My first impressions of the new flagship.
I’ve had a Galaxy S10+ in my hand and pocket since February 20. Picking it up shortly after Samsung’s bustling launch event in San Francisco, I slotted my personal SIM in it, furiously set up all of my accounts and apps, and got to using it full time.
The following 72 hours were the exact kind of scenario that’s extremely tough on phones. After rapidly setting things up on mobile data in a crowded city, I immediately started using it as a hotspot for my computer (to work on Galaxy S10 coverage!); and then jumped into camera testing while generally getting acquainted with the phone I had only spent about an hour with prior. The next day was packed with travel to get to Barcelona for MWC, and we hit the ground running immediately after arriving.
To say I put the Galaxy S10+ through its paces in my first three days would be an understatement. Here are my initial impressions from the first days using the phone, both good and bad.
The camera is good — and the wide-angle lens is fun
Samsung is yet again talking a big game about AI and an NPU (Neural Processing Unit) providing new-and-improved photo quality on top of the same basic 12MP main and 12MP telephoto cameras. It certainly succeeds, although the level to which it has improved over the Galaxy S9 and Note 9 is questionable at this point.
Photos are really good. I’m just struggling to find the places where they’re appreciably better than the Note 9’s.
The photos I’ve taken are really good. I’m just struggling to find the places where they’re appreciably better than the great photos I’ve been taking with my Note 9 for the last few weeks. Samsung’s strengths are all still here: the camera is incredibly fast to capture in all situations, the dynamic range and colors are fantastic, and you always get a bright and usable photo in every situation. It feels like the GS10+ is adding a little extra juice to the HDR processing, and in some situations you’re getting something a bit better than what the Note 9 would’ve done, but the margins are slim. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a little disappointing when taken into the reality that the last generation was, in itself, not a huge upgrade from the year before.
That’s particularly the case in really low light photos, where the GS10+ is still clearly behind the Google Pixel 3 and Mate 20 Pro. You always get something usable in really dark scenes, but it’s downright incapable of producing the mind-blowing photos some of the competitors do — even with the new scene optimizer ostensibly switching to an extra-low-light mode when it detects the situation.
The ultra-wide lens provides a whole new dynamic; and a lot of fun.
Now here’s the real fun part: the new ultra-wide-angle lens. The 123° field of view tertiary camera is wonderful for two reasons: it provides a fun new shooting option that mirrors the human eye’s field of view, and like the LG V40 it comes with no trade-off because you still have the two main cameras. The wide-angle shooter provides a new tool to take interesting, eye-catching photos in a variety of scenarios. I loved shooting with wide-angle cameras on LG’s phones, and I fell right back into my old habit with the Galaxy S10+. The quality clearly isn’t quite on the level of the main shooter, with a narrower aperture and no stabilization, but it’s still darn good whenever you have decent lighting.
The whole Galaxy S10 series now uses this wide-angle camera, rather than the telephoto, in conjunction with the primary camera for Live Focus (portrait mode) effects, which means you don’t get an aggressive crop on the field of view when you use Live Focus. (I’ve played with Live Focus, but haven’t used it enough for a definitive take on how it’s changed from the last generation.) The fact that Samsung chose to keep the ultra-wide in the Galaxy S10e rather than the telephoto shows just how much the company feels the wide-angle is more of a differentiator than the telephoto at this point.
Getting used to the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
Samsung’s move to an in-display fingerprint sensor is probably the only controversial move it made this year; and to be honest, the only controversial things Samsung has done in the last handful of years have all related to biometric security. I’ll lay it out simply: the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is better than the optical ones I’ve used (primarily, the OnePlus 6T), but it is not as fast, accurate or easy to use as a modern capacitive fingerprint sensor. That shouldn’t really come as any surprise, as capacitive sensors are really good now while the in-display sensors are still relatively new. But it’s worth noting.
The fingerprint sensor is absolutely a mixed bag — but it’s not going to sway a purchase decision one way or the other.
