(Pocket-lint) - Samsung announced not one, but four Galaxy S10 models in 2019. Two of those were updates to 2018's S9 models (the Galaxy S10 and S10+), one was a cheaper version (the Galaxy S10e), and the final model - the 5G option on review here - quietly slipped into the background.
That's because the Galaxy S10 5G but didn't really have anywhere to show off its skills, because 5G networks hadn't launched in many regions. But with 5G now rolling out in a number of regions - we've been testing Vodafone and EE in London - Samsung finds itself in the unusual position where this S10 has a rival within its own ranks from the Galaxy Note 10 5G.
If you're looking to future-proof your connectivity with a 5G handset, then does Samsung's 5G S10 make the best sense?
Design that's already dated?
- Dimensions: 162.6 x 77.1 x 7.94mm / Weight: 198g
- Prism Green, Prism Blue, Prism Black & Prism White
- IP68 water- and dust-resistant construction
The S10 5G is essentially a super-sized S10+. Yes, it's even bigger still, making it the largest in the series. It comes with an Infinity-O display, glass back and a metal frame, fusing the whole lot together.
Like other 5G competitors, such as the Oppo Reno 5G or the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, this Samsung is a big handset and pretty heavy, too, although it's notably lighter than those rival models and so feels a little more manageable in daily use.
By comparison, the Note 10+ is only fractionally larger, but thanks to that device's change in the display it has reduced the bezels, giving a higher screen-to-body ratio. That in itself isn't a deal-breaker, but with the Note only offering a single central punch-hole camera and the Galaxy S10 5G sporting what looks like a slug crawling in from the right-hand corner, it does leave you wondering how valuable Samsung now considers that array of front sensors on this phone.
Flip the S10 5G over and there's a nice clear expanse - and there are some mature colour choices to go along with it - but that broad stretch of camera makes it look a bit like a pillbox. You half expect a Captain Mainwaring to poke the muzzle of his pistol out to defend the beaches.
That Samsung shifted the design completely on the Note 10 to reduce the overall impact of that four-sensor camera array says a lot. That Samsung also ditched the Bixby button on the side says a lot too. But the S10 5G does hang on to the 3.5mm headphone socket. It could be the last of a dying breed - and we're not even joking.
So there's a dollop of conventionality about the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, demonstrating Samsung's skill in design, but it's also framed against a newer model that instantly dates it. Of the 5G devices we've seen so far - and we're mainly eyeing up the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G - the Samsung is one of the best executed, however, simple because it's not quite as big and heavy.
Dazzling display, with a hole
- 6.7-inch 19:9 aspect ratio Dynamic AMOLED screen
- HDR 10+ high dynamic range support
- Quad HD+ resolution (1440 x 3040)
Samsung is the name in smartphone displays (many other brands use them) and the huge S10 5G shows why. It sports those curves which help give the appearance of a slimmer phone, while it also supports HDR (high dynamic range) formats, aiming to give you a better visual experience. It's big, bright and bursting with colour.
What Samsung does so well is deal with brightness. There's a power behind its displays that pushes reflections aside. It tends to push a little hard which can sometimes mean the display eats a little more battery life than a rival might - but it sure looks good doing it.
Now, we've mentioned the punch-hole camera on this phone, which is the biggest occluded section of display you'll find on the current Galaxy family. It's a bigger black-out section than the S10+, as it adds an additional 3D depth sensor on the front. We'll talk about the cameras themselves later, but you can't help but look at it and wonder if a notch might have been better - or just fewer sensors. We suspect Samsung thought the same thing, hence the single central punch-hole on the Note 10.
In real use, the S10 5G's punch-hole (or punch-strip, really) means that some of the system icons - such as battery life and connection - are pushed into the centre of the display. It doesn't feel as balanced as it should, visually, when using this phone on a day-to-day basis.
Notably the S10 5G's main rivals have pop-up front cameras. But even as it stands, that mini distrction on the screen doesn't matter as much as it first seems. You can pinch-to-zoom into a YouTube video and have it fill all of the display, so you won't feel you're really missing anything critical up there in that corner. For most apps in landscape orientation, you'll find that they square-off that section of the display, too, just as they would with a notch, and never use it anyway.
The S10 5G makes for a great media phone. It's lovely for catching up on video content or watching movies thanks to its physical size. Dark scenes can see shadows getting a little crushed, but that's not uncommon on AMOLED devices of this type. When it comes to movies (or even games) the addition of Dolby Atmos on the audio front is great. Sure, it's not full Dolby Atmos, but it lifts and widens the sound for a more immersive experience if you don't want to use headphones. You'll find some vibration coming through the back of the phone from the bass, but we'd rather have that than put up with a thin soundtrack.
- Octa-core 8nm processor, 8GB RAM
- 256GB storage
- 4500mAh battery
Sitting on similar hardware to the other flagship Samsung Galaxy S models, the eagle-eyed will have clocked that, again, this platform has been surpassed by the Note 10's later 7nm hardware (for those in Europe and the UK, using the Exynos 9825). Thanks to Samsung's regional variance in hardware, some will find the S10 5G equipped with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, others the Exynos 9820. In real terms, only benchmarking aficionados will likely notice the difference in results. In our experience there's plenty of power in the Galaxy S10 5G.
Thanks to 8GB of RAM the S10 5G skips along with performance being smooth and fast, offering very much the same experience as the Galaxy S10+. However, we also found it can warm a little during a session of an intensive game - PUBG Mobile for example - but not to a worrying degree. And if we're competing in the speed stakes then there are times that the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G might just feel a little slicker, but a lot of this comes down to software design.
There's 256GB internal storage, which is plenty. But there's no support for microSD, which is a rarity from Samsung on a flagship device.
There's an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner under the display. Using ultrasonic tech means it can be a little more forgiving that then optical versions you'll find elsewhere - although you do need to get used to pressing the display with the correct force - otherwise it will complain. For us, it's become a seamless unlocking experience and works every time.
There's also a 4500mAh battery stuffed into this phone, which accounts for much of the size and the weight. That gives long battery life, in light use over a day, but in heavier use, when out crunching 5G and smashing your way through Wizards Unite, you'll find it drops a lot faster. Still, it's not hard to make this phone last the full day.
A 5G experience
We tested the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G on Vodafone's new 5G network in London (it's also available on EE). As 5G is so new, deployment is only just starting and you need to consider if there's going to be a network you can access in your area. For those in city centres that's happening across 2019 and will continue to expand for the life of this phone.
But for those in rural areas, it might be a number of years before there's any change in the network speeds. Even in many suburban areas there hasn't been a change, so if you spend most of your time out of the city centre then the 5G side of this phone might not be relevant to you - and you'll be better off looking at the Galaxy S10+ where you'll probably find a cheaper deal for a phone much the same in performance.
But once you do find 5G, you'll enjoy a faster mobile experience. Things happen in a flash, there's no delay in downloads or maps appearing. One of the big benefits is that even when there's a lot of network traffic that cripples 4G, the 5G network will still offer decent speeds.
So many cameras
- Quad rear: 12MP main, 16MP ultra-wide, 12MP telephoto, 3D depth camera
- Dual front: 10MP, 3D depth sensor
- 3D sensor for AR
We've said that the cameras on the Galaxy S10 5G are a little ugly. Let's start on the front. The reason why that cut-out is so big is because of the additional 3D depth sensor, which is designed to give more depth information to allow for more accurate depth separation in those blurred-background selfie portraits.
The sensors are all doing something, because if you cover them up it will complain and refuse to perform particular functions. There's an option to have normal or wider selfies, but despite appearing to have two lenses on the front camera, they both come from the same lens - the "normal" view is just cropped slightly.
But what about performance? The front camera will do some great things, but the beauty mode can make you look rather artificial and can lead to some really poor low-light photos, so we'd be tempted to turn it off. The separation - or live focus - is pretty good and we like the effects you can apply to them too, but it's little different to the single lens Galaxy S10.
