The Galaxy S10+ has the largest display, biggest battery, and the most base storage and RAM Samsung has ever fitted to a mainline Galaxy S handset. Its screen is the best and brightest of any phone on the planet, its processor the most advanced in any Android device, it has five cameras, and, oh: it’s really expensive.
Samsung wants a thousand of your hard-earned dollars for the privilege of owning its biggest, baddest Galaxy S phone to date. Knowing full well you’ll be able to get it for less than that in three months, this may seem a dubious proposition. But honestly? I don’t think anyone buying this phone is going to feel they got ripped off. The Galaxy S10+ isn’t just great, it’s that great. Between the experience improvements brought on with OneUI, the amazing battery life, and the exceptional performance, it’s incredibly hard to fault Samsung on the Galaxy S10+ as a package (even if faults do exist within that package).
With all that in mind, much of this review will focus on the asterisks – what you should know if you’re considering the Galaxy S10+, as opposed to endlessly singing its praises (many of which you’re already familiar with). The good stuff is easy to point out – and this is a great phone – but we want to make sure you’re getting the full picture. With that, let’s dive in.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The design of the Galaxy S10+ is, frankly, the least interesting thing about the entire phone. Samsung’s increasingly rote iterations of its corporate aesthetic are growing tired, and no one I’ve spoken to thinks this is a “pretty” smartphone. With its tiny bezels, sharply rounded corners, and unsightly double camera-cutout, the Galaxy S10+ really is an unfortunate triumph of form over function. On the back, it’s no better: the big, black rear camera module is positively ugly, and the glossy pearlescent glass cover is marred with fingerprint smudges in no time. That all said, the S10+ feels exceptionally premium, there’s no doubt this is a Very Expensive smartphone.
Of course, none of this really matters to a normal human being, because you’re going to want to slap a case on this phone immediately. It’s so incredibly, ridiculously slippery that I’ve been afraid to remove my case since receiving my review unit.
The S10+’s power button didn’t get the “bottom first” UX memo from OneUI – it sits comically high on the phone.
On the subject of function rather than form: the power button is too damn high. I don’t think Samsung puts it way up there just to annoy us, so I suspect it’s down to a packaging decision – one that I would happily sacrifice in order to have a reachable power key. The same goes for the volume controls. This is an incredibly tall phone, putting core function keys up at the tippy-top is just asking for an impromptu meeting between your Galaxy S10+ and some concrete. It’s a minor gripe, and one hardly unique to Samsung, but one I feel is still worth pointing out.
The in-display fingerprint scanner is in all material respects a regression from the capacitive sensors in last year’s phones.
More substantial an issue is the dreaded in-screen fingerprint reader. I don’t want to say I hate it. I really, really don’t like it, though. After a patch to address its performance was issued to my phone mid-review, it got better, but this is still such a downgrade from even Samsung’s badly-placed capacitive scanners in terms of experience. Even after over two full weeks with the phone, my thumbs never developed good enough muscle memory to land dead on the scanner more than 50% of the time, and there’s no haptic feedback to let you know the scanner is reading or if an unlock was successful (this boggles my mind). While it’s not Nokia 9 bad – Ryan is all but prepared to call that phone unrecommendable – it’s that terrible – the in-display fingerprint scanner is in all material respects a regression from the capacitive sensors in last year’s phones. What’s worse is that it’s gotten even more unreliable the more I’ve used it, as though the phone is unlearning my fingerprint. It’s maddening. This was a bad decision, and it’s the one thing that I think truly mars the Galaxy S10 in my eyes. It’s not a deal-breaker, it’s just… not good.
But hardware is also where the S10+ shines, in its way, because this phone really does have everything. Samsung Pay works not just with NFC, but traditional card swipe readers. There’s 15 watt wireless charging (and up to 9W reverse wireless charging). A 3.5mm headphone jack (praise be). USB-C. A microSD card slot. Haptic feedback that, in my estimation, is 80% of the way to Google’s on the Pixel 3 XL (pro tip: turn down the typing haptics one notch, then they’re perfect). An ultra-bright OLED screen that just can’t be beat. IP68 waterproofing. A powerful bottom-firing speaker with a second up front for stereo. There are not many things that the Galaxy S10+ does not have, and that’s been the Samsung flagship ethos for years now. The difference this time is that the rest of the package finally backs up the bullet points (at least for the most part).
As for what’s in the box, you get Samsung’s now-matte (hallelujah) adaptive fast charging brick, a USB-A to C cable, a smart switch adapter, some very good AKG-branded earbuds (seriously, they’re very nice), and a really awful plastic screen protector I suggest you immediately remove.
