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Image credit: Kyle Maack / Engadget

Samsung Galaxy S10+: What’s great and what’s not (so far)

We have the phone and some early thoughts.
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Kyle Maack / Engadget

Samsung's Galaxy S10 family was only announced a few days ago, but we got one just in time to bring along to Barcelona. It's a beautiful device, and clearly represents Samsung at the peak of its smartphone-building prowess, but there's a bigger question that needs tackling: What's it actually like to live with? We definitely don't want to rush this review, but after 24 hours of sharing our new S10+, senior mobile editor Chris Velazco and I have some thoughts -- join us as we share our early impressions below.


Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn Low
Reviews Editor

In the past day, I've mostly focused on the triple camera setup and already know what I like most. I love switching between the three lenses to get a variety of angles on my shots. It's my favorite thing to do when we're running between meetings here in Barcelona: point the S10+ at a row of beautiful buildings, snap a picture, then tap the icon for the 123-degree lens to get an extra wide shot. The results so far have been gorgeous, though I've already noticed fisheye distortion when my subject is too close. I've also had a lot of fun with the Shot Suggestion feature, to see if the S10+ composes better pictures than me. Chris, who do you think is the better photographer -- me or the S10+?

Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S10+ camera samples preview | 16 Photos

Chris Velazco

Chris Velazco
Senior Editor, Mobile

I hate being put into positions where I have to be nice to you, but so far, I prefer your eye to the phone's. That's not to say Shot Suggestion is bad by any stretch: we've both used it to capture some really impressive photos, but all it really does is make sure your photos are nicely framed. It's essentially a level built into a camera. What's more concerning to me is how sporadically it seems to want to help. In situations where I'm clearly holding the phone at a slight angle, Shot Suggestion does nothing. And other times, it seems to prefer when subjects in the frame are sitting off-center, even when that's exactly what we're trying to avoid. Then again, Samsung doesn't have the best track record when it comes to software -- remember how bad our AR emoji looked?

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn Low
Reviews Editor

Oh my lord, I was shook. I thought the old AR Emojis on the S9 were fine -- not great but still somewhat recognizable. This time, they made me so different I looked Caucasian (in case you weren't aware, I'm Asian). I had a hard time trying to tweak it to resemble me and ultimately gave up. It's so weird that Samsung would mess with a passable feature and make it completely worse, but I doubt a lot of people were using AR Emoji on the regular anyway.

I'm more interested in how the software behaves throughout the system. So far, I dig the clean look of One UI, though I've noticed some fuzziness in the icons. It's not a big deal, but makes the phone feel a little less polished, and definitely made me question the display resolution. Which, by the way, the screen was set to Full HD out of the box and we changed it to 3,040 x 1,440. That might have an impact on battery life, which isn't bad so far. I used the S10+ lightly from 10:00am to 10:30pm and went from 98 percent to 57 percent. Not terrible for a day of photo taking!

Chris Velazco

Chris Velazco
Senior Editor, Mobile

Not bad at all, though that's largely on-par with other phones with similarly sized batteries. And I haven't been able to account for the fuzziness you speak of, either. Changing up the resolution didn't improve anything, and I wonder if this isn't just a case of non-final software being a little weird.

Speaking of software, using One UI after years of Samsung slowly dialing back the inherent extra-ness of its interface feels like a revelation. It's flatter, it's cleaner, and most important -- to me, anyway -- it lets a lot of the good Google did with Android Pie shine through more clearly. There have even been a few, fleeting moments where I've preferred using One UI over the stock-ish interface Google built for the Pixel 3 XL, though I think that's mostly because I really, really hate the Pixels' gesture navigation scheme. (Needless to say, rumors that Android Q's navigation bar might ditch the back button entirely have me pretty concerned.) I caught a glimpse of you using the S10+'s gesture navigation but haven't tried it myself -- what did you think?