Ultimately, we don't think that all those sensors on the front are any great benefit (and we suspect that Galaxy Note 10 reviews will find the same).
Switch to the rear camera and we've long been fans of Samsung's performance. Solid HDR, effective portrait modes (offering zoomed or wider views now) and a swift experience make this a competitive camera. But it's not class-leading and it can't zoom as well as others - and there's a noticeable drop in quality once you switch to the telephoto lens.
The wide-angle is fun though. It's a fairly recent addition to the Galaxy family, but with phones like the Huawei P30 Pro knocking it out of the park in the camera department, Samsung has some way to go to compete - especially on longer zoom and low-light shooting.
Then we come to that final sensor, the 3D DepthVision part. This is designed to give more depth information and allow certain AR functions. So it's not really part of the camera in the photography sense.
One of those AR applications is through the quick measure app from Samsung that can identify the size of a space and give you measurements. Yes, it's a little niche, but you can point it at a mirror, for example, and it will give you the measurements. We've also got it to identify the measurements of an alcove on three axes, which is really clever.
However, as with all these implementations so far, it's sometimes a bit hit and miss. In real terms, as it stands, it's hardly worth buying a phone for this until there are a lot more applications and assured accuracy.
Software tells a familiar story
- Google Android 9 operating system
- One UI user interface
Users of Samsung phones will find that the Galaxy S10 5G looks exactly like other Samsung phones when it comes to the interface (UI). It is running Samsung's latest One UI on Google's Android 9 Pie, just like the Galaxy S10 models and most other flagship devices from the past couple of years.
Samsung is one of the heaviest manipulators of Android, but it's also comprehensive and packs in a lot of functionality that other phones don't offer. Sure, it's the same experience across a full range of devices, but it's one that we like. While the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G offers OxygenOS (which is closer to the look of stock Android), One UI is distinctly and unashamedly Samsung.
That can lead to some delays in updates - we're sure that OnePlus will get updates long before Samsung gets around to it - but with Samsung you don't feel like you're missing features, because often it's Samsung that introduces new ones which are then adopted elsewhere in the Android world.
One UI is easy to use and in many places has been optimised for big phones. For example, when you open the settings menu the top half of the display is empty space. Some have called this out as a waste, but it's actually clever design, meaning that when you're using it one-handed you don't have to stretch so far.
Samsung's edge panels also offer shortcuts and features with an easy swipe and there's heaps of optimisation too. There's so much going on in the software that we'd definitely recommend you look through the detailed tips and tricks we've put together for Samsung One UI. It's easily better than Xiaomi's MIUI or Oppo's ColorOS.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is an accomplished device. The experience very much comes through as a 'Galaxy S10++' with a little more screen, a little more battery life and a few more camera sensors. And 5G connectivity, but of course.
Whether 5G is something that you need right now will depend on what network access you have, which is going to be defined by geography. Your choice of handsets is slightly limited right now too, from the affordable Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G to the chunkier Oppo and OnePlus rivals. We'd probably take the Samsung in that contest because it's not quite as heavy - but personal software preference is also a big part of that.
But we can't help feeling that in cramming in all the extras to try and make this the best of the S10 models, Samsung hasn't really done itself a favour. The mass or cameras don't really move the experience forward and the hole in the display is of questionable value at the end of the day.
Then there's the Galaxy Note 10+, which offers slightly uprated specs and a design that tidies up those cameras. And for the same price point. Even if you don't use the integrated S Pen stylus, unless you're getting a very good deal on the S10 5G then we'd seriously consider the Note 10+ instead.
Thank you to Vodafone for the loan of this test review device.
This article was originally published on 1 April 2019 and has been updated to reflect real-world use as a full review.
Alternatives to consider
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G
OnePlus is an EE exclusive in the UK, but it offers a great, fast 5G experience, with top-notch specs to match. It's an accomplished device with nice clean software and competitive cameras.
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
The Mi Mix 3 5G is the most affordable of the 5G devices out there. Although the software isn't as mature as that from Samsung, this phone offers an innovative slider design, powerful hardware and will leave more cash in your pocket.