Samsung Galaxy S10 5G hands-on review

Buying a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is akin to taking a step Into the unknown

The Galaxy S10 5G will likely drain your wallet, but you’ll feel a step ahead of everyone else.
The Galaxy S10 5G will likely drain your wallet, but you’ll feel a step ahead of everyone else.
The Galaxy S10 5G will likely drain your wallet, but you’ll feel a step ahead of everyone else.

Highs

  • Gorgeous display
  • Beefy battery
  • Fantastic build quality
  • Strong camera system
  • ToF sensors add genuine value

Lows

  • Expensive
  • No secure face unlock

Should I buy the Galaxy S10, or wait for the Galaxy S10 5G? If you’re pondering whether to buy into Samsung’s latest smartphone lineup, this thought may have crossed your mind. It’s a valid question. Why buy a phone that will never work on the next-generation 5G network? Buying the Galaxy S10 5G — provided its cost fits your budget — may seem like the obvious choice, as it’s the very definition of future-proofing. But like all things, the answer is nuanced.

Before we talk about 5G, Let’s get into what this special version of the Galaxy S10 is like? We spent some brief hands-on time with the phone at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019.

Gorgeous display, gargantuan size

The Galaxy S10 5G looks identical to the Galaxy S10 Plus. Put them together, and you’ll notice the difference in size. The S10 Plus is already large with a 6.4-inch screen, but the S10 5G expands that to a massive 6.7-inch display that makes it a little taller and wider.

Those with small hands will have difficulty using this phone one-handed, but don’t expect anything too different from the Galaxy Note 9. The Note 9 also has a 6.4-inch screen, and Samsung said it managed to fit all the tech it needed into the S10 5G in a similar body, while expanding the screen size by shaving down bezels. The 5G phone is a little heavier at 198 grams (the S10 Plus is 175 grams and the iPhone XS Max is 208 grams), but it makes the phone feel more substantial.

As we’ve said with the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, the screen on the S10 5G is positively gorgeous. It’s Samsung’s new Infinity-O screen — which means there’s a hole-punch camera that floats around the display in the top of the screen like a hole punch in a piece of paper. The dual cameras on the front don’t look as good as the one on the Galaxy S10 Plus — they are spaced out more so they take up more room. That’s because it’s not the same camera system as the S10 Plus, which we’ll get to later in this review.

Samsung is also using the new Dynamic AMOLED screen, which supports HDR10+, so you’re getting impeccable color accuracy. The screen is sharp, though it has the same 3,040 x 1,440 resolution as the S10 Plus. The smaller S10 and S10 Plus are technically sharper, but the 5G phone is plenty bright, and it also natively reduces blue light — which can disrupt sleep — by 42 percent.

If you buy the Galaxy S10 5G, you’ll be on the forefront of technology.

The back of the phone comes in a chrome-like finish and has almost the same horizontal camera module on the back. It looks clean, and while we saw a 5G logo on the back in an early look at the phone before Galaxy Unpacked, it’s not present here.

The headphone jack is still here — so is the Bixby button, which you will be able to remap to do something else in a later update — and the body of the phone is IP68 water-resistant.

Performance, and the promise of 5G

The Galaxy S10 5G, like its siblings, is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor with 8GB of RAM. Like the S10 Plus, the 512GB and 1TB storage size options come with 12GB of RAM, though you likely will never need that much memory. This is the most powerful processor for Android phones at the moment, so expect it to handle anything.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G Hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

What really sets the phone apart is the modem inside — the Qualcomm’s X50, which enables the phone to connect to 5G networks when they come online, though it will fall back to 4G LTE when 5G is unavailable. The Galaxy S10e, S10, and S10 Plus do not have this modem, so they will always be stuck on 4G LTE. But as carriers work on 5G, 4G LTE speeds are improving, and these phones are capable of supporting 2Gbps LTE speeds.

Theoretically, 5G on a supported phone like the Galaxy S10 5G will let you hit speeds between 1 to 10Gbps, but this depends on how many people there are in the area, the spectrum being used, and a whole host of other conditions. Chances are, you will get steadily get 50Mbps or higher. It’s quite like how 4G LTE’s max speed tops out around 300Mbps, but on average most people only see somewhere between 15mbps to 50mbps.

5G on a supported phone like the Galaxy S10 5G will let you hit speeds between 1 and 10Gbps.