The Galaxy S10+ has five cameras, and I like two of them… usually. This is not to say you will not like the three “secondary” lenses Samsung has included on the phone this year, or that you will not find them useful. I just don’t think they provide performance or benefits compelling enough to justify adding to the bottom line price on this phone. But let’s start with the good stuff.
Images largely look and feel like Samsung’s have looked and felt for the last two years, and that’s not a bad thing, but progress is clearly limited.
The “standard” wide-angle (as opposed to ultra-wide angle) lens on the rear feels largely similar in performance to that of the Galaxy Note9. In daylight, photos are vibrant, sharp, and vivid – contrast is indeed artificially boosted in post-processing, but most people like this, and I will not tell anyone how they should like their photos to look. I think most people will be very pleased with the S10’s primary camera, I just don’t think anyone coming from an S9, Note9, or even probably a Note8 or S8 will be especially impressed at the progress. Images largely look and feel like Samsung’s have looked and felt for the last two years, and that’s not a bad thing, but progress has clearly been limited.
The S10+ has two front-facing cameras, but the second one is really just for depth effects – don’t expect Pixel 3 ultra-wide selfies.
The primary front-facing camera, by contrast, has seen a significant upgrade, and I’m pleased to report that the sharpness, clarity, and overall quality of images from it are substantially improved. It’s been a long time since Samsung issued a real update to the front-facing shooter, and this new 10MP f/1.9 module fits the bill, offering more resolution and less of that telltale muddying that’s been a signature of Galaxy phone selfies for years. It’s still not as good as the Pixel 3’s, which is far sharper and provides better clarity with less smoothing, but it’s still a real improvement. As for the wide-angle sensor? I’m fairly sure it’s really only there for enhancing live focus and portrait effects, as it’s nowhere near as wide as the Pixel 3’s 97-degree FOV selfie cam, making it far less useful in that capacity.
This leaves the rear-facing ultra-wide and telephoto sensors, neither of which I think are very good – they’re basically throwaways. The ultra-wide lens creates comical amounts of edge distortion in images, far beyond what LG’s narrower ultra-wide sensors produce. I think it’s a fun “mode” to play with in certain situations and as a way to be creative, but it’s not really a serious photography tool. The same goes for the telephoto lens, which in my opinion is basically unchanged from the extremely mediocre system Samsung first introduced with the Galaxy Note 8 in 2017. Images are overly muddy and soft, details are grainy, and low-light performance is just plain bad. I’m honestly inclined to pick the Pixel 3’s Superzoom over it.
Speaking of low light, this is one area where Samsung is still unabashedly behind Google and Huawei: for all the pre-launch hype of Samsung creating a “night sight” competitor, that’s just not the case in reality. The Galaxy S10+ is simply not as good to work with in low light scenarios, causing highlight blowouts, extensive processing muddying, and extremely unpredictable white balance. If you’re looking for a camera champion, look to the Mate 20 Pro or the Pixel 3 XL – the S10+ does nothing to unseat either from their respective thrones. It’s still going to compare favorably to, say, OnePlus or Xiaomi, but it’s definitely not class-leading.
Software, performance, and battery
I like OneUI – I really do. There’s been talk of it feeling too “toyish” or “immature,” and I think that’s largely from people who enjoy putting Tron themes or all black-and-red high-contrast icon packs on their phones. In terms of actual usability and customization, OneUI is Samsung’s masterpiece: this is the very best Galaxy phone software has ever been, full stop.
The crown jewels of that effort are Samsung’s bottom-focused navigation and night mode, both of which make the phone so much more pleasant to use. By aligning most app actions to the bottom of the display, Samsung has made navigating and accessing many areas of the phone simpler and less of a stretch. Even the launcher has taken cues: there’s an option to pull down anywhere on the homescreen to get the notification bar (this isn’t new or original to Samsung, but it fits the larger narrative), one of the most annoying things about using any big-screen smartphone. And speaking of that launcher, I’ve been completely uncompelled to replace it with a custom one. Samsung’s supports grid resizing and, once the god-awful Bixby shelf is removed, it’s perfectly nice to use. It’s fast, intuitive to navigate, and even supports landscape mode (if you’re into that). It’s one of the most thoughtful and restrained pieces of software Samsung has developed in years.
I absolutely love the option to douse the entire phone in deep shades of gray. It’s easy on the eyes, and persists through every single stock application – even the browser.
