When the iPhone turned 10 in 2016, Apple went all out giving the phone a massive redesign. As one might expect, with the Galaxy S line hitting the same milestone this year, Samsung similarly spared no expense.
Samsung is introducing several new Galaxy S10 models Wednesday: a more compact, $749.99 S10e with a 5.8-inch display, an $899.99 6.1-inch S10 and a $999.99 6.4-inch S10+.
In addition to those three main S10 models, which will be available for pre-order Feb. 21 and go on sale March 8, Samsung is adding a souped-up, 6.7-inch Galaxy S10 5G.
The 5G model will launch initially as a Verizon exclusive during the first half of 2019, before rolling out later to AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.
All four phones run Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 processor and are packed with the latest specs, including a minimum of at least 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. A microSD card is available on the three non-5G models to add additional storage.
Unlike recent iPhones and Android devices that cut out the top of the display for the front camera (also known as a “notch”), Samsung is taking a different approach on the S10, introducing what it calls an “Infinity-O” display.
This screen cuts out a hole for the front camera in the upper right corner to allow the display to maximize the entire front of the phone.
The S10e has two rear cameras, an ultra wide-angle and more standard wide lens, with an improved front 10-megapixel sensor. The S10 and S10+ have an additional zoom sensor on the back. The 5G adds a depth sensor on the back, bringing the total number of lenses to four.
The S10+ and 5G model will also each have a second depth camera on the front for improved portrait selfies, and in the case of the 5G model, improved augmented reality possibilities.
Similar to Google’s Pixel line, Samsung is also upping its software on the S10’s camera. The camera can automatically switch between the lenses, swapping between the sensors depending on the shot you are looking to capture and how zoomed in you are on your subject. A new “shot suggestions” mode will guide you to make sure your phone is properly aligned and the subjects are in focus.
Video recording will also be getting some upgrades with a “super steady mode” to keep your videos stabilized.
All phones are water resistant and pack now standard Galaxy features like Samsung Pay for making mobile payments. Stereo speakers remain on all the phones and, in a win for those who still use wired headphones, so does a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack.
Pink, black, white and blue will be the color options in the U.S. – a green option will also be offered internationally. Glass covers the back of the phones, though those who get the 512 GB or 1 TB S10+ will get an option for a more durable black or white model made out of ceramic.
Bixby, Samsung’s digital assistant similar to Siri or Alexa, is also still here but for those who don’t use the feature Samsung says a forthcoming software update will allow you to change the dedicated side “Bixby button” so that it summons a favorite app instead of the voice assistant.
State of the line specs
Although Samsung has dropped the iris scanning feature for unlocking the phone that has been found on recent Galaxy phones, the S10, S10+ and 5G each pack a fingerprint sensor underneath their displays to allow you to authenticate by pressing your finger on the screen.
The cheaper S10e places its fingerprint sensor on the power button along the side of the device. The S10e also lacks the curved display found on its pricier siblings.
In addition to the cutout, the S10 displays also reduce blue light exposure, which has been linked in studies to harming vision in recent studies, by 42 percent compared to previous Samsung screens. Apple, Amazon and Google have added features to limit exposure in recent software updates, but a hardware solution from Samsung is welcome.
All S10s support the latest 4G LTE networks as well as Wi-Fi 6, the latest Wi-Fi standard.
With beefy batteries across the line, Samsung has added a new feature called “Wireless PowerShare” to wirelessly charge other devices by placing them on to the new phone’s back, so long as the S10’s battery is above 30 percent.
This includes the company’s updated $129.99 Galaxy Buds, which are Samsung’s rival to Apple’s AirPods. Because the S10 uses a technical standard known as Qi (pronounced “chi”), you can even charge an iPhone or other non-Samsung brand devices off of an S10.
A powerful upgrade, but a pricey one
After spending some brief time with the phones it’s clear that Samsung has made some impressive improvements to what was already a powerful phone in the Galaxy S9. The shrunken bezels allow the phones, even the larger S10+ and 5G models, to keep the overall size manageable. The cameras in some quick shots looked to live up to the high bar set by prior Galaxy’s.
While I was unable to test the new video recording features, “shot suggestions” helped straighten photos and could be useful for amateur photographers who find themselves struggling to focus, their subjects aren’t properly lit or their phone is not straight.
One area that will take some additional testing, however, is the new cutout display. While the placement of the cutout didn’t bother me, and the display looked great across the three S10 models (even the S10e’s slightly lower 1080p resolution), for the S10 Samsung’s slightly changed display size could lead to larger black bars around videos on YouTube or Netflix that were shot for viewing on traditional televisions (something called “letterboxing”).
As opposed to the early days of the modern smartphone 10 years ago, consumers today “know what they want and they know what they’re looking for,” says Justin Denison, senior vice president of product strategy and marketing at Samsung Electronics America.
“Our strategy really is to provide the latest technology possible at every price point so that we can address the needs of as many of those consumers as possible,” he said.
While Samsung offers trade-in discounts to those looking to upgrade, including up to $550 for recent iPhones and Galaxy devices, it remains to be seen whether consumers will be as enamored with the latest Galaxy phones as they were with earlier models. Particularly at a time when carriers no longer subsidize phone prices as they did a decade ago.
At a starting price of $749.99 for the S10e, Samsung’s cheapest is priced right next to Apple’s 64 GB iPhone XR, with the S10 and S10+ slightly cheaper than entry-level 64GB iPhone XS and XS Max.
There is no price yet for the 5G phone, but with its larger screen and even more powerful specs it is possible this phone will be well north of the $1,000 mark.
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal