I’ve had the pleasure of using many Android devices, dating back to the Google G1 and all the way up to the Galaxy S10. However, it’s not often I get an opportunity to review a smartphone with a complimentary pair of equally impressive earbuds. I have been using the Galaxy S10+ with the Galaxy Buds since they were announced back in February —Samsung offered the combo to anyone who pre-ordered the phone. In this column, I’d like to break down my experience with both devices and why I think they make a great pair for daily productivity.
Display and design
Like the Galaxy S10, the S10+ embraced a triple camera design on the back with an incredibly thin and light form factor. The S10 and S10+ both ditched the ‘notch’ and visible fingerprint reader of previous generations to create a beautiful edge-to-edge display. The front-facing camera have a ‘dotch’ (a dot-notch where the front-facing camera leaves a hole inside the screen), but I think this was a temporary compromise to avoid adding a pop-up camera or another notch. In my experience, the dotch doesn’t really interfere with watching videos or taking selfies.
The display itself is one of the most gorgeous displays I have ever seen in my life and is really the only way that you can fully enjoy the HDR10+ video this phone can capture. I even prefer watching TV shows on my Galaxy S10+ over my iPad or laptop—the display truly is that good. Samsung is a world leader in smartphone displays, and with the Galaxy S10+ it shows. The dynamic range of the display allows you to appreciate HDR content in ways other displays cannot, and, thanks to its variable brightness, the screen looks great in virtually all lighting conditions.
As mentioned earlier, Samsung eliminated the fingerprint sensor from the back, opting instead for a Qualcomm ultrasonic fingerprint reader that hides underneath the screen. Unlike capacitive and optical fingerprint sensors, this sensor still works with wet hands. The speed of the fingerprint sensor improved over time with a few early updates from Samsung, though it’s still a hair on the slow side for me at times. It needs to feel instant, in my opinion.
Since we’re talking design, I want to give a nod to the Galaxy Bud designers. I believe the Galaxy Buds are the best looking, most compact earbuds I’ve ever used—even more elegant and functional than Apple ’s EarPods. Due to their size, they are nearly invisible and lightweight. The Galaxy Buds also conveniently charge inside of their battery case.
Qualcomm ’s Snapdragon 855 processor powers the Galaxy S10+. The phone feels faster than ever, and, thanks to improvements to Samsung’s One UI, it no longer feels like the device’s Android customizations hamper its performance. We can talk about Bixby another day, but I found the overall performance in daily use to be absolutely fantastic. I also benchmarked the Snapdragon 855 in the Galaxy S10+ and performance is among the fastest ever, especially on the GPU side with the latest Adreno graphics. In certain regions of the world, the S10+ features Samsung’s Exynos processor, though many reviewers have found the Snapdragon version to be both faster and more power-efficient.
This may be the first phone I’ve used that didn’t seemingly start to slow down as soon as I used it. That is something I’ve noticed with Android devices, but Samsung appears to have mitigated that. Samsung generally recommends you restart the phone once a week, which may contribute to the device’s overall snappiness. I rarely have any kind of performance issues with the device even when multitasking.
Camera (photo and video)
The camera on the Galaxy S10+ is by far Samsung’s best camera to date, in my opinion. The three-lens design with three different sensors was a great decision, even if Samsung was a bit late to the three-lens/three-sensor party. To be fair, Samsung’s execution of the three-camera system is excellent—the wide-angle camera really adds quite a bit of utility compared to others that I have used. Unlike some other Android manufacturers, Samsung was unafraid to go with an ultra-wide-angle and use a bit of camera lens correction to resolve some of the lens distortion. Out of all the other leading Android smartphones, I found the S10+’s wide angle and lens distortion correction to be the highest quality and the most helpful in getting “the shot.” That said, there were times when I missed opportunities because the camera itself took too long to initialize. I think faster camera launch times would be very welcome.
One of my biggest qualms with the Galaxy S10’s camera system was the lack of a true ‘night mode.’ As it stands today, the Galaxy S10 and S10+ night mode can only be done in automatic mode, when the system detects a low-light scene that it can boost. Huawei and OnePlus and many other manufacturers have low-light modes, and I’m disappointed that Samsung doesn’t. That said, when the S10+’s automatic low-light mode does work, it’s very competitive with some of the leading low-light modes from its competitors.
Another thing that I would like to see Samsung improve is the Galaxy S10+’s wide-angle selfie lens. It does not really add much more in the shot when you switch between the two lenses, and it doubles the size of the ‘dotch’ to almost no benefit. I would like to see Samsung adopt a strategy similar to what Google did with the Pixel 3, which has a very wide-angle lens and a regular wide-angle option for selfies. This, along with the nearly flawless portrait mode, is why I still consider the Pixel 3 to be the selfie king.
As for the much-anticipated Instagram mode on the device, I didn’t really feel like Samsung or Instagram fully leveraged the partnership. Samsung supposedly gave Instagram early and full access to its new camera APIs and after a few times of trying to use Instagram mode I was left dissatisfied with the quality and speed compared to the main camera. I thought this would be a much bigger feature, and very little co-marketing happened after the launch. The user experience was a bit mediocre at first, but it seems to work well now. Both stability and quality seem to have improved but many people still don’t know that the camera mode exists or that quick sharing to Instagram is possible from the gallery. I still find myself using the default camera or the Instagram app camera more often than the Instagram mode in the main camera.
