Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: Killer cameras and battery life might meet their match in the Note 10

Better portrait mode shots: Called Live Focus, portrait mode photos get a three more effects on the Galaxy S10. In addition to the regular blur slider, you can also apply spot color, and effects called "Zoom" and "Spin." Best yet, you can adjust the intensity of these effects before or after you take the shot, even switching to a different effect. There are still minor issues. Spot color doesn't always work smoothly and flyaway hairs can still get blurred out in these portrait shots, but images are nice on the whole, and the effects can be striking. Unlike last year's Galaxy S9 ($245 at Amazon), the S10 only saves the Live Focus shot, not the portrait mode and standard photo. 


Turn up the intensity and the Spot Color portrait mode effect (Live Focus) adds drama with a vignette. 

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Scene optimizer: The S10's camera AI can recognize 30 scenes and autoadjust settings to improve the pic. You can tap the on-screen control to turn it on and off, especially if you don't like the preset result. Note that you won't be able to use the dedicated night mode with scene optimizer turned off.

The GIF maker tool on a settings menu is fast and fun, but not so smooth.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Shot Suggestions: This is a menu setting that will guide you to line up the shot and focus area, then automatically take the photo when it's all aligned. I liked it when taking photos of buildings and street scenes, because it meant I didn't have to hold the phone with one hand and press the shutter with the other. 

Other times, the feature took more photos than I wanted, or took them before I was ready. You have to keep going back into the menu to turn it on and off if you sometimes want more control. An on-screen toggle would make this much more convenient.

Quick GIF-maker: If you change a camera setting, you can record a short GIF when you press and hold the shutter button. The playback isn't totally smooth, and the quality isn't as good as shaving a GIF from a video, but it's easy to do and gets the point across for a quick tweet.

Instagram Mode: Samsung hasn't pushed this out yet, but I did get a demo on the S10 5G. If you have an account, you can flip it on to use the same filters and post directly to Instagram without leaving the app.


We got to preview Instagram Mode on the Galaxy S10 5G.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Smooth video: Video results were great, thanks to the HDR10+ format and a super smooth motion control setting you turn on by tapping the icon of a hand when recording video. I got the perfect opportunity to test this on a troupe of guys tumbling on the pavement outside Barcelona's main cathedral.

HEIF: Save photos in the HEIF format, in addition to raw. HEIF is hailed for its space-saving abilities.

Now playing: Watch this: Getting to know the Galaxy S10 Plus camera and features

Low-light camera shots can't match the Pixel 3

Like last year's Galaxy S9, all the S10 phones have a 12-megapixel dual aperture lens. That means the aperture automatically adjusts from f2.4 to f1.5, to let in more light. As a rule, more light = better photos. 

The S10 phones also get a new Bright Night Shot mode that aims to take clearer, brighter photos in very low light conditions. Unlike the Pixel 3's Night Sight and the P30 Pro's dedicated nighttime mode, Bright Night Shot is integrated into the native camera and kicks itself into gear as long as Scene Optimizer is toggled on.


Galaxy S10 Plus took this shot.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Shot on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro using a dedicated night mode.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

While I like that it's integrated, it also means you have less control over when the feature comes into play. The only indication it's on is the tiny icon of a crescent moon, and maybe an on-screen tip to hold the camera steady a while longer. I had to work pretty hard to find conditions that brought me that crescent moon icon. Oftentimes, even in a very dark bar, the scene optimizer algorithm chose other settings, like people, architecture and so on.

When I finally got one that worked -- a shot of some street lights, there was only one real difference between the two shots. With Scene Optimizer on, the street lights look starry.


This photo uses the Galaxy S10 Plus' aperture for low light (f1.5), with no Bright Night mode (scene optimizer is turned off).

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Here, Bright Night Shot is on, giving the lights starry points, but not otherwise dramatically enhancing the scene.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In general, low-light photography isn't getting the boost I really wanted. Most low-light performance is the same as on the Galaxy S9, and I'm really missing the dramatic results of Google and Huawei's phones. It's very clear in side-by-side comparisons that the S10's shots are on average mushier than on those competitor phones. 

