Samsung Galaxy S10e Review (Exynos): A Refreshingly Small Flagship with a Great User Experience
Samsung is the world’s largest Android device maker by quite a margin. However, the company has faced strong competition over the past few years from Huawei at the high-end and from Xiaomi at the budget and mid-range segments. The Samsung Galaxy S9 was generally noted as a safe step forward for the company with few notable changes, and Samsung’s financial bottom line suffered accordingly as its sales figures were lower than expected. During the same year, Samsung’s chief rival, Huawei, was speeding forward with the releases of phones such as the Huawei P20 Pro and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which were both packed with triple rear cameras and gradient designs. Samsung, therefore, needed to step up to meet the challenge.
The company’s response to this was to revamp its product strategy and release three versions of the flagship Samsung Galaxy S10. For the first time in years, Samsung released a cheaper model of its flagship Galaxy S device in the form of the Galaxy S10e, alongside the mid-size Galaxy S10 and the top-end Galaxy S10+. With its flat 5.8-inch display, the Galaxy S10e ends up being one of the rare small Android flagships that don’t cut corners with respect to specifications. The Galaxy S10e still has a flagship list of specifications while having a substantially cheaper price than the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10+. Will this be enough to make it a default recommendation for the best value Samsung flagship, as well as for the best compact Android flagship?
Let’s explore these questions in our full review. I should note here that I haven’t extensively used a Samsung phone since the Samsung Galaxy S III days, which should ensure that this review will be free from preconceived notions. With that said, let’s begin.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Specifications - Click to expand
|Device Name:||Samsung Galaxy S10e||Price||₹55,900/€749/£669 for 6GB/128GB|
|Software||One UI 1.1 on top of Android 9 Pie||Display||5.8-inch Full HD+ (2280×1080) Dynamic AMOLED with 19.5:9 aspect ratio, HDR10+ support, 438 PPI|
|SoC||Exynos 9820; Mali-G76MP12 GPU||RAM and storage||6GB/8GB RAM with 128GB/256GB UFS 2.1 storage; microSD card slot|
|Battery||3,100mAh; Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging (15W fast charger bundled in the box); Fast Wireless Charging (12W); Wireless PowerShare (reverse wireless charging)||Connectivity||USB Type-C (USB 3.1) port; Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0; Dual nano-SIM slots (nano-SIM + nano-SIM/microSD)|
|Rear camera||Front camera|
|142.2 x 69.9 x 7.9 mm, 150 g||Bands||GSM: Band 2/3/5/8|
About this review: I have the Indian dual-SIM SM-G970F 6GB RAM/128GB storage variant of the Samsung Galaxy S10e for review. The unit was provided by Samsung India for reviewing purposes.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Design
The Samsung Galaxy S10e manages to positively differentiate itself on the basis of its design. To begin with, its design is the first new design on a Samsung flagship since the Samsung Galaxy S8. While the Galaxy S9 featured largely the same design, the Galaxy S10e features significantly smaller bezels, a hole punch front camera, and new Prism color options, all of which combine to make the phone stand out against its predecessors.
In terms of build quality, the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s construction is largely the same as past Samsung flagships. It has Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back, with a glossy aluminum frame sandwiched in between. Notably, the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ have Gorilla Glass 6 protecting the display, while the cheaper Galaxy S10e opts to go with the older and weaker Gorilla Glass 5. The fit and finish of the construction here is great, and while glass isn’t the most durable material for a phone’s back, it enables wireless charging — which has now become an essential feature in top-tier flagships — and prism color options. The aluminum frame provides rigidity, but the Samsung Galaxy S10e isn’t unique in this regard as even mid-range and affordable flagship phones have metal + glass designs these days.
While the phone’s build quality isn’t quite unique, its design stands out from the more common gradient color options on the market. The front of the Galaxy S10e is mostly taken up by the 5.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with thin bezels at the top and sides and a thicker chin at the bottom. The Galaxy S10e’s bezels are thicker than its more expensive Galaxy S10 variants, but it still manages a relatively good screen-to-body ratio of 83.3%. (Phones with popup/rotating cameras like the Galaxy A80 are crossing the 90% screen-to-body ratio, so there is still room for improvement here.) The earpiece is on the phone’s top frame, while the ambient light and proximity sensors have been moved under the display. The hole punch camera is placed at the top right of the display, and we will have more to say on it in the Display section.
The top of the Samsung Galaxy S10e contains the SIM tray and the secondary microphone. In the international Exynos variant, the SIM tray is a hybrid solution, which means that it can either take dual nano-SIMs or a nano-SIM and a microSD card. Samsung should be applauded for keeping the microSD card slot, but it would have been better for the company to have included a triple dedicated slot so that users wouldn’t have to choose between dual-SIM functionality and microSD expansion. As it is, other flagship phones also sadly don’t have a dedicated microSD card slot these days, so the situation is less than optimal.
The right-hand side contains the power button, which has an integrated capacitive physical fingerprint sensor. The Samsung Galaxy S10e is the first Galaxy S phone to feature a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, breaking away from the back-mounted placement of the Galaxy S9 series. The Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, on the other hand, feature ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensors. The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s fingerprint sensor is capacitive, so users don’t need to press the power button. It should be noted that the power button on the Galaxy S10e has arguably been placed too high, and we will have more to say on the implications of this for unlocking speed in a later section.
The left-hand side has the volume buttons and the Bixby key. The buttons are great as they have the right amount of stiffness and actuation force. The Bixby key can be easily confused with the volume down button, however. On the bottom, we find our trusty 3.5mm headphone jack, the primary microphone, and the bottom speaker. The Samsung Galaxy S10e has stereo speakers as the earpiece does double duty as a speaker.
The dual 12MP + 16MP cameras are placed at the center on the back in a separate camera section along with the LED flash. The Samsung Galaxy S10e doesn’t have a heart rate monitor like the standard Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10+. The Samsung logo is placed below the cameras, and at the bottom, we have the regulatory text. The back is where the design comes into its own. The Samsung Galaxy S10e is sold in Prism White, Prism Black, Prism Blue, Sunshine Yellow, and Pink, but color availability is region-dependent. India, for example, gets only the Prism White and Prism Black colors.
I have the Prism White color for review and it looks fantastic. The “Prism” part of the name means that the single color shifts depending on ambient lighting, in contrast to a gradient color scheme that uses two or more different shades. The phone’s color actually appears to be a light shade of blue under most types of cold ambient lighting, but it can also appear white or pink under warm natural lighting. Similarly, the Prism Black color appears to look dark blue under most ambient lighting. Simply put, the color options here are executed very well. The Samsung Galaxy S10e also has an IP68 rating for water resistance.
The glossy nature of the glass back and the glossy chrome metal frame are negatives in my view. Not only does this make the phone slippery, but it also attracts fingerprints, which are thankfully less visible on the Prism White variant. It would be good if Samsung could make matte finish glass back variants for its future phones, as already seen on the Google Pixel 3 XL‘s etched soft touch glass, the LG V40 ThinQ, and the OnePlus 6T.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s ergonomics are a refreshing change from the ergonomics of 6.4-inch flagships. The phone’s size is diminutive, and it feels quite light at 150 grams. It has a flat metal frame and a flat glass back, two aspects which would usually negatively affect a phone’s ergonomics. The Galaxy S10e, however, isn’t affected to the same extent as the phone fits in the hand. The phone’s narrow width of 69.9 mm is a big factor towards making it viable to use with a single hand. I personally prefer bigger displays and have reviewed a few 6.3-inch+ phones in the last couple of months. However, it was a refreshing experience to go back to a phone with a display diagonal of 5.8-inches with a 19:9 aspect ratio. For users who have been awaiting a compact Android flagship to compete with the 5.8-inch iPhone XS and to fill in the absence of small Android flagships, the Samsung Galaxy S10e deserves serious attention.
In the box, Samsung bundles a 15W Adaptive Fast Charger, 3.5mm in-ear earphones tuned by AKG, a hard plastic white case, and a USB OTG (USB Type-C to USB Type-A) cable. The full-featured box package is definitely nice to see, and I wish competitors could take after Samsung’s lead here. On the other hand, Samsung is falling behind in terms of charging speeds, and we will have more to say on this later.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Display
The Samsung Galaxy S10e has a 5.8-inch Full HD+ (2280×1080) Dynamic AMOLED display with a 19:9 aspect ratio and 438 pixels per inch (PPI). The display’s dimensions are 133 mm x 63 mm. The advent of taller aspect ratios has resulted in making display diagonal size a largely meaningless figure. The phone has a 5.8-inch 19:9 display, which means that when compared with an old-school 5.8-inch 16:9 display, it has the same length but drastically narrower width. The display’s width is comparable to a 5.1-inch 16:9 display.
