We're mere days away from Samsung's next Unpacked event, so the Korean conglomerate is all but ready to dish the details on the Galaxy S10 smartphone family. Not that we're totally in the dark, of course. As is the case in the lead-up to all flagship smartphone launches, the rumor mill has been picking up pace over the past weeks and months, giving us more than a few hints on what to expect on February 20th. The new Galaxy S10 range will obviously be the headline act, but Samsung's foldable phone is certain to make an appearance, and perhaps there'll be a few surprises that've thus far avoided the leak treatment, too.
Three smartphones (or four, or five)
There's way too much smoke around this for there not to be a fire raging somewhere at Samsung HQ. All fingers point to the company announcing a total of three smartphones at Unpacked. In addition to the S10 and S10+, which will be the natural successors to last year's S9 models, we'll also be welcoming the S10E to the family. The S10E is expected to be the iPhone XR of the trio: A slightly scaled-back flagship with a price tag that hovers an attractive distance below the $1,000 benchmark that's become all too familiar of late. Same branding, fewer Benjamins.
We're not completely clear yet as to what inevitable compromises the S10E will make compared to the S10 and S10+ proper, but a smaller screen size seems a dead cert. Case-centric leaks and other sources peg the S10E as having a 5.8-inch display, while the S10 and S10+ will bump that to 6.1 and 6.4 inches, respectively. The S10E is also expected to feature a flat display where the other two will retain a curvature to the screens at their sides.
These displays are eschewing the notch in favor of the "hole-punch" design that's undoubtedly going to be one of the smartphone trends of 2019. Instead of mustache hanging over the screen and taking up vital notification space, the only dead zone will be a small hole for the front-facing camera to poke through. We've seen this already in phones like Huawei's Nova 4 and Honor View 20, as well Samsung's own Galaxy A9 Pro launched in Korea last month. Not one for generic terms, Samsung's branding bods are calling these "Infinity-O" displays.
Leaked images show the S10+ has a larger, oblong hole-punch compared with the older two devices, which suggests it'll have dual selfie cameras. The extra space might not be a camera at all, however, and could instead host some sort of depth sensor for face-unlocking, à la Face ID. There has been the odd whisper about this being a new security feature, and could spell a quiet end for the iris scanner that's been part of the S-series for a few generations now.
Face-unlocking is still in the maybe camp, but there are many more little birdies chirping about the S10 and S10+ bringing in-display fingerprint readers to the table. These aren't that uncommon these days -- the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and OnePlus 6T being a few recent examples of phones that tuck the reader behind their screens -- but interestingly it's rumored that Qualcomm's ultrasonic sensor will be tasked with the job in Samsung's case. The ultrasonic nature of Qualcomm's take is said to be that more fool-proof and reliable compared with sometimes temperamental optical sensors.
Leaks suggest the S10E won't have an in-display fingerprint sensor like its pricier cousins, but its reader will be slightly untraditional all the same. Cases show the S10E to have a much larger than average power button, as it'll double as the fingerprint reader. You don't see this very often nowadays, but Sony used to marry these two aspects in its older devices (outside of the US, at least, where fingerprint sensors didn't become a given until last year).
The new S10 family aren't the only phones that'll be shown off at Unpacked. Samsung's oh-so-unsubtle teaser for the event heavily hints at its foldable phone making an appearance at the event, too. We briefly glimpsed a prototype foldable at Samsung's developer conference last year, but it was far from a consumer-ready model. A Samsung promo video leaked recently showed what appeared to be a much more refined device, but one that was too good to be true and likely, more special effects than reality. There's no telling exactly what the company plans to report on foldable development, but having seen the first true foldable device in the flesh at CES last month, chances are it probably won't be ready for primetime or mass-market consumption.
Strolling briskly back into the rumor mill, Wall Street Journal sources claimed last year that there's actually another, secretive S10 variant in development. It's supposed to be the biggest, with a 6.7-inch display, and boast six cameras in total -- two up front and four 'round back. Apparently, it would also be 5G-ready, which is a topic Samsung may well skirt around on February 20th since 5G isn't really a thing yet. Some have claimed the device will be called the S10 X, but it's been talked about so little since that it's unlikely we'll hear anything about it at Unpacked, if the handset even exists at all.
Samsung seems to have subscribed to "the more lenses the better" mantra that's pervaded the smartphone industry. Last year, the company launched a mid-range device with no less than four rear cameras, but it appears the S10 and S10+ will have to make do with three. The S10E, on the other hand, will ditch one of those for a standard dual-camera setup -- another comprise to account for its lower price tag.
There's some disagreement about exactly what specs will be attached to each of these cameras. Last fall, Samsung announced it had developed its own 32- and 48-megapixel smartphone cameras, and Sony revealed its 48-megapixel sensor a few months prior. It's not unreasonable to think that Samsung would throw these in-house components into its latest flagships, of course, but the company hasn't exactly chosen megapixel quantity over quality in the past. The Note 9, for example, sports two 12-megapixel sensors, one dual-aperture telephoto and one wide-angle -- and the Note 9 is an excellent cameraphone.
