With top tier smartphones pushing higher and costing more, it's created something of a gap between the sub-£500 market dominated by the likes of Honor, Xiaomi and OnePlus. Apple addressed this by launching the iPhone XR, which offers a very similar experience to the XS/XS Max.
Samsung, likewise, has launched a new sidekick flagship, called the Galaxy S10e. It doesn't have all of the same brand new sparkly features that the more expensive Galaxy S10 and S10+ have, but does that make it any less of a flagship, or is the experience much the same for a cut of the price?
Thanks to Vodafone UK for supplying the review unit loan.
- External fingerprint sensor (not in-display)
- IP68 water and dust resistant
- 142 x 70 x 7.9mm; 150g
Glance at it from the front and you could be forgiven for thinking the S10e is part of the iPhone X family. It has that flat screen with rounded corners and shiny rounded metal edges. But there's enough here on a second glance to dispel those initial impressions.
Firstly, there's no hint of that hefty notch that's become the silhouette synonymous with Apple's latest phones. Instead, the S10e has the single cutout camera within the display, similar to the Galaxy S10.
Secondly, the bottom bezel (or 'chin' as we so often call it) isn't the same thickness as the edges. It's thicker, which means the bottom corners of the screen don't perfectly fit in with the rounded corners of the frame. It's not terrible to look at, by any means, but it would look better if the screen stretched a little further and pushed closer into the bottom corners. Still, it's easily ignorable once you get used to the phone.
Now, because the Galaxy S10e doesn't have the in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor that the S10 and S10+ have, Samsung had to come up with a way to include a fingerprint scanner without adding hefty thickness to the screen's frame. Rather than put one on to the back, beneath the camera like previous phones, Samsung has built it in to the right edge, in the wake/sleep button.
It's placement is well considered. It's not exactly at the natural thumb height, which means you're unlikely to press and unlock accidentally. You have to slide the phone slightly to get to it, which is a minor inconvenience that staves off constant irritation at unintended unlocks. What's more, the volume and Bixby buttons are on the opposite side, which is so much better than, say, Sony's method of cramming them all together on the same side.
As a whole, the S10e is a neat package. The glass very subtly curves towards the metal edges, creating an almost seamless look and feel, while the polished metal gives it a real high-end look. With that said, the baby blue-ish tint on the prism white model does give it a bit of a "kids' phone" vibe, as does the dual camera protrusion with its silver finish.
- 5.8-inch AMOLED panel
- 1080 x 2280 resolution (438ppi)
- HDR10+ compliant
The interesting thing about this display is that it's smaller, at 5.8-inches, compared to the 6.1- and 6.4-inch displays of the bigger S10 and S10+. That makes for neater one-handed holding. But while the S10e's is a lower resolution (Full HD+ versus Quad HD+) the difference in terms of detail is quite minimal, because it still has in impressive pixel density and is built using the same OLED technology as its siblings.
Here's the crux: despite the S10 and S10+ having QHD displays, Samsung sets them to Full HD by default, so you have to go into the settings to max out the resolution, which we presume most people will not be doing.
A benefit of this screen is that it's completely flat - which means you don't get any of the slight distortion towards the edges that you might get on the curved edges of its bigger family members.
This means it's actually really great for gaming, watching movies or just about anything else you want to do on your phone. It's the ideal mobile Netflix screen, and if you choose the right HDR equipped shows, it can look really stunning.
Performance, battery and One UI
- Exynos 9820 processor
- 6GB/8GB RAM
- 128GB/256GB storage
- 3,100mAh battery
- Android Pie-based One UI
We've spoken about the changes in Samsung's software already - take a look at our detailed feature, here - and whicever Galaxy S10 model you choose the software is identical. So we won't go into too much detail on that here, except to say that it's equal parts great and also not so great.
We love the fluidity of the animations, the new overall shape and feel of notifications, the recent apps and app drawer. We're not big fans of the new default app icons though, as they seem a big too colourful and child-like. What's more, certain apps and screens just have too much space in them. Swipe down on Settings, for example, and the top "Settings" menu name fills half the screen.
The important thing is that it all runs really smoothly and effortlessly using the new Exynos processor. It doesn't seem to matter what game or app you load, it does so without a stutter. It's very responsive and quick.
Similarly, battery life never caused us an issue either. It may only be 3,100mAh (compared to 3,400mAh and 4,100mAh in the other S10 models), but it's powering a smaller, lower resolution screen, and therefore this battery lasts comfortably through a busy work day. Just charge it every night and we don't foresee any battery life shortage issues. It's got generally all most people need.
There's versatility and convenience in charging too, with both wired and wireless charging options available. On the downside, however, Samsung seems to be lagging behind the likes of Oppo and Huawei when it comes to charging quickly. The S10e has 15W fast-charging - which isn't anything close to the rapid charging that either of the big Chinese companies offer. If you're a "plug it in at night and leave it 'til morning" kind of person then this won't bother you, but it won't fill up as much in that quick 15-20 mins before rushing out as you'd be able to achieve with Oppo's 50W Super VOOC charging or Huawei's 40W SuperCharge.
- Dual camera
- 12MP dual-aperture primary
- 16MP ultrawide
Hardware and performance of the camera on the S10e is just like the S10 and S10+ - except its missing the telephoto 2x zoom lens. That means you get the ultra-wide and the primary 12-megapixel wide camera.
We won't go into too much detail here, since we've already covered it in the Galaxy S10+, but results and performance is great in most conditions. There's plenty of fun to be had with AR emoji and the super slow-motion video.
The one place Samsung currently doesn't match its rivals is in night modes. With the likes of the Google Pixel, Huawei and Oppo phones all offering super night modes of various degrees, Samsung needs to advance here.
Still, photos from the S10e in moderate-to-good light come out sharp and well balanced, allthough sometimes have a tendency to come out a little overexposed from the main camera.
On the whole, the Samsung Galaxy S10e is a powerful, palm-friendly smartphone that's ready to compete head-on with the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3. And in many ways it comes out on top.
It would be easy to point at the S10e's feature list and say it's not as exciting as the Galaxy S10 or S10+. But having used it for a while, we've come to realise it's not really missing anything that matters - except maybe that telephoto zoom camera and the in-screen fingerprint sensor.
We might've come in expecting to be critical of this lesser featured Galaxy phone, but we've come away wanting nothing. In many ways it's simply the smaller Galaxy option for those who don't want a giant phone. By no means is it the poor-man's Galaxy we thought it might be.
Google Pixel 3
Like the S10e, the Pixel 3 packs all the flagship punch it can muster into a compact, well-designed package. Pixel's strength, however, is regular software updates which include security updates, as well as a very clean pure Android user interface. What's more, Night Sight camera is super.
Design-wise, the iPhone XS does share a few similarities with the S10e, namely size and the shape of the frame and bezel. However, this is Apple's hardware, which means Apple software and all the benefits that come from being in the ecosystem, including more widely support contactless payment and Face ID.
The P30 is to the P30 Pro what the S10e is to the S10+, i.e. it's small, missing a couple of features, but still powerful and very much a flagship.