Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Big and beautiful but not always fast on 5G
Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G is a beautiful and fast phone, but you shouldn't rush to it just for 5G.
- Amazing camera.
- Feels great in the hand.
- Snappy application performance.
- 5G gives it network future proofing.
- The most expensive 5G phone yet.
- 5G networks aren't fast at launch.
- Battery performance is only average.
- No expandable storage.
When Samsung announced the Samsung Galaxy S10 series, much of the future-looking focus was around the Samsung Galaxy Fold. That left the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, itself a future-looking handset, somewhat in the background because Samsung pretty clearly intended for the Fold to go on sale first.
That's not what's happened, with the Galaxy Fold delayed due to construction issues, and the Galaxy S10 5G is now available on contract terms with Telstra. So should you dive into Samsung's largest phone?
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Design
- Brilliant Dynamic AMOLED display.
- Mirror finish picks up smudges easily.
- Bixby button still feels useless.
- Headphone jack still present.
The naming of the Galaxy S10 5G is an unusual one. You might assume from its name that it's just a 5G variant of the Galaxy S10. Instead, it's a slightly magnified version of the Galaxy S10+.
What that means is that you get the same wider "infinity O" punch hole in front of the Galaxy S10 5G's 6.7 inch screen, and no other onscreen distractions.
The 6.7 inch display is once again one of Samsung's truly brilliant Dynamic AMOLED screens, with an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor built into the front.
The hole punch front camera is exactly as much of a problem as you want it to be. Many Android apps still don't really think in terms of screens as tall as the Galaxy S10 5G, which means they cut off displays before the camera can obscure matters anyway.
While there are plenty of fan-made wallpapers for the S10 or S10+, they're rather thin on the ground for the Galaxy S10 5G just yet.
The rear of the Galaxy S10 5G features a glossy mirror finish, with a choice of hues and a horizontally laid out camera lens array. The lenses do provide a small bulge at the back.
I'd strongly suggest you opt for a case for the Galaxy S10 5G, if only because it gathers up smudges very easily, spoiling its refined looks.
Samsung sticks to very familiar territory with the buttons on the Galaxy S10 5G, with power on the right and volume and Bixby buttons on the left. USB C power and a 3.5mm headphone jack are located at the base of the handset, while the SIM card slot sits at the top.
You will, as I have done, hit the Bixby button from time to time while you're trying to drop the audio. Just as with every other phone Samsung has dropped it on, it's annoying that we can't officially remap it to a more useful function.
The Galaxy S10 5G is also water resistant, rated at IP68. This means you can immerse it in clean water and it should survive. It's not a licence to go surfing with it or leave it down a sewer for days on end, but it's very much a feature we'd expect on a premium flagship phone.Back to top
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Camera
- Quad lens provides lots of camera flexibility.
- Great video quality with live focus options.
- Easy to use camera app.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G has Samsung's most advanced camera array on a phone to date. It's a quad-camera phone at the rear, although that's only because the fourth camera is a time-of-flight sensor.
You don't shoot photos with that. It's there to detect distance in shots that you take with the other 3 cameras, which comprise a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens, a 12MP f/1.5-f/2.4 wide-angle lens and a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens.
It's not that functionally different from the Galaxy S10+, right down to Samsung's camera app, with a slider that switches between Food, Night, Panorama, Pro, Live Focus, Photo, Video, Live Focus Video, Super Slow Mo and Slow Motion shooting.
I'm a big fan of Samsung's layout here, because it splits the video and stills shooting modes quite neatly from each other without feeling cluttered.
One small trap in the video section is that the default for video shooting is in 4K. That's undeniably great for resolution purposes, but because the Galaxy S10 5G uses fixed storage, it does mean your videos are using up a very limited storage resource each time you shoot video unless you explicitly tell it not to.
That being said, the Galaxy S10 5G can capture some really gorgeous looking video. Here's a sample taken at Sydney's Vivid Festival of the Galaxy S10 5G's camera in action:
It's not the greatest story ever told, but given the dark and rainy atmosphere, it's surprisingly workable for consumer-grade video shooting.
The biggest battle in smartphone cameras of late has been between Samsung and Huawei, with the latter company producing some of the best camera phones of the last 12 months. However, Samsung is firing back heavily with the Galaxy S10 5G.
It's a mixed comparison. Huawei's P30 Pro has larger optical zoom distance, and slightly better low light performance, but Samsung's camera UI is more friendly, and its video performance is considerably better than that of the Huawei.
In the 5G phone space, the Samsung sits neatly ahead of the Oppo Reno 5G or LG V50 ThinQ for low light performance. You can read more about our 5G phone low light shootout here.
Ultimately the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G demonstrates that while Samsung may have slipped slightly against its competition, it's not a fight it's willing to lose. It's got a powerful and easy to use camera with plenty of flexibility.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G sample photos
Back to top
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Performance
- Exynos 9820 isn't quite the Snapdragon 855, but it's fast enough.
- OneUI is a great Android launcher.
- 5G isn't fast... yet.
- Fixed storage on a Galaxy phone feels like a throwback.
The internal recipe for the Galaxy S10 5G isn't terribly dissimilar to that of the higher-end Galaxy S10+. Internationally it's shipping with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 on board, but here in Australia (and as reviewed) it's using Samsung's own Exynos 9820 processor, paired up with 6GB of RAM.
There's no doubting that the Exynos is a powerful processor, although it's still trailing relative to the Snapdragon 855 or Apple's A12 Bionic in benchmark terms. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:
And here's how it stacks up using 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme test:
The Galaxy S10 5G has plenty of power to spare, and it hasn't missed a step in my tests, even with multiple intensive apps running. It's an Android 9 phone with Samsung's excellent OneUI launcher on top. I'm a big fan of Samsung's new simplified approach, although the larger nature of the Galaxy S10 5G's display does make OneUI's rather candy-coloured icons stick out a lot.
The Galaxy S10 5G has 5G on board, and right now you can only get it, and for that matter mobile 5G coverage, through Telstra.
My experiences testing out the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G's mobile prowess have been very mixed, to put it mildly. On the one hand, Telstra's own demonstrations within its labs have shown the Galaxy S10 5G hitting a very healthy 1.2Gbps downstream.
Out in the wild, my own experiences with the Galaxy S10 5G were much slower. Here's how it compared with a range of competing 5G devices:
Now, Telstra is constantly refining its network, and it's a little hard to pinpoint the blame on the Galaxy S10 5G specifically. What I can say is that 5G coverage right now is pretty limited, and the speeds aren't exactly mindblowing. There are some very good reasons to consider the Galaxy S10 5G, but curiously 5G doesn't appear to be one of them. It's fine as a future-proofing mechanism, because there's little doubt 5G will improve over time. But unless you're already covered by the existing rollout and don't move around much, it's got less of a compulsive draw.
It's not entirely surprising that the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G as tested was a single SIM model. Telstra has never offered a dual SIM contract phone, after all. What might surprise you more is that the Galaxy S10 5G is the first Samsung handset since the Galaxy S6 was around to skip out on supporting MicroSD expansion. Whether you opt for the 256GB or 512GB model, that's all the storage you're going to get.Back to top
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Battery life
- 4,500mAh battery provides best battery life of any of this year's Galaxy phones.
- But it still lags behind last year's models.
- Fast wired or wireless charging.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G features a 4,500mAh battery, no doubt benefitting from the extra space in its frame to do so. That's the largest battery capacity in any Samsung phone to date.
It comes in a year where I've been largely underwhelmed by Samsung's battery performance on its regular S10 handsets, so I was very keen to see how the Galaxy S10 5G handled matters.
Here's how the Galaxy S10 5G compares against current flagship models, as well as more recent Galaxy S phones:
On the plus side, the Galaxy S10 5G is easily the best battery performer of this year's crop of phones.
