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Samsung Galaxy S10E review: The best value Galaxy S10

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The Good A dream come true for value shoppers who love small phones. The Galaxy S10E shares the S10's core camera and Snapdragon 855 chipset, so photos and speed are excellent. Battery life and wireless power sharing are also spot-on. Its fingerprint reader and flat screen solve minor problems with the pricier S10 and S10 Plus.

The Bad Lefties and people with small hands may find the fingerprint reader placement a tad inconvenient. The indented shape makes taking screenshots feel odd.

The Bottom Line The Galaxy S10E is a terrific value for a compact, powerhouse phone, although it can't beat the OnePlus 6T's $550 price.

8.9 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 10

The best thing about the Galaxy S10E isn't its screen or its camera, or the fact that it has a fingerprint reader on the side instead of in its display. It's that all those traits together create a complete and tidy package that shares the same core features as the $1,000 Galaxy S10 Plus, but for a much lower sum. Starting at $750, £669 and AU$1,199, the Galaxy S10E is a high-value home run with very few flaws. In fact, two Galaxy S10E "trade-offs" might actually solve potential problems you might have with the larger Galaxy S10 Plus. The "E" may stand for "Essential", but it also stands for "Excellence."

To dig a little deeper, the S10E uses the same Android Pie interface with Samsung's One UI on top and best-in-show Snapdragon 855 chipset inside. The screen is great, battery life is very strong, and you can use the phone to wirelessly charge Qi-enabled devices. You can fling as much water and dust on it as any other Galaxy S10 phone.

There are two main differences. First, the screen is flat, not curved. While this gives it a slightly less immersive look, it also means you may have an easier time tapping the cursor at the beginning of a text field. For me, that often falls on the curve, which can be a no-man's land for recognizing taps. Or if you're like my mom, a flat screen and straighter sides may make the S10E easier to hold. Then there are people like my brother: a no-nonsense man who just wants a phone, dammit, and to hell with the frills.

Another "trade-off" that might turn out to be a benefit is that there's no in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint reader like the Galaxy S10, S10 Plus and S10 5G have. Instead, the fingerprint scanner is a capacitive-style pad that's integrated into the power button. It's actually more accurate than the in-screen reader.

A price war is the Galaxy S10E's biggest threat. It's one that doesn't stem from the iPhone XR ($749 at Amazon), which costs the same and has fewer goodies (like smaller storage capacity). It's the OnePlus 6T ($650 at Amazon) that comes in at $550, £499 (or about AU$775) that's the bigger threat -- this was also our top value phone for 2018. Google is also rumored to release a cheaper Pixel 3 Lite this spring, which could spell trouble for the S10E if it comes in closer to the 6T's price.

The takeaway here is that the Galaxy S10E is a little-but-mighty powerhouse that's worth the price. If you don't need a 6.4-inch screen and a telephoto lens, this is the Galaxy S10 to get.

Read on for everything that's different about the Galaxy S10E, including the fingerprint sensor, cameras and battery life. Skip to the end for a buying guide comparison with other phones, and a full specs comparison.

Galaxy S10E versus the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus

Don't be tempted to think of the S10E as the runt of the litter. It's the smallest and least adorned, but it's a strong phone in its own right. Major differences come down to the size, the number of cameras, the screen resolution and the battery and storage capacities.

The Galaxy S10E has 128GB or 256GB storage options, for example, while the S10 Plus tops out at an astonishing 1TB. Most people on the planet don't really need 1TB of storage. 128GB with a 512GB microSD option is a generous starting amount for most. And while the 3,100-mAh battery sounds smaller than the S10 Plus' 4,100-mAh battery, it'll still last you all day. It ran 17 hours in our looping video drain test. That's not a lot of corner-cutting.

This mini comparison shows the major differences:

Galaxy S10E, S10, S10 Plus, S10 5G


Samsung Galaxy S10E Samsung Galaxy S10 Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Display size, resolution 5.8-inch AMOLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels 6.1-inch AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels 6.4-inch AMOLED; 3,040x1,440 pixels 6.7-inch AMOLED
Camera 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 3D depth (HQVGA)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 10-megapixel 10-megapixel, 8-megapixel 10-megapixel, 3D depth (HQVGA)
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 512GB 128GB, 512GB, 1TB 256GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 8GB 8GB, 12GB 8GB
Battery 3,100-mAh 3,400-mAh 4,100-mAh 4,500-mAh
galaxy-s10-galaxy-s10e-galaxy-s10-plus-2
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The Galaxy S10E, S10 and S10 Plus.