The Galaxy S10e supports the HDR10+ standard, and the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones are actually the first phones to support it. We have done an exhaustive display analysis of the standard Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10’s display, so readers should definitely check that out. The Galaxy S10e’s display is mostly the same with the exception of a few notable points. Firstly, the display is flat, making the Samsung Galaxy S10e the first Galaxy S phone to feature a flat display since 2016’s Samsung Galaxy S7. Samsung went all-in with curved displays starting with the Galaxy S8, after first introducing the feature in the Galaxy Note Edge and the Galaxy S6 Edge.
A curved display has the advantage of making a phone narrower, but it also introduces glare, distortion, and the possibility of accidental touches if the touch rejection software is poor. It also reduces usable screen real estate. In the past, Samsung promoted Edge panels as a feature of the Edge display, but edge panels are available on the Galaxy S10e as well, as they don’t require a curved display to work. Therefore, Samsung’s choice to go with a flat display on the Galaxy S10e was a smart choice.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e also has a Full HD+ (2280×1080) display instead of a Quad HD+ display. The most likely reason for moving to a Full HD+ display is to save cost, considering that the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S9 both featured 5.8-inch Quad HD+ (2960×1440) 18.5:9 displays. This may, therefore, be thought of as a downgrade. However, such an approach neglects reality. The Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+, Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9+, Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10+ all ship with Full HD+ resolution by default to save power. As we pointed out in our Galaxy S10 display review, a downscaled Full HD+ resolution on a Quad HD+ panel is actually less sharp than a Full HD+ resolution on a native Full HD+ panel.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e, therefore, is sharper out of the box than the aforementioned Quad HD+ Galaxy S phones, and as most users don’t change the display resolution, going with a native Full HD+ resolution is actually an advantage. The optimal step would be to go with a custom display resolution that satisfies both resolution and power efficiency concerns, but Samsung risks losing its highly prized economies of scale by using such display resolutions.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s brightness is excellent, with one small caveat. Samsung’s active High Brightness Mode continues to be one of the best, reaching as high as 700+ nits at high APLs, and as a result, the display has outstanding sunlight legibility even in Mumbai. However, competitors from LG Display and BOE Display (as seen on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro) are closing the gap here. When not using High Brightness Mode, the phone’s display reaches a maximum of 310-320 nits in manual brightness indoors like its bigger brothers. This is dimmer than most other phones such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the OnePlus 6T, but there is a reason for this. Samsung is limiting maximum brightness in manual mode indoors to limit the dynamic luminance difference at different Average Picture Levels (APL), which is done with the intention of getting a more accurate gamma. Power is also saved by limiting maximum brightness.
As this is an AMOLED panel, contrast is theoretically infinite. The viewing angles are also excellent, with minimal angular color shift and no loss of brightness and contrast across angle changes. It should once again be noted here that LG Display and BOE Display’s advancements mean that Samsung is no longer head-and-shoulders above the competition in this respect. In fact, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s BOE Display panel actually has less color shift than the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s Dynamic AMOLED display.
With respect to color accuracy, Samsung ships the Galaxy S10e’s display with Natural color mode as the default in regions such as North America and Europe. However, Vivid mode is shipped as the default mode in India, which is definitely a bit disappointing to see. This is most likely because many consumers prefer saturated, vibrant colors, even if they are not accurate. Vivid mode is oversaturated by design as it covers a huge native display gamut and doesn’t adhere to any specific display standard. It also doesn’t support automatic color management.
On the other hand, the Natural mode does support automatic color management (with all the caveats that Android’s color management system currently has), and Samsung’s Gallery app supports wide color gamut photos (again, with a few caveats). The Natural mode is, therefore, calibrated both to the sRGB and DCI-P3 gamuts. In terms of calibration, Samsung continues to do a mostly great job, but the company still struggles with some issues such as the white point (which is a bit too warm), gamma, and black clipping.
The hole punch front camera is pretty good in terms of usability. Yes, it does significantly increase the size of the status bar, and yes, the space above the hole punch camera is wasted. This means that it’s arguable whether a display hole is better than a waterdrop notch. On the other hand, the display hole is significantly better than a traditional wide display notch because of the increased screen real estate. The next major advancement would be under-screen front cameras, which may or may not be ready in 2020.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s display is one of the best smartphone displays out there, and buyers are unlikely to have complaints here in most major areas.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Performance
The Samsung Galaxy S10e comes in two variants. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 variant of the phone is sold in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Japan, while the Exynos 9820 variant is sold in the rest of the world. The Snapdragon 855 is a known quantity by now, and there is no doubt that it’s a great SoC. We have previously benchmarked it, examined its performance and AI improvements, and benchmarked the SoC in a phone in the form of the Xiaomi Mi 9.
The Exynos 9820 definitely has a lot more to prove. Last year’s Exynos 9810 proved to be a disappointment despite its wide Exynos M3 core, which had a 6-wide decode width in comparison to the Arm Cortex-A75‘s 3-wide decode width. Despite having a wider CPU, the Exynos 9810 underperformed in system performance benchmarks as well as in real-world UI performance. This was because of a variety of factors: the use of an obsolete hotplugging mechanism, a too slow scheduler, issues with the memory subsystem, and more. The Mali-G72MP18 GPU also couldn’t compete with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845‘s Adreno 630 GPU. Samsung did improve real-world performance in the One UI Android Pie update for the Galaxy S9/Galaxy Note 9, but all in all, the Snapdragon variants of last year’s Samsung flagships were superior to their international Exynos variants.
The Exynos 9820 has a triple-cluster arrangement as it uses CPU cores of three different types. It has two Exynos M4 (Cheetah) “big” cores clocked at 2.73GHz (the hotplugging mechanism is thankfully no more). Then we have two Arm Cortex-A75 “medium” cores clocked at 2.31GHz. Finally, we have four Arm Cortex-A55 “little” cores clocked at 1.95GHz. The SoC features the Mali-G76MP12 GPU clocked at 702MHz, which is a wider variant of the Kirin 980’s Mali-G76MP10. Therefore, it’s expected to be faster than the Kirin 980’s GPU.
The Exynos 9820 is also the first Exynos SoC to feature a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU). The rated performance of this is 7 TOPS. Due to issues with the lack of available machine learning APIs at this nascent stage of dedicated AI hardware and with the difficulty of benchmarking an NPU, this review does not attempt to benchmark the Exynos 9820’s NPU. Readers interested in learning how the Exynos 9820’s NPU compares with the Kirin 980’s dual NPUs and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855’s AI Engine are advised to check out AnandTech‘s analysis of the AI benchmarks.
Samsung’s latest flagship SoC is manufactured on Samsung Foundry’s 8nm LPP process. Unfortunately, the Exynos 9820 suffers from a density and efficiency disadvantage as both of its competitors — the Snapdragon 855 and the Kirin 980 — are manufactured on TSMC’s superior 7nm FinFET process. The extent of this disadvantage can be seen in the die size of the SoC, as the Exynos 9820 is simply a lot bigger than the Snapdragon 855. Samsung Foundry’s 7nm EUV process was too late for the Exynos 9820, while the upcoming Kirin 985 will be manufactured on TSMC’s brand new 7+nm EUV process. The Exynos Galaxy S10e is inferior to the Snapdragon S10e in this regard, but this is not the defining factor to have an impact on real-world performance and battery life.
The Exynos M4 big cores and the Cortex-A75 medium cores will compete head-to-head with the Arm Cortex-A76-based Kryo 485 in the Snapdragon 855 as well as the A76 big and medium cores in the Kirin 980. The medium cores of the Exynos 9820 have an obvious disadvantage (A75 vs. A76) relative to the Snapdragon 855 and the Kirin 980, while all three chips have the same little CPU core type in the form of the Cortex-A55. The Exynos 9820 has a significantly better scheduler than the Exynos 9810, according to AnandTech. However, the Snapdragon 855 still has a more responsive scheduler than the Exynos 9820 with a faster load tracking mechanism in the form of WALT.
To test system performance, we start off with the industry standard PCMark, which holistically tests performance across common use cases such as web browsing, photo editing, writing, and more using a range of Android APIs. For example, the Writing 2.0 test uses the AndroidEditText view and the PdfDocument APIs.
In the PCMark Work 2.0 overall score, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e struggles to differentiate itself against its competitors. It narrowly beats the Xiaomi POCO F1, but is beaten significantly by the OnePlus 6T and the Google Pixel 3 XL. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the Snapdragon 855 variants of the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones are the leaders in the overall score by quite a big margin. In the Web Browsing 2.0 test, the Samsung Galaxy S10e beats the POCO F1 and the OnePlus 6T but loses to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. In the Video Editing test, it beats the OnePlus 6T and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro while losing to the POCO F1 (although all phones are separated by very small margins).
