Galaxy S10 Plus ongoing review: What's good and bad today

Can we talk about the Galaxy S10's Bixby Routines, gesture navigation and GIFs for a minute?

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Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
11 min read
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Editors' note, March 2: Thank you for tuning in to read our ongoing review. Better yet, CNET's fully rated Galaxy S10 Plus review is in! The latest update to this story remains below.

I've been using the Galaxy S10 Plus to cover the MWC show here in Barcelona, and it's been a real crash course on this phone as my daily. It has my SIM card in it, which means it's my No. 1 for literally everything a person does on a phone. I've used to to take scads of photos and videos, navigate all around Barcelona and tether to my laptop to deliver roaming network data. 

Let's say I've learned a thing or two about this phone, and I'm discovering new tidbits of its personality every day. First of all, battery life is outstanding. I go back and forth on the Infinity-O "notch," which is more noticeable on the Galaxy S10 Plus than it is on the S10 and S10E, which each have one front-facing camera instead of two. Today I cemented my opinion of the GIF-maker, and got to play around with Bixby Routines and gesture navigation.

First, some background. Samsung's Galaxy S10 Plus is the largest and most advanced of the three mainstream Galaxy S10 phones that will go on sale March 8. If that sounds like a lot of qualifications to place on what's shaping up to be a real killer device in 2019, you're onto something. Compared to the more feature-packed Galaxy S10 5G and the foldable Galaxy Fold that Samsung also announced this week, the Galaxy S10 Plus might pale in comparison. Don't be so hasty. 5G and foldable mark the future, but the Galaxy S10 Plus is a phone for the present.

I'm really enjoying using the S10 Plus, with a few caveats. The ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader and I are having some tension, but Samsung says a software fix will cure it. I'm just waiting for that to come in so I can retest it. Meanwhile, the tons of camera features and I are still circling each other, trying to decide if we're frenemies or just fast friends. I was disappointed by some low-light photos I took tonight, compared to another phone with a dedicated night mode. But again, battery life proved itself sensational, which gives me 100 percent confidence that it can last these long conference days and nights.

Wednesday and Thursday: It's all coming together

After a week with the Galaxy S10 Plus, it's time to turn my attention to the final review. One thing I will say is that I'm really liking the S10 Plus overall, though it's not perfect (but really, no phone ever is.) Hang tight for my final assessment, a star rating, new photos and video!

Monday and Tuesday: Bixby Routines, Gesture navigation, GIF-maker

Bixby Routines: Today I played around with Bixby Routines. I'm not a huge Bixby fan and I only call it up by accident, but Bixby Routines could change my mind. I was impressed with the IFTTT-like flexibility to set up routines, and the presets seemed easy enough for novices to get their feet wet. For example, I set up a morning routine that starts at 6 a.m. and turns on the Always-On display (yes, you can turn it off), surfaces specific lock screen shortcuts and turns off the blue-light filter I'll turn on for a bedtime routine.

Not-quite gesture navigation: Navigation is now a quick setting. Turn it off and your familiar nav buttons become dashes that you can toggle up to use. I've just started using this, so I'm not sure how I feel about it, but everyone's different, so it's always nice to have alternatives.

GIF-maker: Here's a neat trick. Turn on a camera setting and you can press and hold the shutter button to make a quick GIF. The Galaxy Note lets you make a GIF through a multistep process that involves the S Pen. This is so much simpler, and it works. Quality is suspect -- it's a little juddery -- but it's fast and easy, and hopefully Samsung can improve the GIF smoothness and image clarity soon.

Saturday and Sunday: Awesome battery life, dubious low-light pics, ultrasonic fingerprint reader, notch thoughts

Notch: OK, so maybe I'm not as wild about the Galaxy S10 Plus dual notch as I could be. It still doesn't get in the way of my daily work, but when I pull down with a white background, say to read my calendar, the dual selfie cam is much more noticeable. Maybe a single, symmetrical teardrop shape is the same over time, but I do like the Infinity-U display on another Samsung phone, the midrange Galaxy A5 and A30.

Battery life is phenomenal right out of the box. I've used the phone all day to navigate around, look up restaurants, shoot photo and video and constantly upload those photos. I even used it as a mobile hotspot for an hour, an activity that's sure to suck life out of my year-old Galaxy S9 Plus review phone (it's normal for battery life to shorten over time).

