Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: A flagship to withstand the test of time

It’s everything a 2019 flagship should be and so much more

Price
£915
  • Solid construction; Decadent display; 5G-enabled; Power to burn
  • Very large; Bixby button is still annoying; Lack of 90Hz+ display

One could argue that Samsung's S10 5G is just another entry in its vast arsenal of flagship phones, which includes the S10 range as well as various Note 10 devices.  This may leave some wondering what the point of having all these flagship devices is. The answer is that they each bring something to the party that the other doesn't.

It may get lost in Samsung's catalogue but it certainly shines bright in the 5G market, which isn't exactly saturated right now. There aren't many options by way of premium phones that are also 5G capable, but with the UK's 5G networks becoming increasingly mature, businesses are growing more accustomed to the idea that they might need to start getting their employees 5G-equipped too. The S10 5G offers the sleek, more rounded style of the S10 along with every feature you could want from a 2019 smartphone. On paper, it looks like a winner but we can help you decide if it'll take first place in your eyes.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Design

Crafted in sleek, solid metal, the S10 5G is undeniably imposing - it has a serious pocket presence. The phone measures slightly larger than the brilliant S10+ so users with smaller hands should expect navigation, especially with buttons near the top of the 6.7in display, to be a touch more laborious.

Using the phone might be a two-hand-job for some and it definitely left a noticeable impression in our pockets, but the build quality is phenomenal, instantly apparent, and a clear selling point for this device. Its thick Gorilla Glass 6 front and back is pleasing to the touch (albeit a fingerprint magnet) and combined with the aluminium construction, the device's housing makes the phone feel as premium as it claims to be. You're also free to chuck it about in puddles thanks to its IP68 water resistance rating - something you won't find on other premium-priced 5G phones such as the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G.

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We've been moaning about Samsung's insistence on including a tactile Bixby button on its devices for years, but alas, our cries have not been heard. The annoyingly located button is all too easy to accidentally mishit when adjusting the volume. It's a minor thing that can be avoided as you grow more acquainted with the phone but annoying nonetheless. 

A 3.5mm headphone jack appeases the wired headphone enthusiasts but unlike the rest of the S10 line, there's no expandable memory slot. Storage capacity starts at 256GB though, so that coupled with cloud storage services means it shouldn't be much of an issue.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Display

Over the last few years, Samsung has cemented itself as a manufacturer with a mastery over displays and the S10 5G, like others in the S10 line, sports a phenomenally pleasing HDR10+ certified, dynamic AMOLED panel.

Wrapping around the sides of the phone, the screen offers a highly immersive experience and the divisive hole-punch front camera cutout does little to divert the eye. Speaking of which, this cutout has its own lighting feature. A white, halo-like light orbits the small notch to indicate that it's scanning for a face to unlock the phone - it's a really, really subtle touch of sheer class.

Just like it's 4G-only cousin, the S10, this device has a searingly bright screen, clocking 1057cd/m2 in our tests. It's decently colour accurate too, covering 96.2% of the sRGB colour gamut - and it's worth noting this is a very slight step down from the 98-99% results that Samsung's phones usually get. There's not a whole lot to dislike about the display though, truth be told. But, the fact it doesn't have a buttery smooth 90-120Hz display like so many other 2019 flagships is something that really hurts its appeal.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Hardware and performance

The S10 5G has the same Samsung Exynos 9820 chip as the all the other devices in the S10 lineup and, as such, they all performed very similarly in our benchmarking tests. The S10 5G's 8GB RAM helped it push up to a dizzying 4,473 score in the Geekbench tests (single core) which places it among the top-performing phones we've ever reviewed. In fact, only Apple's iPhone XS Max, XR and 11 Pro Max beat it, with scores topping 4,800. Keeping up with Apple's flagships, which consistently benchmark impeccably, is certainly something to shout about.

Samsung promises 29% better CPU performance and a 37% boost to the GPU when compared to the Galaxy S9. This was somewhat reflected in our benchmarking tests which saw the S10 5G beat the Galaxy S9+ by 23% on a CPU-based test. However, that wasn't the most impressive takeaway we had from our testing.

The S10 5G, like two generations of Galaxies before it, is compatible with Samsung's DeX feature which essentially allows your device to become a PC in your pocket. The S10 5G can connect to an external monitor or docking station via USB-C allowing you to use your apps in a ChromeOS-style desktop environment. This makes it a phenomenally convenient device, especially for hot-desking or agile working environments, but the really amazing part is the performance it packs into such a small device. The S10 5G's Geekbench scores beat the likes of Google's Pixelbook 2-in-1 by a considerable margin, which is even more impressive considering Google's device packs a full-size Intel CPU.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Battery

The battery in the S10 5G is an intriguing little component, not because there's anything exceptional about its design, but because of the vast differences in our personal experience and the benchmark test scores. 