You get the added benefit of being able to unlock your phone while it’s sitting flat on a table or when you’re holding it loosely and can’t reach up where a rear sensor would be. But on the downside the sensor requires far more effort to find the “sweet spot” where you know it’ll unlock right away. Once you get he muscle memory down of knowing exactly where to put your thumb, it’s quite fast. But the time it takes to reject a bad press and then re-press is longer than it should be.
Near the end of writing this, an update was pushed to my phone (all reviewer’s phones, actually) to address some of the concerns raised about the fingerprint sensor. I’ve spent about a half day using it after the update and feel like it’s a bit quicker to recognize the finger, but it still suffers from the problems noted above regarding proper placement and the recognition area.
Samsung still has the best screen on a smartphone
The best smartphone display. It’s not even a competition.
It’s not even a competition. Before the Galaxy S10 hit the scene, the Note 9 was the screen champion; take that, and just make it a little better with no new compromises. It’s brighter, more colorful and downright amazing to view in direct sunlight. DisplayMate has already announced it’s tested the Galaxy S10 to have a peak brightness of 1200 nits, which just destroys the rest of the industry and is a killer feature everyone can appreciate. And you still get Samsung’s various options for tweaking color saturation and temperature to your desired levels.
When it comes to mobile displays, Samsung is just doing everything right. It’s tough to find a flaw with the screen when there’s nothing about any other phone’s screen that I prefer overall. Any phone over about $250 has a good enough display, but Samsung really takes the cake. Even comparably-priced phones from other companies don’t approach the heights Samsung sets.
I’m having troubles with accidental touches
This is an issue that I haven’t really dealt with on any other Galaxy phone, despite hearing plenty of complaints from others as soon as Samsung switched to the Infinity Display: I’m experiencing a high number of accidental palm touches on the sides of the phone. The most frequent instances have been while typing with one hand, reaching across to the opposite side … and my palm presses the P or Q key. But I’ve eve noticed it while typing with two hands, as well as while scrolling and holding the phone snugly in the hand.
The frame has gotten so thin, and the bezels are so small, it can be an annoyance.
The Galaxy S10+ has a metal frame that is so thin on the side, and the screen is still pretty tightly curved with even smaller bezels. It’s a recipe for extra accidental touches, because there just aren’t that many ways to hold the phone without touching the screen. I’ve double-checked that I have accidental touch rejection turned on in the software, and that I hadn’t triggered the increased sensitivity setting, but no luck.
I thought I was going crazy because I’ve been completely happy with this form factor in prior phones, up to the Note 9, but my suspicions were confirmed after speaking to several other reviewers with the phone. Perhaps the situation will be better on the smaller Galaxy S10, which I’m excited to use as I’d prefer a smaller version for ergonomic reasons. Here’s to hoping I can adjust my muscle memory a bit, as with the fingerprint sensor, to find a better way to use the phone.
Battery life is immense
Samsung upped the battery size on both the Galaxy S10 and S10+, while shipping a bigger battery in the S10e than was in the S9. And I have to say it’s absolutely amazing. I’m happy with the Galaxy S10+’s battery life even taking into account my use of the Note 9 up to this point. This phone just doesn’t want to die, no matter what you throw at it. Lots of tethering, camera use, screen on time and more — it doesn’t matter, it just lasts all day.
On an extremely long travel day, which is typically murder on a smartphone battery, I was particularly impressed by the S10+. Going from early in the morning, to and through the airport, on a long flight (sadly with little sleep) and the next airport and connecting flight, I went 18 hours before dipping under 10%. That’s with nearly 5 hours of screen-on time, hours of podcast listening, and always on display active the whole time. That is use that would have me charge up my Pixel 3 XL at least once and still be hitting the danger zone at the end.
This also gives me hope for the smaller Galaxy S10, and even the S10e, too. Not everyone is going to use their phone as hard as I have the last few days, and they’re going to be able to go through a day with a considerable amount of power left in the tank.
More to come
My full review of the Galaxy S10+ will arrive in due time, but for now this is a good compendium of initial thoughts. Feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like, and I’ll try to answer them directly or incorporate your biggest concerns into my review!