Galaxy Unpacked 2019: Verdict and Hands-on with the Galaxy S10

We’ve covered the specifications and other details about Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 (and Fold) range of handsets elsewhere on Android Beat. In gory detail and across multiple stories. But I wanted to share some hands-on impressions of the principal new Galaxy S10 hardware.

The venue – Tobacco Dock in the UK, in London, was just about perfect in terms of space and lighting. The first section of the keynote was live streamed from San Francisco, to allow DJ Koh and others time to talk to the world, and then it was transitioned into a local (i.e. ‘rest of the world’, with people flown in from all over Europe, certainly) event with local presenters and demos.

The full video stream will doubtless be available online shortly, if it’s not already.

The Galaxy S10 range
The Galaxy S10 range: Galaxy S10e, S10+ and S10….

Samsung Galaxy S10 Hands-On

So what did I think of the new Galaxy S10e, S10 and S10+? I was impressed. And I don’t think that’s me drinking the Samsung ‘Kool-Aid’, despite me covering the event from my personal Galaxy S9+ and Note9, though the Samsung familiarity helped know the interface and what can be swapped out or tweaked (hint: Bixby button, Themes, Navigation bar).

Essentially, Samsung has (again) ‘ticked all the boxes’ when it comes down to phone design. Whereas other manufacturers have been omitting audio jacks and microSD expansion, for example, they’re both here for the S10 range. And, ticking extra boxes, there’s now a true wide angle camera lens for all the Galaxy S10 models, eliminating the one thing that ‘LG did’ over Samsung in the past, and reverse wireless charging, something that we first saw in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

Wireless Powershare
Wireless PowerShare, here charging an S10 from a S10+. It’s reverse wireless charging done fully and right….

As someone who has been rocking a Galaxy S9+ for nine of the last 12 months, I can vouch for the flexibility in having a phone in your pocket that can do everything. No compromises, no ‘wish I’d brought my dongle’, no running out of storage space, and so on.

The new Galaxy S10 devices were noticeably thinner, comparing my Galaxy S9+ to the new S10+, for example. I worry that the battery safety might have been compromised, but I can’t believe Samsung would make the same mistake twice, so hopefully, we’re good here.

The under-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor surprised me by how fast and reliable it was. Having hated that in the Honor 10, and ditto for the optical version in the Mate 20 Pro, Samsung’s implementation here was a revelation. I was quite prepared to flag this up as a showstopper compared to the lightning fast capacitive sensors in previous generations, but no, this worked, with a single touch, on a powered down display, was quick and worked at any angle. Colour me impressed.

Ultrasonic fingerprint unlocking - hard to photograph as it is so fast. This was snapped about a tenth of a second after my thumb hit the screen - and we're already unlocked, powered up and into the UI...
Ultrasonic fingerprint unlocking – hard to photograph as it is so fast. This was snapped about a tenth of a second after my thumb hit the screen – and we’re already unlocked, powered up and into the UI…

The stereo speakers have been beefed up further, though it was hard to tell in the noisy venue. Apparently, AKG now makes the speaker components, they don’t just ‘tune’ Samsung’s. I’ll report more on this in a full review, coming in early March.

The laser-cut display holes for the front cameras were… slightly annoying, after a decade of fully rectangular Samsung screens, but the switch to a 19:9 display with minimal bezels does add an extra degree of immersion and Samsung has taken care to hide the hole(s) where possible (wallpapers, UI) and highlight them where appropriate (when using the front cameras). Hey, I got used to the ‘bucket’ notch on the Pixel 3 XL, Samsung’s minimalist camera cut outs will be a no-brainer to accept, I predict.

The standard sized S10, just... perfect size and full specification!
The standard sized S10, just… perfect size and full specification!

The Galaxy S10e fleshes out the range nicely in terms of price and size, but, having held all three units in my hands, I’d go for the standard S10. It’s the perfect smartphone size in 2019 and, unlike last year’s S9 range, you don’t have to go to the Plus model to get the better camera – here, imaging is identical between the S10 and S10+.

The standard S10 with the smaller S10e beside it - it's not a budget option, but it IS cheaper.
The standard S10 with the smaller S10e beside it – it’s not a true budget option, but it IS cheaper.

So, with apologies for the slightly gushing praise throughout, the Galaxy S10 launch was something of a success and I got a sense that all the other attendees were finding it hard to find things to complain about – yet again, Samsung has thought of everything, at least in terms of hardware.

Its software (now One UI) is, as usual, slightly different and perhaps Android Beat can bring you a guide to taming the Samsung software experience in 2019. Watch this space!