As to that second critical piece of OneUI, I turned on night mode on the S10+ and just never looked back. With more and more 3rd-party apps like Twitter, Facebook Messenger, and YouTube offering dark themes, I absolutely love the option to douse the entire phone in deep shades of gray. It’s easy on the eyes, and persists through every single stock application – even the browser (hurry up, Chrome). We can only hope Google is so thorough when Android Q comes around (and I doubt they will be).
With everything else, I think most of it comes down to just adjusting your expectations. I don’t enjoy Samsung nagging me because it thinks the Google app is consuming too much battery (it isn’t, this is clearly a bug), or the fact that changing your wallpaper is an entire app experience, but there’s just so much packed in here that I think will inevitably have some appeal to some people. Dual app allows you to have multiple copies of a single app sandboxed for different accounts. The game launcher keeps your screen focus locked on what you’re playing, to avoid bothersome notifications. Scrolling screenshots are still something stock Android sorely needs, and Samsung’s editor tool is best in class.
Bixby Routines are a genuinely useful addition – think of it like Tasker for normal people.
Bixby Routines is an incredibly powerful tool – think Tasker meets Assistant routines – that lets you customize your phone’s behavior based on where you are, what time it is, how much battery it has, or any one of a number of other triggers and subsequent actions. For example, you can create your own highly customized behavior when it’s between 6AM and 6PM on a weekday (i.e., you’re at work), where mobile data is disabled, all volume is muted (yes, you can even make media volume rules), and always-on display is turned off. Then at 6PM, poof: all that comes back on. I wish Google’s battery saver and DND were capable of quite this level of complication.
I won’t get too deep into performance other than to say it is outstanding, especially once you use the “reduce animations” toggle under advanced features. The S10+ flies through applications and never seems to stutter in the slightest. The Snapdragon 855 is legit. And with a minimum of 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM on all S10 and S10+ models, these phones seem pretty ready for a two-year duty cycle or more. It makes my Pixel 3 XL feel… old.
If you’re like me and want your lockscreen to actually display notification cards, enabling the “detailed” view is a must.
Still, I do have some complaints about the software – such as the fact that the lockscreen interface is utterly useless in its default configuration (media controls often just vanish, rich notifications aren’t displayed at all, just icons – thankfully this can all be changed), or that the Bixby button can’t be remapped to the Google Assistant without using cumbersome third-party software I want nothing to do with. But these are pretty minor issues, and ones that don’t detract from my enjoyment of the phone in an especially measurable way. They’re just annoying, and oftentimes they can either be fixed or, at the least, just ignored. One that I can’t really ignore is navigation, though: reaching the buttons on phones with such tiny “chins” is becoming a chore, and Samsung’s gesture navigation sucks. Apple did this right on the iPhoneX. Android OEMs need to follow suit.
The Galaxy S10+ goes and goes, and then it goes some more.
Finally, let’s talk battery life. The Galaxy S10+ goes and goes, and then it goes some more: my experience with this Snapdragon model has been phenomenal, with five to six hours of screen time on heavy LTE-only usage while I was in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress – the kind of torture that will kill almost any phone before the day is through. My Pixel 3 XL would be lucky to crack four hours of screen time under similar strain, though I’d wager the OnePlus 6T would be a far closer battle. Still, given the amazing performance and brilliant, massive display on this phone, that 4100mAh battery and Snapdragon 855 are more than pulling their weight. This thing lasts and lasts. (And as a bonus, I’ve found the S10+ works perfectly fine with my USB-PD Pixel and Pixelbook chargers, charging just as fast as Samsung’s in-box Adaptive Fast Charge brick.)
Should you buy it?
Yep. The Galaxy S10+ doesn’t have the best cameras, the best fingerprint reader, or the best price of any flagship-tier phone. But those significant flaws are rendered much less so because the Galaxy S10+ is just that damn good in spite of it all. I hardly expected I’d come away from the S10+ so fully convinced that Samsung’s generational leap in 2019 would be substantial enough to just say ‘goodbye’ to every smartphone from 2018 right out of the gate, but it absolutely has. I see no reason to look back: this is the very best smartphone you can buy right now, and I hope Google – and everyone else – is paying attention. Sure, Samsung has some things it needs to fix, but when you’ve just taken a big step out in front of everybody else, you can afford a few mistakes – and I have a suspicion Samsung won’t be the only one to make them in 2019, let alone with a phone that has such strong fundamentals to fall back on.dbrand skin.
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