When it's time to start building their new, premium smartphones, companies like Samsung are usually driven by a simple mantra: "more." More power, more features, more cameras. And it's to the point where — after a while — it all starts to seem like overkill. Sure, all of these high-end devices are drool-worthy, but honestly, who needs that much smartphone? Maybe you do, since you're reading a review on Engadget. And so do I, as you might expect from a professional phone snob.
The thing to remember is that, broadly speaking, we're the outliers here. Most people want a powerful, capable phone that doesn't cost $1,000 and won't feel obsolete in a year. That's where Samsung's smaller, $750 Galaxy S10e comes in. If phones like the S10+ represent the company at the peak of its hardware and software game, the S10e reflects an understanding that these new developments really shine when more people get to use them. The end result: A smartphone that, while not as flashy as its siblings, packs nearly all of the modern conveniences that make those pricier devices such a pleasure to use.
- Affordable by S10 standards
- Excellent performance
- Great trio of cameras
- Much-improved software
- Great for one-handed use
- Underwhelming battery life
- Questionable fingerprint sensor placement
- What is the point of Bixby?
And when I say "nearly all," I mean it. The S10e comes clad in the same colorful finishes as the regular S10 (plus a few extras in certain markets), and rocks the same slightly squarish design. There's a USB-C port and a classic headphone jack on the phone's bottom, plus a SIM tray on top that also takes microSD cards as large as 512GB. For better or worse, the physical Bixby button still lives on the phone's left side so you can talk to Samsung's slightly improved virtual assistant. Even the wireless PowerShare system found in the S10 and S10+ is here, you can wirelessly charge the phone charge other devices wirelessly with the phone. Granted, you won't be charging your friend's phone or smartwatch terribly quickly, but the fact that Samsung even bothered to carry it over to the S10e remains a pleasant surprise.
Most importantly, though, the S10e uses the exact same Snapdragon 855 chipset you'll find in every other premium smartphone this year. I'll dig into performance a little later, but suffice to say that even with the 6GB of RAM found in the base model S10e, you're still getting full flagship power at a significant discount. Oh, and in case it wasn't clear, you're getting it in a smaller package, too.
With rare exception, smartphone makers rarely produce small, high-end devices. (Sony is the only company that readily springs to mind, but c'mon: No one really buys their phones.) Because of that, the S10e can't help but feel a little refreshing. It slides in and out of pockets with minimal fuss, and despite the learning curve that comes with using a smaller screen after years of using phablets, I've really enjoyed living with the S10e. That's partially due to how nice the fit and finish of this cheaper phone is, but it's also because of how its design differs slightly from the S10 and S10+. See, those phones have sides that terminate in slightly flat edges, and whenever I use them, it feels like the edges are all I'm ever really holding onto. The metal frame on the S10e has slightly wider sides, however, which makes this smaller phone noticeably easier to grip than either of the bigger models.
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S10e review | 19 Photos
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S10e review | 19 Photos
Overall, the S10e is as well-built as the S10 and S10+, but I still have a few quibbles. I'm all for phones that won't strain your hands or your wrists, but the S10e is so light it feels a little insubstantial at times. Granted, the massive S10+ is almost startlingly light, too, but I had to throw a case on the S10e before I ever really felt comfortable using it. Cases will also help with the phone's inherent slipperiness; I can't tell you the number of times I put the caseless S10e down on an almost-completely flat surface and watched in horror as it skittered to the floor.
And then there's the fingerprint sensor. To help keep costs down, Samsung avoided the ultrasonic, in-display sensor found in the S10 and S10+ in favor of a more traditional sensor wedged high on the S10e's right side. Considering how finicky that ultrasonic sensor has been for some people, this hardly seems like a compromise. Or at least, it wouldn't feel like a compromise if the sensor weren't so awkwardly positioned.
When you can get your finger on there just right, you can unlock your phone almost instantaneously. In my experience at least, getting your finger to the right spot can be a little of a headache; it sometimes requires a bit of a stretch, especially for people with small hands. And that's assuming you're using your right hand. I've never been able to unlock the phone with my left index finger on the first try, so I'm a little concerned about how well lefties would take to this thing. This isn't a dealbreaker so much as one of those low-level annoyances you'll have to learn to live with. You could always set up face recognition for faster unlocking, but since Samsung ditched its iris scanners for the Galaxy S10 series, that's easily one of the least secure ways to get into the S10e.
In some crucial ways, the S10e doesn't stray far from the standard S10's high-performance formula. That was the whole point. In general, Samsung has said it focused on two key areas for every version of the S10 family: The screens and the cameras. It's probably no surprise that these areas are where the S10e stands apart most noticeably, and the company's decisions for both have made a dramatic impact on what it's like to use this phone.