’s been waiting for the right time to switch, by all means, get the S10. It’s a brilliant device with a perfect display—maybe the perfect display—and it will definitely end up being one of the best phones of 2019. If you’re in the market, you really can’t go wrong. However, if you aren’t due for an upgrade, or you don’t have the disposable income to spend (although Samsung has a pretty sweet trade-in program currently going, fyi), you can wait. The great thing about Samsung is that they’ll just make another amazing phone next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.
Considering the S10 as your next phone? What questions do you have? Let us know in the Comments section, below. Also, check out our Galaxy S10 buying guide for help picking the right phone, or read up on all the cool things you can do with the new Galaxy S10 here.