For the past couple of years, Samsung has typically had two flagship S series smartphones at launch — a regular and a Plus version. This year, the company introduced a third variant called the Galaxy S10e. Going by the US pricing, the Galaxy S10e seems to be aimed directly at the iPhone XR (Review). In India, thanks to Samsung's local manufacturing, we're able to get it closer to the dollar value while the iPhone XR comes in at a steep premium.
At Rs. 55,900, the Galaxy S10e is a good Rs. 10,000 cheaper than the standard Galaxy S10, and there's really no other 2019 Android flagship in India at this price right now. The Galaxy S10e has also been receiving rave reviews on the Internet, so it's finally time for us to see if it actually lives up to the hype.
Samsung Galaxy S10e design
The Galaxy S10e is the smallest and lightest of the three new Galaxy S10 models at 150g. It's 0.1mm thicker than the others, which is practically impossible to tell, even when placed alongside the other two. What we really love is the size of this phone. It feels incredibly comfortable to hold and the rounded edges aren't abrasive on the skin. The aluminium and glass back is a bit slippery when used with one hand, and this phone does attract fingerprints easily.
Even though it feels sturdy, the aluminium frame will pick up permanent scuffs if you drop this phone. For instance, we were crouching to take some photos of a flower at one point, and the phone slipped from our hand, from less than waist height and tumbled onto a tiled floor. The glass remained intact but the top of the frame bore the brunt of the impact, leaving behind a permanent mark.
The Galaxy S10e has a Bixby button just like its siblings, which can be programmed to trigger other functions too. You can set the double-press or single-press actions to either launch an app or trigger a Bixby Routine, but launching the Bixby assistant has to be one of the other choices.
Unlike the ultrasonic fingerprint sensors in the more premium Galaxy S10 models, the Galaxy S10e has a standard capacitive one integrated into its power button on the right. It's highly sensitive, and even a quick touch is enough to unlock the phone. You can also enable gestures for easier access to the notification shade. While it works well, we do think the placement of the power button is a bit too high up, and we found it to be a little hard to reach when holding the phone normally.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e has a 5.8-inch full-HD+ Dynamic AMOLED display. The resolution is lower than that of the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ (Review) but you still get a pretty dense pixel count of 438ppi. Thankfully, Samsung hasn't stripped the HDR 10+ certification for the display, so you can still enjoy high dynamic range colours in compatible videos. The default colour profile can make colours look a bit too saturated but you can switch to the ‘Natural' colour profile if you prefer.
One of the big design differences with the Galaxy S10e is the lack of a curved display edges on the left and right side. Instead, the display is flat. Another little difference is that the Galaxy S10e has slightly thicker bezels on the sides and the top compared to the other two, although this didn't really bother us.
One area where Samsung has cut some corners is the level of scratch protection for the glass. The Galaxy S10e has Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, whereas its bigger siblings have Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and Gorilla Glass 5 on the back. While Gorilla Glass 5 still is certified to withstand scratches and small drops, the newer version on the other two Galaxy S10 models should offer better shatter resistance. You also get a screen guard pre-applied, which we found annoying since the edges feel rough when you swipe in from either side of the display.
At the back of the phone, we noticed some more cutbacks compared to other Galaxy S10 models. The Galaxy S10e ditches the telephoto camera so you only get the main dual-aperture, 12-megapixel sensor and the 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle one. These are the exact same sensors found in the other two models, though. Another thing that's missing is the heart-rate sensor, which in our books is not a big loss.
The Samsung Galaxy S10e is only available in Prism Black and Prism White in India. The bundled accessories include an AKG-tuned headset, USB-OTG Type-C to Type-A adapter, fast charger, data cable, SIM eject tool and warranty information. What's interesting is that you get a much better looking plastic case with this model, compared to a transparent, hard-plastic shell with the other two.
Samsung Galaxy S10e specifications and features
Even though this is the most affordable phone in Samsung's flagship lineup, there's nothing low-end about its specifications. In India, the Galaxy S10e ships with the 8nm Exynos 9820 octa-core SoC, but there's only one variant here, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Internationally, an option with 256GB storage and 8GB of RAM is also available.
Other specifications that are standard across all Galaxy S10 models include a hybrid dual-SIM slot, Gigabit LTE and dual 4G VoLTE support, Wi-Fi 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), Bluetooth 5, NFC, support for four satellite navigation systems, and USB Type-C.
The Galaxy S10e also features AKG-tuned stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, an IP68 certification for dust and water resistance, and a whole bunch of sensors.
Samsung's new One UI 1.1 is based on Android 9 Pie. The security patch on our review unit was dated February 2019. We've recently reviewed a number of Samsung phones with One UI, so it didn't take long to get accustomed to the interface.
There are a whole bunch of optional gestures and shortcuts, and Apps Edge lets you add shortcuts for commonly used apps to a bar that can be accessed from the home screen with a simple swipe gesture. You can get rid of the standard Android navigation buttons in favour of gestures, which are not bad. Google's Digital Wellbeing feature can help you keep tabs on your app usage habits. We've covered the software of the Galaxy S10+ in great detail in our full review and gaming review and it's identical here, so do check those stories out.
The Galaxy S10e isn't free from spammy notifications cluttering up your notification shade, but there is a way to minimise disruption by unchecking some of the ‘terms and conditions' boxes when setting up the phone and using Samsung's stock apps and features like Bixby for the first time. Despite all these precautions, we were still getting prompts from the My Galaxy app before we even opened it. The number of notifications wasn't huge, but we wish there was a way to disable it completely.
Samsung Galaxy S10e performance, cameras and battery life
The Galaxy S10e is the ideal size for comfortable single-handed use. Reaching the notification shade is still a bit of a stretch but not by much. Despite the compact body, you don't sacrifice on the size of the display either. The hole-punch for the front camera isn't too distracting after a day of using this phone, and you can have some fun with it with clever wallpapers designed to mask it. You can mask the entire top of the display if you like, but then you lose out on some screen space.
