Samsung’s 10th-anniversary Galaxy S10 has arrived. I have already looked at how it differentiates from the Galaxy S10 Plus but, for many, the real comparison is whether the Galaxy S10 steps up from the Galaxy S9. Given their major price differences (more below), you might be surprised at the answer…
Display – Notch-Less Vs Ultrasonic Punch Hole
The most prominent difference between the Galaxy S10 and its predecessor doesn’t immediately show up on the spec sheet:
- Galaxy S10 – 6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED+, 19:9 aspect ratio, 1440 x 3040 pixels, Gorilla Glass 6 (front screen), Gorilla Glass 5 (rear)
- Galaxy S9 – 5.8-inch AMOLED, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, 1400 x 2960 pixels, Gorilla Glass 5 (front and back)
Yes, the Galaxy S10 has a larger display and a slightly higher resolution but the real giveaway is the taller aspect ratio. This is the extra screen space Samsung has gained by moving to a ‘punch hole’ display. Having spent years mocking the notch, the success of the Galaxy S10 largely depends on whether customers see the cut-out as a cop out.
Granted the hole itself is smaller than the iPhone X notch (and considerably smaller than the gargantuan one of the Pixel 3 XL) but, arguably, it’s in a less convenient position situated in the right corner. The battle for hearts and minds (Samsung claims a 93% body-to-screen ratio, but excludes the punch-hole which brings it down to 88.3%) starts here.
What’s indisputable, however, is Samsung has outdone itself again with the panel. While brightness is up fractionally (1200 nits Vs 1100 nits) and there’s promise of even greater colour accuracy, the real highlight is the integration of the world’s first Ultrasonic fingerprint reader.
Ultrasonic readers don’t simply take a photo like other in-display readers (therefore also requiring a small flash of light), they fire out soundwaves and use their vibrations to create a 3D map of your print. Compared to the rear fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S9, there’s no contest. Ultrasonic is ingenious, fast and very secure. No wonder Apple is looking into them.
One disappointment: Gorilla Glass 5. Version six launched in July 2019 with greater scratch and drop resistance. It should’ve been on both sides of the Galaxy S10.
Design – Surprisingly Similar
While their displays differ greatly, there’s a lot less change in the rest of the Galaxy S10 design:
- Galaxy S10 – 149.9 x 70.4 x 7.8 mm (5.90 x 2.77 x 0.31-inch), 157 g (5.54 oz)
- Galaxy S9 – 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm (5.81 x 2.70 x 0.33-inch), 163g (5.75 oz)
The most impressive aspect is Samsung has managed to slim down the Galaxy S10 and reduce its weight, despite the larger display, Ultrasonic sensor and new triple cameras (more next). Moreover, Samsung has kept the best qualities of the Galaxy S9: IP68 water resistance, stereo speakers (bottom grill + an amplified earpiece), USB-C, microSD and the headphone jack has made it as well. A deal maker for some.
Another potential deal maker is the microSD slot can now double as a second sim – brilliant for those who want to use home and work/travel sims in the same phone.
Superficially, the Galaxy S10 should also please buyers as it launches in a much wider range of launch colours than usual: Prism White, Prism Black, Prism Green, Prism Blue, Canary Yellow and FlaminSuperficiallygo Pink. Note: the Galaxy S10 Plus also gets black or white ceramic finishes for its top of the line 1TB edition.
Cameras – Triple Up
Last year Samsung was criticised for leaving the Galaxy S9 with just one rear camera when the Galaxy S9 Plus got two. This year Samsung has listened and both the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus have three rear cameras:
- Galaxy S10 Rear: Primary – 12MP, f/1.5-2.4, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS; Secondary – 12MP, f/2.4, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.6″, 1.0µm, AF, OIS, 2x optical zoom, Tertiary – 16MP, f/2.2, 12mm (ultrawide)
- Galaxy S9 Rear: 12MP, f/1.5-2.4, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
The good news is the Galaxy S10 gains both a 2x optical zoom lens (as featured on the Galaxy S9 Plus last year) as well as an ultrawide 123-degree lens which is great for panoramas and shooting in tight spaces.
If you look closely, what’s not so good is the hardware. The Galaxy S10 primary camera seemingly hasn’t changed since the Galaxy S9. Undoubtedly, the phone will be aided by its new chipset (more in the next section) and enhanced image processing but it is disappointing given the Galaxy S9 was already behind rivals such as the iPhone XS, Huawei P20 Pro and Google’s class-leading Pixel 3.
And it gets worse at the front:
- Galaxy S10 Front: 10MP, f/1.9, 26mm (wide), Dual Pixel PDAF
- Galaxy S9 Front: 8MP, f/1.7, 25mm (wide), Dual Pixel PDAF
While the megapixels are up, the Galaxy S10 has a slower aperture than the Galaxy S9. Again, real-world tests are needed to see whether this is a good trade-off but it is a strange move to downgrade the aperture. This is also an area where the Galaxy S10 Plus steps up because Samsung equipped it with two front-facing cameras.