There's a decent chance, then, that the S10 family will stick around the 12- to 16-megapixel range and add an ultra-wide-angle lens (like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro) to increase shooting options on the S10 and S10+. From image leaks, we can see that the primary cameras will sit in a familiar rectangular frame, though they'll stretch horizontally across the backs of the devices like on the Note 9 and not vertically like on the S9 and S9+.
It's normal for Samsung to release two variants of its flagship devices: one with a Samsung chip, primarily for the Asian market, and one with a Qualcomm chip for elsewhere in the world. It's pretty much a given that Samsung's new Exynos 9820 processor and Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 855 will assume these roles in the S10 family. Both are geared towards power, efficiency, AI, speedy connectivity and that sort of thing.
Otherwise, there haven't been many credible leaks around different configurations. There are whispers that 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage will be the maximum spend (naturally, this will vary across the three models), but according to a quickly pulled pre-order page on Samsung's website in the Philippines, there will also be a special edition S10+ that pushes those figures. Apparently, this version will feature 12GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, which would gel agreeably with the announcement last month that Samsung had developed the first 1TB mobile flash chip.
A few months ago, Samsung revealed the next evolution of its Android skin, called One UI. The main thrust is it's meant to make bigger phones easier to use, grouping buttons and menus into specific interactivity zones, so you're not reaching all over the place to make things happen. One UI is scheduled for release right about now, so it will undoubtedly debut on the S10 family before rolling out to older devices. Samsung delivered a brief overview of One UI at its developer conference last year, but we reckon it'll get some airtime at Unpacked nonetheless.
In terms of specific features, the S10 range will apparently be graced by a new app called the Samsung Blockchain KeyStore, which will basically be an on-device cryptocurrency wallet. And digging deep on prior Samsung software has suggested a new camera mode called Bright Night will debut at Unpacked. Similar to Google's Night Sight and other low-light camera features, it's thought the mode will stitch multiple shots together to get the best out of gloomy situations.
If Samsung has any time left at its press conference, we might see mention of more updates to Bixby, too. The company said at CES that its putting its digital assistant in more places and that Google, among other partners, are beginning to play nice with the platform. Considering case leaks point to the S10 devices keeping the dedicated Bixby button used to summon the assistant, we'd be surprised if it didn't get at least an honorable mention on stage.
Joining the S10 range, Samsung is expected to announce a new pair of wireless earbuds at Unpacked, inventively called the Galaxy Buds (as confirmed by an update to Samsung's Galaxy Wearable app). What's interesting about these is that a credible image leak suggests they can be wirelessly charged by your phone. Huawei's Mate 20 Pro is the only phone that supports reverse wireless charging at the moment -- but not for long, it seems. Samsung's official cases mention a Wireless PowerShare feature, too, which is no doubt what it'll be named.
FCC filings appear to confirm that all S10 models will support the speediest, next-generation WiFi standard, 802.11ax, which would be a spec to look out for when upgrading your router at a later date. This marries up well with the thinking that Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 chip, which works with 802.11ax, will be Samsung's CPU of choice for international S10 handsets.
Not so much a new feature, more preserving one, but all relevant leaks show that Samsung isn't doing away with the 3.5mm headphone jack just yet. This isn't much of a surprise considering the S9 pair and more recent Note 9 have kept the port, but a relief for anyone that suspected Samsung might jump on the industry bandwagon of dropping it for a lone USB-C port and a Houdini dongle.
In terms of color options, there have been a number of images supposedly showing white, black and turquoise-green S10 models, as well as a canary-yellow option that might be exclusive to the S10E. There's also rumored to be a ceramic black variant that could be reserved for that special edition S10+, but we suspect colorful options might be more plentiful than what we've seen so far, given the many hues Samsung's mid-rangers have been sporting lately.
We expect Samsung to cover all this on February 20th and rumors point to the S10 family launching in earnest just a few weeks later on March 8th (though that special edition S10+ may come a few days later on March 12th).
A new smartwatch, plus Galaxy Home news?
Earlier this month, it was claimed that Samsung was crafting a new smartwatch dubbed the Galaxy Sport. An update to Samsung's Galaxy Wearable app later and we now know it'll be called the Galaxy Watch Active and appears to lack the rotating bezel that's been the hallmark of the company's smartwatches in the past. A pair of new fitness-centric bands called the Galaxy Fit and Fit e (there's that "e" again) are also imminent, meaning Samsung could literally have a few new wearables up its sleeve for Unpacked. Or these could be launches the company's saving for Mobile World Congress at the end of February.
We haven't heard much about Samsung's Galaxy Home smart speaker since it was first announced last August, and it seems strange we're still in the dark about a release date. The Bixby prison did do the rounds again at CES last month, though, suggesting the company is edging closer to a formal launch. Will Galaxy Home get another 15 seconds of fame on stage at Unpacked or will Samsung make the event all about mobile? Join us on February 20th to find out.