Low-light photography doesn't seem to be getting the kick I really wanted. I wasn't a big fan of the Galaxy S9 Plus' low-light performance, as much as I wanted to believe in the dual aperture lenses that auto-adjust to let in low light. The Pixel 3's Night Sight mode and Huawei Mate 20 Pro's night mode are separate modes that take longer to shoot, but with stunning results. While the Galaxy S10 Plus' photos are quite good for what they are, it does feel like the camera can't keep up -- so far. Epic camera shoot-outs to come.

Watch this: Galaxy S10 5G camera, 5G demo at MWC 2019

The ultrasonic fingerprint reader doesn't seem to work well when your fingers are excessively wet. I dunked the phone and my hand in the pool and tried unlocking. I failed 20 successive times before giving up. Other types of phone unlocking tech are also hydrophobic, but I wanted to test the limits. Lightly moist fingers (e.g., if it's hot out or you just dried your hands) seem to work fine.

Friday's revelations: Portrait mode pics and AR Emoji

The ultrasonic fingerprint reader is meant to work through grease, but that seems to apply more to natural films of gunk and goo. When I squeezed an oily (and delicious) churro between my fingers and then tried to unlock the phone, I mismatched 20 times straight. Turns out, there is a limit.

Portrait mode: I had a ton of fun playing with the new portrait mode effects (called Live Focus here), including being able to completely edit them all after the fact. For example, if you take a photo with spot color and change your mind, you can swap to any other effect and effect level you want.

AR Emoji has a lot more new use cases than stickers. For example, you can toss a "mask" of your face on someone else's body (and take photos of it), and take a photo of a friend with a "mini me" AR Emoji of yourself, say sitting on your buddy's shoulder.

I've already taken dozens of photos and video clips (that link is just a sampling). I've explored the menus within the Settings menus and discovered a ton of features and featurettes that I'll share soon. (Getting used to these things takes time.) I've also charged my dying Galaxy S9 Plus from last year via the charging pad on the back of the Galaxy S10 Plus while switching my credentials over to the new device (it works!).

A solid phone review takes about a week to really test out the hardware and software specs, especially the camera and battery life. For example, the Galaxy S10 Plus' 4,100mAh battery ran for over 21 hours on its first looping video drain test in airplane mode, so that already requires days of testing. Quirks also tend to make their way to the surface over time. 

Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, S10E: Every camera lens and curve

See all photos

Still, I know you're as anxious as I am to see how well the Galaxy S10 Plus performs, with all its exciting new features: the in-screen fingerprint reader, the three rear cameras and two selfie lenses, the Snapdragon 855 chipset and the new hole punch in the screen. Hence, this ongoing review is where I can share some of my impressions and experiences before we're ready to apply a final rating. Hopefully I can answer some of your early questions. Keep checking back daily for frequent updates.

Lovely to look at, but a slippery devil

Samsung is partial to glossy finishes that reflect light in unusual ways. My review unit is the 128GB version in Prism White, and it definitely reflects iridescent shades of pale blue and pink in the light. This color is nice and subtle, unlike the bolder flamingo pink, canary yellow and prism blue.

Watch this: New Galaxy S10 phones pile on sweet specs

Right away I noticed that the phone is rather slippery. It's shot out from between my fingers several times, usually landing on my purse, a table or my lap. It also slid off my nightstand, but was luckily tethered by the charging cable, so it was easy to fish back. I like to review phones the way they emerge from the box, but I'm going to want a case for this one.

O, that notch? 

The Galaxy S10 Plus has an Infinity-O "notch" that's really a hole cut in the display to make room for two cameras. Its oval shape attracts more attention than the single lens of the Galaxy S10 and S10E, but I'm not really a stickler for notches anyway. More to the point is the feeling of having a large screen with slim bezels. Most of the time, it sort of blends into the background, not calling too much attention to itself. But when the screen is brightly lit, like with a white background, the asymmetry of a pill-shape cut-out becomes more noticeable.


The Galaxy S10's small notch.

Angela Lang/CNET

Android Pie and One UI

One thing I did notice right away is the new One UI design that follows much of the look and feel of Android Pie. Icons are large, flat circles that take a while to get used to since many of the designs have changed, from the color of the Gallery icon to the shape of the Galaxy Notes app. I mean it: these icons are huge. I immediately switched to a smaller icon size (therefore, a larger app grid on the home screen) to fit in the apps I like to access without digging through folders. 


A glimpse at the phone's refreshed UI.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some of the changes with One UI are appreciable early on, like larger "cards" that make it more comfortable to read what's going on without making you crane your neck or squint. 

