The essential variant of the new Samsung Galaxy S10 series is finally here. More than Samsung’s answer to the iPhone XR, this mini flagship has promise. After 48 hours with the Galaxy S10e, I’m here to give you my first impressions.
Finally a compact flagship
Although I've always found Samsung smartphones solid, I was never really drawn to them in the past. However, the Galaxy S10e might be just the smartphone to convert me into a Samsung fan. At a first glance, the Prism Black color model, which I am using for this review, doesn't have the fun factor of the brighter colored variants like the Canary Yellow. Yet, the design is premium and the craftsmanship impeccable, as can be expected from the South Korean manufacturer.
Holding the phone is what really convinced me - it's compact and light, yet it can be gripped easily. It sits well in the hand, and unlike most other current flagships, it can be used with one hand seamlessly.
Both the back and the front of the Samsung Galaxy S10e are protected by Gorilla Glass 5. It attracts some fingerprints, but that's to be expected. The rear dual camera protrudes from the frame slightly, which some might find annoying, but I haven't had any issues so far. The fingerprint sensor can be found on the side, combined with the power button. I also appreciate the disappearance of the edge screen. I never found it practical or stylish and I always kept accidentally pressing something on the side.
A small but stunning display
If you've ever used a phone with an AMOLED display, you'd know that its superiority can't be questioned. Even then, Samsung seems to have outdone itself once again. The 5.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display of the Galaxy S10e is bright, vivid and colorful. It has a 1080 x 2280 resolution, which results in a great 438 ppi density. The screen also has great viewing angles and shines brightly in any condition.
One thing I was initially skeptical about was the front camera punch hole. However, it is so tiny, it's barely noticeable - it never hindered watching videos or playing games. After seeing it in person, I also think it's a better solution than the notch, thanks to its discrete placement in the upper right corner. Unfortunately, since it's a single camera I won't be able to use Bender from Futurama as my wallpaper to mask the punch hole, but I've made my peace with it.
Another thing worth mentioning is the gorgeous AMOLED night mode and its rich black tones. With One UI, you now have a system-wide dark mode, which is not only sparing on the eyes, but looks great. Of course, for now, a lot of apps are not compatible or don't offer their own mode, but I expect that to change in the future.
Fast and secure
As previously mentioned, the fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S10e has been relocated on the side and merged with the power button. It's fast and reliable, but I wonder why Samsung decided to place it there instead of the back of the device. There certainly is space for it, but I guess it wouldn't be as aesthetically pleasing. I'm also not particularly envious of the ultrasonic in-display sensor found on the other smartphones in the S10 family. My colleague Simone has already experienced some problems with it. This is why I don't think that Samsung has made a huge compromise by not including it on the Galaxy S10e.
What impressed me the most, however, is Face Unlock. If my first impressions are to be trusted, it's incredibly fast. Unlike the Galaxy A9 (2018), I've never had to try to unlock more than once or wave the phone in front of my face. The Galaxy S10e also offers the option to trigger Face Unlock the moment you pick up the device, which makes unlocking incredibly fast.
Booming audio and a headphone jack
Despite its small frame, the Samsung Galaxy S10e packs quite the punch when it comes to sound. It has two speakers - one located on the bottom next to the charging port and one at the front. This is great for watching videos or playing games. On phones with a single speaker on the bottom of the frame, it's easy to accidentally cover the speaker when holding the device horizontally. No such problems with the S10e! In my initial tests, the audio was both powerful and clear.
However, there was one unfortunate surprise - when I turned up the volume close to max, the sound made the frame vibrate unpleasantly. I'm not sure if this is because the phone is made primarily of glass, but I will look into it further when testing the phone for the full review.
Of course, as a proponent of the headphone jack, I have to mention its presence on the S10e. I'm happy Samsung didn't remove it pointlessly. The AKG headphones included in the box are also great - listening to audiobooks on my commute with them was appreciated.
Performance and battery
The Samsung Galaxy S10e has a large 3,100 mAh battery, considering its small size. So far, it has performed as expected, but I can't really vouch for it after spending only 48 hours with the smartphone. The phone did get quite warm when I was setting it up, installing applications and signing into my accounts. That isn't unexpected - it happens almost always when setting up a new phone, and I haven't encountered the problem since. However, since I've been burned (pun intended) by phones with heat issues before, I will be keeping an eye on the temperature when testing the phone for the full review.
In terms of speed, the Galaxy S10e I'm currently using sports the Exynos 9820 Octa, which seems to provide more than enough power. The phone was speedy and had no hiccups.
One thing I'm excited to get into further is the new user interface by Samsung - One UI. So far my impression is that it's not terribly different from Experience, but that might change as I use the phone more. One thing I can say for certain is that One UI's placement of important elements on the bottom is not really needed on the S10e, as it can be operated with one hand just fine.
Quality over quantity in the camera department
Although it only has a dual rear camera and a single selfie one, the Samsung S10e isn't falling far behind from its big brothers - the S10 and S10+, in terms of camera performance. In my short time with the essential S10, I was impressed. After my negative experience with the Galaxy A9 (2018) and its four cameras, which proved that quantity doesn't mean quality, my new compact companion surprised me.
Shots are great in any lighting condition, while the camera app is incredibly feature-rich. The dual 12 and 16 MP sensors are more than capable of doing their job. The same goes for the 10 MP selfie camera. Unlike on older models, Samsung has also integrated the scene optimizer into almost all modes rather than having it as a separate one.
There also are plenty of other features that come quite in handy - you can hold the shutter button for burst shots or to create a gif, you will be notified if there are smudges on the camera, and there's even a food mode! Yes, you read that correctly. I will be adding pictures of my lunch along with everything else in the Samsung Galaxy S10e gallery linked below.
Overall first impressions
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is not just a cheaper version of the popular S10 flagship - it's a smartphone tailored to the needs of different customers. If like me, you are tired of giant gimmicky phones, the Galaxy S10e offers everything you need in a stylish but compact package. My first impression is that the Korean manufacturer hasn't made too many compromises with this device and I certainly don't miss the in-display fingerprint sensor, nor the extra cameras.
And although the S10e is already endlessly compared to the iPhone XR, I think it has greater potential. All of the cool little features and conveniences it offers add up to deliver that true flagship experience, despite the Essential name. I look forward to spending more time in its company.