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Samsung Galaxy S10+ review: Another predictably great flagship

It's bigger, smarter and lasts longer than before.

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    With all the foldable fever burning through MWC 2019, it's hard not to feel a little disappointed that the phone I'm reviewing is the S10+ and not the Galaxy Fold. But that doesn't mean the S10+ is a bad phone, even if the flagship line, and smartphones in general, are growing a little stale. The S10 and S10+ are the result of years of fine-tuning a formula, so much so that it feels like there's little room left to grow. For its tenth flagship, Samsung decided to focus on the display, camera and software, bringing the S10+ closer to perfection than ever. Despite some quirks and a $1,000 starting price, this is an excellent handset that still manages to pack a few surprises.

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    Key

    Pros
    • Excellent battery life
    • One UI is a welcome refresh
    • Surprisingly helpful Bixby Routines
    • Big
    • beautiful HDR10+ display
    • Versatile triple camera setup
    Cons
    • AR emoji are unrecognizable
    • Low light shots are subpar

    Summary

    The Galaxy S10+ is exactly what you’d expect out of Samsung’s tenth flagship handset. After all, the company’s been making these for a decade, and knows what works. The S10+ is a winning mix of powerful performance, long-lasting battery, stunning display and capable cameras. There’s also a welcome software overhaul and the ability to wirelessly charge compatible devices, making this a surprisingly useful handset. You’ll have to live with minor quirks like an inconsistent fingerprint sensor, lousy AR emoji and a subpar digital assistant, but none of those keep the S10+ from being an ultimately superb phone.

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    Displays

    One of my biggest questions going into this review was whether I'd be bothered by the "hole punch" display or if I'd get used to it over time. I go back and forth on this, and that's probably because the cutout for the camera only bothers me in specific instances. On the home screen, or in apps like Uber or Messages, you won't notice the hole much since your eyes will be drawn to the middle or bottom of the 3,040 x 1,440 6.4-inch display. But when watching a video or playing a game, that black oval becomes obvious and kind of annoying, although it's not a dealbreaker.

    Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S10+ review | 18 Photos

    Another improvement with the display is the 42 percent reduction in blue light to help relieve eye strain. I personally haven't noticed a significant difference, but I've never really felt "tired" staring at other phones, either. The good news is that despite eliminating all that blue light, Samsung still managed to keep this panel colorful and vivid - I only noticed the lack of blues when directly comparing it to a Pixel 3.

    The S10+, like most other Samsung flagships, has a brilliant screen that's perfect for watching movies or playing games. This year, it's even gained HDR10+ certification, meaning it supports 10-bit color depth and a wider range of hues. But honestly, I didn't notice a significant difference between the S10+ and the S9+ or Pixel 3 in a side by side comparison.

    Fingerprint scanner

    Under the display, the S10+ enters new territory. To give the phone that edge-to-edge screen (and prevent the rear cameras from being smeared up by grubby fingers), Samsung integrated an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner directly in the display. In general, the S10+ is easy to unlock if it's sitting on a table. But it was at first hard to guess where to place your finger when the screen is off. Thankfully you can pull up an indicator when you tap the screen once. When you're holding the S10+ and trying to unlock it with your thumb, though, the angle is tricky and it usually took two or three tries to get it right.

    Chris Velazco / Engadget

    Like most other scanners, the S10+ won't read your finger if it's dirty, wet or oily. That's probably for the best, since you really shouldn't be smearing your screen with grubby hands anyway.

    In most situations, the sensor worked quickly, unlocking the phone in about half a second. It's slower than, say, the Pixel 3 and iPhone 8, but it's actually faster than the S9's rear sensor and not so slow that it was annoying.

    Cameras

    Playing with the S10+ cameras gives me deja vu. For one, the pair of 12 megapixel sensors in the standard wide-angle and telephoto lenses are basically the same as the S9 line. But some of my favorite moments have been jumping between the primary and 16MP ultra-wide lenses to get a new angle on a scene -- which is something I enjoyed when I reviewed the LG G5. Adding a wide-angle lens makes for more versatile shooting, but it isn't a breakthrough. Granted, we've come a long way in mobile photography since 2016, and the quality of the S10+'s pictures far surpasses handsets of yore.

    The photos I took were often stunning, with rich colors and crisp details -- at least, with enough light anyway. At night, my cityscapes were often muddy and marred by lens flares. The shots I took in dim situations were serviceable, but other phones like the Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro definitely perform better in low light. Take a look at full-size photo samples in our Flickr album here.

    Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S10+ camera samples | 31 Photos

    The S10+'s wide-angle lens with a 123-degree field of view is supposed to capture as much as the human eye can see, but many times it actually took in more. Images shot with this lens sometimes showed barrel distortion, though, especially if my subject was too close -- but for sweeping landscapes or panoramas, it's exceptional. There is a software setting for wide-angle correction, but even after enabling it I didn't notice an improvement.