What you should get excited about, however, is video. The Galaxy S10 is the first smartphone to shoot in HDR10+. HDR has been commonplace in photos for some time, but its ability to combine different exposures to retain detail in low and bright light simultaneously should lead to some breakthrough results.
Performance – RAMmed
As you’d expect, the Galaxy S10 comes with 2019’s new top-of-the-range chipsets in Samsung’s usual geographic splits:
- EMEA – Exynos 9820 Octa (8 nm), CPU: Octa-core (2×2.7 GHz Mongoose M4 & 2×2.3 GHz Cortex-A75 & 4×1.9 GHz Cortex-A55), GPU: Mali-G76
- US, China – Qualcomm SDM855 Snapdragon 855 (7 nm), CPU: Octa-core (1×2.8 GHz Kryo 485 & 3×2.4 GHz Kryo 485 & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 485), GPU: Adreno 640
Compared to the Exynos 9810 and Snapdragon 845 in the Galaxy S9, Samsung promises a 29% boost to CPU performance and 37% boost to the GPU. A die shrink from 10nm typically means cooler and more efficient running as well.
And yet it is RAM which really catches the eye. The Galaxy S10 comes with 8GB, double the disappointing 4GB in the Galaxy S9, and storage capacities of 128GB and 512GB versus 64/128/256GB last year. That said, the Galaxy S10 Plus goes up to 12GB RAM and 1TB.
Elsewhere you’ll also find the brand new WiFi 6 standard (it’s faster and has better range), upgraded 4G (2Gbps vs 1.2Gbps – you won’t get this in real life, but real-world performance should improve) and ‘Wireless PowerShare’ which lets Qi-compatible devices charge when placed against the back of your Galaxy S10 – as long as the phone’s battery level is above 30%.
The Galaxy S10 also marks the debut of Samsung’s cleaner and more intuitive ‘One UI’. This will come to the Galaxy S9 though, and there’s no promise from Samsung that it will speed up the usual six-month wait for Android updates.
Battery Life – Capacious Upgrade
Having had the same battery capacity since the Galaxy S7 in 2016, improvements were well overdue and, thankfully, Samsung has delivered them:
- Galaxy S10 – 3400 mAh
- Galaxy S9 – 3000 mAh
While this boost of over 13% will be countered somewhat but the step-up in screen size, it is worth noting the 6.2-inch Galaxy S9 Plus had dramatically better battery life than the Galaxy S9 thanks to its 3500 mAh battery. So I’d expect the Galaxy S10, with its die-shrunk chipset, not to fall far short of the ambitious 24-hour battery life Samsung is promising – couple this with the aforementioned Wireless PowerShare feature and it’s very positive.
Elsewhere, Samsung has not improved the 18W wired and 15W wireless charging seen on both the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S8. Especially since OnePlus, in particular, has been well ahead of Samsung here for some time (and at considerably lower prices). A 5G Galaxy S10 will launch later in the year with 25W wired charging, but that won’t help buyers now.
Speaking of which…
Price And Storage – Get More, Pay More
By now you’ll understand why the Galaxy S10 is a big upgrade to the Galaxy S9, but it is one you’ll have to pay a premium for:
- Galaxy S10 – $899 (128GB / 8GB RAM), $999 (512GB / 8GB RAM)
- Galaxy S10 Plus – $999 (128GB / 8GB RAM), $1,099 (512GB / 8GB RAM), $1,199 (1TB / 12GB RAM)
While the Galaxy S10 Plus goes far higher, the fact is the Galaxy S9 can now be bought for less than $600 and this is before the Galaxy S10 goes on sale which, inevitably, will see that price come down even further.
That said, if you pre-order the Galaxy S10 before it ships on March 8 then Samsung will throw in a free pair of its new $130 AirPod rivals: the Galaxy Buds. Personally, I think this is the deal you should go for (especially since Samsung is offering trade-ins as well) but if you miss this that, it is probably worth waiting for further Galaxy S9 price drops.
Samsung deserves a lot of credit. The full Galaxy S10 range is the big step-up customers wanted and they are worthy of their 10th-anniversary status.
That said, the punch-hole design won’t be to everyone’s taste, the primary camera hardware will rely heavily on software (rather than hardware) upgrades and the price hikes are significant. Anyone on a budget would be better to stand their ground and watch Galaxy S9 prices tumble below $500 in the next few months. Especially as it will get the lovely new One UI anyway.
And yet, if you can afford a Galaxy S10 and you’ve been waiting for this upgrade, Samsung has delivered. Just don’t expect the competition (particularly from China) to sit still for long…
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