The Galaxy S10 Plus may be the first major flagship phone of 2019, but it’s already clearly one of the best phones for the year. I say this even though the Galaxy S10E is a better value buy, even though the foldable Galaxy Fold and Galaxy S10 5G are right around the corner, and even with Huawei’s P30 Pro applying the heat with four rear cameras that could overpower the S10 Plus’ photo skills. Although the S10 Plus isn’t without fault (two major ones, really), but its 6.4-inch AMOLED screen, all-day battery life, wireless power-sharing feature and combination of three rear cameras are stellar.
It also doesn’t hurt that the S10 Plus is the only one of Samsung’s four new Galaxy S10 phones to have a 1TB storage option and a ceramic finish for the 512GB and 1TB models. Do you really need all that storage? Is it worth the $250 price tag to pay for it, and for the ceramic finish? “Need” would be a stretch, but if you want it, it’s nice to know it’s there. Samsung is clearly making the Plus its no. 1.
At $1,000 for the 128GB model, $1,250 for 512GB and a cool $1,600 for the 1TB storage option (!), it’s a costly device. (It starts at £1,099 in the UK and AU$1,499 in Australia.) Of course, when you look at the Galaxy Fold’s $1,980 starting price and Huawei Mate X‘s $2,600 price tag, the S10 Plus seems almost reasonable as a phone you can buy today, without emptying out your bank account or waiting for 5G networks to kick in.
Read: What you need to know if you’re thinking of buying any Galaxy S10, or already have.
As for the standard Galaxy S10, it’s not a great “deal,” shaving off only $100 and losing a second front-facing camera, a little screen space and a little battery life.
More from MWC 2019
As for comparisons with other phones, I wouldn’t upgrade from the Galaxy S9 Plus, but I would from any older Galaxy phone. The bottom line is that you have more general flexibility with camera shots on the S10 Plus than with the Pixel 3 ($699 at Walmart). Night mode is one exception, and both the Pixel 3 and Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro ($989 at Amazon) have dedicated night modes that easily outpace the Galaxy S10 Plus. If nighttime photography is a make-it-or-break-it feature for you, you may want to wait for next month’s Huawei P30 Pro, October’s (likely) Pixel 4, or cross your fingers that Samsung might push out a software upgrade.
Low-light shots aren’t a deal-breaker for me, especially when weighed against the Galaxy S10 Plus’ other benefits, but being able to match those other night modes would make the S10 Plus the undisputed champion across the board.
As it stands now, the S10 Plus is an excellent device that I’d be happy to use every single day — and I think you’d feel the same way, too.
Lovely to look at, but a slippery devil
Samsung is partial to glossy finishes that reflect light in unusual ways. My review unit is the 128GB version in Prism White, and it definitely reflects iridescent shades of pale blue, mint and pink in the light. This color is nice and subtle. Flamingo Pink, Canary Yellow, Prism Green and Prism Blue are bolder — there’s Prism Black as well.
Right away I noticed that the S10 Plus has a tendency to slip out of hands and off surfaces, especially if they’re not perfectly level. It’s shot out from between my fingers numerous times, usually landing on my purse, a table or my lap. It also slid off my nightstand, a couch, a chair, but has emerged unscathed so far. I like to review phones the way they emerge from the box, but I’m going to want a case for this one.
Brilliant display, but, O, that ‘notch’
The Galaxy S10 Plus has an Infinity-O “notch” that’s really a hole cut in the display to make room for two cameras. Its oval shape attracts more attention than the single lens of the Galaxy S10 and S10E, but I’m not really a stickler about notches anyway.
More to the point is the feeling of having a large screen with slim bezels. Most of the time, it sort of blends into the background, not calling too much attention to itself. But when the screen is brightly lit, like with a white background, the asymmetry of a pill-shape cut-out becomes more noticeable. I wonder if the Infinity-U display, like the one Samsung put on the midrange Galaxy A50 and A30, would look better, though it’d also look more like an eyebrow-style notch than this. The solution to the all-screen dilemma may be out there yet.
The screen itself is gorgeous, with a 6.4-inch AMOLED display and 3,040×1,440-pixel resolution. Outdoor readability is fantastic. When I wake up in the middle of the night and read the phone to fall back asleep, the screen is actually too bright, even with the brightness turned low and the blue-light filter on. Heck, it’s even too bright using Android’s Wind Down mode that shifts colors to grayscale.
Finally, remapping the Bixby button is real
After two years of complaints, Samsung has listened to fans and released some software to let you remap the Bixby button to open another app.
The capability has always existed — even Galaxy S Active phones of a few years back let you set your convenience key — but Samsung was reticent. Better you should learn to love Bixby, it reasoned. That’s why it’s nice to see Samsung do the right thing here.
Android Pie and One UI
There are two words to describe the One UI design: big and bubbly. Icons are large, flat circles that take a while to get used to since many of the designs have changed, from the color of the Gallery icon to the shape of the Galaxy Notes app.
I mean it: these icons are huge. Using them on the home screen made me feel like a kid. I immediately switched to a smaller icon size (therefore, a larger app grid on the home screen) to fit in more of my go-to apps without digging through folders or swiping extra screens.
Even though I like my screen icons smaller, seeing the larger icons in the app drawer was fine — they are easier targets to hit. I also liked that some larger app menus and “cards” are easier to read without craning your neck or squinting. This is especially noticeable in Bixby Home, which you access by swiping to the left of the home screen.
Bixby Routines: I’m not a huge Bixby fan and I only call it up by accident, but Bixby Routines could change my mind. I was impressed with the IFTTT-like flexibility to set up routines, and the presets are easy enough for novices to get their feet wet.
