The folding phone is fun, but it’s a way off for most of us. Instead, this is the year for rehashes and tweaks.
With prices almost double those of today’s high-end smartphones, they’ll be luxury items anyway, probably for years.
The face of phones this year then looks very reminiscent of 2018. The new Galaxy S10 line-up from Samsung, the market leader in Android phones, represents modest tweaks on designs that have served the smartphone well.
The new S10+, with a 6.4-inch screen, is the biggest phone Samsung has released in its standard Galaxy range, matching in size the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung’s phone for business types, which has a stylus built into its body that can be popped out for scribbling notes on the screen.
That’s a lot of screen real estate, made possible by removing virtually all the black trim surrounding the phone’s screen. A tiny speaker intrudes at the top of the S10+ Infinity-O display, so you can hear people calling you. But other than that, it is a sea of toughened Gorilla Glass with Samsung’s signature curved edges.
What about the obligatory front-facing selfie camera? It’s now built into the display itself, a “hole-punch” design that sees two little cameras embedded in the top right of the screen rather than mounted on a bezel above it. That could prove distracting for some, but I barely noticed it after a couple of weeks of use. The trade-off seems worth it.
The screen itself is the device’s highlight. Its 526 pixels per inch display ultra-high-definition video content in great detail. Combined with the HDR10+ (high dynamic range) picture performance, which determines colour accuracy and contrast, the phone is ideal for watching movies and TV shows.
The S10+’s other key innovation is an ultrasonic fingerprint reader beneath the lower part of the screen.
Placing a fingerprint scanner there isn’t new – Huawei debuted one on the Mate 20 last year. But that was an optical scanner that relied on taking a snapshot of your fingerprint. This one goes deeper, creating a 3D model of your fingerprint ridges. That makes it more accurate and faster to use.
On the phone’s back, a narrow slit houses a three-camera set-up, which has become the norm in camera-phone photography at the top of the market. You get a camera for normal use, an ultra-wide-angle lens to fit more into the shot and a telephoto lens for zooming in.
The dedicated ultra-wide camera is the most welcome addition, great for panoramic shots. Modest improvements on the S9’s camera software and better image stabilisation for recording video make this a very respectable camera upgrade.
You can charge the S10+ using a wireless charger and even charge other compatible phones by placing them back-to-back. The big battery in the S10+ makes it a viable feature your friends will appreciate.
Samsung continues to puzzle me with its dedicated Bixby key, a button on the left of the phone that connects you to its digital assistant. Both it and Bixby Vision, which detects objects and text recognised by the phone’s camera, continue to deliver mediocre results, which seem skewed towards American users and tastes. It’s time for Samsung to admit defeat and better integrate the superior Google Assistant.
At $1699, the S10+ comes with a price to match its size, but there are two cheaper options this year, the $1299 Galaxy S10e and the $1499 Galaxy S10. Display size and quality and the camera set-up are what separate them.
Study the varying specifications carefully if those things matter to you, and keep an eye out for Huawei’s P30 Pro and Nokia’s PureView, which has a staggering five rear cameras. Both could prove worthy Galaxy rivals.
This article was first published in the March 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.