Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: A phone of rare distinction

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: A phone of rare distinction


It’s rare that I come away from reviewing a smartphone with as many positive vibes as I have with the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus. Normally, I’d run the tests, analyse the results and use the phone awhile then move on – after writing a few choice words about it, naturally.

But the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is different. Not because it’s the biggest smartphone launch of 2019 so far, or because it’s the first phone of the year to have next-generation silicon and the first big major manufacturer to go with a notch-reducing hole-punch camera.

It’s because this is the first smartphone I’ve reviewed in ages that brings everything together as a whole; a phone that delivers all the shiny new features with no significant caveats, and one that not only focuses on innovations but hangs on tenaciously to the practical features that so many users really value.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: What you need to know

The Galaxy S10 Plus is one of three Samsung smartphones launched in February 2019. The company’s latest flagship handset runs Android 9 Pie with Samsung’s own launcher software firmly overlaid on top. It has a 6.4in edge-to-edge display with a hole-punch selfie camera cut-out instead of a notch, and it has a barrage of cameras – three at the rear and two at the front.

Other new features include an “ultrasonic” in-screen fingerprint reader and reverse wireless charging that, like the same feature on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, allows you to charge other phones and accessories – such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds – simply by placing said device on the rear of the phone.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Price and competition

It’s a painful truth but it needs to be said: the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is gut-wrenchingly expensive. SIM-free prices for Samsung’s flagship start at £900 for the 128GB model, which rises to a buttock-clenching £1,099 for the 512GB version and £1,399 for the one with 1TB of storage.

To cast those prices in a more positive light, they are more reasonable overall than what Apple is asking for its iPhone Xs Max (£1,099 for 64GB, £1,249 for 256GB and £1,449 for the 512GB) and you do get a more generous allocation of storage for that money.

Where Samsung gets into trouble, however, is when you start looking at the rest of the opposition. The forthcoming Xiaomi Mi 9 is probably the closest comparison. It’s the first smartphone to come with the Snapdragon 855 inside – that’s the Qualcomm equivalent of the S10 Plus’s Exynos 9820 chip – it also has three cameras on the rear and a 6.4in display. The big difference is that it’s expected to cost a mere £450. Yes, folks, that’s half the price of the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Features and design

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is the first Samsung flagship I’ve used for a while that feels as if it hasn’t been designed by committee. It isn’t the prettiest smartphone I’ve ever laid eyes on but there’s a pleasing sense of symmetry to the horizontally-arranged triple camera array on the rear that was sorely lacking on the Samsung Galaxy S9+. There’s also a neat elegance to the dual hole-punch camera on the front.

The phone is available in a variety of different finishes, all of which look pretty good to my eye. There are four “prism”  colours to choose from – white, green, blue and black – each of which has an attractive pearlescent appearance. There are also two ceramic-backed models in white and black. I was sent the prism white model and, although it won’t be to everyone’s taste, I like the way it picks up an orange glow when light reflects off it.

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Plus there’s a host of elegant touches that elevate the S10 Plus above the competition. I particularly like the animated “snake” that chases its tail around the perimeter of the hole-punch camera to indicate it’s looking for a face to unlock itself with.

With Gorilla Glass 6 at the front and Gorilla Glass 5 at the rear, as well as an iPhone-esque chrome frame, there’s a sense of opulence here that few phones I’ve reviewed can match. The only negative feelings I have towards the look and feel of the thing, in fact, surround the rear panels’ over-eagerness in picking up muck and grease. It’s certainly not the easiest thing to clean, either.

Despite this, I’m of the opinion that the S10 Plus is Samsung’s most elegant smartphone to date. It is, quite simply, exquisite.

Part of what allows Samsung to achieve such clean, uncluttered lines is that the fingerprint reader has been moved from its previously ugly square housing to the front, beneath the screen. This is clearly advantageous for the phone’s aesthetics but I’ve not, so far, been a fan of in-screen fingerprint readers. I’ve found them to be slower and considerably less accurate than regular fingerprint readers – the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s sensor is particularly annoying.