The Writing 2.0 test is the most important as it generates frequent bursts of activity and reveals performance differences. Previous Exynos phones tended to perform poorly here, but the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e does represent an improvement. It beats the POCO F1 but still ends up losing to the OnePlus 6T, while the Huawei Mate 20 Pro leads the chart. The Photo Editing 2.0 score is another tough test for the Exynos as it posts the lowest results among flagship competitors. Qualcomm’s lead here means that the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e is outperformed even by the budget Qualcomm Snapdragon 675-powered Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro. The Kirin 980 interestingly doesn’t seem to have issues here as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is slightly better than the POCO F1. The Snapdragon 855 Samsung Galaxy S10, the Google Pixel 3 XL, and the OnePlus 6T are at the top. Finally, the Data Manipulation score is slightly better for the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e as it ends up beating the POCO F1 and going neck-to-neck with the OnePlus 6T while scoring below the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
We test Speedometer 2.0 next for web browsing performance. This test is run on the latest version of Google Chrome stable. Despite having a wider CPU with 6-wide decode width versus 4-wide decode width of the A76, the Exynos M4 still doesn’t manage to score on par with the leading Huawei Mate 20 Pro here. On the other hand, it does manage to beat the OnePlus 6T and the POCO F1, while the Snapdragon 855 variant of the phone ends up in a tie with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
With the Exynos 9810, Samsung was criticized for focusing more on Geekbench performance rather than performance in holistic tests such as PCMark. To a lesser extent, this continues with the Exynos 9820. Geekbench reports a highly impressive score of 4312 for the single-core score and a decent score of 9772 for the multi-core score, but system and web performance benchmarks can’t score on the level of the Geekbench single-core score. (For comparison, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro scores 3390/10140 in the single-core and multi-core scores.) On the basis of Geekbench, the Exynos 9820 has the fastest single-core performance of Android phones, but Speedometer and PCMark clearly reveal this not to be the case. Overall, Samsung’s microarchitecture doesn’t quite live up to its lofty promises, and there is room for improvement in the next generation.
Storage performance continues to be an important part of the performance. My Samsung Galaxy S10e unit has 128GB of UFS 2.1 NAND. AndroBench speeds are shown in the screenshot above. While differences in sequential writes and random reads are within margin of error (with the Galaxy S10e being ahead in sequential writes), Samsung’s storage solution is significantly slower than the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s storage in terms of sequential reads and random writes, as there is a 100MB/s difference in sequential reads and a whopping 200MB/s difference in random writes. This is perplexing to see, considering that Samsung was actually the first to release a phone with UFS storage. At least for now, the company is restricting its newest, fastest UFS 3.0 storage for the ultra-expensive Galaxy Fold.
UI performance, RAM management, and unlocking speed
Note: All observations in this section are with respect to build version G970FXXU1ASCA, the latest software version available for the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e as of writing.
The Exynos Galaxy S10e’s UI performance is respectable, but there are still some caveats to keep in mind. For the most part, the phone’s real-world UI performance in One UI is fast and smooth. The One UI Launcher, however, still struggles with frame drops in the app drawer swipe up animation. At least two times out of ten, the animation will drop frames and show perceptible jank. This has been the case for quite a few generations now — I noticed it in an Exynos Galaxy S8 store display unit two years ago — and Samsung still hasn’t entirely fixed the issue, although it has been mitigated. Users can download a third-party launcher to fix this on their own.
Heavy tasks on Android, such as updating multiple apps on the Play Store at once, navigating the Play Store’s app listing pages, and panning and zooming on Google Maps present minimal issues for the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e. The phone isn’t quite as smooth as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the OnePlus 6T in performing these tasks, but it manages to closely shadow them. App launch times are also on par with flagship competitors. One UI also provides a setting to reduce animations without going into Developer Options, which is nice to see. While the Exynos Galaxy S10e’s transitions are not as smooth as the fast and snappy OnePlus 6T or the slippery smooth Huawei Mate 20 Pro, they are good in their own right. The phone is neither the fastest nor the smoothest, but UI performance isn’t a major concern.
Unfortunately, these aforementioned heavy tasks on Android present a different issue for the Exynos Galaxy S10e: heat. Thermals on the Samsung Galaxy S10e are definitely worse than most flagship phones I have tried out over the past year. The phone lacks a vapor chamber, unlike the bigger Samsung Galaxy S10+. There are no visible CPU temperature readers in the apps I used for the Galaxy S10e, including AIDA64, DevCheck, and CPU-Z, which means that the CPU temperature can’t be recorded.
The battery temperature goes up to 39° C during heavy use in ambient summer room temperatures of up to 34° C. The metal frame can get surprisingly hot and uncomfortable to touch, a lot more than the glass back. The phone gets hot far too quickly, far too much. The heat issue may be solved in a software update, but it’s concerning to see in the present software. Weirdly, the heat issue has also been reported in the Snapdragon variants of the Galaxy S10 phones, and some of our own US-based writers have also experienced it.
The RAM management story is a lot better. I am very impressed with the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e’s RAM management. 6GB of RAM is good enough in 2019, and the phone can hold many apps, web browser tabs, and services in memory. Also, One UI doesn’t have a policy of aggressively killing apps in the background to save power, which is good to see at a time of varied offenders in this area. This also means that Google Chrome — a notoriously heavy web browser which requires ample amounts of RAM to hold multiple tabs in memory — works well on the Samsung Galaxy S10e.
The unlocking speed of the Samsung Galaxy S10e is linked with the speed of the capacitive fingerprint sensor and the 2D-based face unlock. The phone doesn’t have an iris scanner or a Face ID-like structured light 3D face unlock solution. The fingerprint sensor’s placement is a bit off as it’s too high on the right side of the phone, which has a negative impact on unlocking. The sensor should also be registered carefully as it demands the surface to be covered entirely with the user’s finger. Once the enrollment has been done correctly, it’s a great experience as I found the capacitive fingerprint sensor to be one of the fastest fingerprint sensors I have ever used. It’s only a few percentage points lower than the excellent capacitive fingerprint sensors that Xiaomi uses on its phones.
2D face unlock also works quickly but it can be fooled with a photo of the user’s face, so it’s not secure. Intelligent Scan, a feature on the Galaxy S9 that relied both on 2D face unlock and the iris scanner, is absent on the Galaxy S10 series due to the iris scanner’s absence. In the future, Samsung could use a TOF sensor on the front to implement 3D face unlock, but the speedy fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S10e arguably makes 3D face unlock unnecessary.
Ultimately, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e has good performance on the whole, but it’s undeniable that the Snapdragon 855 variant is superior in benchmarks as well as in real life, yet again. This means that buyers of the phone in select regions such as North America and China will get an objectively better phone than buyers in the rest of the world.
The Mali-G76MP12 in the Exynos 9820 has a lot of burden on its shoulders, as past Mali GPUs haven’t traditionally been able to compete with Qualcomm’s Adreno solutions in terms of peak and sustained performance as well as power efficiency. The Mali-G76MP12, thankfully, is a lot different as it manages to post a substantial generational advancement in GPU performance.
The improvement in peak GPU performance is illustrated by 3DMark. In the OpenGL ES 3.1 version of 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e loses to the OnePlus 6T in the overall score while beating the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. In the graphics score, the phone virtually ties with the OnePlus 6T while again beating the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. The physics score, on the other hand, is a lot weaker as the Galaxy S10e falls behind both the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the OnePlus 6T, while also falling behind the Redmi Note 7 Pro.
For some reason, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e under-performs in the Vulkan version of Sling Shot Extreme, where it loses out to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and the OnePlus 6T in all three scores.
GFXBench posts a different and more positive story for the phone. The Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e posts 13 fps in 1440p Aztec Ruins High Tier Vulkan Offscreen, 17 fps in 1440p Aztec Ruins High Tier Open GL ES 3.1 Offscreen, 33 fps in 1080p Aztec Ruins Normal Tier Vulkan Offscreen, 38 fps in 1080p Aztec Ruins Normal Tier, 42 fps in 1080p Car Chase Offscreen, 38 fps in 1440p Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen, 67 fps in 1080p Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen, 85 fps in 1080p Manhattan Offscreen, and 168 fps in 1080p T-Rex Offscreen.
For the most part, the GFXBench scores are on par with or slightly lower than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855’s Adreno 640 GPU. This means that the Mali-G76MP12 in the Exynos 9820 should be faster than the Adreno 630 in the Snapdragon 845 as well as the Mali-G76MP10 in the Kirin 980. It’s also a big generational advancement from the Mali-G72MP18 in the Exynos 9810.
