The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is one of the most important phones of the year, and probably one of the best too.
But producing world-class phones is not easy. What makes a phone the talk of tech town one month won’t earn much more than a shrug when another company’s take on the idea arrives a few months down the line.
And that's the thing. The tech that makes the biggest impact on your day-to-day life in the S10+ was already shown off in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. And that phone is £150-170 less.
This is the Samsung Galaxy S10+ only real issue, along with a price that's enough to bring tears to your eyes. Just like last year, it starts at £899, and the 512GB version costs £1099.
Design and build: Bend and stretch
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is part of Android’s most important phone dynasty. You don’t throw out the formula with that kind of success, and Samsung hasn’t discarded the parts that made its flagship phones since 2015 so popular.
Why 2015? That was the year of the Galaxy S6, when Samsung went full throttle on metal and glass phones. There’s a direct line from that phone to this one.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ has curved Gorilla Glass on front and back, with a band of shiny aluminium that sits between. The Infinity-O display is the year’s big change. In the two other Galaxy S phones for 2019, the S10 and S10e, this involves just a little punch hole cut out of the OLED display, but the Samsung Galaxy S10+’s dual front cameras demand a bit more space.
This means its cut-out is much wider. It is more distracting, but if you can zone out to the extent you don’t see that black blip in the front, the phone has the most all-screen front of any phone that doesn’t have a slider mechanism - 93.1% screen-to-body ratio. And one of those brings its own problems, including a thicker, heavier frame and one more part that might break at some point
There’s some Samsung special sauce here too. The display bends around the curves at the side, allowing for screen surrounds that seem much slighter than those of any mainstream pure flat phone.
Samsung has also made no moves to put those who own earlier Galaxy S phones off. You still get a microSD slot and a headphone jack, which is becoming rarer by the month among top-end phones. None of the Galaxy S10+ direct rivals have one, which is kind of a big deal.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ also has IP67 water resistance and at least 128GB storage.
Its ultrasonic finger scanner is one of the tech tentpoles. A bunch of phones now have in-screen fingerprint scanners like this one, but most use an optical sensor, the equivalent of a little camera that takes a snap of your finger to see if it looks like the real deal.
This phone uses ultra-high frequency sound waves. The scanning is '3D' to an extent, and less likely to be derailed by a bit of crisp packet grease or finger moisture than the capacitive sensors of older Samsungs.
It is, to be frank, a bit weird, though. The scanner itself works fairly well, roughly on par with the optical sensor used in the OnePlus 6T. However, where optical pads light up whenever you get a finger near them, as this light is used to make your fingerprint visible, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ makes you guess where the pad is.
A few days in you get used to its position. But it’s the equivalent of a totally flat rear finger scanner you can find by touch. Yes, if you press the power button the Samsung Galaxy S10+’s display turns on and you can see where the pad is on the lock screen. The whole point of an Ultrasonic scanner is that it’s meant to be more reliable, and therefore quicker, though. Pressing the power button slows everything down.
When you get down to it, the real problem with tech in this area is that all the various solutions are great. Front finger pad? Great. Rear one? Perfect. Optical in-screen display? As long as it’s not one of the very earliest ones, why not?
Ultrasonic hardware has a neat backstory, but it doesn’t make the Samsung Galaxy S10+ a better phone in any meaningful way.
Display: Notch avoidance
But does the punch hole screen? This is the most obvious new addition this year. Samsung has avoided putting a notch in any of its flagship phones, jumping straight into this Infinity-O style instead.
We’ve already covered some of the reasons for mixed feelings here. The all-screen look is fantastic, but the chunk of display the cameras eat is obvious if, say, you watch a movie. It’s even more obvious in apps with white backgrounds. And it’s much bigger than that of the Galaxy S10 or Honor View 20. It’s part of the look here.
There’s no removing it either. Most notchy phones let you hide the bulge with a black bar. But Samsung has gone all in. The camera lozenge is there whether you want it or not. If Samsung did add this option it’d leave you with a great big lopsided bit of bezel at the top, which would look worse anyway.
To be honest, if you’re going to get offended by the Infinity-O screen for anything but movie-watching, it’s probably your problem rather than Samsung’s. When you use apps Samsung uses clever optimisation to make sure the hole doesn’t get in the way. It acts like part of the notification bar, but borrows the colour of the app’s own screen to blend in better.
All of Samsung’s usual OLED strengths are here too. This phone can go insanely bright, able to kick brightness up to 1200 nits on a bright day. It shrugs off direct sunlight. Colour is rich, contrast is superb.