Samsung says that this new fingerprint reader is different to most. It uses Qualcomm’s ultrasonic technology, which works by bouncing sound waves off your finger to capture a 3D image of the ridges and patterns. This is instead of the optical sensors employed by most other phones, which are only able to capture a flat image. I’d say it works considerably more reliably than Huawei’s optical sensor, but that’s not saying much. It’s still not all that quick in comparison with Samsung’s excellent facial recognition.

With more practical considerations in mind, there’s a lot to like here. As highlighted at the top of the review, Samsung has to be applauded for sticking to its principles and retaining the headphone jack, second SIM slot and microSD expansion when so many rivals are mindlessly aping Apple and ripping them out of their phones.

Not only that, but because it isn’t using some over-complicated mechanism to hide away the cameras, the Galaxy S10 Plus is still water and dust-resistant with an IP68 rating. This ensures that a quick dunk in the bath or a drenching with tea won’t necessarily kill it stone dead.

Samsung’s engineers have also found it within their powers to add new features, including reverse wireless charging – dubbed Wireless Power Share – which allows you to give a friend, or an accessory such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds, an emergency top up. You have to enable the feature via the quick settings pull-down menu, which is a touch fiddly, but it’s better than on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, where the feature is only accessible by delving into the power saving settings.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy S10: What’s the difference?

It can’t have escaped your notice that the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus isn’t alone in the S10 line up. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy S10 to consider, which is £100 cheaper than the S10 Plus (£799). So what’s the difference between these models and should you consider them?

Let’s take the S10 first. The main difference between this phone and the S10 Plus, other than the price, is that it’s smaller. It has a 6.1in edge-to-edge display instead of the S10 Plus’ 6.4in screen and, as a result, it’s slightly narrower, shorter and lighter.  It’s exactly the same thickness, though, at 7.8mm

Samsung Galaxy S10  Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
Width 70mm 74mm
Height 150mm 158mm
Thickness 7.8mm 7.8mm
Weight 157g 175g (198g Ceramic)

The other key differences between the Samsung Galaxy S10 and the S10 Plus are the battery, which is smaller at 3,400mAh vs 4,100mAh, and the selfie camera which is a single unit to the S10 Plus’ dual front shooter. The S10 also isn’t available with 1TB of internal storage, but that’s a crazy expensive phone anyway.

I can’t say how the smaller battery affects battery life exactly because I haven’t yet been given one to test, but with a screen that’s exactly the same resolution and only slightly smaller, the chances are that it’s not going to be quite as good as the S10 Plus.

The single selfie camera has a handful of impacts. The first is that your  blurred-background portrait shots won’t look as nice and you won’t have the option of the wider-angle selfie mode. The second is that the hole-punch cutout is smaller and occupies less screen space on the S10. Which you prefer is up to you but, suffice to say, the rest of the S10’s features are precisely the same as they are on the S10 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Display

On paper, the Galaxy S10 Plus’s display is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. It measures 6.4in across the diagonal, has an aspect ratio of 19:9 and uses AMOLED tech to ensure effectively perfect contrast. Resolution is 3,040 x 1,440 but the phone comes set to display in 1,080 x 2,280 by default, which is a setting I’d recommend leaving it in for optimum performance and battery life.

There are some new technologies on display here, not least of which is the hole-punch camera. Instead of cutting out a notch from the top of the screen, Samsung has drilled a hole into it. Dubbed, rather preposterously, the “Infinity O”, this cut-out is technically very impressive, and its position in the top-right corner means it looks neater than the centrally-located notch of, say, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

The end result is still the same, however. A portion of the screen is permanently blacked out and the only measurable difference is that your notification and status widgets along the top of the screen are shifted in one block to the left, instead of being split in two.