In terms of peak GPU performance, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e’s performance is good. This should theoretically result in excellent gaming performance. Most buyers shouldn’t have to worry about this aspect of the phone, at least for the near future.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Camera Performance
Samsung’s tagline for the Galaxy S9 was: “The Camera. Re-imagined.” The tagline reflected a heavy focus on the camera during that generation. On the other hand, during the Galaxy S10’s launch event, Samsung was rather quiet regarding the camera of the new devices. This was a hint towards the fact that the new primary camera would be an incremental update, during a year when competitors are speeding forward with camera improvements. The company did add more cameras to the Galaxy S10 variants. The Samsung Galaxy S10e got dual rear cameras and a single front camera, and the Galaxy S10 got triple rear cameras and a single front camera. The top-end Galaxy S10+ received triple rear cameras and dual front cameras.
The Galaxy S10e has a 12MP primary camera with the Samsung SLSI_SAK2L4 sensor, which signifies that it’s sourced from Samsung Systems LSI. The camera has a 1/2.55″ sensor size with a corresponding 1.4μm pixel size. Just like the Galaxy S9 series, it has a dual adjustable aperture: f/2.4-f/1.5. The equivalent focal length is 26mm, and it has a 77° field-of-view (FOV). It has optical image stabilization (OIS).
The 12MP sensor is a stacked sensor, which means that it has an onboard DRAM die. Therefore, it can actually record [email protected] slow-motion video for 0.4 seconds without requiring interpolation from lower resolutions.
The dual adjustable aperture with actuators interestingly still remains a unique feature for Samsung’s flagship devices. In daylight, the Samsung Galaxy S10e will take photos with the f/2.4 aperture for better sharpness, as the f/1.5 aperture has the possibility to introduce distortion and corner softness in some cases. Depth of field (DOF) is also a reason to have dual adjustable apertures. An f/1.5 aperture will have much more shallow DOF (and more of the bokeh effect) than the f/2.4 aperture, which will keep more of the frame of the photo in focus.
In low light, the camera switches over to the f/1.5 aperture. The cut-off point is 100 lux, which means that users won’t have to worry about taking photos being taken by the f/2.4 aperture in indoor or low lighting conditions. The f/1.5 aperture will take brighter photos with more detail in low light, as expected. In the default Photo mode, Samsung doesn’t allow the user to adjust the aperture level, as it all happens automatically. The user does get control over the aperture in the camera app’s Pro mode.
In theory, a dual adjustable aperture should result in the best of both worlds. The f/1.5 aperture should be beneficial in low light, but Samsung is starting to lag behind in sensor technology. The Huawei P30 Pro features a much bigger 40MP sensor with a more light-sensitive RYYB color filter, while the Samsung Galaxy S10e uses a mildly improved primary 12MP camera. It’s clear that software can only do so much in the end, and its hardware may actually turn out to be a bottleneck at this point.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e gets a new 16MP ultra-wide-angle camera, just like the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10+. The Galaxy S10 series are the first Samsung phones to feature an ultra-wide angle camera, following the latest flagship devices from LG, Huawei, and Xiaomi. Even OPPO has joined the bandwagon with the OPPO Reno.
The 16MP ultra-wide angle camera has an f/2.2 aperture, 1.0μm pixel size, 12mm focal length, and 123° FOV. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have autofocus, unlike the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Huawei P30, and Huawei P30 Pro. It also doesn’t have OIS.
While the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy S10+ also have a tertiary 12MP 2x zoom telephoto camera, the Galaxy S10e camera doesn’t have it, so there is no optical (lossless) zoom. It can do 8x maximum digital zoom, but this is generally usable only up to 2-3x.
Despite a few omissions, the Galaxy S10e still has a great camera on paper. The proof is in the detail, literally and figuratively. Let’s dive into the camera app.
Camera app and user experience
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s One UI camera app has a plethora of camera modes and options. The available camera modes are Photo, Video, Pro, Live focus, Super Slow-mo, Slow motion, Hyperlapse, Panorama, and Food. On the top of the camera app, users can access Bixby Vision and AR Emoji. The shortcut buttons are Settings, Flash, Timer, Aspect ratio (4:3/16:9/1:1/Full), and Filters. Photos are taken in 12.2MP (4032×3024) resolution in 4:3 aspect ratio by default.
The Live focus mode delivers hardware-level bokeh thanks to the presence of the ultra-wide angle camera. The ultra-wide sensor is used to generate a depth map, and the level of the bokeh effect can be adjusted after taking a photo. The Pro mode comes with the usual options that we have come to expect, but manual ISO can be adjusted only to ISO 800, which is disappointing to see. The aperture can be adjusted between f/2.4-f/1.5, and users can choose a slow shutter speed of 10 seconds.
The regular slow-motion mode can take slow-motion video at up to [email protected] with no time limit. The Super Slow-mo mode is where users can record [email protected] slow-motion video for 0.4 seconds. This mode requires a lot of light to function, but with some effort, users can get amazing results. Finally, the Hyperlapse mode is nice to see as other device makers’ camera apps usually don’t include this feature.
In the camera settings, users can choose to disable Scene optimizer, but if they do that, they will lose the automatic Bright Night mode which takes better photos in low light. The shot suggestions and flaw detection features return from the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and they are nice to have. Enabling shot suggestions will make the camera app give the user on-screen guides to align the shot, while flaw detection will notify users when someone blinks or looks blurry in photos, or if there are smudges on the camera lens.
Users can also choose to enable Motion Photos, which are Samsung’s take on the popular live photos feature that has been implemented by quite a few device makers. They can customize the hold shutter button action. In the save options menu, users can choose to save photos in the new efficient HEIF format, an option which is disabled by default because of compatibility concerns. This is also the place where users can enable saving RAW copies of photos, choose whether to save self-portraits with flipping or without, automatically correct distortion in pictures taken with the ultra-wide lens, and automatically correct the shape of faces in self-portraits.
In the video settings, users can choose the rear camera video resolution, front camera video resolution, and whether to disable video stabilization (EIS). In the advanced recording options menu, users can choose to record videos in the HEVC (H265) efficient video format to save space at the cost of reduced compatibility. A new Labs feature (which is disabled by default) also allows users to take HDR10+ video with the primary camera to benefit from increased dynamic range in 30fps modes, and we will have more to say on this in the video recording section. Samsung notes that a supported device is needed to play HDR10+ videos correctly — this list currently includes only the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones themselves.
The HDR (rich tone) option is strangely hidden in the settings menu instead of being a top-level option. By default, it’s set to “Apply when needed,” and users can choose to apply it all the time. Users can also choose to enable tracking auto-focus to keep the camera focused on the subject even if they move, but this disables video stabilization. Grid lines, location tags, and quick review of photos can also be enabled in the camera settings menu. Samsung even allows the user to set the default camera mode, reorder camera modes, and hide the ones that they don’t use. This level of granular customization is definitely welcome. Finally, in the Shooting methods menu, users can define the Press volume key action, enable voice control to take photos and videos, add a floating shutter button that can be moved anywhere on the screen, and show your palm to the camera to take a self-portrait without needing to press the shutter button.
All in all, the One UI camera app is definitely feature-rich.
Camera user experience
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s camera user experience is excellent. Focusing is extremely quick thanks to the use of Dual Pixel PDAF, which uses 100% of pixels on the sensor for phase detection. (This was first introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S7.) Taking photos is also fast, and there is zero shutter lag in daylight. In low light, there is some amount of shutter lag, but it remains acceptable. (For comparison, Google Camera‘s “HDR+ on” mode has zero shutter lag even in low light.) The camera app is consistently quick to open and doesn’t show any wonky behavior. Its frame rate is also high, but the preview is darker than it should be, which is a persistent issue with many phones over the past year. This can lead to framing issues in low light.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s Scene Optimizer also works well. It can boost saturation and exposure in some cases, but the tweaks it makes to photos are usually helpful and mild. It also doesn’t get in the way of taking photos, unlike Huawei’s Master AI and its scene modes. Scene Optimizer contains Bright Night, which can’t be toggled manually. As we will see in the image quality assessment section, Bright Night is necessary for extremely low light situations, so I would recommend users to leave Scene Optimizer switched on all the time.
Image quality assessment – Daylight
The Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e takes good photos in daylight. In daylight, the 12MP photos have consistently accurate exposure and colors, as well as top-tier dynamic range. The camera uses the Exynos 9820’s NPU and the camera app’s scene optimizer to take daylight photos with superb dynamic range. The dynamic range of the camera in daylight photos is nearly on par with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s 10MP pixel binned photos, but without using pixel binning. In this area, the Samsung Galaxy S10e easily beats the Google Pixel 3. The Google Pixel 3’s photos are predominantly underexposed even in bright natural lighting, while the Samsung Galaxy S10e stays closer to the scene in terms of exposure. Huawei’s cameras are still at the top in this particular aspect, but the Samsung Galaxy S10e is very close behind.