    Samsung also introduced a new "Super Steady" video mode, which stabilizes footage with a combination of OIS and cropping from the wide lens. We took to the skies to test this feature in a helicopter, and I was surprised that I didn't get nauseated watching the clips we got. (I often get motion sickness when looking at shaky footage.) When Super Steady mode is on, you can only record with the main lens (ie, no ultra-wide or telephoto options). The improvement in smoothness of the videos with Super Steady isn't significant enough to use in all your clips, though, since you'll be limited to one lens and can't shoot in 4K. Plus, I was already getting decently stable shots with just Samsung's existing stabilization tech.

    What I did like about the clips we took in the air was the even exposure thanks to HDR support. Despite there being a high level of variance in the exposure in the scenes, the S10+ still delivered blue skies, green trees and even the pale complexion of a fellow passenger. HDR footage isn't a game-changer, but it'll make for really beautiful clips.

    Samsung Galaxy S10+ review

    Another new software trick is Shot Suggestion, which tells you if your scene is level. It uses an onscreen guide to help you straighten out your shot. At the same time, it analyzes the frame to suggest ways it thinks you should compose your photo by showing you where to point your phone. This made me want to compete with the AI and see who took the better picture. I usually preferred my own shot, though about a third of the time I had to concede that the S10+ had the better framing. Granted, this is difficult to judge objectively, and I'm not convinced it's all that useful.

    AR Emoji on the other hand are definitely not useful. It was just a fun, quirky feature on the S9 where you could create somewhat recognizable digital avatars of yourself and share them with your friends. Samsung decided to tweak the facial mapping to make it more accurate, and it was partly successful. The new emoji are better at matching my expressions than before, but it completely fails to come up with anything that actually resembles my face -- my digital doppelganger felt more like a cyber stranger.

    That's a shame, because the S10+ has upgraded front cameras that should be better at capturing your likeness. There's a 10-megapixel sensor paired with an RGB depth sensor for AR effects and portrait modes.

    Samsung Galaxy S10+ review -- camera samples

    Selfies, on the other hand, generally looked bright and colorful, though I recommend turning off Beauty mode, since it tends to make your skin look like plastic. I still prefer the portraits from my Pixel 3 overall, but Samsung is catching up. A fun new Color Pop filter in the portrait mode options also made for plenty of Instagram fodder, delivering pictures that rendered your subject in color while turning the background monochrome.

    Speaking of Instagram -- we didn't get to test the upcoming Instagram Mode in time for this review. When it launches, it should make posting to your Instagram feed faster. Either way, it's another part of the new camera software (that seems to be the focus of the S10+'s photography updates).

    Chris Velazco / Engadget

    One UI

    After years of being criticized for its heavy-handed software, Samsung's finally revamped its interface, which makes the S10+ feel fresher than its older siblings. I like the new font and the subtle layout tweaks that make everything easier to use with one hand. Take the brightness slider for example -- One UI places it nearer to the bottom of the Quick Settings panel for easier reach. Other minor tweaks include using bigger text overall and toggles are spread out so they're closer to the sides of the screen -- again making them easier to reach. Though Samsung gave us new app icons in One UI, I didn't like their primary colors and basic shapes. But you can always just install an alternative icon pack if you want.

    One UI adds a new Night Mode that reverses the color scheme so the Settings interface uses a black background with light text, making it easier on your eyes at night. I also appreciate Smart Popup notifications, which makes alerts from apps you select show up in a Facebook Chat heads-style bubble on top of the screen. Tapping each bubble opens the app in a small, resizable window that you can stack on top of other panels which really speeds up replying to messages and emails. I wish Samsung made it easier to dismiss these, though. Instead of being able to flick them away, you'll have to press each badge and press the X on the top right to get rid of them. If this all sounds too cumbersome, you don't have to enable Smart Popup -- it's disabled by default.

    Samsung Galaxy S10+ review

    Another new One UI feature is Bixby Routines, which surprised me with how helpful they are. You can set them up yourself or wait for the phone to suggest some after it's learned your habits. I set a routine called "Going to work" that kicks in every weekday at 3pm (just for testing purposes, I don't actually go to work at that time). It bumps the display brightness up to 60 percent, changes the lock screen shortcuts to Spotify and Camera, and automatically sends a text to callers saying "I'll call you back later". I found the nighttime routine particularly useful, since I set it to automatically dim the screen, activate Do Not Disturb, Night Mode and the Blue light filter until my alarm wakes me up. This saves me several steps each night, and reminds me to get ready for bed.

    You can choose between set times of day, connectivity or location as the triggers for the routines, and tell Bixby to change almost anything on your phone. It's surprisingly comprehensive, more than what IFTTT and Google have offered, and with enough fine-tuning you could customize Routines to become extremely useful.

