How does the Samsung S10+ hold up against other smartphones in the range?
Just under two weeks ago, we celebrated a decade of the Galaxy range of smartphone alongside Samsung, with the release of the new range of Galaxy, the company’s new flagship. While the Galaxy S range is the pinnacle of all things great about the modern smartphone, it wasn’t always this way. In the early days of Samsung’s challenge to the iPhone, the brand was seen as a knockoff, being sued by Apple after almost every release and having to pay penalties as a result. Fast-forward a decade later and the Galaxy S10 leads the pack across the biggest OEMs as we head into the rest of 2019. The Galaxy S has grown into a unique smartphone, opposing all that Apple and the iPhone stand for, including a headphone jack, in-screen fingerprint scanner, as well as going against the grain by not including the notch.
The biggest problem with the release of the 10-year anniversary Samsung Galaxy S10+ is that it launches less than six months after the Note 9, a unit that is still able to compete with any other smartphone across the various brands. Having grown attached to the Note 9 and the S Pen, I was dreading having to give that up for the latest and greatest for the sake of it being the new flagship. Within five minutes, however, all of that faded into the background. But just how good is it?
Samsung S10+ Screen and Display
Contrary to my previous smartphone reviews, I thought it best to start the review by discussing one of the most discussed topics prior to the S10’s launch, its screen. Apart from simply being larger, being edge-to-edge, there’s also the topic of the built-in fingerprint scanner. Starting with the size, the S10+ features the same size panel as fitted to the Note 9. Side-by-side, however, you’ll notice that the real estate on the Samsung S10+ has diminished significantly. Thanks to Samsung’s edge-to-edge display, codenamed the Infinity-O display, they’ve managed to pack in the Super AMOLED panel into a smaller overall frame, which also reduces the overall weight. There are a few discrepancies between the various outlets in terms of actual screen-to-body ratio, ranging from 89% to around 93%. It’s the latter that most are reporting, which is incredible to say the least. Even at the less mesmerising 89%, it’s still a full 5.5% better off than the Note 9, and 4.7% over the S9+.
The differences may seem small, but they’re significant in the industry, even for flagship devices. The bezels aren’t a factor when referring to the sides of the screen, are almost non-existent on the top and bottom of the device’s front face. In order to squeeze in the extra real estate of the screen, Samsung has had to switch to an ‘in-screen’ front-facing camera, which means users now have to settle for something called the “punch hole” camera. The front-facing dual camera is positioned off to the top right-hand side of the screen, which means you don’t have to worry about the ‘notch’, which has become a point of contention for other OEMs. Samsung manages to squeeze in additional screen between the edges around the camera as well, so it’s not entirely lost screen. The UI update means that native Samsung and customised apps, can make use of the space in this region, without sacrificing the viewable screen size. A number of other apps, however, still need to make the necessary updates for the S10 range, which will no doubt happen in due course, simply due to the high demand for the device in pre-orders, and to avoid the backlash from the community if they fail to do so.
There’s a difference between the Samsung S10 and S10e devices compared to the S10+ and S10 5G, in that the former devices only include a single front-facing camera, whereas the latter two devices include a dual-lens camera. This means that less of the screen is missing from the S10 and S10e units, which actually look more aesthetically pleasing overall. But with the significant differences in hardware, the extra lens on the screen is negligible. The camera is also positioned in line with the notification bar, so it wouldn’t affect general app use, especially for browsing and the likes. Samsung also includes a few strategic wallpapers, which makes the camera less noticeable when on the lock and home screens.
In terms of the display, the S10+ has a 1440x3040px QHD+ resolution, with an aspect ratio of 19:9. Comparing the numbers, that’s 80px taller than the Note 9 and S9 range. While the pixel density is up over the Note 9, it’s slightly down on the S9+ due to the larger size of the screen. The Samsung S10+ has a pixel density of 522ppi, which provides an extremely detailed image. Samsung has set the default resolution to medium setting, at Full HD+ or 2280x1080px. For most users, you wouldn’t have known about any of this when booting up the device for the first time, but those with more of an avid eye will be able to spot the difference between the two. As a techie and amateur graphic designer, I was always going to blast the setting to the max resolution as soon as it was unboxed. Thankfully, with the increased battery capacity, it didn’t make much of a difference to me in the end. If you really want to get technical, users can also keep the default resolution and choose to boost it to the maximum resolution for specific apps, games or 4K content.
Another of the standout features on the Samsung S10, S10+ and S10 5G models is that they’re the first smartphones to offer HDR10+ support. This added feature boosts the contrast and colours on the screen, which makes watching movies and playing games that much more brilliant to view. Often times, viewing the same image on the S10+ and another generic smartphone will show exactly how much of a difference this feature makes on its own. Although much wasn’t made about it during the launch, the S10 devices also sport the latest Gorilla Glass 6 technology, on both the front and rear of the device. There’s also the newly added fingerprint sensor, which is built into the screen. Samsung’s new Ultrasonic sensor scans your fingers in 3D to produce a fingerprint, which can detect even when submerged in water. The use of a 3D scan also provides additional security, making it more difficult to mimic. And, best of all, it works. It may be slightly slower than the conventional fingerprint reader on the rear and requires more downward pressure, but it’s still very solid.