In terms of detail, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e’s photos are a bit concerning as they don’t have as much fine texture and natural detail in subjects such as trees, plants, grass, etc as they should have. The starting ISO level is ISO 50, so Samsung isn’t making any mistakes in this aspect — the problem lies in the fact that the camera still uses aggressive noise reduction and applies image sharpening on top of it. This means that in daylight, photos have almost no noise to speak of. This also has the expected effect of reducing fine detail. The Pixel 3’s Google Camera software opts to retain more fine detail by letting the luminance noise remain in daylight photos. This means that the Google Pixel 3’s photos are usually more detailed than the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e’s photos, but this is not always the case as sometimes the Galaxy S10e simply uses its brighter exposure and better dynamic range to take more detailed photos. It’s not a close contest in terms of the image processing, but in the end, the Samsung Galaxy S10e can hide its detail retention weaknesses behind its excellent exposure and dynamic range.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e also ends up falling behind the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s 10MP photos when it comes to detail. The Honor View20 will also probably pull ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S10e in this regard. (The 40MP samples of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro can show more detail sometimes, but with a drastic deficit in exposure and dynamic range.) The OnePlus 6T’s daylight photos are pretty much on par with the Samsung Galaxy S10e in terms of detail. Xiaomi’s smartphone cameras have made huge strides recently, and in terms of daylight image processing, Xiaomi is arguably currently ahead of Samsung, even when it comes to cheaper POCO F1 and the Redmi Note 7 Pro. On the other hand, the Galaxy S10e does outperform the cameras of the LG V40 ThinQ and Vivo NEX S with respect to detail retention. On the whole, the daylight image processing is not as mature as it could be, as the oil painting effect is sadly still prevalent in a few samples.
The daylight photos are thankfully not affected by image processing artifacts. Unfortunately, quite a few samples do show corner softness and blurred detail at the edges of the frame, which is a concerning issue. I could not reliably replicate this issue in every sample, but to even see it occur in for example 50-60% of samples is worrying. This signifies that holistically, the Galaxy S10e’s daylight photos aren’t quite as good as its major flagship competitors from Huawei and Google. The Live Focus portrait mode works well in daylight, but it usually requires multiple attempts to get it right. With some effort, users can get photos with realistic-looking bokeh that can pass off for DSLR-level bokeh at first glance.
The 16MP ultra-wide angle camera is quite fun to use in daylight. The 123° FOV and 12mm focal length provide for incredibly wide coverage, and some samples definitely have a “wow” effect. (For comparison, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s ultra-wide sensor has a narrower 16mm focal length.) Unfortunately, when viewed at 100% resolution, it’s not all good. The detail captured by the 16MP ultra-wide angle sensor is noticeably worse than the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s 20MP ultra-wide angle sensor. A few photos also suffer from barrel distortion because of the wide coverage, so I recommend switching on Samsung’s ultra-wide angle distortion feature in the camera app’s settings. Not having autofocus is also disappointing to see because it means that a “Super Macro”-like mode — as seen on Huawei’s latest phones — is not possible here.
Worryingly, the ultra-wide angle sensor photos also show very blurred detail in off-centered parts of the frame, and this issue can be basically replicated more than 90% of times. As the sensor doesn’t actually have autofocus, it’s hard to tell what’s at fault here. It’s worth noting that AnandTech‘s review also noted this same issue on the Exynos Galaxy S10+, which may point to this being a software issue rather than a quality control defect. As it is, the issue has a negative impact on detail and sharpness in off-centered parts of the frame, and it’s clearly visible when viewing photos at full resolution. Keeping this in mind, I would say the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s ultra-wide angle camera is better than the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s sensor, but the Exynos Galaxy S10e does manage to significantly outperform the LG V40 ThinQ in this regard.
Overall, the daylight image quality of the Galaxy S10e is quite great. The Snapdragon variant has better image quality, according to AnandTech‘s review. This is impossible for me to test without having units of both variants. The exposure, color accuracy, white balance, dynamic range, and autofocus, of the Galaxy S10e’s primary camera are all consistently in the top-tier of smartphone cameras, but detail retention is a noticeably weak aspect of the camera, as competitors take consistently more detailed photos. The ultra-wide angle camera is also a good addition that comes in useful in many cases, but the blurred detail issue in off-centered parts of the image reduces its usefulness. Finally, the absence of a telephoto camera does make itself felt in daylight shots, but the necessity of having this camera depends on users. While the 2x digital zoom of the Samsung Galaxy S10e is not as good as the Google Pixel 3’s Super Res Zoom, it’s still usable in most cases.
As we head indoors, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e still continues to perform relatively well, but the issues that were highlighted in the daylight image quality section are magnified here. Photos taken in indoor conditions suffer from high amounts of luminance noise, which becomes more of an issue as light levels fall. Definition and fine texture detail are degraded accordingly, and the lack of a dedicated night mode (such as Google’s Night Sight) really makes itself felt here. Samsung continues to do artificial processing of people photos taken under artificial light, which degrades definition, fine detail, and integrity. The Google Pixel 3 still continues to be the image quality champion of well-lit indoor photos as its image processing is the most mature and restrained. The Samsung Galaxy S10e and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro behave similarly in this respect as their indoor photos suffer from too aggressive noise reduction.
Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy S10e also performs worse than the Huawei Mate 20 Pro indoors because its indoor photos also suffer from processing artifacts that are visible at full resolution. The processing artifacts are not quite as bad as the artifacts seen in the OnePlus 6T’s photos, but they shouldn’t exist in the first place. In indoor low light photos, the Galaxy S10e slips further behind the Google Pixel’s Night Sight and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s auto mode. Bright Night does its bit to help here, but the camera remains in the third position. Samsung needs to improve its indoor image processing algorithm, as both Huawei and Google have proven themselves superior in this area.
Image quality assessment – Low light
In low light, the Samsung Galaxy S9 was a strong contender for great image quality last year, trading blows with the Google Pixel 2. It was then beaten by the Huawei P20 Pro, the Google Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode, and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. As the Galaxy Note 9 had the same camera as the Galaxy S9, Samsung hasn’t been able to reclaim the low light image quality crown since.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e tries hard to regain a lost title, but it faces the barriers of computational photography in outdoor low lighting. Regular low light photos have great detail, excellent exposure and color accuracy, and accurate white balance. The dynamic range of regular low light photos is quite good as well. When compared against competitors, the Galaxy S10e is actually superior to the Google Pixel 3’s “HDR+ on” default mode, which uses ZSL. Its photos are brighter and more detailed, and they are less affected by luminance and distracting chromatic noise.
Luminance noise still remains an issue for the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s low light photos, but the strong fine detail makes it worth it (if only Samsung could apply this sort of approach in indoor image processing as well…). However, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s regular low light photos are clearly superior. This is because of a few factors. The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s camera is limited to a max ISO of ISO 6,400 in Photo mode, which is pedestrian when the Huawei Mate 20 Pro can go all the way up to ISO 102,400 in its Photo mode. The newly released Huawei P30 and Huawei P30 Pro can go up to an awe-inspiring ISO 204,800 and ISO 409,600 in Photo mode respectively, and this goes a long way towards explaining Huawei’s lead in low light imaging. Then too, even the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s 10MP pixel binned mode captures more light than the Samsung Galaxy S10e as its 4-in-1 pixel binning effectively results in 2.0μm superpixels.
The biggest issue that lets down the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s low light image quality is the lack of a great manual dedicated night mode. The Google Pixel 3 has Night Sight, which was best-in-class at the time of its release as it transformed the phone’s low light image quality. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has Night Mode, which comes useful in extremely low lighting. The Huawei P30 Pro doesn’t even need Night Mode as its auto mode is unquestionably best-in-class at this point in time, but it’s there regardless to capture even more light. The Samsung Galaxy S10e? It has Bright Night in Scene Optimizer, which activates itself automatically in certain low lighting conditions…
I have yet to ascertain the cut-off point for when the Galaxy S10e switches to Bright Night. When it is activated, users will see a moon icon in the camera preview. Bright Night takes multiple exposures and stacks them, which is, in theory, the same principle behind Night Sight and Huawei’s Night Mode. Bright Night does show itself as much superior to OnePlus’ Nightscape and Xiaomi’s Night Mode, which means that it’s currently in the third position in the list of computational photography-powered night modes. The first problem with Bright Night is that it can’t be activated manually, and the cut-off point for when it activates itself is actually very, very dark. That is to say, Bright Night won’t be activated in most regular outdoor low light photos. The second and more major issue is that Bright Night just isn’t as good as Night Sight, and it still doesn’t manage to beat the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s auto mode or Night Mode. Meanwhile, the ultra-wide angle sensor’s quality also drastically degrades in low light, to the point where its usefulness is limited in scale.