The next new technology is what Samsung is calling “Dynamic” OLED, which amounts to a collection of new capabilities, namely a peak brightness of 1,200cd/m², 10-bit colour, support for HDR10+ content and reduced blue light emission (without having to enable eye comfort mode).

I can’t test for the reduced blue light emission and, to be frank, there isn’t much HDR10+ content around to view either but, on the other aspects, the S10 Plus’s display absolutely delivers the goods.

In technical testing, I measured screen brightness peaking at a dizzying height of 1,057cd/m² in automatic brightness mode, promising readability in even the brightest of environments.

The screen’s sRGB coverage in the default “Natural” colour mode is at 94.7%, with total volume of 97% (that’s very good), while in “Vivid” mode it’s pretty close to the DCI-P3 colour space used in most HDR playback.

Suffice it to say, this is a screen that is spectacularly good for watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. What I don’t like about it is that its curved edges are a little over-sensitive to accidental activation: if you’re reaching across with your thumb, for instance, your palm can contact the screen and prevent the thumb successfully pressing an onscreen control.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Performance and battery life

Thankfully, that’s a pretty rare occurrence. What you’ll notice with far more regularity is that the performance of the Galaxy S10 Plus is absolutely spectacular. Inside, it has Samsung’s latest and greatest mobile chipset: the 8nm Exynos 9820 (US customers get the 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 855), which is backed up by either 12GB of RAM if you’ve splurged on the 1TB model, or 8GB if you own the model with 128GB or 512GB of storage.   

Like the Snapdragon 855, the Exynos 9820 is arranged with a total of three CPUs. This consists of one high-performance dual-core CPU clocked at 2.73GHz, one mid-performance dual-core 2.31GHz CPU and an efficiency-focused CPU – a quad-core 1.95GHz ARM Cortex-A55 CPU. That might sound like gibberish to you, but it’s not that complicated really.

Think of it like a car with different drive modes: you select Sport mode when you want a more lively, responsive drive; Economy mode when you want to save fuel; and the standard mode for everyday driving when you want a balance between the two. The difference here is that there’s no driver and the phone is automatically switching modes, depending on the task at hand.  

This translates to barnstorming benchmark results and a slick, responsive-feeling experience all around. In the Geekbench 4 graphs below, you can see it performs slightly better than the Snapdragon 855-equipped Xiaomi Mi 9 for single-threaded tasks and slightly worse for multi-core.

It’s a similar story for gaming and graphics performance. In the GFXBench tests, we see a slightly lower frame rate for the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus than the Xiaomi Mi 9 when the test is run at native resolution, but that’s because the Mi 9 is driving a much lower resolution 1080p display. And, remember, if you ever want smoother frame rates from the S10 Plus, you can reduce the resolution at which graphics are rendered through the Display settings menu.

I also took the time to run some analysis of real-world gaming performance with PUBG Mobile and Shadowgun Legends using the Gamebench benchmarking tool. In both games, the S10 Plus performed well, even at full 3,040 x 1,440. With PUBG Mobile in Ultra mode (capped at 40fps in other words) and the highest quality settings available in native resolution, the Galaxy S10 Plus delivered a median frame rate of 38fps.

Shadowgun Legends is more demanding, so the median frame rate is slightly lower, but with the resolution and detail levels cranked all the way up, the S10 Plus still delivered a median frame rate of 33fps.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of its performance, however, isn’t related to how smoothly games play or how much grunt the processor can deliver, but rather how efficient the phone is.

In the battery tests, the phone lasted an impressive 21hrs 17mins while playing back a looped, low-resolution video. Compared with most flagship phones from the last few years, that’s a truly impressive result and only the Xiaomi Mi 9 with its lower -esolution Full HD screen does significantly better.

