Review: The Galaxy S10+, a worthy 10th anniversary champ

  • Tenth iteration largely a hit; Ups include camera, video, display, battery life
  • Downs include charging speeds, pin-hole cut out, Bixby, complex settings

 

Review: The Galaxy S10+, a worthy 10th anniversary champ

 

THIS is the one the world’s been waiting for – Samsung’s 10th anniversary iteration of its hugely popular Galaxy smartphone.

The South Korean giant took the gloves off the Samsung Galaxy S10 series of smartphones at a glitzy, no-holds-barred extravaganza at Genting Highlands on March 8, a week after the global launch in San Francisco.

The S10 series comprises the Galaxy S10e, which is priced at RM2,699; the Galaxy S10 (RM3,299); and Galaxy S10+ (RM3,699 for 128GB storage; RM4,599 for 512GB storage).

A lot is expected of the decade-old brand as rivals Apple Inc and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd have been pushing new boundaries with their products in the past two years.

From pinhole-designed cameras to in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensors and from state-of-the-art low-light, AI-enabled picture taking capabilities to QHD OLED displays, the Galaxy S10 series of smartphones has it all.

As noted at the launch, Samsung is trying to re-invent itself to stay ahead of the game. So how does it fare in the crowded high-end, premium segment of the market? Digital News Asia finds out in this review of the Samsung Galaxy S10+, its top-end iteration.

Design and build

Review: The Galaxy S10+, a worthy 10th anniversary champAt first glance, our Prism White S10+ review smartphone didn’t stand out too much from the rest of the competition. We were a little surprised at the unassuming look of the whole package – it was rectangular for the most part and had the what has become a defining design feature for Samsung: A curved edge-to-edge screen.

We remember the time when Samsung introduced the Galaxy S8. Then, the curved edge-to-edge design was truly something to shout about. Somehow, our first impressions of the S10+ didn’t give us the wow-factor for a 10th anniversary smartphone.

Aside from what seems like a mundane look, the S10+ is very well built. The unit measures 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8 mm, weighs in at 175 g and it has an aluminium frame circumventing the sides. Though it’s really big, it didn’t feel like that in our hands. Comparing it to the OnePlus 6T, it seemed a tad slimmer and easier to hold.

The front sports a 6.4-inch, 19:9 QHD (3,040x1,440) screen and there is no doubt the edge-to-edge, dubbed ‘Infinity-O’ display, is great looking. On the right of the device, you have the on/off switch and to the left you have the volume rocker and a dedicated Bixby button, Samsung’s version of a virtual assistant akin to Google’s Assistant.

At the bottom, you have two grills that house a pair of stereo speakers optimised by Samsung-owned sound specialist, AKG Acoustics, and a USB-C charging port. Audio quality from the S10+ stereo speakers were very good.

To the right of the front display is where you’ll find something new – a 1 cm oval ‘cut-out,’ where you’ll find the two pinhole cameras; a 10MP lens coupled with an 8MP lens for depth-sensing effect.

The pinhole design is pretty much how Huawei has done it with its Honor View 20 design. In general, pinhole designs are a reaction to the much-maligned ‘notch’ design first introduced by Apple’s iPhone X.

Essentially, the world was torn in two over whether it was worthwhile to sacrifice looks over what smartphone makers had to do to get more surface area from the front display. As a compromise, some brands such as the OnePlus 6T and the latest Redmi Note 7, started to introduce what is known as a ‘teardrop’ design in a bid to minimise the notch size and lessen the awkwardness of the design.

The pinhole design is a further iteration of this thinking. With such a design, there isn’t a notch anymore but merely a small cut-out on the display. Personally, we didn’t quite like the pinhole design. While the notch is now gone, the asymmetrical placement of the oval cut-out irks us.

We also did not like the fact that the black-coloured pinhole may look fine in everyday use but boy, when the display is white, like in the ‘settings’ screen, the black cut-out stood out like a sore thumb! This may be a matter of preference, but we personally think the teardrop notch is the best compromise of all.

At the back, there is a row of camera lenses. This protruding bar houses triple lenses with dual Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS); 0.5x out and 2x in optical zoom, up to 10x digital zoom; HDR10+ recording; and tracking auto focus.

And yes, Samsung has retained the 3.5-inch headphone jack, the absence of which is a subject of much controversy with other high-end smartphones in the market. The whole unit is wrapped with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 and is IP68 certified, all of which is pretty much what we’ve come to expect of a top-end smartphone.

A detailed look at the specs can be found here, but couple the aforementioned specs with a Snapdragon 855 and plenty of RAM, the S10+ is pretty much up there with the best of flagship smartphones launched this year.

Features and performance

The first feature to review is its much-vaunted ultrasonic fingerprint reader. Physical fingerprint readers are giving way to optical-based readers and ultrasonic ones.

The Vivo X20 Plus and OnePlus 6T first brought optical-based fingerprint readers to the market. This method of reading fingerprints depended on the screen shining a light to illuminate one’s fingerprint ridges, which is then read by a sensor beneath the screen.

Instead of using light to read fingerprints, the S10+ uses high frequency sonic waves to do so. Samsung claims that it’s faster and more secure and with our tests, we found that it was pretty efficient and had fewer errors than our tests with the OnePlus 6T.

That said, the ultrasonic sensor still had issues unlocking the device with partially wet fingers – like it did with the OnePlus 6T’s optical sensor – such as when being used while exercising on a treadmill or after swimming.