This difference isn't enough to wave off most phone buyers, but you're not going to win any low-light photography arguments with fervent fans of those other phones. 


Don't get me wrong, low light shots can be great with the Galaxy S10 Plus' automatic settings.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

More epic camera shootouts to come.

Two front-facing cameras are better than one

The Galaxy S10 Plus is the only one of Samsung's new phones to give you this combination of front-facing cameras: a 10- and 8-megapixel combo (the S10 5G has a 3D depth-sensing lens; this does not). Several phones have two front-facing cameras, and it's a feature I like because you can expand your viewfinder to fit more in. 

Selfies are very good on the whole, though again, the Pixel 3's camera takes crisper shots, particularly at night. I like that you can apply most of the same effects to the selfie cameras as the main lenses. Overall, you'll be satisfied with most shots, and will probably, in fact, make many of your friends jealous.


The S10 Plus is a battery beast.

Angela Lang/CNET

AR Emoji is much improved, but still a little creepy

Samsung's take on making animated emojis of your face and body gets a big improvement in the Galaxy S10 phones. It's no longer as creepy as it was in earlier iterations, and you have many more customization options

You still can't choose your own body type, and some of the color choices for your hair, eyes and skin aren't rich or varied enough. For example, there's still no option for hazel eyes or my hair's shade of brown. Everything looks a little gray. There are few outfit options to express your sense of style. I still identify more with Apple's Memoji, maybe because it's more cartoonish. 


This is what happens when you overlay an AR Emoji face over a real human.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

AR Emoji has a lot more new use cases and stickers. For example, you can toss a "mask" of your face on someone else's body as they talk. It's amusing, in a horrifying kind of way. You can also use your friend's body to perform a weird voodoo doll dance with a "mini me" AR Emoji of yourself. I... I don't know.

Battery life and performance are off the charts

Battery life is phenomenal on the Galaxy S10 Plus' 4,100-mAh ticker. I've used the phone for long days of uploads, downloads, maps navigation and tethering to my laptop as a mobile hotspot, an activity that's sure to suck much life out of my year-old Galaxy S9 Plus review phone. 

The S10 Plus kept me going from early morning to the small hours of the night, often with some reserves to spare. I never worried about running low, and that's not something I could say about last year's Galaxy S9 even when it was fresh out of the box. It also lasted an average of just over 21 hours in our looping video drain test in airplane mode, which is excellent. In comparison, the Pixel 3 lasted 15 hours, the Galaxy Note 9 went for roughly 19 and a half hours and the S9 Plus for about 17 hours. The iPhone XS Max ($1,100 at Boost Mobile) went for 17 and a half hours.


The Galaxy S10 Plus' battery is top of the class.

Angela Lang/CNET

It's expected for battery life to shorten over time, so a year from now, you may need to rely on your charger more. But starting at a higher bar gives me hope that the S10 Plus' power management will do well by you over a typical two-year lifespan, if not longer.

Performance on the S10 Plus is solid and seamless, using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 processor (some countries get the Galaxy Exynos 9820 chipset). Gameplay was nice and sensitive on my baseline testing game, Riptide Renegade -- very detailed, and I didn't suck as much as I usually do. I'm not the world's best gamer, so I handed the phone to CNET editor Roger Cheng, who is. He gives the S10 Plus two thumbs up and said that the punch hole notch wasn't as distracting as he thought it would be.

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung Galaxy Buds charge right off the back of the...

Benchmark testing also put the S10 Plus ahead of the competition. This is the first of the Snapdragon 855 phones, so we'll see how other handsets perform. Overall, I expect a progression of speed from 2019 devices, or at least the ability to process complex computational tasks like advanced photography, without lagging.

Galaxy S10 Plus versus... 