What does this mean for real-world battery life? Well, this is a phone that will comfortably make it through a day of hard use with room to spare. Pushing the phone to its limits for almost a week, with most days benchmarking and taking lots of photographs and video, I’ve not yet had to top up the charge before bedtime. That’s seriously impressive stuff.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Cameras

As with most modern smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus has a lot of cameras – five, to be precise, with three on the rear and two on the front.

Let’s address the rear camera array first. The primary camera is a 12-megapixel unit with dual-aperture (f/1.5 or f/2.4), just like the Galaxy S9+ from last year. Also like the S9+ it has a 12-megapixel, f/2.4 2x zoom camera. What’s new, though, is the ultra-wide-angle 16-megapixel, f/2.2 camera with a field of view equivalent to a 12mm full frame lens.

I haven’t finished yet, though. On the front, you have 10-megapixel (f/1.8) and 8-megapixel (f/2.2) cameras. The latter is used mainly as a depth sensor for portrait shots but it can also be called in to provide a slightly wider angle of view for group shots.

And that’s before you get to the video capabilities, which is another area where the S10 Plus excels. It’s able not only to shoot stabilised footage in 4K resolution at 60fps but also capture HDR10+ clips for video with improved dynamic range and ultra slow-motion footage, as well.

Phew. So, how about image quality then? Well, it’s superb, especially for colour rendition. This is one of those smartphone cameras that seems to be able to capture colours as you see them – they’re not under or over-saturated, and there seems to be a good balance between noise suppression and detail missing from its main rival on the camera front, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

^ Both the primary and telephoto cameras on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro do better at capturing more detail, although the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus’ colours are richer

For photographs, it lags behind the Mate 20 Pro when it comes sheer detail capture. The Mate 20 Pro’s 40-megapixel primary camera provides a vast amount of flexibility for cropping that the 12-megapixel images produced by the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus simply can’t match. In low light, that disparity is less noticeable due to Huawei’s heavy-handed noise suppression.

The same holds true, although to a slightly lesser extent, with the wide-angle camera. The Samsung captures 16-megapixel shots to the Huawei’s 20-megapixel images, and the wider angle of the Samsung’s camera accentuates this deficiency.

Clearly, the Galaxy S10 Plus holds an advantage in having that wider-angle view in the first place, though (and the images you can capture with this the wide-angle camera can be stunning, by the way) just be aware that distortion correction isn’t enabled for the ultra-wide camera by default. That means, when you first use the camera, straight lines at the periphery of photographs will look bent out of shape. To apply distortion correction and straighten out those lines in your images, you need to dig into the camera settings menu in the “Save options” section. Enable the option titled “Ultra wide shape correction”.

^ The primary camera shot above captures far less of the scene than the ultra wide-angle image below

The Samsung pulls ahead of the Mate 20 Pro for colour rendition, too. Blue skies are cleaner-looking and richer in tone, while the brickwork, whites and subtleties in the clouds all look more natural on the S10 Plus’ images than the slightly muddy looking tones of the Huawei phone.

Video footage also appears smoother, crisper and more professional, although steer clear of the HDR video mode for now if you want to download and view clips on a desktop PC as the files won’t display properly. I’d also prefer zooming to be smoother like it is on the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max.

The camera also performs well for portrait images and the dual selfie camera is good at this, too. The quality of images from the front-facing cameras does dip noticeably in low light, however, turning skintones a ghostly shade of pale.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Software

Equally impressive as the overall quality of the camera package is the simplicity of the camera’s software interface and its general speed and responsiveness in use. Toggling between the wide angle, primary and zoom cameras is achieved simply and easily by tapping the control in the bottom-centre of the camera preview screen and you can switch modes by swiping left and right. One particularly nice feature is that the portrait blur (or bokeh) effects are previewed live on screen and change as you increase or reduce the intensity.

That simplicity isn’t restricted to the camera app, as this is a complexion that’s reflected elsewhere in the phone’s new interface. Dubbed One UI, this has to be the best software Samsung has ever put on any of its smartphones. Now, I’m not saying that the S10 Plus matches the sheer elegance of the Google Pixel 3’s sublime Pixel launcher but it’s close and in the period I’ve had the phone for testing I’ve been loving it.

