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Galaxy S10 5G hands-on: Live demo with Samsung's faster phone for May

Our first time using the Galaxy S10 5G was awesome, except for one red flag that Samsung might be able to fix.

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The Galaxy S10 5G, shot on the Galaxy S10 Plus at Samsung's booth at MWC 2019.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Samsung has revealed a few more details about the Galaxy S10 5G, its first 5G phone. Namely, that it'll come to the US in May, with preorders starting "soon". We found out a few months ago that it will sell first with Verizon.

I had seen the most advanced member of the Galaxy S10 lineup about a week before Samsung's big reveal, but the phone was turned off and I wasn't allowed to so much as touch it. Then, at MWC 2019 in March, Samsung was finally ready to share -- at least a working prototype. That means my first impressions here are subject to change, and so is Samsung's software. In fact, I hope some of it will improve.

Watch the 5G logo light up. Shot with the Galaxy S10's quick GIF-making feature.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

First let's recap some differences between the different S10 models: The Galaxy S10 5G has 5G support (of course) and is the largest Galaxy S10 phone of all, with a 6.7-inch screen.

It's got a total of four rear cameras, including a 3D depth-sensing lens. There's also a camera on the front of the phone, and they both play a significant role here. The Galaxy S10 5G lacks expandable storage, unlike the other three Galaxy S10 phones.

Here's our Galaxy S10 Plus review, to see what kind of performance you can expect.

I got to demo a live 5G network, play around shooting portrait video from both front and rear cameras, and see Instagram Mode on the camera.

Read: Thanks to Samsung and Verizon, 5G is all up in your face

Live 5G demo

5G demos are everywhere at MWC, but not all of them are live. Samsung showed off the Galaxy S10 5G's speedy ways with both a canned demo on a 4G phone, and with a single live demo. In the latter, a 5G phone streamed a prerecorded baseball game (Giants vs. Dodgers) over Samsung's 5G network at the show. A base station located at the back of the next hall over provided the 5G juice, through a transmitter resting on the floor.

I could pinch-to-zoom in on the screen during the game to see a player close up, or tap predetermined areas of the screen to see what was going on in different parts of the field. But the best part was being able to swipe left or right to rotate the field of view, the way you would on a digital map. That way, I watched a player's follow-through after a swing, and saw the pitcher's stance from multiple angles.

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5G makes it possible to pinch and zoom in on a player, or rotate him around in real time.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

All these actions require a tremendous amount of effort to resolve on the fly, and that's the demo's significance. 5G speeds and low latency make it possible to process these taxing digital demands without buffering and freezing while the computation catches up.

Read: We tested Verizon's first 5G network in Chicago

Portrait mode video

A fun new feature comes to the Galaxy S10 5G, thanks to the 3D cameras on the front and back and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip inside. Now when you open up the camera app, you'll see a brand-new option for Live Focus Video from the front and rear cameras.

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy S10 5G camera, 5G demo at MWC 2019
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That means you'll be able to blur the background using a slider and have the striking effect of a portrait photo on a video. It's using the 3D depth camera to create a depth map that can separate you from your background, and then manipulate the background in different ways, like blurring it.

The effect is the most noticeable when you turn the blur effect all the way up, but you also put yourself in a riskier situation when you do. Live Focus Video was best able to maintain the balance between you and your background when the subject isn't moving around as much and you're not throwing too many things its way.

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David Cogen (TheUnlockr) gamely dances around Jaime Rivera (Pocketnow) to test the limits of portrait video.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

A few journalists tested the limits of the feature by having one move around within the frame, and approach the other. With the blur effect turned onto high, you could see where the edges of one person's face blurred when they moved quickly. There were also some gaps in calculation between a human leg and a table leg. This isn't going to be a feature you use for action shots, but it might be one that you'd use to film a sweet message for your boo.

Samsung's software is also anything but final. It's possible that there will updates and improvements between today and the time the Galaxy S10 5G goes on sale. For now, it's best to think of Live Focus Video as a beta feature with potential.

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The Galaxy S10 5G is a slim phone with an expansive, vibrant 6.7-inch screen.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Instagram camera mode

This new camera feature works with all Galaxy S10 phones, but it was preloaded on the Galaxy S10 5G demo phone, so I played around with it at Samsung's booth. If you have an Instagram account, it's pretty straightforward. You open the camera app and swipe to choose the Instagram mode.

Then take your photo and swipe from left to right to rotate through the same filters that Instagram has. Finally you can build out a story or post the photo. Instagram's wild success makes it a smart partner for Samsung to integrate into its native camera. I'd love to see more partnerships like that down the line.

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Instagram mode on the Galaxy S10 5G.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Originally published Feb. 25 at 6:07 a.m. PT and updated periodically.