The middle model in Samsung's new Galaxy S10 line-up hits all the right notes.
The Galaxy S10 is the ‘standard' model in Samsung's high-end offering. It's flanked on the one hand by the very slightly larger, and notably pricier, Galaxy S10 Plus, and on the other by the slightly smaller and lower-cost Galaxy S10E. The differences are subtle, amounting to a few pixels, or a few gigabytes of storage, more or less.
I had a chance to spend some time with the Galaxy S10, and came away with an appropriate respect for the new model.
With the wide selection of phones available these days, the exact choice is sure to be personal. Of the three Galaxy S10 models, the ‘plain' S10 is quite reasonably the default. It's got the same processor as its siblings, battery life squarely between them. Personally, I might go for the slightly smaller S10E; some might eagerly pay a premium for the S10 Plus for its 1TB storage option, or its slightly longer battery life.
That said, any of the three models would likely keep most users very happy.
The first thing you notice with the Galaxy S10 is the gorgeous display. But it takes a moment to identify the subtleties that make it visually impressive. Of course, it's an AMOLED panel, HDR10+ certified, and therefore conspicuously bright, clear and color-true. Only by reading the specs can one discover that resolution is a ridiculous 3040x1440 - considerably higher than that of my 24-inch desktop monitor. Given the 6.1-inch screen size, this results in a dot pitch of 550ppi, fine enough that individual dots simply can't be discerned with the naked eye.
Of course, the really novel thing about the display is that it's one of the first to fill essentially the entire front of the phone, with just a sliver of black bezel at top and bottom. It's also one of the first to relegate the user-facing camera lens to an inconspicuous black dot at the upper right. This gives the S10 display an elegant and seamless look that was conspicuously lacking with the previous generation of ‘notched' screens.
The glass front of the S10 has gently rounded edges that make the display seem to wrap around slightly. It's a pleasant effect, both to the eyes and the fingers. Other than that there's little to say. Text in my ebook reader (Mantano) was painfully crisp, perfectly legible down to leagalese fine-print size. My best photographic efforts looked spectacular, vibrant and rich with fine detail.
As one would expect from the latest octa-core Snapdragon 855 processor, responsiveness was snappy at all times. Opening apps, flipping pages, browsing the Web, watching video... everything felt notably more fluid than I'd experienced even on phones just a few months older than the S10. This is just what you'd hope to experience with a brand-new high-end phone.
I did have somewhat mixed feelings about the controls. The on-screen virtual ‘buttons' of the S10 have a disconcerting knack for not being there when you want them. It's great that apps can use the entire screen, but I think we've reached a practical limit in trading off display area against convenient control placement. Not a big deal - but we can at least hope that Google will come up with some new interface ideas in the next version of Android.
One other minor point: the Galaxy S10 is by far the slipperiest phone I've ever handled. Anyone who acquires one should be sure to pick up some sort of case or skin in the same shopping trip. The front and back of the S10 feel equally slick and glassy, with only the slightly protruding lens area to differentiate them. Textured, rubbery or leathery phone cases seem to be out of vogue these days, but they do have their advantages.
I didn't really challenge the Galaxy S10 camera's capabilities, but I can say that it took amazing pictures even in the near-darkness of my office space. The ultra-wide-angle lens produced impressive field of view, and would undoubtedly be a lot of fun to play with.. I won't dump my DSLR just yet, but I wouldn't feel seriously handicapped if all I had with me was the S10.
As far software, the Galaxy S10 came with Android 9. I'm becoming less and less sensitive to changes between Android versions, but they continue to feel marginally slicker with each increment.
The Samsung windowing enhancements are fun to play with. Using Samsung's slide-out tray (at the right of the screen, by default), it's easy enough to open multiple apps in pop-up windows, over top of one another. Windows can be sized, moved and made transparent.
The effect is quite impressive on a phone, but clearly not as desirable as on a huge desktop screen. S10 users would need to invest some time getting comfortable with the various options, but some will undoubtedly find the effort worthwhile.
Like all Samsung phones, the Galaxy 10S comes with a moderate serving of software add-ons. The slide-out Apps Edge panels are kind of nifty, and add some real value. Other items, such as the Samsung web browser or Samsung Music, are easily surpassed by free or cheap apps.
The one thing I do find annoying is the inability to change desktop wallpaper without going through Samsung's store. I happily pay for apps, when I can find a good one, but paying for a minimalist JPG (the kind that works best for wallpaper) seems unnatural. My usual solution is to install Nova Launcher right away on a new device. This gives me far more control, including the ability to install my own JPG wallpaper. (Apps Edge remained accessible, and I had no trouble running apps in windows.)
Naturally, the Galaxy S10 has the new Type-C USB port, which is a huge improvement over the previous asymmetrical ports. And it retains the standard headphone jack, which will remain a must-have for myself and many other audiophiles.
It almost goes without saying that the Galaxy S10 is the best smartphone I've tried - given that it's the newest and the priciest. But more importantly, it's a phone I actually wouldn't mind owning and living with, offering many nice features and no notable caveats. It sets a high mark for other phone makers to shoot at.