On the video side, Samsung absolutely hit it out of the park. HDR10+ video is an absolute must-have feature for anyone that wants to really capture the magic of being somewhere. I recorded almost an entire Muse concert from the front row and I was absolutely blown away by the dynamic range, colors, and flawless frame rate of the footage—even in low light. Unfortunately, the footage is best enjoyed on the S10+ screen—most other displays don’t have the kind of color depth or dynamic range to really do the content justice. I was glad to see that Samsung also included its Super Slow-mo and regular Slow-mo camera modes. However, while the overall image quality seems to have improved in the slow-motion captures, low light sensitivity is still a problem when shooting at 960 fps.
The Galaxy S10+ is absolutely loaded with connectivity, including support for Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 may not seem like a big deal today, but it will be an extremely important feature, as it improves coverage, speed and security for both routers and devices using them. This is a welcome bit of future-proofing for the S10+, allowing for better and faster connectivity once Wi-Fi 6 becomes ubiquitous.
While the Galaxy S10+ is one of the last phones among the major smartphone manufacturers that still has a headphone jack, it is rumored that the upcoming Galaxy Note10 may finally ditch it. I will be honest—while I like the idea of a headphone jack, I have maybe used it once in the 5 months I’ve had the device. Most of my audio is sent over Bluetooth to the Galaxy Buds, my car, or my Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones. The S10+’s Bluetooth is solid, aided by the Snapdragon 855’s built-in Bluetooth 5, which improves range, performance, and battery life. I’ve been pretty happy with the Galaxy S10+’s Bluetooth range, though there’s always room for improvement.
The Galaxy S10+ also features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X24 LTE modem, which is an LTE Cat. 20 modem with theoretical peak download speeds of 2 Gbps and uploads of 316 Mbps. Additionally, the Galaxy S10+ is one of the most versatile devices in terms of connectivity--it supports many different LTE bands around the world on various different carriers. I’ve been impressed by some of the speed test results I’ve gotten over LTE on the Galaxy S10+ on T-Mobile—especially in favorable spectrum and site-location markets like New York City.
Ultimately, I believe that the user experience of the Galaxy S10+ is a significant improvement over predecessors. Many things have been automated and streamlined. For example, pairing the Galaxy Buds with the Galaxy S10+ is as easy as holding the case near the phone and opening it. I also love how Samsung takes advantage of the edge display: when the phone is facing down, it glows green around the edges to indicate an incoming call and announces who is calling over the speaker. I also appreciated the small timer bar that runs around the front-facing camera when taking time-delayed selfies.
I also love the work Samsung did with Google to increase the separation between work and play. Users can utilize Knox to create a well-defined Android for Work zone within the phone that keeps personal and work data separate. I will say that using the camera and downloading files can sometimes be problematic; you have to dig a little deeper than usual to get some things. I think it should be easier to grab non-secure data from the secure container of the phone. Keeping this data separate is a good thing, but friction is not.
Overall, the UX on the S10+ feels very balanced between entertainment and productivity. I am so accustomed now to the Samsung S10+’s productivity and the ability to quickly switch between apps or run them simultaneously, that I would have trouble switching back to my previous device. That said, while the Galaxy S10+ replaced my Note9 as my primary productivity device, I expect that the Note10, when it comes out, will do the same to the Galaxy S10+.
Samsung really needs to do something with Bixby. Samsung is still struggling to justify the consumer and business cases for Bixby. There’s no reason currently why I would start using Bixby instead of Google Assistant—especially when you consider how feature-rich Google Assistant and Google Home are now. II would really like to see Samsung release a feature that people want and need rather than trying to cram Bixby down people’s throats. Make them want Bixby, not hate it. I’ve been saying this since the Samsung Galaxy S9+ review I published last year.
The Galaxy Buds have been on a bit of journey. At launch, they had lots of problems and required multiple software updates. However, after those software updates, the Galaxy Buds not only sound good, but have decent battery life. T I believe that the Galaxy Buds are a significantly superior design to the Apple AirPods. Furthermore, I believe that if someone were to slap an Apple logo on them, most consumers would be none the wiser and assume they’re just the next generation of AirPods. The truth is that for what I use the Galaxy Buds for—walking, cleaning, and working out—they are absolutely great.
I do not consider these a replacement for my Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones. The Galaxy Buds don’t have ANC and are not very good at isolation. However, they do have an ambient mode and a bass boost, which is extremely important in any small-size earbuds. I hated wireless earbuds in the past—they were always either uncomfortable, too large and unwieldy, or they fell out all the time. I was surprised by how much I liked Galaxy Buds, and by how well they fit and sound. For me, the biggest problems are their limited range and the occasional short bit of interference. While these issues were much more noticeable in earlier software versions, there is still room for improvement on signal strength in the next generation.
After five months of use, I can say that there isn’t a flagship Android phone that I would recommend above the Galaxy S10+. With its excellent display and powerful performance, the device is a perfect mix for productivity and entertainment. The Galaxy Buds blow other wireless earbuds on the market out of the water, and complement the S10+ very nicely. I have almost all the other Android phones out there, and while many of them have upsides, none of them are as complete a package as the S10+. Nice work, Samsung. I look forward to getting my hands on the Note10.