On the minus side, it's still not market-leading the way Samsung used to be, given that the Note9 and Galaxy S9+ both manage better battery figures.
The Geekbench 4 battery benchmark isn't quite a representation of absolute real world use, because it applies a regular workload over time, whereas real humans tend to use smartphones on and off. In more day to day testing, I could eke out a day's usage generally on the Galaxy S10 5G without too many worries.
It's at least very easy to keep charged, with support for fast wired charging over USB C and wireless charging as well. Like its recent siblings, it supports sharing its battery capacity out to other Qi-enabled devices, a feature that Samsung calls Powershare. It functions, but outside charging smaller devices such as Samsung's Galaxy Bud headphones, I'm struggling to find a genuinely practical use case for it.Back to top
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Should you buy it?
- Great performance and battery life.
- Design robs it of some premium features.
- The most affordable 5G phone, for now.
If you were looking at the Galaxy S10 5G purely because of that 5G suffix, I'd hold off for now. 5G availability is still very small, and realistically there will be other devices along soon at slightly friendlier price points.
That doesn't mean you should dismiss the Galaxy S10 5G entirely, because it's very clearly the best phone Samsung has released to date. Application performance is swift, the design is beautifully refined and the display is downright astonishing. Battery life has dipped for Samsung in recent times, but the Galaxy S10 5G is at least acceptable in this regard.
What that ultimately means is that while buying a 5G phone right now is a premium proposition no matter which way you jump, the Galaxy S10 5G is the undeniable "luxury" pick of the available trio of phones. In most respects, it backs that up, but then at its asking price, it would want to.Back to top
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Pricing and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is currently only available on contract terms with Telstra over 24 months. Samsung Australia representatives have told Finder that they're evaluating when or if the Galaxy S10 5G will be sold on an outright basis.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G: Alternatives
In the 5G space, currently you only have two other alternatives. The lowest cost alternative is Oppo's Reno 5G.
LG's V50 ThinQ is your other option. It's a little more pricey than the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G but comes with a unique "dual screen" accessory that gives it some additional functionality. Like the Samsung, it's available on contract with Telstra, but can also be purchased outright for $1,728.
If you wanted to keep it within the Samsung family but didn't want or need 5G, consider the Samsung Galaxy S10+.
Buy the Samsung Galaxy S10+ 128GB from Amazon AU
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ packs a massive 6.4-inch screen with support for HDR10+ and an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor concealed beneath the display. Grab yours now from Amazon Australia.View details
If you're happy to look further and want a better camera, you could consider the Huawei P30 Pro. It's still got the best camera of any phone we've ever tested, although there's a cloud over Huawei's future due to its dispute with the US government right now.
Huawei P30 Pro
Huawei's flagship camera phone
The Huawei P30 Pro combines the power of Huawei's own Kirin 980 chip, an exceptional battery and a class-leading quad-lens camera array.
- Astonishingly good camera.
- Hefty battery life.
- Kirin 980 processor performs well.
- Nice design.
If you want a better camera and wish to spend less, consider the Nokia 9 Pureview, with its amazing rear camera array. It's a better fit for photo professionals.
Nokia 9 Pureview
Nokia's camera-centric handset
The Nokia 9 Pureview is all about photography, with an astonishing 5 cameras all shooting at once to help you get superior shots.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G Specifications
|Display size (inches)||6.7|
|Display resolution (pixels)|
|Pixels per inch (PPI)||505|
|Battery size (mAh)||4,500|
|Rear camera (1) resolution||12|
|Rear camera (1) aperture||f/2.4|
|Rear camera (2) resolution||12|
|Rear camera (2) aperture||f/1.5-f/2.4|
|Rear camera (3) resolution||16|
|Rear camera (3) aperture||f/2.2|
|Front camera (1) resolution||10|
|Front camera (1) aperture||f/1.9|
|Front camera (2) resolution|
|Front camera (2) aperture|
|Network category speed||Category 20|