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn Low
Reviews Editor

I hate it. I've grown used to Android Pie's gesture navigation, so some of it's down to muscle memory But Samsung's version feels unintuitive and confusing -- it displays three bars at the bottom of the screen, and I can't tell what I'm supposed to do with them. Tap? Swipe? Lick? I wish Samsung made something more similar to Android. For now, I set it to show the back, home and open apps keys, so that's at least not a pain. What is frustrating is the in-screen fingerprint sensor. At first, I thought it was fast and easy enough to find even with the screen off. Over time, I've run into too many occasions where I'd lay my thumb where I think the scanner is and the S10+ doesn't do anything. Or I've placed my finger just half an inch off and didn't cover enough of the sensor to unlock the phone. You've had more experience with in-screen readers, is this typical?

Chris Velazco

Chris Velazco
Senior Editor, Mobile

In general, the S10+ is on par speed-wise with optical fingerprint sensors in phones like the OnePlus 6 and Huawei's Mate 20 Pro, and sometimes it's actually quicker. The problem, as you've pointed out, is that it's difficult to blindly and consistently unlock the screen with your fingerprint on the first try. The process is much more thoughtful on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro I've been using: when I'm holding the phone and my finger gets close to the screen, an icon pops up showing me where to place my finger.

I know companies like Synaptics are working on in-display sensors that create fingerprint-sensing "zones" rather than spots, so you can plop your finger anywhere on the bottom third of a screen. If companies keep insisting that these kinds of sensors are preferable to, say, face unlock features, bigger fingerprint sensing zones are the way to go. Maybe I'm just picking nits because you can tap the S10's screen to see where you're supposed to put your finger, and I appreciate the added security that these kinds of ultrasonic sensors bring to the table. Still, I think it's fair to say Samsung could've thought its approach through a bit more -- I'm pretty sure they could fix this with a software update, though.

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn Low
Reviews Editor

I absolutely suspect this is one of the reasons a software update is coming soon, and I'm glad we're not rushing into publishing our review. New products are often so buggy, I'm sure we'll uncover more issues as we continue testing the phone. One thing I already know for certain after spending just a day with the S10+? That hole-punch cutout is basically an off-center notch -- it's just as distracting and actually bigger than the teardrop notches we've seen on the OnePlus 6T and Motorola G7s. It also feels like wasted space -- there's a gap on either side of the cutout on the screen that now can't be used. I know I'm being picky here -- it's not a huge issue and I lose room for maybe two notification indicators. It's still a nice screen, and I actually like the hole on the regular S10, since it only houses one camera and is much smaller.

Chris Velazco

Chris Velazco
Senior Editor, Mobile

True, Samsung is the reigning smartphone screen champ -- that's why companies like Apple pay for these panels. And the S10+'s display is, in fact, phenomenal. I totally disagree on the hole-punch, though. I'll grant you that it's more noticeable than the smaller camera cutout on the S10, but I've long since made my peace with notches, and this is essentially a smaller notch pushed off to a corner. I haven't used the phone for as long as you have, but I generally don't even notice it's there -- my eyes are glued to the center of the screen. I don't think the unused space around the cutout is a huge loss, either. Then again, I've always been the kind of person who finds a very full notification bar panic-inducing -- I'm perfectly fine with only ever seeing three icons up there at a time.

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn Low
Reviews Editor

Fair, you've Marie Kondo-ed your phone alerts, good for you. But I'll see if I adjust to it as I work on our review. I'm looking forward to learning how its performance holds up, both in benchmarks and real-world tests. I'd also love to see how helpful Bixby Routines are if and when it kicks in, as well as whether there's any point to Instagram Mode? Oh, and we'll be sure to use Wireless Powershare to charge up some Galaxy Buds and keep taking photos (and videos) with all the cameras. What else should we test? If you have thoughts (that's you, dear reader, and not Chris), leave us a comment or tweet us @cherlynnlow / @chrisvelazco / @engadget and we'll consider it! In the meantime stay tuned for our full review.

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