Samsung has changed the screen customisations it allows this year, though. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ only has 'natural' and 'vivid' modes. In previous years you had a handful. It was a real doffing of the cap to the screen nerds. You could say it has sold out and gone mainstream. But can a line this popular actually “sell out”? Probably not.
Performance & software: Devil on horseback
So, why the customisation cutbacks? It’s all about the One UI. This is Samsung’s attempt to slim down its software and make it look more friendly.
For the most part, it’s fine. However, there’s one very odd choice. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ has just four rows of app icons as standard, which makes it look like a kids’ toy. And £1000 seems a bit much to pay for one of those.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ looks immediately more serious, ready for business, when you max out the number of icons to a 5x6 grid, as we have here. That you can still do this tells us One UI doesn’t really change the phone’s software that much. Most of the old goodies are still there under the surface.
Aside from the Age 4+ friendly approach to app icons, the settings menu gets the most concentrated shot of One UI’s simplified flavour. Menu items and fonts are way larger, and it seems a little less flat than last year. Fewer items on the top layer means you may have to dig down a bit further to find what you’re after. But, honestly, there’s not that much in it.
You can still use themes. You can still make folders in the app drawer. Digital Assistant Bixby is still here, perennially ignored by most like the ugly kid in a family obsessed with beauty pageants.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ also has the app timer features Google added in Android 9.0, handy if you want to try to use Twitter, FaceBook or YouTube less than you currently do. Warning: some self control is still required.
Performance is fab too. Better than last year? Or the Pixel 3 XL or Huawei Mate 20 Pro? Not really. Those phones were fast, and there’s actually not a huge performance boost here over the Huawei.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ has an Exynos 9820 CPU, in the UK at least. It has eight cores split into three groups. Four are in the C team, two make up the A-team elite and two sit in the middle, probably dealing with serious inadequacy issues.
It earns the Samsung Galaxy S10+ 9624 points in Geekbench 4. That’s not even close to the iPhone XS Max, and is almost the same as the Mate 20 Pro’s score. Buy the phone in the US and you’ll get a Snapdragon 855, which is more advanced and faster all-round. You can moan if you like, but this CPU brand split happens every year with top Samsungs.
It does have a punchier graphics chipset than the Mate 20 Pro, though, with two extra cores. And you can play processor-melting games like Ark Survival Evolved maxed out with no problems. If that isn’t the point of having a turbo-powered phone, what is?
Camera: Five to choose from
If you’re not bothered about the price, there are very few major reasons to criticise the Samsung Galaxy S10+. However, there is a sense hanging over the phone that Huawei got there first. The cameras are where this seems clearest.
On the rear, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ has three lenses - a 12-megapixel main sensor, alongside a 12-megapixel 2x zoom and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide. Three cameras, three views, just like the Huawei rival.
Before we dig deeper into how this compares to the big rivals, let’s get this out of the way first: this is a fantastic camera for all kinds of photography. Travel? Street? Gig? This thing is a wizard next to most other phones.
It taps any scene you can think of with its dynamic range wand and, kazam, everything comes out looking like you’ve spent 10 minutes tweaking it on Photoshop. Shoot in dark conditions or ones with extreme light variation and you can tell the extra-wide camera isn’t quite as good as the other two. But for most shots the image quality is pretty consistent between the zoom, normal and wide views.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a real photographer’s toy box, and the creative control having three focal lengths at your fingertips offers is fantastic. Just fantastic.
Samsung nails the transition between the three lenses better than most too, including the Mate 20 Pro. There’s no clunky delay, you just tap on the buttons by the shutter and in half a second or less you have a new view of the scene. Google Pixel purists may argue you should just “use your legs” and get closer or further away. But we’re not sure a picture of some ducks justifies wading into a pond and ruining a pair of Converse All Stars.
A true wide angle lens also lets you take pictures that aren’t possible with a standard-view camera. You can make buildings, trees and bridges seem to loom over you in your pics. Get your art photographer’s hat ready.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ has a great camera array, but is it better than the Mate 20 Pro’s? In several areas, no.
Huawei adds an even more “zoomed in” 3x view, letting you get closer to the action without, well, actually getting closer to the action. The Samsung Galaxy S10+’s wide also lacks autofocus. In the Mate 20 Pro this lets the wide act as a dramatic macro lens. Try that here and you’ll just end up with a blur.
