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Review: S10+

Level 2: Apprentice
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Samsung has a new phone out (actually 5, considering the 4 S10 variants, one of which -the S10 5G- is not released yet, plus the foldable Galaxy).

I am exclusively interested in phones that take good pictures, so that is why I’ve bought a S10+ to replace my Pixel 2 XL. 

Here are my thoughts after ~ 1 week.

1. Box

Simple box, model name across, inside we find:

  • a wall charger adapter in your region’s flavour (I’ve got the UK one)
  • the USB 3.0 to USB-C cable for the wall charger
  • adapter to Micro-USB for the USB-C part of the cable (good if you have bluetooth headphones still using the micro-usb port)
  • adapter to USB-C for the USB 3 part of the cable (used to transfer data between phones, or connecting devices that both have USB-C connectors, like graphic tablets, external SSD, HDD, memory sticks etc. etc.)
  • AKG wired headphones, braided cable, nice touch.
  • THE PHONE, which does come with a preinstalled (rather bad and cheap) factory protector film on the screen. I guess the days where Gorilla glass was advertised as “you do not need a protector film” are forgotten.

2. Design, an even ‘MORE’ Amoled (called Dynamic Amoled), resolution stat sheet stuffing and the 10e, oh, and reverse QI charging.

I’ve taken some pictures of it (the s10+ that is) with my Pixel, but everybody knows how it looks like by now, so forget about it, eh?

The 2 cameras in the front (one of which is not actually a camera, per say, but a rather confusingly named ‘depth sensor’) sit in the top right corner, a tiny island of mess that OCD lidden folk will try to avoid staring at for too long, but that the phone wallpaper community (which IS a thing, mind you) find absolutely delightful. 

I have to say, the S10 non plus variant, with its just one hole… punch hole display, does look better (for me) than the lengthier brother. The only reason I’ve went up to the ‘plus’ is the battery capacity hike compared to the other two.  

Comparing my two phones (pixel 2 xl, remember?), the S10+ is a bit smaller across the board in height, width, depth and I can ALMOST see the difference without a case on. It also has curved edges which you WILL accidentally press, regardless of experience (I’ve owned an S6 Edge before, also huawei p10). There is still a tiny bezel on top for the speaker grill and probably panel technology limitations, I assume, and there IS also a chin, albeit a small one, summing up a 88.9%(give or take) screen to body ratio.

Honestly, the phone does look good. The screen is ‘like a sticker’ on a slab of glass would be a correct assessment.  

Resolution. It comes defaulted to FHD+ (2280x1080) because, why not? You can see differences in some icons between the full resolution and the default one, but battery consumption plays a factor and the increase in resolution is kind of meaningless (in everyday usage) in most cases when you go above 300-400 DPI, depending on age and vision prowess. 

Now, regarding the 10e.

There is a case to be made for people (and there are lots) switching from Iphone 6, 6s, 7, 8 to a new phone, that the S10e is the perfect choice. It has roughly 30% more screen for roughly the same size. It also has the same specs as its bigger brothers, except for: 

  • the 2x zoom lens, meh, I don’t see a point in it. The real star is the super wide angle, which all variants have.
  • the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner in the screen  (which is 50% for me in hit or miss and much slower than a regular fingerprint scanner) being replaced by a side mounted scanner. 
  • screen resolution, the one I’ve just said is NOT selected by default on the s10+. Actually having a smaller screen and the same daily resolution means that images on the Galaxy S10e probably look BETTER, if you pixel peep. 

This also further destroys Apple’s chances to ever sell the Xr at an acceptable rate. Too bad. Not.

Oh… they have added Huawei’s QI battery depletion gimmick. This means you can now charge your friends’ phones, if they have QI wireless charging, that is. It IS slow, but it might be useful, right? 

3. UI, edge light, split screen, picture in picture, themes, always on display, lock screen and Nova Launcher.

The UI is completely different (what is ‘completely’, anyway?) than the Samsungs of old and that is a GOOD thing. It almost looks like the Pixel UI in what matters (yep, what ‘matters’, anyway?). 

The default theme is a bit colourful for my taste (should be named ‘unicorn fluffy dream’), but there are themes and icon packs and wallpapers available to download from the Samsung store installed on the phone. Some are free, some are not, you will find something. There is even one that makes your UI look like Apple’s, who would have thought?  

The notifications part is all inclusive, all accessible. They have lowered the icons on the panel to make it better suited for one hand operation. Thoughtful. There is also a night mode which can be activated arbitrarily or sunset to sunrise. Again, thoughtful. I am just using a theme that has dark UI anyway.

You get to choose from different styles of always on display and lock screen clocks, widgets. You can download different art pictures for the always on display, but they don’t actually do much except for placing an image on your screen when it’s not lit up and probably consuming some extra battery.

All in all, a good UI on android is all about the settings menu and how well you can find things, since everything else can be changed. Out of the box, the UI looks alright, too colorful for me. I like the search in the settings. Blah. That’s all. 

On a side note, I prefer smaller icons on the app dock, at least 6 apps that I know I will use and a clear screen. With this S10, I can put some other apps in the edge panel and I can have just the wallpaper to look at.

Notifications? Do you even ‘Light’?

The screen edge light show on receiving notifications is back, you can install new light models from the store and I like it. Also, on receiving a notification, you can drag it on top of your running app, picture in picture style, do your thing, close it. Quite nifty.

The edge panel has a drawer of apps, calendars, to-do lists, news, stock, whatever you want to chose, but not all at once. It’s also the place where you can pair apps together in order to start them in split screen mode.  