Overall, I would rate this as the best in-display reader in the market for now but trust others to catch on eventually. If you don’t want to contend with this, you could also set up face unlock, which may be a little less secure than your fingerprint or PIN lock. We had no trouble with the face unlock, even in low-light situations.

Next up is the display itself. The 3,040 x 1,440 resolution in a 19:9 ratio may seem like an overkill as most of us can’t really distinguish between that and FHD (2,280 x 1,080). This is why we suspect that the default setting for the S10+ is FHD. Doing so also saves battery life. Still, QHD is there should you want it.

The display looks gorgeous. Colours were crisp and vibrant, though the colour balance was a little too vibrant for our liking. And the advantage it has over its competitors is that it can stretch out to about 93% screen-to-body ratio at a 522 ppi density, which is really great.

Battery performance is where the S10+ shines. A test of the unit sporting a 4,100mAH battery gave me easily seven to eight hours of screen-on-time, and a little over two hours viewing of Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation on Netflix on full screen brightness with WiFi connectivity only sapped 20% of battery life, which is great.

In practical terms, I could use the phone for a little over a 24-hour day, doing a variety of tasks – surfing, email, music, video, office productivity, messaging, picture and video taking, two hours hotspot tethering, and some light gaming.

Charging the S10+ up from a single digit battery percentage to about 80% was a let-down as it took about 1.5 hours, possibly because it still uses Qualcomm Fast Charging 2.0 at 15 watts which is strange, given that other top-end brands have higher wattage ratings, which cuts charging time to about half what we experienced.

On the plus side, the S10+ has a new feature dubbed reverse wireless charging, which means you could use it as a ‘wireless mat’ to charge any Qi-enabled device. Don’t expect fast charging times as this mode is mostly for emergency use only such as if a friend’s smartphone or your wireless earbuds need a quick boost.

We found Samsung’s new UI, dubbed the One UI and based on Android Pie (9.0), pretty much like its old Samsung UI, perhaps a tad friendlier. Navigating around takes time as there are so many sub-menus to have to deal with, and this could be quite frustrating. But that is also true of other top-end devices these days, as giving users many options is a big deal.

We didn’t find much use for the Bixby assistant, something Samsung is touting as its AI-based version of Google Assistant. Consequently, we kept its usage to the minimum.

Triple threat

 

Review: The Galaxy S10+, a worthy 10th anniversary champ

 

It feels almost pointless to wonder if the optics of any new Galaxy S device will produce quality images. Indeed, the Galaxy S10+ is a smartphone masterclass when it comes to photo quality: expectedly crisp, detailed photos during situations with ample light, not to mention a rapid autofocus and great colour reproduction.

The more prudent question here is just how rich the features of the optics are, and we’re glad to report that it is feature packed. Shooting pics here becomes a process of figuring out the best lens for any given situation.

 

Review: The Galaxy S10+, a worthy 10th anniversary champ

 

The wide-angle lens is particularly wondrous – with the right aspect ratio, you might even forgo the need to use the panorama feature (though the S10+'s enhanced panorama is just as fun to use). It does produce a fish-eye effect, though, depending on where and what you're shooting.

Swapping between lenses only requires a touch of a button. You can even scroll in and out like a traditional camera, and the device will automatically switch lenses when appropriate. Couple this with an interface that is easy to use, and extra tweaks that range from pro mode to Samsung’s algorithms suggesting what the best shooting angles are.

There's also a Live Focus mode, which finds your face and allows you to blur the background in different ways and intensities. This feature extends to the two front-facing cameras (one 10-megapixel lens, another 8-megapixel one for enhancing depth), which is likely where you'll be using it the most.

 

Review: The Galaxy S10+, a worthy 10th anniversary champ

 

The S10+'s low-light performance is also commendable – the lens can pull in ample light and colours even during evenings. Even the dreaded shots of street lamps at night can appear fine in the right settings. In extreme low light, the S10+ also performed well.

As for videos, the options are equally varied. You can shoot in HDR10+, if you want, and digital video stabilisation is available on the rear camera. Ultra HD videos (in 60fps) comes out smooth and crisp, and the slow-motion modes are fun inclusions.

Conclusion

The S10+ is a worthy 10th anniversary smartphone. It has all the bells and whistles the market has come to expect from a high-end device but yet is still a classic in its own right. Build quality is great, there are features aplenty and battery as well as camera performance are top-notch.

Thing is, the field is getting so crowded these days that we can’t help but wonder where the point of diminishing return for the next wave of smartphones will come from?

Could it be in foldable or in 5G-enabled smartphones? Perhaps. But for now, the S10+ is touted to be the most complete high-end device on the market and for the most part it succeeds.

Still, the S10+ may not be for everyone due to the UI and Bixby features, which isn’t much of a value add, in our humble opinion. Also, the lack of faster charging times is a big let-down for us.

But if you’re a Samsung Galaxy fan or are itching to upgrade your older smartphone, it’s a worthy contender right up there with the best – provided you have the dough for it. That’s why Samsung has the cheaper variants: the Galaxy S10e, which is priced at RM2,699 and the Galaxy S10 (RM3,299).

That said, there are other worthy contenders too – the OnePlus 6T and the Honor View 20 – which aren’t shabby either.

And for best-in-class camera smartphone? Well, stay tuned for our Huawei P30/Pro review soon.

 
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