    Performance and battery life

    More importantly, the Galaxy S10+ is a powerhouse (as expected). It blazed through loading PUBG Mobile, my Instagram feed and webpages in Chrome, and switched between those apps, my messages, Telegram and Google Docs effortlessly. Though, even with up to 12GB of RAM at its disposal, the Snapdragon 855 chip struggled to keep up when it came to more intensive tasks like recording multiple stabilized videos in HDR.

    The phone ran hot after my fourth or fifth consecutive 30-second clip, and the high temperatures were likely exacerbated by the fact that I was sitting in the sun. Under the heat, the S10+ refused to record video on numerous attempts and often took a few seconds to save my footage after I hit stop. The good news is the S10+ cooled down within a few minutes and resumed the speedy performance I was used to.

    This generally breezy behavior is supposed to be aided by AI, which Samsung says will learn from my patterns to understand which background apps to close and what apps to devote more resources to. Just like the Huawei P20 Pro, the S10+ doesn't obviously show that happening, but its smooth overall performance speaks for itself.

    Samsung Galaxy S10+ review

    The AI is also meant to squeeze "24 hours+" of juice out of the S10 and S10+'s 3,400mAh and 4,100mAh cells respectively. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this claim was actually true. I typically got through two full days out of the S10+ with light use (messages and photo taking) before needing a charge.

    Even with heavier camera use and generating multiple AR emoji, the phone hung around for a day and a half before throwing up a low power warning. On our battery test (looping Full HD video on 50 percent brightness), the S10+ clocked about 17 and a half hours, which is longer than the Galaxy Note 9 and the Pixel 3 XL. I got to a point where I was comfortable leaving my apartment even if the S10+ was only at 60 percent after forgetting to plug it in the night before.

    Wireless Powershare

    The S10's long-lasting battery can also give power to other devices, wirelessly. It has to be at least 30 percent charged for this to work, though, and it takes awhile to juice up other gadgets. I used it to try and charge up another journalist's S10+, and it took three to five minutes to push through one percent of juice. This is really only useful for accessories with smaller batteries, like the Galaxy Buds and smartwatches. It's also tricky to keep using the phone while you're trying to keep another device firmly in contact with its back, so you can't use your S10+ while charging something else.

    Design

    In the week I've been using the S10+, I never felt like it's a particularly attractive phone. I loved the Pixel 3's build and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro's Twilight finish, but I can't say much more about the latest Galaxy's looks than "eh." This is a boxier Galaxy flagship than before, and it reminds me of the Note 9. As much as I admire the all-screen front, the rest of the handset is pretty basic. The Prism White color that I have is nice, but it doesn't wow me like the Mate 20 Pro.

    I was comforted when I found out how durable the S10+ is, though. It slipped out of my hands as I was shuffling around a few things in my arms, but survived the approximately three-foot fall on to concrete with barely a scratch. Phew!

    One final design note: Yes, that Bixby button is still there below the volume rocker. Yes, it's just as confusing and infuriating as before. If you're not used to Samsung's recent flagships, you'll probably accidentally press this button multiple times before realizing it's not a power button or camera trigger. You can remap this key to launch basically any other app or a set of actions, though you can't have it use a third-party assistant.

    Wrap-up

    The S10+ is a good example of where Samsung stands as we stare down the next decade of Galaxy flagships. It has an excellent display, solid cameras, powerful guts and a sturdy, premium build. But the company's software is still hit or miss. While One UI and Routines are helpful updates, Bixby is still behind the competition and features like Shot Suggestion and Super Steady mode are mediocre. None of these are deal-breakers, though, and ultimately the S10+ continues Samsung's excellent track record as one of the best Android phone makers.

    Samsung Galaxy S10+
    Processor Octa-core Snapdragon 855
    RAM / storage 8GB or 12GB / 128GB or 512GB or 1TB
    MicroSD card support Up to 512GB
    Display 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED
    Display resolution 3,040 x 1,440 (19:9)
    Rear cameras 16MP ultra-wide angle FF f/2.2; 12MP wide-angle Dual Pixel AF OIS (f/2.4 - f/1.5); 12MP telephoto PDAF, f/2.4 OIS
    Front-facing camera 10MP Dual Pixel AF, f/1.9; RGB Depth: 8MP FF, f/2.2
    OS Android 9.0 Pie with One UI
    Battery 4,100mAh
    Charging USB-C (quick-charging), fast wireless 2.0
    Dimensions 6.2 x 2.91 x 0.30 inches
    Weight 6.17 ounces
    Fingerprint sensor Yes, ultrasonic in-screen
    Waterproofing IP68
    NFC Yes
    Headphone jack Yes

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