The fingerprint sensor works well but since it's capacitive, there are limitations, such as it won't work if your fingers are wet or greasy. You don't have to press the power button as a simple touch is enough to unlock the phone, which is nice. Samsung has gotten rid of the iris scanner that previous Galaxy S flagship models had, due to the lack of space in the hole-punch area.
Even though there's face recognition, it's not as good as Apple's Face ID as the phone relies on just the selfie camera for authentication. It works well, and is triggered as soon as you raise the phone towards your face. In low-light, the screen bumps up the brightness briefly to illuminate your face. However, face recognition did not work for us when we had sunglasses on.
General app and UI performance is great, just like with the other two Galaxy S10 models. Despite have 2GB less RAM than the others, we didn't notice any major differences in benchmark numbers. With regular use, we did find that the sides of the phone got warm rather quickly, at times even when we were simply downloading apps from the Play Store. It's not a consistent issue, and if you're using a case you probably won't notice it.
Games ran very well, even high-end ones such as PUBG Mobile. Thanks to the powerful SoC and lower screen resolution, the Galaxy S10e easily managed to drive them at the highest settings. Framerates were smooth, and the One UI's Game Launcher lets you enable Dolby Atmos when playing games, which gives you better spatial separation of gunfire and footsteps.
The AMOLED display is great for watching content on. Streaming apps such as Netflix and Prime Video will automatically align video to avoid the hole-punch area when you zoom in, but if the camera cutout doesn't bother you, you can force the apps to go full-screen from the Display Settings, which will fill the area around the selfie camera. The stereo speakers get really loud too, with good definition and stereo separation.
The Galaxy S10e has the exact same front and rear cameras as the other two Galaxy S10 models, minus the telephoto sensor and the front RGB depth sensor from the Galaxy S10+. Unsurprisingly, the performance is quite similar too. The phone captures detailed landscapes and macros in daylight, with good dynamic range and colours. The scene optimiser automatically recognised objects such as sneakers, t-shirts, etc, and tried its best to enhance our shots. Macros came out looking highly detailed and exposure was handled very well. Colours can seem a little boosted at times, especially for objects like flowers.
The camera app is easy to use and has a novice-friendly layout. The toggle to switch between the regular and wide-angle sensors is within reach of your thumb, and you can flip through the shooting modes by simply swiping across the viewfinder. There are plenty of modes, for both stills and videos, which we've covered in detail in our Galaxy S10+ review. The wide-angle sensor is particularly useful since you can capture more elements in a frame, although a bit of barrel distortion is visible at times.
Live focus works well, with good edge detection. You can even add background blur effects. The 10-megapixel selfie camera is also a big improvement over those of the Galaxy Note 9 (Review) and Galaxy S9 series, as we've already highlighted in our recent camera comparison. Despite not having an RGB depth sensor like the Galaxy S10+, the S10e does a pretty decent job with detecting edges in selfies. There were a few occasions when it missed or blurred out things it shouldn't have, but these are minor problems that didn't ruin our shots.
Video recording hasn't been compromised on this Galaxy S10 series model either. You can shoot at up to 4K at 60fps just like with the more expensive models, and you get the same Super Slow-mo video mode that lets you shoot at 960fps. Video quality is very good in daylight, especially the captured audio. Stabilisation is handled well, and colours appear punchy. Even in low light, noise is kept under control. Our test clips had good details and colours, and only showed very minor side-effects of electronic stabilisation.
The Galaxy S10e has a 3100mAh battery, which is the smallest of the series, and that has a noticeable effect in everyday use. We typically managed to get roughly 17 to 18 hours of actual battery life, which would typically involve a bit of camera use and video viewing but mostly Internet surfing and chat apps. This is still good as you can comfortably get through a full work day, but it isn't enough to go past the 24 hour mark.
The good news is that the battery charges really quickly with the bundled charger. With roughly 5 percent remaining, we were able to get to a 95 percent charge in an hour, which is impressive. The phone also supports fast wireless charging with a compatible wireless charger, as well as reverse wireless charging, so you can charge accessories such as the Galaxy Buds on the go. In our HD video battery loop test, the Galaxy S10e ran for 10 hours and 31 minutes, which is decent, but could have been better.
The Galaxy S10e might not have all the frills of the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, but at Rs. 55,900 it retains a lot of the features and style of the other two, making it very good value. In India, it's a much better deal than the iPhone XR, not only in terms of features, but also cost. The closest competition to the Galaxy S10e at the moment seems to be the Google Pixel 3 (Review), which can be found for roughly Rs. 58,000 online. The latter is still a good buy if you want the stock Android experience, a compact form-factor and a good set of cameras.
Let's not forget the OnePlus 6T (Review), which has been a long time favourite of enthusiasts. The top-end version of this phone is available at Rs. 45,999 which gets you 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Plus, battery life should be better than the Galaxy S10e too. However, what you'll miss out on is the HDR display, compact size, proper waterproofing, and a more modern SoC.
After using the Galaxy S10e for a couple of days, we can see why this phone has garnered so much praise from the media and fans alike. You get most of the guts of the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ in a body that's a lot more compact and manageable. Battery life is not as good as it is with the other models, and you lose the telephoto camera and in-display fingerprint sensor, so if these things matter, then it makes sense spending that extra money for either of those two phones.
Overall, we think most people will be more than satisfied with the features and performance of the Galaxy S10e, especially at this price.
Is Samsung Galaxy S10+ the best Android flagship overall? Are Samsung Galaxy Buds the best truly wireless headphones in India? We discussed these things on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.