It’s packed full of nice little details, from the animated highlighting that surrounds the front-facing camera momentarily when you switch to the front-facing camera, to the sheer customisability of much of the interface. It’s even possible to adjust the intensity of vibrations at different levels for calls, notifications and touch interactions. Samsung’s One UI is not only clever, though – it also has a cleaner look than previous generations of Samsung’s phone UI and a sense of immediacy and snappiness that makes the phone feel as good as it looks.

There are niggles here and there, of course, as there always are with new software implementations. Samsung remains insistent on pre-installing its own version of apps that Google has perfectly good software for – Samsung’s email, calendar, web browser and gallery, for instance – and I’d question some of the default settings as well.

After transferring software across, I had to dig around in the settings to organise the app drawer alphabetically because the app icons were scattered around all over the place. And I wasn’t too impressed with the do not disturb settings, which by default come set to allow calls through from your favourite contacts.

Still, aside from those little niggles, One UI is a pleasure to use and, naturally, Samsung has packed it full of options and nuggets you’ll discover as you use the phone. One of my favourites are the desktop icons for the phone’s clock and calendar apps, which update in real-time to reflect the current time and date.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Verdict

Samsung has clearly come to realise over time that it’s not good enough simply to create the best hardware if it wants to continue to dominate the market for non-Apple smartphones. It also needs to pay attention to its users and the way they interact with their phones.

In that sense, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is the most complete smartphone the company has produced to date. It is not only an elegant and well-considered design – a thing you actively want to pick up, to physically touch and hold – but it’s also a phone that begs to be used. From the camera interface to simple and easy-to-understand settings menu, the S10 Plus is, quite simply, a joy to use.

And yet, there’s no aspect of the S10 Plus that can be faulted from a technical perspective. The camera is stupendously good – both for stills and video – the display is sumptuous, the battery life impressive in its stubborn longevity and the performance as quick as a demanding modern smartphone user and gaming addict could possibly require. And it’s great that Samsung has seen fit to cling on to those critical, old-school features users love: the 3.5mm jack, dual-SIM and storage expansion capabilities.

The one and only critical stumbling block for the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is the price, which, as I’ve pointed out, is so much more expensive than the rival Xiaomi Mi 9 (although UK prices haven’t been announced, we expect the price to be around £450). And, let’s face it, there’s absolutely no way you could logically justify spending that much more on Samsung’s phone when the differences between the two are quantifiably so small. But if what you desire is the best, and nothing else will do, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus is here to give you just that.

Samsung Galaxy S10+ specifications

Processor Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9820 (2 x 2.73GHz, 2 x 2.2GHz, 4 x 1.78GHz)
RAM 8GB (128/512GB); 12GB (1TB)
Screen size 6.4in
Screen resolution 1,440 x 3,040
Pixel density 522ppi
Screen type Dynamic AMOLED
Front camera Dual: 10MP, f/1.9; 8MP, f/2.2
Rear camera Triple: wide 12MP, f/1.5-2.4; 2x telephoto 12MP, f2.4; ultra-wide 16MP, f/2.2
Flash LED
Dust and water resistance IP68
3.5mm headphone jack Yes
Wireless charging Yes
USB connection type USB Type-C
Storage options 128GB; 512GB; 1TB
Memory card slot MicroSD (up to 512GB) shared with 2nd SIM slot
Wi-Fi 802.11AX (Wi-Fi 6)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5
NFC Yes
Cellular data 4.5G, Cat20 (2Gbits/sec DL; 150Mbits/sec UL)
Dual SIM Yes
Dimensions (WDH) 74 x 7.8 x 158mm
Weight 175g (ceramic: 198g)
Operating system Android 9 Pie
Battery size 4,100mAh



jonathanb

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