If there’s to be a drawback from the rather brilliant screen, is that the spilling over of the edges means that the device picks up some palm touches every so often. It’s evident that Samsung has added an algorithm to compensate for this, otherwise, the device may be unusable at times. That said, the odd touch occurs at between 5-10 times a day in my case, which isn’t all that much if the recent statistic that users unlock their devices on average more than 100 times a day to use for a few seconds at a time – sometimes for no reason at all. A 90-95% palm-free rate is acceptable in my book.
Samsung S10+ Build and Design
Having used the S8, S9 and Note 9 as my daily drivers for a few months at a time, Samsung has managed to keep the design aesthetic, even with the newly improved Infinity-O panel. The unit’s aluminium frame is lighter and thinner than both the Note 9 and S9+, even while sporting a larger battery than both. The unit is a 0.7mm thinner than the S9+ and a full 1mm compared to the Note 9. In terms of weight, the Samsung S10+ is 14g lighter than the S9+ and a full 26g lighter than the Note 9. To put that into perspective, the unit sheds close to 13% of its weight over the Note 9.
Samsung has made quite a comprehensive set of minor changes to the overall design, without users really noticing. The curved edges have been slightly adjusted, the triple camera on the rear is more flush than previous models. The edges of the screen also mean you won’t notice the proximity sensor, but it’s still there. The team has taken major steps to creating an environment where users are able to utilise the device with one hand, despite its size. The oddity here is the positioning of the power button, which is out of reach of your thumb as it rests on the side of the unit. That said, with the built-in fingerprint scanner, I wasn’t using the power button to unlock the screen, but would be useful to adjust for locking. The Bixby button is still featured on the left-hand side, below the volume rocker. The team also continues to sport its 3.5mm jack after a full decade, much to the amusement of fans as they troll Apple. Let’s be honest, though, many of us have moved on from the wired audio, so it remains simply as a middle-finger to Apple.
Samsung S10+ Features
One of the key features on the S10 devices is the updated UI. Over the years, Samsung has streamlined its user interface, even in the days of the TouchWiz UI, a thorn in the side for many a fan. A few weeks before the release of the S10 range, Samsung released their Android 9 OS (Pie) to the public, which was a significant change over the previous iterations. For many, this was a bit of a shock to the system. On the Samsung S10+, however, the One UI is a joy to use as it really comes to life. Almost all of the native Samsung apps, menus and the likes can be brought down to within thumb range, simply by dragging the menu down further. This makes it easier to navigate and use, especially for the “phablet” smartphone. Apart from the positioning of the power button, almost all of the device’s features have been geared towards the one-handed use, and I love it.
I mentioned also that the Bixby key has remained on the left-hand side of the device, but Samsung has finally heard the pleas of the fans and allowed for customisation of the button. Users can set both single press and double press shortcuts, provided that one of them remains as the Bixby shortcut key. We’ll take that compromise, thanks. Ironically, you can set it as the new power button, which is easier to reach, or simply set it to perform no action, which means you won’t accidentally press it and open the Bixby menu without your knowledge.
While many people bemoan Bixby and what it represents, but Samsung has remained firm with its existence on its flagship devices. It’s said that it will eventually pick up my daily routines and habits and adjust my user experience accordingly. I’ve actually tested a few of these features with the “Routines” app built into Bixby, and found it very useful. Setting up options for night mode and even sleep mode assists a lot in preparation for bedtime, while also saving battery overnight. If you manage to setup your device exactly to your preference, users can eke out an additional quarter of the battery life for the day. I managed on a few occasions to hit the sweet spot with the battery, reaching the office on the second day with a good 25% of charge left to take me to lunchtime.
The software and AI updates extend to various other segments of your daily usage, including the camera, menus and other apps. While I’ll be discussing this further down, the AI features within the camera app are very noticeable, and very helpful too.
One of the great features on the Note 9 was how it was able to be converted into a fairly usable desktop via a cable or two, something which I enjoyed very much. I’ll attempt to cover those same features again with the Samsung S10+ with a follow-up review. It is worth mentioning, however, that Samsung doesn’t have the same desktop-friendly app suite that Apple have in their ecosystem. It would be great if Samsung were to offer apps such as Notes as a more superior desktop app, allowing users to easily transition from the smartphone to the laptop without needing multiple apps.