Samsung is rumored to be developing a super handheld night mode for the Galaxy S10. If true, this would be a positive development for users. Overall, while the Galaxy S10e’s low light photos are still superior to most of its competitors, it’s not a best-in-class low light camera as Samsung has been comprehensively overtaken by Huawei and Google here. Maybe a well-implemented super night mode can help close the gap.
Video recording evaluation
The Samsung Galaxy S10e can record video in [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] The ultra-wide angle camera can also record 4K and 1080p video, but only at 30fps. EIS is also disabled in the 60fps modes. Recording video in HDR10+ using the labs feature will disable the 60fps modes as well as the ultra-wide angle camera. Videos can be recorded either with the standard H264 encoder (which remains the default for better compatibility) or with the HEVC format to cut down on file sizes. All of this is quite confusing to keep track of.
Let’s start off with [email protected] videos. They have disabled EIS, but thankfully, Samsung does opt to keep OIS active in this mode, unlike the OnePlus 6T. This means that videos are still stabilized, although OIS on its own is not as effective as EIS + OIS in blocking out shakiness. [email protected] videos recorded with the standard H264 encoder have a bitrate of 70Mbps, which is a good compromise between file size and quality and is also much lower than the absurdly high 120Mbps bitrate of the OnePlus 6T’s [email protected] videos. In daylight, [email protected] videos have incredible detail and a smooth 60fps frame rate. Their exposure, color accuracy, and dynamic range are all great. Autofocus works well, and Samsung’s stereo audio recording at 256Kbps is one of the best in the market. This mode should not be used in low light because of underexposure issues.
Recording [email protected] videos with the newer HEVC encoder illustrates the file size savings that HEVC brings. A [email protected] video with a time of 0:40 recorded in H264 has a file size of 366MB, while a video with the same time duration recorded with HEVC has a file size of 214MB. That’s a healthy 58% reduction in file size. On the other hand, HEVC isn’t guaranteed to be compatible on all platforms yet, and I can’t actually play back the video on my PC.
We move on to [email protected] videos, recorded with H264. They have a bitrate of 48Mbps and share the same great characteristics of [email protected] videos apart from the frame rate. EIS is enabled in [email protected] videos, and it works quite well by removing shaking during panning or walking. This mode can also be used in low light. In low light, [email protected] videos have good detail, exposure, and well-implemented stabilization. In terms of light capture, they are not quite on par with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but their quality is great nonetheless.
I also recorded a [email protected] video with the labs HDR10+ feature enabled. HDR10+ videos are recorded in wide color gamut — that is to say, the DCI-P3 gamut. (The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s photos, on the other hand, are taken in the sRGB gamut, and not DCI-P3, unlike the iPhone.) When playing back such videos on the phone itself, it’s clear to see the advantages of capturing in a wider gamut, with more saturated and true-to-life colors and better, best-in-class dynamic range.
Unfortunately, HDR10+ is so new that compatibility is currently a major problem. Users can convert HDR10+ video to standard dynamic range using Samsung’s Gallery app by sharing it from the video preview screen (and not from the thumbnail or while the video is playing), but the conversion just doesn’t do a great job. HDR10+ [email protected] videos can only be recorded in HEVC, and they have a bitrate of 54Mbps. Right now, users’ best option to view HDR10+ recorded videos remains the Samsung Galaxy S10e itself. As such, sharing them presents significant issues, at least at this point in time.
The [email protected] video mode is similar to the [email protected] video mode with the exception of slightly lesser detail levels and lower file sizes. With the H264 encoder, [email protected] videos have a bitrate of 28Mbps. They are great for capturing videos of fast moving objects, but as with the [email protected] mode, this mode should be avoided in low light because of the decrease in exposure. OIS continues to work relatively well here, although ideally, Samsung should have enabled both EIS and OIS for fluid and stabilized video recording.
The [email protected] mode is the most economical one in terms of file sizes. With H264, its bitrate is a relatively low 14Mbps, which means that file sizes are well under control. Using HEVC cuts down on file sizes even further. The good news is that video quality remains great for a 1080p video mode, and as a bonus, this mode works well in low light as well.
The Galaxy S10e also has a Super Steady mode which is limited to recording in [email protected] This uses the ultra-wide angle camera which means that there is no autofocus in the video. This is quite a significant downside, but the stabilization in this video is definitely better than the EIS in the other 30fps modes, and according to Samsung, this mode can come in useful for replacing cameras like the GoPro. After watching the results of my admittedly aggressive attempt at shaking during recording, I think I’ll take Samsung’s word for it.
Finally, the ultra-wide angle camera can also record regular [email protected] and [email protected] video. EIS remains active during these modes, and the video quality from the wide angle lens remains quite good. The one significant caveat here remains the lack of autofocus, so users hoping to do continuous autofocus on macro subjects while recording should keep in mind that it won’t work at all. Regardless, video from the ultra-wide angle camera can also look amazing with some effort.
Overall, video recording is definitely a major strength of the Samsung Galaxy S10e’s camera, with multiple well-implemented video modes. Low light video capture could still be improved by using a sensor with better sensitivity, and that remains an area of improvement. In all other aspects, the camera posts a great showing across the board.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Audio
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s stereo speakers (earpiece + bottom speaker) work incredibly well. They are some of the best speakers I have heard on a mobile device. Loudness is absolutely not an issue, and the Galaxy S10e leaves most phones trailing behind. The quality of the speakers is superb, with no distortion even at high volume, well-defined separation, and lack of discrepancy in quality between the two speakers. For reference, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s stereo speakers are much quieter as the phone’s bottom speaker is hidden inside the USB Type-C port, while the OnePlus 6T’s mono speaker gets loud but its quality isn’t anywhere close to that of the Galaxy S10e. Dolby Atmos is present in the Galaxy S10e’s One UI software.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e also retains the 3.5mm headphone jack that was once described as ubiquitous. At this point, Samsung and LG are the only major smartphone vendors selling top-tier flagship phones with headphone jacks. Therefore, I can’t praise Samsung enough for its decision to keep the headphone jack. In the here and now, I firmly believe that the headphone jack is an important part and convenience in the lives of many users, and the Galaxy S10e delivers in terms of usability. Users do not have to worry about losing their 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapters. Users do not have to worry about not being able to charge their phone while listening to audio. It’s such a situation where most Chinese device makers have fallen flat while Samsung has shown integrity in sticking with the headphone jack. I hope I don’t have to swallow my praise for Samsung with future Galaxy flagships (I’ll be very disappointed if I have to do so), but at least for now, the Galaxy S10e’s choice of including the headphone jack makes complete sense.
While the Snapdragon variant of the phone uses Qualcomm’s Aqstic DAC, the Exynos variant of the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones use the Cirrus Logic CS47L93 audio codec chip, which has been in use since the Exynos Galaxy S8, according to AnandTech. The publication did objective testing of the DAC in the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10+ and found it to be inferior to the Aqstic DAC present in the Snapdragon variant of the Galaxy S10+.
Subjectively, audio quality from the 3.5mm headphone jack still sounds good to my ears. A 40% volume level on the S10e seems to be slightly lower than the approximately equal volume level for example the POCO F1 and the Redmi Note 7 Pro, both of which use an Aqstic DAC. Users also have the option of choosing between equalizers, and there is a feature to adapt the sound according to the user’s ears. AnandTech’s data shows that there are quantifiable differences in quality between the Snapdragon and Exynos variants of the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones, which is a bit of a shame, even more so when considering that LG’s Quad DACs — the only other vendor selling phones with a headphone jack — have excellent audio quality. Regardless, most users who are not audiophiles should have minimal issues. The USB Type-C port also supports audio output, as expected.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Software: One UI
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is powered by One UI on top of Android Pie. One UI is the latest version of Samsung’s custom user interface, which was formerly known as Samsung Experience (and before that, TouchWiz). The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s ASCA update brought the March 1, 2019 security patch update. In December, we did an initial review of One UI, and readers should check that out.
One UI is specifically promoted by Samsung as a user interface that can be easily used with a single hand. In comparison to Samsung Experience 9.5, One UI deliberately has less information density. Headings are big and centered, and the typography on offer is quite nice. The action bar has been moved to the bottom of nearly all of Samsung’s system apps to help one-handed usage without the user having to reach across the top of the display. As far as user interfaces go, this is thoughtfully designed, and it’s worth noting that Google is working towards the same goal with the new Material Theme redesigns in Android Pie.
One UI closely adheres to Material Theme guidelines, which is good to see. The user interface looks great in a way that older iterations of Samsung’s UI didn’t. There is a level of cohesiveness across the system UI that can easily be noticed. As someone who despaired of Samsung’s bloated and jank-filled TouchWiz Nature UX on the Galaxy S III, I found it amazing to note the extent of the big strides Samsung has made over the last seven years.