Galaxy S9 Plus: The S10 Plus improves on the Galaxy S9 Plus in every way. If money is no issue, you'll prefer the S10 Plus, but performance gains may seem incremental if you don't use all the camera tricks or Wireless PowerShare.

iPhone XS Max: Apart from the classic iOS versus Android argument, the biggest differentiators are the triple cameras and the different takes on portrait mode -- the iPhone XS Max has more dramatic lighting choices, while the Galaxy S10 Plus goes more for a textured background. Samsung's phone has far more storage options, much longer battery life and a headphone jack. 


There's plenty of competition, but the Galaxy S10 Plus is well-positioned to remain one of the year's best phones.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Google Pixel XL: The Pixel phone far surpasses Samsung's in low-light and night shots, and its portrait selfies are better. Screen resolution is higher, too. But the Galaxy S10 Plus counters with phenomenal storage options, more camera flexibility, much longer battery life and Wireless PowerShare.

LG V50: A 5G phone, the LG V50 has higher screen resolution than the S10 Plus, and is on par with many other features, at least on paper. We haven't tested the just-announced LG V50, so we can only compare specs. Samsung's phone has more greater storage options and a fingerprint scanner on the front rather than the back. Without knowing the price, it's too soon to lean one way or the other.

Galaxy S10 Plus specs comparison

Galaxy S10 Plus vs. LG V50, Pixel 3 XL, iPhone XS Max

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus LG V50 ThinQ (5G) Google Pixel 3 XL iPhone XS Max
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels 6.4-inch OLED; 3,120x1,440 pixels 6.3-inch "flexible" OLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6.5-inch Super Retina OLED; 2,688x1,242 pixels
Pixel density 522 ppi 564 ppi 523 ppi 458 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.20 x 2.92 x 0.31 in 6.26 x 3.0 x 0.33 in. 6.2x3x.03 in 6.2x3.0x.3 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8 mm 159.1 x 76.1 x 8.3 mm 158x76.7x7.9 mm 157.5x77.4x7.7 mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.17 oz.; 175g 6.46 oz.; 183g 6.5 oz; 184g 7.3oz; 208g
Mobile software Android 9.0 with Samsung One UI Android 9.0 Android 9 Pie iOS 12
Camera 16-megapixel (ultrawide-angle), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12.2-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel, 8-megapixel 8-megapixel (standard), 5-megapixel (wide) Dual 8-megapixel 7-megapixel with Face ID
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (2.5GHz octa-core) Apple A12 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 512GB, 1TB 128GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB
RAM 8GB, 12GB 6GB 4GB Not disclosed
Expandable storage Up to 512GB 2TB None None
Battery 4,100 mAh 4,000 mAh 3,430 mAh Not disclosed, but lasted 17.5 hours on looping video drain battery test in airplane mode
Fingerprint sensor In-screen Back Back cover None (Face ID)
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack Yes Yes No No
Special features Wireless PowerShare; hole punch screen notch; water resistant (IP68); Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 5G connectivity; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging, Quick Charge 3.0 IPX8, wireless charging support, Pixel Buds USB-C headphones in the box Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging; Face ID; Memoji
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 (128GB); $1,250 (512GB); $1,600 (1TB) $1,000 (Verizon), $1,152 (Sprint)
$699 (64GB); $799 (128GB) $1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)
Price off-contract (GBP) £1,099 (128GB); £1,299 (512GB); £1,599 (1TB) Starts at £69 per month (EE) £869 (64GB); £969 (128GB) £1,099 (64GB), £1,249 (256GB), £1,449 (512GB)
Price off-contract (AUD) AU$1,499 (128GB); AU$1,849 (512GB); AU$2,399 (1TB) Starts at AU$1,728 (Telstra)
AU$1,349 (64GB); AU$1,499 (128GB) AU$1,799 (64GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)

Originally published March 1 at 10:15 a.m. PT.
Updates, March 1: Adds more impressions; March 2: adds more detail on Wireless PowerShare and remapping the Bixby button; March 5: Updates headline; April 11: Corrects pixel density for S10 Plus in comparison chart.
Update, July 9, 2019: Adds Galaxy Note 10 analysis.

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