The S10+ also includes a feature we’ve seen on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro [https://www.fortressofsolitude.co.za/huawei-mate-20-pro/], wireless reverse charge. Due to the recent ban on Huawei smartphones in certain regions, the S10 range is set to become the most widely available smartphone to offer the feature. In use, users have to select the PowerShare option from the drop-down menu before it can be used to charge another smartphone. It’s not as fast as fast-charging, so it may annoy a few, but considering that this is a last resort type of feature, it’s more than welcome.
Performance and Battery Life
There’s already a lot to take in when it comes to the Samsung S10+. It’s a bit of weird statement that despite the great internal specifications, it still plays second fiddle to the screen and features on the unit. That said, Samsung hasn’t been overly concerned of late with pushing the fastest CPU speeds or most RAM to consumers, instead focusing on the overall UI and UX. The list of hardware specifications includes an Exynos 9820 Octa (8nm) chipset with an Octa-core CPU – x2 2.73GHz Mongoose M4 and x2 2.31GHz Cortex-A75 and x4 1.95GHz Cortex-A55). In addition to this, the unit also sports a Mali-G76 MP12 GPU, 128GB internal storage and 8GB RAM. The chipset has caught up to the benchmark scores of the iPhone XS Max, with benchmarks of 11105 vs 11264 on Geekbench 4.3 multicore tests. These benchmarks make the S10+ the most powerful Android smartphone to date, which is nothing to scoff at. Interestingly, after numerous community “real world” speed tests, the Samsung S10+ outperformed the iPhone XS Max through a series of tests across the various forums, which is very positive.
Compared to the Note 9, the Samsung S10+ features 100mAh of additional battery capacity, boasting 4100mAh capacity overall. As stated earlier, the battery performance has been great. I loved how with the Note 9 I could easily power through an entire with confidence, never carrying a charger or portable charger. The same applies to the S10+, even when boosting the screen resolution to full resolution. There were instances of the device feeling a bit warmer in hand under heavy load compared to the Note 9, but it seemingly never affected the battery life. The closest I came to depleting the battery during the course of a day was during a recent day trip to Cape Town, including continuous photographs, uploads to social media, along with a few videos and browsing throughout. I left Johannesburg with the device charged to roughly 70% and had used the device for at least 7 or the 10 hours during the trip. I had arrived back home at 11PM with 2% of charge remaining. The Samsung S10+ battery is definitely up to the test.
Camera and Video
There’s a been a lot of talk about Samsung’s triple-lens camera in the build-up to the release, whether it can replace the cameras on either the Mate 20 Pro or the Pixel 3. The Galaxy S range has always been one of the leaders when it comes to camera optics and quality of images. The latest range is no exception to this. The Samsung S10+ includes a 12MP lens with optical image stabilisation, 16MP ultra-wide-angle lens with 123° field of vision, as well as a 12MP telephoto lens, which allows for 2X optical zoom.
Because there are quite a few elements at play with every shot you take, it’s advisable to take two to three of the same shot to make sure you’ve found the best of the shot. Samsung’s neural processing unit (NPU) does quite a lot of work for the user in automatic mode, ranging from scene selection, adjusting the aperture, ISO and the likes, as well as suggest the best position and angle of a specific shot to achieve the best results. The latter portion, down to the AI, is very useful. I thought at times it may be just a guess, but actually making use of the suggestions by aligning your camera accordingly more often than not, made a huge difference, from choosing optimum lighting, composition and objects to focus on. The camera’s night mode still lacks somewhat compared to that fitted on the Mate 20 Pro, but standard lighting shots are no match against the Samsung S10+.
In addition to the AI, there are quite a few additional options to play around with as well, from the more basic AR Emoji, to the various shooting modes, HDR10+ support for video capture, as well as optical video stabilisation for ultra-smooth videos even when in motion. One of the standout modes is the Live Focus option, which offers a range of effects and blurs surround the focused object. In addition, features such as the motion photo, which records and saves the build-up to the photo being taken, as well as smile detection and a host of other detection points.
The end results across the various options, settings and effects are great. The colours are vibrant, with great contrast to boot. Samsung’s scene optimiser works well in how it creates additional effects per shot, although this can sometimes be frustrating if you just want a standard photo without any additional sparkles and the likes creeping into every shot.
Samsung has stepped up its game from the Galaxy Note 9 to the Galaxy S10 range, specifically the S10+, all within a timeframe of around five months between the two announcement dates. At the very least, the unit offers an incremental increase over the Note 9 and in some cases almost complete overhaul. The hardware performances have been increased, including battery life and photography. Ultimately, it’s the edge-to-edge screen is the standout amongst all other specs and features on the Samsung S10+.
It’s worth pointing out that Samsung is still to release a few additional features as the weeks and months pass after the official launch date this Friday, 8 March 2019.
Samsung Galaxy S10+
It's glorious, even more so with the inclusion of HDR10+ support. At an RRP of R20,999, it's currently the most expensive Samsung smartphone to date (minus any custom or limited-edition range), but it's more than worth the mini investment.