The One UI Home Launcher is quite good. By default, icon size is extremely big, but users have the option to make it smaller to have more density. The icon pack has been changed for a new “squircle” icon pack that definitely looks less “serious” than Android Pie’s stock icon pack or even EMUI‘s icon pack. The launcher comes with an app drawer swipe up animation, although it’s not as consistently smooth as it should be, as noted in the performance section. The app drawer has horizontally scrolled pages, and by default, apps are sorted in a custom order, with folders already being made for Google’s and Microsoft’s pre-loaded apps. I recommend changing the sort by setting to the alphabetical order. The notifications menu and the quick settings are both implemented well, and the quick settings contain a huge number of toggles — a lot more than stock Android. The recent apps menu has been lifted from Android Pie with a few tweaks (such as rounded corners of the app cards), and it shows a recently used list of apps at the bottom.
These days, the best part of a custom user interface for me is the gestures. Stock Android Pie’s gesture navigation system left a lot to be desired, although Google is working on improving it in Android Q. Device makers like OnePlus (OxygenOS), Xiaomi (MIUI), Huawei (EMUI), and Vivo (FunTouch OS) have already rolled out their own full-screen navigation gestures that work very well. Now it’s Samsung’s turn to follow. Gestures on One UI are different from the full-screen gestures we have seen in other UIs.
Instead of adding iPhone-like gestures and then removing the gesture bar, Samsung has simply opted to replace the three navigation buttons with three zones that can be swiped up to go back, home, and access recent apps respectively. Gesture hints are enabled by default so that the user knows where to swipe up from. It’s a different system, but it works very well and does save screen real estate. Google Assistant is accessed by swiping up and holding from the middle zone, while one-handed mode can be accessed by swiping up diagonally from the corners. The only gesture missing is a gesture to quickly switch to the previous app.
One-handed mode continues to remain absent in stock Android, which is why I appreciate its presence in One UI. The motion control gestures are also present in One UI. We have lift to wake and double tap to wake, both of which are enabled by default. Smart stay (a feature that was added in 2012), smart alert, and easy mute also return from past iterations of the UI. As the Samsung Galaxy S10e has a physical fingerprint sensor, finger sensor gestures to pull down the notification shade are available. Using gestures on the side-mounted fingerprint sensor is very satisfying, and it saves the bother of reaching across the top of the display to pull down the notifications. Finally, we have an edge palm swipe gesture to capture screenshots.
A major One UI feature addition is Night Mode, which acts as a built-in dark mode. It works incredibly well on AMOLED’s true blacks, and it can be scheduled for the night. An added bonus is that enabling it hides the hole punch camera in the system UI.
Always on Display can be customized in One UI. By default, it’s set to “Tap to show.” Changing it to display all the time will draw more display power. It can be scheduled for a specific time, and Samsung also allows the user to customize the style of Always on Display (AOD), as well as the style of the lock screen clock. Users can also choose which FaceWidgets to enable on the lock screen for quick information about next alarm, weather, etc.
One UI’s list of features includes Dual Messenger, Secure Folder, and Easy Mode. Dual Messenger is Samsung’s take on the dual apps feature, which allows multiple installations of an app at the same time. In stock Android, you can only get this functionality by downloading a third-party app. Easy Mode uses a simpler home screen with bigger on-screen items and sets screen zoom to the maximum setting.
One UI on the Samsung Galaxy S10e features a clone of Google’s Digital Wellbeing feature, which was introduced in Android Pie. Bixby also returns. The Bixby key doesn’t actually perform any action if the user hasn’t signed in to Bixby, though. Bixby has been under development since the Galaxy S8 and its usability should be much improved by now, but I haven’t tried it out yet (I also don’t use Google Assistant, for what it’s worth). Bixby Routines seems like a much more interesting feature as it automates certain device actions depending on a user’s daily routines. It’s no Tasker in terms of customization, but this level of functionality is good to see out of the box.
Game Launcher is also an old feature in One UI that will be appreciated by gamers. It’s not unique in the sense that it’s found in many other custom user interfaces as well, but again, the implementation here has been done well.
With respect to privacy, Samsung’s software has been accused of sending promotional notifications and ads on the lock screen in the cheaper Galaxy A phones, in regions such as India. I didn’t suffer from any such major issue on the Galaxy S10e apart from receiving a notification about a cricket match from the MyGalaxy app on the first day of use, but it’s worth noting that there is an option in the privacy settings to receive marketing information. Thankfully, it’s disabled by default. While we are on this subject, I am not sure why McAfee’s anti-malware tool is included in the One UI security app. This would have made sense on a Chinese user interface, but in Samsung’s global ROM, it doesn’t appear to be of much use.
Overall, One UI is probably one of the best custom user interfaces out there, and it’s a huge world away from even Samsung Experience 8.0 on the Galaxy S8. It’s a lot smoother on the Galaxy S10e’s hardware (although there are hitches here and there), the design and typography are great, and the level of cohesion across the UI has to be applauded. The software is also incredibly feature-rich and it provides plenty of customization options. It’s possible that stock-based users will be overwhelmed by finding so many settings, but the more they try, the more impressed they will be. The only things remaining for Samsung to fix are the launcher stutters. It would be nice if the fluidity of some of its transitions could be improved as well.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Battery Life and Charging
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is powered by a 3,100mAh battery in terms of typical capacity. In terms of rated (minimum) capacity, the battery capacity is actually 3,000mAh. The power efficiency of the Exynos 9820 SoC is not as good as the Snapdragon 855 and the Kirin 980, so I was worried about the Exynos Galaxy S10e’s battery life.
In real-world use, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e delivers slightly above average battery life for its class. It’s worth noting that the ASCA update is said to have fixed the idle battery drain that was an issue on the previous software version for the Exynos variant. I did my entire testing on the ASCA update, which is why my unit wasn’t affected by the idle battery drain. In fact, idle drain is quite low currently, and the phone lasts for a long time on standby.
In terms of usage, I am getting roughly four-five hours of screen-on time with the Galaxy S10e on Wi-Fi, with unplugged time varying from 24-36 hours. This is relatively good battery life for a small flagship device, although it won’t compete with some phones that are known for their battery life. The OnePlus 6T’s battery life is a lot better, for example, but it’s also a much bigger phone. The same applies for the Xiaomi POCO F1 and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. On the other end of the price spectrum, a lower mid-range phone like the Redmi Note 7 Pro will give users much better battery life (up to seven hours of screen-on time), but again, the size difference means that we are not making an apples-to-apples comparison.
It’s possible that the Snapdragon Samsung Galaxy S10e may get better battery life in some use cases, but as of now, the battery life on the Exynos variant has been relatively fine.
Samsung supplies a 15W Adaptive Fast Charger with all Galaxy S10 phones. There is no way to get around this: the Galaxy S10’s charging capabilities are getting old. Adaptive Fast Charging was first introduced four years ago, and it has received no advancement in technology since then. The Samsung Galaxy A70 and Galaxy A80 both have support for 25W fast wired charging, and Samsung supplies a 25W fast charger. Even the Galaxy S10 5G features support for 25W charging, but the regular Galaxy S10 variants miss out on this. While the Galaxy S10 phones support Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 and USB Type-C Power Delivery, both charging standards are not the fastest out there in comparison to custom charging standards used by Chinese vendors.
Huawei’s top flagships use the 40W Huawei SuperCharge 2.0 standard, for instance, while OPPO has 50W SuperVOOC 2.0. OnePlus will soon progress to 30W Warp Charge, as seen on the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition. Xiaomi supports 27W charging on the Mi 9. Vivo also has a 22.5W Dual Engine fast charging standard. This is an area where Samsung is being left behind at an increasingly quick rate, and it has a real impact on charge time.
Samsung is still competitive in terms of wireless charging as the Galaxy S10 phones support 12W wireless charging and both the Qi and PMA wireless charging protocols. Even in wireless charging, though, Samsung’s phones are no longer the fastest as Huawei’s flagships now support 15W proprietary wireless charging, while Xiaomi’s proprietary wireless charger for the Mi 9 offers best-in-class 20W speeds.
The Galaxy S10 phones also feature Wireless PowerShare, which is Samsung’s take on the reverse wireless charging feature that Huawei introduced with the Mate 20 Pro last year. This will be useful for users looking to wirelessly charge their Galaxy Watch or even the new Galaxy Buds truly wireless earphones. It’s less useful for charging other phones as the speed of charging is extremely slow, and it’s not really meant to be used that way.
Samsung Galaxy S10e Odds and Ends
The Samsung Galaxy S10 phones are the first phones to feature support for the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard. The phone also supports dual 4G VoLTE on both SIMs, and I had no issues with cellular call quality and reception, as expected.