While some U.S. carriers will be bringing 5G networks online this year, it will be in certain areas in select cities. For example, Sprint just announced it would bring its 5G network online starting in May for about 20 square miles in Chicago. So unless you know you’ll be in an area where your carrier will be deploying 5G, there’s no need to rush to get a 5G phone. A full nationwide rollout of 5G could take another two years, if not more.

What will 5G connectivity bring? On your phone, it means faster speeds and lower latency. You’ll be able to download content incredibly fast, stream higher-quality audio and video without interruptions, and eventually see enhanced applications for augmented reality and virtual reality.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G Hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Our 5G demo at MWC 2019 involved watching 4K streams (on a non-4K screen), with the ability to zoom in on content quickly, with sharp detail. It’s a controlled demo, so it’s difficult to comment on the phone’s 5G capabilities. It requires real-world testing.

If you buy the Galaxy S10 5G, you’ll be on the forefront of technology. But you could also be susceptible to unexpected issues that may arise from the new networks. For example, early 4G handsets suffered from poor battery life as the phones searched for 4G signals. Ideally, that won’t happen here, but there’s no saying what problems could arise. Also, as 5G grows and more devices come to market, you won’t need to shell out a lot of money for a 5G phone — prices will inevitably drop.

Time of Flight cameras

The camera system on the Galaxy S10 5G is similar to the Galaxy S10 Plus, but there are some upgrades. Yes, you get the same triple-camera system that has an ultrawide-angle lens, a standard lens, and a telephoto lens, allowing you to swap between them. But the Galaxy S10 5G comes with a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor on the back to help measure depth. Samsung said this will enhance AR applications as 5G becomes a reality.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G Hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The same is true for the dual front cameras. One is the same 10-megapixel lens as the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, but the other is a ToF sensor to improve portrait mode selfies and enable new AR experiences. It’s a shame Samsung didn’t go a step further to introduce a secure facial-recognition system like Apple’s Face ID, as it would help make the 5G phone stand out from the company’s other devices.

The ToF sensor on the front camera does dramatically improve Samsung’s AR Emojis, as the animations mapped facial reactions much more accurate, and nothing felt janky — though it still hasn’t reached the polish of Apple’s Memoji. Even more impressive is Live Video, a feature we also saw on the new LG G8 ThinQ, where blur effects can be added to a live video.

Live Video mode

It’s the video equivalent of Portrait Mode for photos. It works relatively well, but the blur outline surrounding a subject isn’t always accurate — especially if there’s a lot of movement. Still, it’s a feature we can see people genuinely using for a more DSLR-like quality in their videos.

galaxy tab s5e
Selfie Live Focus

The S10 5G’s Selfie Live Focus (portrait mode for selfies) is alsy vastly superior than the rest of the Galaxy S10 range. Photos are fantastically sharp, with the blur accurately surrounding a subject, though we only took a few photos testing this in good lighting.

We’ll be testing the Galaxy S10 5G’s camera further when we get it in a few months.

Software and battery

The Galaxy S10 5G runs Android 9 Pie with Samsung’s new One UI interface, which is bubbly and fun. It’s also much easier to reach everything, as critical elements have been moved toward the bottom of the screen. There are also dark theming options, so your eyes don’t have to be in a state of shock when you turn on your screen in the dark.

There’s a massive 4,500mAh battery packed into the Galaxy S10 5G, which is 400mAh more than the one in the S10 Plus. We’ve been testing our S10 Plus and have seen about a full day’s worth of use, so expect similar battery life. It could be worse too, depending on whether 5G will be a battery drain, or if the bigger screen will require more juice overall.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G Hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

One other perk is the S10 5G comes with a 25-watt superfast charging system, so it shouldn’t take too long to recharge it. Meanwhile, the S10 and S10 Plus are still using Qualcomm’s dated Quick Charge 2.0 technology, which is slow compared to most modern phones.

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is now available in the U.S., after launching in South Korea on April 5. But here’s the rub. The Galaxy S10 5G is an expensive phone as well as a large one. $1,300 is the starting price for Samsung’s first 5G phone and that price rises to $1,400 for the 512GB model. Verizon is offering some decent discounts on it, but you’ll have to commit to a 24 month contract to reap those benefits.

At the moment Verizon is subsidizing the $10 cost of 5G access, but that’s a time-limited deal, so you should definitely expect to pay more than your usual costs for access.

We don’t think you should wait to buy the S10 5G. If you like a non-5G phone — whether it’s the S10, S10e, or something else — go ahead and buy it, as the benefits of 5G won’t be as apparent for a few more years.

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