Many smartphone makers save their best features for their priciest (and largest) devices. Not Samsung. The Galaxy S10 lineup includes three great phones with solid battery life and excellent performance, which means you don’t have to spend $1,000 to get the best smartphone.
The $899, midsized S10 might be forgotten because it’s not as dazzling as the $999 S10Plus or as affordable as the $749 S10e. This phone doesn’t have 5G connectivity, and it doesn’t fold. But the 6.1-inch S10 is a worthy upgrade if you need a new phone right now.
Infinity-O Display: Pretty close to perfect
Almost every other smartphone maker has eliminated bezels by adding a notch that swoops down from the top of the device to disguise the front-facing camera. Samsung avoided that trend altogether with all three Galaxy S10 models, instead developing the unique new Infinity-O display, which embeds the front-facing camera lens directly in the screen. The midsized S10 sports a hole-punch-size cutout for its single selfie lens, which is far less distracting than the S10 Plus oval-shaped cutout.
You can also hide the hole punch with Samsung’s cleverly designed wallpapers. That won’t help when you’re streaming videos or browsing the web, but the disguise looks pretty damn good when you show it off to friends. The slightly curved glass practically cascades from the phone’s frame. That curved glass also makes it a little too easy to accidentally press something simply because you were holding the device; this was also a problem in past generations of Galaxy phones. If you want to hide the cutout altogether, that’s an option, but that effect is so ugly that you may as well buy another Android device with a notch and call it a day.
Design: Business as usual
Aside from the hole-punch display, the Galaxy S10 is the same as every other smartphone on the market. That’s not a bad thing, but if you’re waiting for innovative smartphone design before spending close to $1,000 (or far more) for a new device, you’ll have to hold out for the foldable phones arriving this year.
The 6.1-inch S10 has the exact same dimensions as Apple’s 6.1-inch, $749 iPhone XR but is more than a full ounce lighter. The S10 isn’t a one-handed device for those of us with petite paws; the 5.8-inch S10e is both smaller and cheaper, so go for that device if size is the deciding factor for you in phone selection.
Cameras: Excellent, but not the best
The S10 and S10 Plus have one key difference, aside from the larger phone’s bigger display: The Plus sports an additional 8-megapixel, depth-sensing, front-facing camera for better selfies. Both devices have a selfie-portrait effect, which enables other effects, including wind-swept and black-and-white backgrounds.
The S10’s cameras are good, though if you want more-dramatic photos, the Pixel 3 is still the best camera phone to get. The iPhone XS captures more-natural shots.
Security: Skip facial recognition for fingerprint
Samsung can’t compete with Apple on biometric authentication, and we’re not sure the Galaxy maker is even trying. This is one area where Samsung needs to work harder to ensure that unlocking your phone and authenticating payments are locked down with the most secure biometric scans that money can buy.
In our testing, the S10’s facial recognition is easily fooled by a photograph of a person’s face. That’s just plain embarrassing. The photo trick doesn’t work if you turn off Fast Facial Recognition in the S10’s settings, but the facial-authentication method is still less secure than it should be. That’s because Samsung doesn’t use hardware to create a 3D map of your face the way Apple does with its Face ID.
The S10’s in-display reader is more secure, due to an ultrasonic sensor that maps the 3D curves of your fingerprint. You have to press a little longer on the sensor than you would think, but the phone unlocks quickly enough.
The Galaxy S10 Plus and smaller S10 have the same exact specs, and it shows in their performance power. With Qualcomm’s 7-nanometer Snapdragon 855 processor and 8GB of RAM, the S10 easily matches the larger S10 Plus’ speed.
And the S10, like the S10 Plus, pulled ahead of both the iPhone and competing Android flagships in the 3DMark Slingshot Extreme graphics-performance benchmark. The S10 notched a score of 5,606 on the OpenGL ES 3.1 test, just behind the larger S10’s score (5,648) and easily ahead of the results from the OnePlus 6T (5,183), Pixel 3 (4,396) and iPhone XS (4,339).
Battery Life: Above average, but power sharing is the feature to beat
The Galaxy S10’s 3,400-mAh battery isn’t as large as the massive, 4,100-mAh pack inside the S10 Plus. And as expected, the smaller device doesn’t last as long on a charge, though you can still go a long time without topping off your battery.
Last year’s Galaxy S9 Plus also lasts longer on a charge than the S10, but that older phone has a slightly larger, 3,500-mAh battery. The S10e and its smaller, 3,100-mAh unit died after 9 hours and 42 minutes. The S10 outlasted both the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3 XL.
All three Galaxies have a new Wireless PowerShare feature that we wish every smartphone on the market offered. The tool, which you toggle on in the shortcuts menu by swiping down, lets you charge up any Qi-compatible device.
The $899 Galaxy S10 offers superfast performance and a beautiful display, with a less distracting camera cutout than on the larger, pricier S10 Plus. I also love that the S10 offers my favorite feature, Wireless PowerShare. That means you don’t have to splurge on the priciest Galaxy to reverse-charge all of your devices.
The Pixel 3 and iPhone XS sport better cameras, depending on whether you prefer more-dramatic or more-natural shots. And if you want longer battery life, the S10 Plus is a better bet, provided you can handle a larger, 6.4-inch screen. We do prefer the S10 to the value-priced OnePlus 6t, based on our face-off.
Overall, if you’re upgrading from a Galaxy S8, Pixel 2 or another 2017-era (or earlier) smartphone, the S10 is worth buying for the performance boost alone.