The phone’s vibration motor is pretty good in terms of feedback and strength, but it’s not quite on par with the vibration motors of the Google Pixel 3 or the LG V40 ThinQ, which remain the gold standard for vibration motors in Android phones.
This has been one of the longest XDA reviews, so let us quickly recap various aspects of the Exynos variant of the Samsung Galaxy S10e. Spoiler: The phone is one of the few recommended choices for users looking for a compact Android flagship.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s design is well-implemented. The reduced bezels are nice to see, and the small dimensions ensure this phone can easily be used with a single hand. The Prism White color also looks great, and the phone’s construction, as well as fit and finish, are great. The negatives here would include the glossy metal frame, the glossy finish of the glass back, and its flat nature, but overall, the Galaxy S10e’s design is a positive differentiating factor. For users who are not interested in 6.4-inch flagships, the Galaxy S10e is one of a kind.
The display of the Samsung Galaxy S10e is great. Its High Brightness Mode makes the display reach 700 nits in sunlight, resulting in superb sunlight legibility. Manual brightness indoors is less impressive, but it’s still acceptable. The viewing angles and color accuracy of the display are also great, and only a few issues are left for Samsung to solve. Even though competitors are catching up fast, Samsung still remains in a comfortable position in the display world, and the Galaxy S10e’s display is one of the best smartphone displays in the market.
In terms of performance, on one hand, the Exynos 9820 variant of the Galaxy S10e makes substantial advancements over its predecessor. The system performance is much better than the Exynos 9810 on the Galaxy S9. Even the GPU has received a significant upgrade to the point where it’s an asset and no longer a liability. The real-world performance of the phone, therefore, is quite respectable, even if it’s not flawless. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that yet again, we are seeing a situation where the Snapdragon variant of the Galaxy S10 has better overall performance than the Exynos variant. The Snapdragon variant has a better CPU with better efficiency, better system performance, a mildly better GPU, and probably better real-world performance as well. It simply provides better user experience, and it’s a pity that the vast majority of the Galaxy S10e buyers worldwide will have to miss out on the superior experience.
The camera of the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e performs well in daylight scenarios, with top-tier exposure, dynamic range, color accuracy, white balance, and fast Dual Pixel autofocus. In terms of detail retention, it’s not on par with the Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro as well as some other phones in most cases, and this remains an area of improvement. The ultra wide-angle camera is also a great addition because of its wide 12mm focal length, but it finds itself outperformed by the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s sensor in terms of detail. Indoors, the Galaxy S10e’s performance is less impressive as the phone starts running into issues with aggressive noise reduction and processing artifacts, and these issues are compounded by the lack of a dedicated night mode, as Bright Night in Scene Optimizer isn’t as good as Google’s Night Sight and Huawei’s Night Mode. In outdoor low light photos, Samsung has found itself being comprehensively overtaken by Huawei and Google. The low light photos still have great detail, but they lag behind in terms of light capture from the top two players.
On the other hand, video recording is a major strength of the Galaxy S10e’s camera, with optically stabilized [email protected] video recording, electronically stabilized wide-angle camera videos, Super Steady mode, and a great EIS + OIS stabilization solution for regular 4K and 1080p 30fps videos. The multiple video modes are all implemented well.
In terms of audio, the Exynos Galaxy S10e has superb stereo speakers that are loud and crisp without any distortion. Samsung’s decision to retain the 3.5mm headphone jack is also a major plus in my view. However, it’s a bit disappointing to see that the DAC in the Exynos variant is not as good as the Aqstic DAC that is seen in so many Qualcomm-powered phones.
One UI provides a thoughtfully designed software experience on the Galaxy S10e. Its emphasis on one-handed usability is welcome, and its feature-rich nature means that users won’t need to download a lot of apps to fill up missing functionality. The navigation gestures also work very well. There are still some rough edges here and there (particularly with the launcher’s swipe up animation), but the level of cohesion and overall implementation make it one of the better custom user interfaces on Android.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e’s battery life is good for a phone of its size. It could still be better, as price competitors such as the OnePlus 6T have clearly better battery life. The phone can last one full day of use in moderate usage, which means that battery life will probably be acceptable for most users, even if it’s not class-leading in any way. It’s definitely sad to see Samsung fall behind competitors in wired charging speeds, and this remains an area of improvement. On the other hand, fast wireless charging and Wireless PowerShare for smartwatch or Galaxy Buds owners are welcome additions.
In terms of development, the Exynos variants of the Galaxy S10 phones feature an unlockable bootloader, unlike the US Snapdragon variants. The unlockable bootloader means that users can flash official Magisk, install an unofficial build of TWRP, and do more. The big caveat here is that unlocking the bootloader will trip Knox, so many of Samsung’s proprietary features won’t be available. It’s up to users whether they want to head down that path.
Finally, we arrive at the pricing, the competition, and the value proposition. In India, Samsung only sells the 6GB RAM/128GB storage variant of the Galaxy S10e for ₹55,900. In Europe, the 6GB variant is sold for €749, while the UK price tag is £669. Interestingly, US buyers can buy the phone at the cheapest price as the Exynos variant is being sold on Amazon US without warranty for $630. The Snapdragon variant of the phone has an official price tag of $749 in the US for the 6GB RAM variant.
The Galaxy S10e has few competitors in its size class. The only three that come to mind are the Google Pixel 3, the standard Huawei P30 and the LG G8 ThinQ. The Google Pixel 3 has an overall better rear camera thanks to Night Sight, simpler software, and much faster software updates. The Samsung Galaxy S10e, on the other hand, has a 3.5mm headphone jack, faster GPU, an ultra wide-angle camera, and more versatile video recording. The Huawei P30 is not available in India, while the LG G8 ThinQ has yet to launch globally except for in the US and South Korea. The standard Huawei P30 has a better rear camera, faster charging, and better system performance. The Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e’s advantages include a probably better display, faster GPU, the option to record 4K videos at 60fps, water resistance, and better speakers. It’s hard to get a proper idea of the LG G8 ThinQ as the phone hasn’t launched globally yet, but it’s likely that the G8 has better system performance than the Exynos variant of the Galaxy S10e. The Galaxy S10e, in turn, has probably better rear cameras and a more polished UI.
Outside of its size class, the Galaxy S10e’s list of competitors grows a lot bigger. There is the OnePlus 6T, for instance, soon to be succeeded by the OnePlus 7. The OnePlus 6T has much better battery life, a more snappy user interface, more RAM and storage options, and a significantly cheaper price tag (it starts at ₹37,999 in India, versus ₹55,900 for the S10e). The Galaxy S10e fights back with a better display, faster GPU, water resistance, 3.5mm headphone jack, better speakers, much better rear cameras, and more feature-rich software. Similar comparisons can be made with the Honor View20, the Xiaomi Mi 9, and the POCO F1. The Galaxy S10e’s higher price tag won’t necessarily give buyers better system and real-world performance (in some cases, its performance is worse than its competitors), as its added value lies elsewhere.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Huawei P30 Pro, LG V40 ThinQ, and the Google Pixel 3 XL may also be thought of as competitors, even if they are all 6.3-inch+ phones. Apart from the LG V40 ThinQ, the other three phones have better cameras than the Galaxy S10e. On the other hand, the other three phones are more expensive than the Galaxy S10e, with only the LG V40 ThinQ undercutting it in pricing.
In terms of upgrading, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e is a good upgrade from the Exynos Galaxy S8 or older Samsung flagships. Users who have the Exynos Galaxy S9 will get a major improvement in performance, but they should probably hold off on upgrading as other components have only received incremental improvements.
When it comes to choosing between the Samsung Galaxy S10e, the Samsung Galaxy S10, and the Samsung Galaxy S10+, the choice is simple. Users who want a big display, the best battery life, and a telephoto camera should get the Samsung Galaxy S10+, even though it is significantly more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy S10e (₹73,900 vs. ₹55,900). The standard Samsung Galaxy S10 is the middle option for users who want a bigger curved display, a telephoto camera, and a bigger battery capacity. The Samsung Galaxy S10e, on the other hand, clearly has the best value proposition of the Galaxy S10 series as its corners have been cut in sensible ways.
Overall, the Exynos Samsung Galaxy S10e has few competitors, thanks to a compact size and a flagship list of specifications and features. For years, a small but vocal section of the Android community has urged manufacturers to release smaller, cheaper flagships that don’t cut corners with respect to specifications. The Galaxy S10e is the closest approximation of that ideal so far, and it will satisfy the needs of that section of the user base. There are some areas where the phone does not post best-in-class performance, but on the other hand, there are few, if any deal-breakers here. The Galaxy S10e, therefore, is the smart choice for a Samsung flagship in the first half of 2019.
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