We'll refer to our in-house battery test first, which involves putting the phone in flight mode and playing a looping video until it dies. In these tests the S10 5G scored a very respectable 20hrs 40 mins, and its hefty 4,500 mAh battery helped it to beat every iPhone we've ever tested.

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However, that didn't correlate to our real-world experience. Not one bit. When you get those data services revving back up then the battery starts to plummet hard. We never managed to get more than five hours of use out of the device when Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data services were active. 

On more than one occasion we'd observe the phone lose up to 40% of its battery during the workday despite being left on a desk and not touched at all. Perhaps we just got a dodgy battery, but we suspect the phone's chipset may have a role to play in this, or perhaps its 5G modem. The global devices use Samsung's Exynos 9820 chip while the US runs a Snapdragon X55 and there have been numerous reports of serious performance differences between the two.

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On the plus side, the phone features 25W fast charging via USB-C and it works extremely well. You can expect a full charge within 2-3 hours and with real-world performances like this, it's a good job too.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Cameras

The S10 5G is the only model in the S10 line to boast six lenses: four main rear cameras, including a 12MP telephoto, twin 12MP variable-aperture lenses (f/1.5 or 2.4), a 16MP ultra-wide angle and a time-of-flight (ToF) lens for 3D depth sensing. It also has the typical 10MP selfie camera in the notch.

Our overall impressions were good, but it's not mind-blowing. Expect the camera, like most smartphones, to perform much better in bright, natural light but the performance begins to dwindle as the day gets on. The dual aperture mode (f2.4 for day and f1.5 for night) does enough so you can take good snaps in both lighting conditions and it's definitely a very good camera overall; it's just not market-leading. 

If you want to capture scenery in the fullest possible way, the wide and ultra-wide angle lenses do a great job of opening up the field of view and its ability to shoot 4K video is a nice added touch.

The software enhancements in most modes are fairly evident and not always for the right reasons. As is becoming more common, the S10 5G has a portrait mode with Live Focus which can detect a shot's subject and adds an artificial depth of field effect behind it. Annoyingly, it will also apply the same blur to subjects in front of hard backgrounds like a door where there is little-to-no depth to percept. It also tends to smooth out people's skin in a very obvious and unappealing way.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Software and features

The main selling-point this phone has over the other S10s is its 5G-capability. Those looking for long-term purchases should seriously consider the S10 5G if you need a device right now. 5G is here, it's fast and it's here to stay which means long-term purchases simply must involve 5G as a consideration. A standard two-year contract will go by much slower when, after a year, you see all your colleagues in the office doing things you won't be able to do for another year or more. Buying a 5G phone is the best way to future-proof your purchase decision right now and should take greater precedence over things like a camera or display, in our book.

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From a hardware perspective, the S10 5G thoroughly excels, but one area that could definitely use some improvement is the in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is far from the most responsive we've ever used. While speed may not be on its side, Samsung can boast that its ultrasonic fingerprint scanner is the first ever to receive the FIDO Biometric Component Certification. This means it's certified as being one of the most accurate scanners around.

Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Verdict

The S10 5G really impressed us here; the build quality is phenomenal and the power under the hood is more than you could ever want. For us, this flagship might be on the pricier side, but it's the best long-term investment you'll find anywhere on the market and that is a very nice niche to champion. There's nothing else on the market that can rival the complete package that comes with the S10 5G - it's one of the best enterprise-ready devices available right now.

Verdict

The S10 5G is the spotlit star of Samsung's flagship-heavy portfolio of smartphones. It makes absolutely no compromises and its 5G-enablement means it's a far better long-term investment than most second-hand cars.

ProcessorOcta-core Samsung Exynos 9820 (2 x 2.73GHz, 2 x 2.2GHz, 4 x 1.78GHz)
RAM8GB 
Screen size6.4in
Screen resolution1,440 x 3,040
Pixel density522ppi
Screen typeDynamic AMOLED
Front camera10MP, RGB Depth Camera
Rear camera12MP telephoto, twin 12MP variable-aperture lenses (f/1.5 or 2.4), 16MP ultra-wide angle, time-of-flight (ToF) lens
FlashLED
Dust and water resistanceIP68
3.5mm headphone jackYes
Wireless chargingYes
USB connection typeUSB Type-C
Storage options256GB
Memory card slotNo
Wi-Fi802.11AX (Wi-Fi 6)
BluetoothBluetooth 5
NFCYes
Cellular data4G,5G
Dual SIMNo
Dimensions (WDH)162.6 x 77.1 x 7.94mm
Weight198g
Operating systemAndroid 9 Pie
Battery size4,500mAh
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