Angela Lang/CNET

Goldilocks design and size are just right

You've heard me and maybe others refer to the Galaxy S10E as a "small" phone, but this is no mini device like the 3.3-inch Palm. It's about the same size and dimensions as an iPhone XS ($1,000 at Amazon), but it is significantly smaller than the Galaxy S10 Plus. I called it adorably petite in comparison, but with a 5.8-inch screen, there's nothing shrunken about it.

I have relatively small hands, so for me the S10E is pretty much perfect. It's a slick, slippery phone and while it has scudded off quite a few tabletops, the straight sides and smaller frame make it feel more secure in my hand than the larger S10 Plus. I'd recommend a case for most people.

Typing: The 5.8-inch screen is anything but small, though typing will feel more compact than on a larger screen. Coming from the Galaxy S10 Plus' 6.4-inch display, the S10E's digital keyboard feels "small," but if you're coming from a phone with a similar-size display, you won't notice much difference, if any.

galaxy-s10e-27
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The Galaxy S10E's fingerprint reader and power button are one.

Angela Lang/CNET

Taking photos one-handed: For my smaller hands especially, the Galaxy S10E was a relief to use when snapping photos. I tend to hold the S10 Plus steady with two hands and then quickly dart in a finger to focus when autofocus isn't reading my mind. Sometimes I have to use the tip of my nose. I don't have to tell you how embarrassing it is to peck your phone screen like a bird, but I know I can't be the only person to do this.

The S10E is small enough to hold steady with one hand and focus with the other, if need be. Samsung's Shot Suggestions software also attempts to make things easier for you by automatically taking a photo when you line up the shot along a suggested guideline.

The flat screen isn't actually a step back

I love the more immersive look of the other Galaxy S10s' curved sides, but so far the flat screen is just fine. And you still get use of the Edge screen tab, which can serve as a speed dial for opening your favorite apps and contacts from any screen. I use this daily to open apps like Google Drive and Google Keep notes.

The screen's resolution and pixel ($316 at Amazon) density are the lowest of all the S10 phones (438 ppi compared to 550 ppi on the Galaxy S10 and 522 ppi on the S10 Plus), but right out of the box, I was hard-pressed to tell the difference with the phones side by side on max brightness. That's because screen resolution on the S10 Plus is lower by default, a setting that most people don't change right away. I could still read just fine outside.

galaxy-s10e-apple-comparison-4
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The Galaxy S10E's screen isn't technically as good as the S10 Plus', but your eyes won't care.

Angela Lang/CNET

Comparing the S10E and S10 Plus screens out of the box, I scrolled through websites, watched a downloaded Netflix video and zoomed in on HD photos. If anything, blues are a little brighter on the S10 Plus, and a bit darker on the S10E. Yellows and reds are warmer and more saturated on the S10E. You won't lose appreciable quality by going with the S10E.

Note that the S10E has Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, while the other S10 phones use a slightly tougher Gorilla Glass 6 (they all use Gorilla Glass 5 on the back). If you're concerned about drops, a glass screen protector is a smart play. The Galaxy S10 phones all come with a thicker plastic film adhered to the screen. Samsung says this is a screen protector worth $30, but it wasn't for me, so I took it off.

galaxy-s10e-44
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Wirelessly charging another phone on the back of the S10E totally works.

A fingerprint scanner in the power button proves you don't 'need' ultrasonic

The ultrasonic fingerprint reader in the other Galaxy S10 phones is supposed to be a huge advantage. It's meant to be faster, more secure and work through water and grease. But the Galaxy S10 Plus' in-screen fingerprint scanner hasn't lived up to the promise. Fingerprint recognition is hit or miss, and it takes a beat to unlock the phone. There are definitely limitations for wet and greasy fingers, and that's after two software updates. (Hopefully a future update will fix this.)

All of this is to say that the S10E's capacitive fingerprint sensor integrated into the power button is actually turning out be an advantage. This is actually one of my favorite places for a fingerprint reader because, for right-handed people at least, it falls in a natural place that's easy to reach and requires little guesswork. Samsung gives you the option to unlock the phone with a soft touch, rather than making you press down on the button, which spares some repetitive stress.

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