For example, I set up a morning routine that starts at 6 a.m. and turns on the Always-On display (yes, you can turn it off), surfaces specific lock screen shortcuts and turns off the blue-light filter I’ll turn on for a bedtime routine.
I’ve been testing the Galaxy S10 Plus while also using it to cover the MWC conference in Spain, so I haven’t had a set routine to really dig into how well this works. That’s difficult when bedtimes and wake-up alarms are erratic, and when you can’t set a real “home” to use as a baseline test. I’ll be able to take a deeper dive once I’m settled back in San Francisco.
Gesture navigation: Navigation buttons are turned on by default, but you can unlock even more screen space by turning on gesture navigation in the quick settings menu. Turn it on and the bottom of the display expands, leaving you with three horizontal dashes in place of the buttons. To navigate, you lightly flick up to use them (they “bounce” back down). It’s not a difficult adjustment, and it’s always nice to have alternatives.
Kids Home: There’s a new a mode in the notifications setting called Kids Home, which opens a parent-protected profile/walled garden for kids to take photos and download apps. Young kids, that is. Older ones would roll their eyes and scoff, then find out the password and change all your language settings.
Wireless PowerShare really works
I love this feature, which will charge any other Qi-enabled device when you place it on the Galaxy S10’s back. Samsung isn’t the first to implement this, but it’s a real asset, especially for topping up accessories, or giving your friend’s phone a boost. Wireless charging isn’t as fast or efficient as wired charging, but this does allow you to leave more cables at home, especially for short jaunts. I can see a scenario where you charge your phone overnight and charge up a second device on top of it.
Your phone will automatically turn it off when your phone hits 30 percent. Since battery life is so good, that should be plenty to get you through the rest of your day. Note that Wireless PowerShare won’t work if you have under 30 percent battery life remaining.
I’ve already used this naturally twice. The night I got the S10 Plus, I needed to use the new wireless power-sharing feature when I noticed that my Galaxy S9 Plus was down to 7 percent and going to die while I was still setting up the new phone. I was at dinner, with my cables in my hotel room, and hey, this is exactly what the feature’s meant for. So I turned it on and flipped it over and watched my battery climb back up to a barely healthy 13 percent.
Since the phones were back to back, with the Galaxy S9 Plus facing up, I could still tap and type away, as long as I was careful not to shift its position on the Galaxy S10 Plus’ back. I’m happy with this one.
The second time, my CNET en Español colleague Juan Garzón innocently asked how much battery life I had left, then asked if he could get a top-up. My battery drained from 57 percent to 30 percent, but he got from the low double digits back up to 30 percent, and both our phones still had hours of life to go.
Ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint scanner is in the right place
The fingerprint reader moves from the back of the phone to integrate with the screen. This is a good thing. It’s much more convenient that a rear-facing fingerprint reader, especially when it comes to using Samsung Pay or Google Pay for mobile transactions. (The Galaxy S10E has a fingerprint sensor in the power button, as will the Galaxy Fold.)
This fingerprint scanner is a big deal because it’s the first to use Qualcomm’s ultrasonic technology. That means it’s using sound waves to get a 3D image of your print. It’s billed as much more secure than an optical sensor, which essentially takes a 2D photo of your finger. but that seems to apply more to natural films of gunk and goo. When I squeezed an oily (and delicious) churro between my fingers and then tried to unlock the phone, I mismatched 20 times straight. Turns out, there is a limit.
I had issues with accuracy and speed at first, but it’s been more accurate since Samsung pushed out an update to reviewers. It seems to work best the more deliberate you are about the placement of your thumb. It’ll take a solid second to unlock, and you need to make sure you’re actually pressing the screen, not just skimming it. I also recommend scanning four fingers so you have backups. I used my right thumb twice, my left thumb once and my right index finger.
One other note: There’s no more iris scanning, which was a signature feature since the Galaxy S7. That’s an odd move for Samsung, which is typically a fan of More Features. You will still have Android’s built-in face unlock, but I don’t recommend using it because it isn’t secure enough for mobile payments. You can use it if you’d like something fast and convenient, but I’ll stick with security.
The real question is where’s Samsung’s version of Apple’s Face ID? It’s now trailing the iPhone in this feature by two years, which is something Samsung really, really hates to do. Now, without iris scanning, the brand has no facial recognition feature it can point to that’s secure enough for mobile payments (the Face Unlock option built into Android is not). Rumor has it that Android Q, the next version of Google’s software, will fold a secure Face Unlock into the code.
Perhaps Samsung is waiting for that, or holding back a feature for the Galaxy Note 10. We do know that Samsung is embracing 3D cameras on the phone’s front and rear. The Galaxy S10 5G will get one of each. Right now, Samsung’s saying those are for AR and portrait video, not for face unlock, but you never know if that’s a secret feature Samsung would light up if and when the Android Q secure face unlock rumor comes to pass.
Three rear cameras are pretty great
Testing a camera is a massive undertaking in itself, and Samsung has added a lot of elements. There are three cameras on the S10 Plus’ back (12-megapixel, 12-megapixel telephoto, 16-megapixel ultrawide-angle) and two on the front (10- and 8-megapixel, respectively).
Photo quality is very good overall, but I have some complaints about low-light mode in a section below. We’ll have plenty of deep dive camera shootouts and comparisons in the coming days, but here’s my general assessment for now.
Let’s start with this handy chart to compare the cameras on the S10 Plus to the other S10 phones.
Three cameras, three views: You can take a photo using any of the three lenses just by tapping the on-screen icon. I mainly shoot with the standard 12-megapixel lens, switching to the telephoto to go close up (2x) on a faraway detail, like the statue on top of a fountain, or to the ultrawide lens to fit more of my friends or the scene into the shot. Ultrawide angle has a 123-degree field of view, so it does distort the image slightly and you might notice that your friends look a little stretched.
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