Most important of the lot, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is not nearly as good at handling very low light scenes as the Mate 20 Pro or Pixel 3. Not yet, anyway. Those phone have a special AI-assisted mode that merges a camera roll’s worth of exposures to take miraculously clean and clear night images.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ does its best, and takes shots that look brighter than they appear to the naked eye. Both the zoom and standard cameras are stabilised too. Taking sharp pics at night is fairly easy. But it’s still a full generation behind the Pixel and Mate 20 Pro, which are real midnight riders.
The good news: Samsung is apparently working on one of these ultra-smart night modes. We don’t know when it’ll arrive, though. There’s a bug or two for Samsung to eradicate as well. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ lets you choose focal lengths between those of the actual lenses, but this often pops up when you haven’t asked it to. And as you can’t seem to take a photo while it’s there, it can cause real headaches. It clearly seems to be a bug, though, and may well be fixed by the time you get your hands on this phone.
Some of the neatest parts of the S10+'s camera are found in the video side of the Samsung Galaxy S10+. Super Steady is the real jaw-dropper. This turbo-charged digital image stabilisation makes your footage looks so smooth you might guess it had been shot using an action camera and a motorised gimbal.
It seems like magic, at least until you figure out how it works. Digital video stabilisation crops into the camera sensor’s view, and uses the image information outside of that to smooth out the wobbly bits. Super Steady shoots using the ultra-wide camera rather than the main one, so there’s absolutely masses of image data for the software to use.
There’s a hit to image quality, as Super Steady has a fixed focus and it only shoots at 1080p. But for zero-effort pro-level smoothness it’s a bit of a revelation.
If you’re not going to shoot video while running along as if someone’s after you with a knife, you can just use normal stabilisation at up to 4K, 60 frames per second. At this top setting the stabilisation is less effective as it uses the optical hardware. Software IS stops at 4K, 30 frames, but even that is impressive.
There are other toys too. Live Focus lets you take background blur shots with some funky radial blur effects. It’s good for close-up subjects, not so great at far-away ones. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ can capture HDR10+ video, and slo-mo down to 960fps.
Animojis, cartoon characters that mimic your mouth and face movements, have levelled up too. They now appear in their own “augmented reality” scenes, and the Samsung Galaxy S10+ can auto-design one based on your own face just by taking a selfie. Or, err, shooting a pic of a friend’s Facebook profile picture and using that to relentlessly mock them with an AR-assisted impression.
These Emojis rarely look much like the real thing, but it’s fun to play around with.
Actual selfies are great, and with two cameras to play, you can shoot wider-angle images, and use the effect-laden Live Focus mode you can also use with the rear camera. It doesn’t beat the Pixel 3XL in extreme lighting, but just about nothing does.
Battery life: Could be better
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ has one of the largest batteries among phones, a 4100mAh unit, and it pulls a few battery tricks too.
For example, the screen resolution is actually set to 1080p as standard. You have to hunt down the right settings menu option to switch it to full 1440p. The difference isn’t huge, though, as the Full HD image is still upscaled to use all those lovely OLED pixels anyway.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ battery can also not just charge wirelessly, but charge other gadgets wirelessly too. This feature is intended for Samsung’s Galaxy Buds earphones. It works with other Qi-compatible devices too.
Huawei got there first again, though. This feature is in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
How’s the actual battery life?
In a straight-line endurance test of video or gaming, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a pro. However, we’re a little surprised by quite how easy this phone is to drain with general use, compared to the Mate 20 Pro. We’re often left with around 50% charge by the afternoon, and a few times have had to use one of the invasive battery saver modes to make sure it lasted through the day.
This phone has solid enough one-day battery life. Real world longevity isn’t close to phones like the Mate 20 Pro and Moto G7 Power.
Samsung Galaxy S10+ Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a surprisingly sensible phone. Samsung has left the glittery tech fireworks of 5G and 3D depth cameras to the Galaxy S10 5G, to make sure you can appreciate every hit feature of this more mainstream phone right here, right now.
Its punch hole screen is as much of an audience divider as a notch, but is more practical than a slider. And the triple rear camera is masses of fun to play around with.
Still, the Mate 20 Pro keeps hanging around in the corner of our vision, and is a reminder of quite how brilliant Huawei phones are these days. It outlasts the S10+ with day-to-day use, and its ultra-wide camera and amazing Night mode make it even more of a flexible photographic gymnast. But, hey, that phone doesn’t have a headphone jack and there’s no worry your messages are being pinged straight to the Chinese government here... something Donald Trump would probably tell you is happening.