I also noticed a mode in the notifications setting called Kids Home, which opens a parent-protected profile/walled garden for kids to take photos and download apps. Young kids, that is. (Older ones would roll their eyes and scoff, then find out the password and change all your language settings.) It's the first time I've seen it as a quick settings toggle. 

Wireless PowerShare really works

I accidentally needed to use the new wireless power-sharing feature when I noticed that my Galaxy S9 Plus was down to 7 percent and going to die while I was still setting up the Galaxy S10 Plus. I was at dinner, with my cables in my hotel room, and hey, this is exactly what the feature's meant for. So I turned it on and flipped it over and watched my battery climb back up to a barely healthy 13 percent. 

Since the phones were back to back, with the Galaxy S9 Plus facing up, I could still tap and type away, as long as I was careful not to shift its position on the Galaxy S10 Plus' back. I'm happy with this one so far.


PowerShare in action.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Jury's still out on the ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint scanner 

If you haven't read my Saturday thoughts up top, do. Getting biometrics right is so hard. They're often hard to authenticate the first time, not accurate enough, in the wrong place, or just not secure. The Galaxy S10 Plus' ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor has been hit or miss for me so far. It uses Qualcomm's 3D Sonic Sensor, which is supposed to be extremely fast. I even made an in-depth video about how it works.

Watch this: Why the Galaxy S10's ultrasonic fingerprint reader matters

But so far -- and this is, again, very early days -- I'm not getting the phone unlocked on my first try, and it's definitely taking more than Qualcomm's "less than a second" promise. Of course there could be legitimate reasons for that, like Samsung's software and hardware working with Qualcomm's component and making sure the unlock protocols really are secure. (Samsung uses its Knox security software.)

Still, my usual tricks haven't been working so well. You're allowed to scan a total of four fingers, so I scanned my right thumb twice, my left thumb once and my right index finger. Mostly I unlock the phone with my right thumb. Even after the double scan, I'm still only getting in about 50 percent of the time. The other times, I'm either not hitting the target completely, or not pressing long enough or not pressing hard enough -- I've seen error messages telling me to apply more pressure. 

I've had more luck when I go slower. However, since my IT department requires a 1-minute screen timeout on any device where I've loaded up my work email, I'm unlocking this phone a lot, and all these second, third and even fourth attempts at unlocking the phone with my thumb are getting pretty old.


The phone's in-screen fingerprint reader.

Jason Parker/CNET

Bixby button remapping???

We read that other reviewers have seen an option to remap the Bixby button on the side of the Galaxy S10 to open other apps. I've gone to the same settings menu on my review unit, and it's just not possible. I wish I had more to tell you, but I've asked Samsung for the deets.

How about the camera?

Testing a camera is a massive undertaking in itself, and Samsung has added a lot of parts. There are the new features we already knew about, like switching among the camera lenses on the front and back, and toggling scene optimizers on and off. And then there are some features and featurettes I've discovered. 


Testing out the Galaxy S10's camera.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Many more on those in a bit, but here's a taste: 

  • Create a GIF on the fly: In the Settings, you can make burst mode shoot a short clip by holding down the shutter button.
  • Save photos in the HEIF format, in addition to raw. HEIF is hailed for its space-saving abilities.
  • AR Emoji has gotten much, much better. It's no longer as creepy as it was in earlier iterations, and you have many more customization options. Still not body type, and some of the color choices for your hair, eyes and skin aren't rich or varied enough. For example, still no hazel eyes or hair my shade of brown. (How hard is brown?) I still identify more with Apple 's Memoji, but I promise I'll give this one some time to grow on me.

In the meantime, you can see a few photos I took so far:

One more little thing

I'm particular about alarms and the way alarm clocks look, and last year I had a lot of critical things to say about the Galaxy S9 Plus' alarm clock, especially the way that it ambushes you with loud, robotic-sounding Bixby readouts if you don't override them. A very rude awakening for me.

This time around, the alarm app is more logically laid out. There are new alarm tunes as well, and I had a tough time choosing one. I prefer soothing, organic sounds like guitars or gentle wooden chimes more than anything jangly and tinny. However, nearly every one of the 27 tones is space-themed in just the wrong way to spike my senses. 

I ultimately chose "Sunlight" and woke up just fine.

I'll be using the Galaxy S10 Plus all the time I'm here in Barcelona, and updating this story with new impressions as I discover them. Stick with me!

Watch this: Galaxy S10 vs. iPhone XS: How do they compare?

Originally published Feb. 21.
Updates, Feb. 25, 26 and 28: Added new impressions; March 2: adds link to full review.