There is also the part where you get to chose both AOD (Always on display) and lock screen clocks/widgets. You can find AOD art in the store:

Default theme, with a wallpaper and dark mode.

Running app drawer with recently used apps:

Some other free theme from the store, you can see changed icons, menu colours and spacing:

This theme looks like Apple, does it not?

Being the Android user that I (sometimes) am (before the Pixel 2 XL, I used an Iphone 7 plus), I will always install Nova Launcher and just make it look my way. I will also replace Samsung’s or whoever’s message and photo gallery apps with Google’s. 

I will always want the app search that the Iphone has (swipe down on the screen) and I will always customise all gestures (double swipe down, press-swipe-up etc.) for different things that I want the phone to do. 

I will also resize icons, change icon shapes, make the phone grid an obscene app count number in terms of apps per row and actual rows on the screen. Change keyboard colours to match my programming IDE,  I will then combine it with the phone’s theme system and it will end up looking something hideous like this. An ‘Iphone-Galaxy-partial-icon-cutout-with-tabbed-app-drawer’ theme.

Of course, this happens every few weeks for me, so after a few days I’ll just try to go back to something as clean as possible. With this habit, after a few months, the Samsung’s default theme will start looking good for me.

4. Phone specs, Antutu, PC Mark

The EU region gets Samsung’s latest Exynos with Mali G76. They had issues with the cpu scheduler, tried to fix them, managed to do a bit, but the manufacturing process is still inferior than Qualcomm. The rest of world gets Qualcomm  Snapdragon 855 with Adreno 640. 

The exynos package is worse in benchmarks, always has been and I can bet that it will always will be. Realistically speaking both phones will work perfectly in everything you throw at them.

Antutu gets me close to 330k, while PCMark’s Work 2.0 gets 7947:


Now, the actual cameras are quite good, if we listen to DxOmark. 

What I care about is my experience with the cameras. This is also how many people feel. They will not see the pixels as well as a computer algorithm can, so they look at color, HDR. Many people will also know what Dynamic Range is and they can appreciate how different phones will behave under difficult lighting situations. 

I know a bit more about it than regular people. I know that the details will not be on par with bigger sensor cameras, regardless of how well they are processed, the software is not THERE yet, the point where it can bypass physics. 

So I am left with comparing the software part, since most companies use Sony sensors for their cameras. Samsung does use its own, kudos for that, but is it just more of the “Exynos” brand of stubborness?

Also keep in mind that my pixel 2 xl is one generation behind, so that’s my only sample right now.

The only aspect that really differentiate modern day DSLR, mirrorless, medium format mirrorless, medium format DSLR etc etc is, except for detail reproduction and color depth, DYNAMIC RANGE. Why is this important? What is dynamic range?

Well, dynamic range applies to  a photo that has very light and very dark areas and is how much detail you can keep in those areas in order to have as much detail as possible in both.

Example: let’s say you have a 2013 phone or camera and you are out in broad daylight, towards sunset, when the sky is almost level with the horizon. 

You will try to focus on your dog that is running towards the sun. If you focus on the dog, the sky and sun will be almost white. If you focus on the sky, your dog is now in a part of the photo that is almost black. 

A better (digital) camera will automatically adjust its output pixel brightness values to accommodate both the light and dark areas, making dark areas - lighter and light areas - darker. This effect is also horrendously used in HDR filters (HDR stands for High Dynamic Range) sometimes. Dynamic Range (DR) is measured in EV, which is a relative number that means steps of exposure between the lightest and darkest points in a picture and how much of those steps can the camera swallow before losing detail. A step means 2 times less or more. Example: if a photo has shadows (dark areas) with brightness value X, then if the lightest point in the frame is 8 times as bright, the EV of the picture is 3 (we said that a ‘stop’ is double or half).

Truly speaking, EV difference when shooting against the sun, bright lights, stresses even the best and most expensive of cameras, so it is a perfect test to distinguish between the default accuracy of phone cameras. 

So let’s take this typical London scenery, in Covent Garden, where the skies were blue, the clouds were fast and the wind was annoying.

Samsung S10+ photo, wide angle (normal cam)

Pixel 2XL photo:

These are default shots, no editing. 

We can see the lens flare more pronounced in the Samsung, but Google also has it as a white dot near the center. 

The Samsung preserves color in the dark areas much better, color reproduction overall is closer to reality, but the detail is gone. Just look at the bricks in the 2 pictures.

Google loses detail in the dark zones, but has better detail in the lighter and neutral zones. 

Overall, just looking at the pictures on the phone, the Samsung’s looks better, but the Pixel has more quality, albeit in fewer zones, if that makes any sense.

Dynamic range winner is Samsung, at the cost of detail. Google does make a stand, even for a last generation phone, providing mode detail, at the cost of losing dynamic range. 

Samsung gets the edge for colour reproduction.

There you have it, that was the only thing that I really cared about. In normal lighting conditions, Samsung and Google both take good pictures. Samsung takes the ‘ready for publishing on instagram’ aproach, while Google tries to offer more detail at the cost of colour, being that they are in general colder. None of the phones actually offer exact colour reproduction, but Samsung’s is more pleasing.

Samsung’s wide angle camera is what actually makes it a winner. I do not care for  zoom or fake bokeh (I will explain you guys sometime, maybe, why phones with variable aperture are useless in terms of image quality)

Here’s a ultra wide angle pic from my S10+

Imagine the possibilities of this camera, in terms of Instagram shoots, endless!