Samsung Galaxy S10e review (early verdict): not quite the bargain we hoped

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Samsung has introduced an affordable variant of its flagship Galaxy S10, but don't expect a OnePlus-esque price tag

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T3 Verdict

It might be the cheapest model in the Galaxy S10 line-up, but the Galaxy S10e does not skimp on the brilliant build quality that the huge-successful Galaxy S range is known for. The S10e even includes the same Infinity-O design as its pricier siblings. However, those hoping to shoot Live Focus photographs might be a little miffed by the dual rear-mounted camera, which includes the ultra-wide shots of the S10 and S10 Plus – at the expense of bokeh-drenched portraits.

Reasons to buy

  • +

    Phenomenal Build Quality

  • +

    Compact Size, Despite 5.8-Inch Screen

  • +

    One UI Mobile OS Is Great

  • +

    3.5mm Headphone Port

Reasons to avoid

  • -

    No Live Focus Images

  • -

    Infinity-O Display Is A Little Unsightly

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    No In-Depth Ultrasonic Fingerprint Scanner

Samsung has taken the wraps off its new flagship Galaxy S10 range. As well as successors to the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, the company has introduced an all-new model – the Samsung Galaxy S10e

Before you ask, no, we don’t know what the “e” stands for. Economy, maybe? It's anyone's guess. However, we do know that the Galaxy S10e is designed to be a more affordable version of the S10 and S10 Plus – boasting many of the same features and upgrades available on the other models, but without the price tag.

The introduction of the Galaxy S10e seems to be an acknowledgement from Samsung that the rising cost of its flagship Galaxy S line could be putting off some customers. While the entry-level Galaxy S8 launched with a price tag of £639 ($725), the Samsung Galaxy S9 sold for £739 ($720) at launch. 

With the Galaxy S10 price starting from £799 and topping-out at £999, it’s little wonder that Samsung felt the need to offer a slightly cheaper model. At £669, the Galaxy S10e is cheaper than the S9 at launch, but pricier than the flagship Samsung smartphone launched in April 2017.

It's also a lot more expensive than some of its biggest Android rivals, including the Honor View 20 (£499.99), OnePlus 6T (from £499.99) and Huawei P20 (£599). Apple has received its fair share of criticism over the pricing of the iPhone Xr (£749) – the "affordable" twist on the flagship X line of smartphones – and Samsung might be headed into the same, treacherous waters with the Galaxy S10e. 

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review

Samsung has also showered the Galaxy S10e line-up with colour options. The new handset ships in Prism Green, Prism White, Prism Black, Prism Blue, and Canary Yellow. The latter is eye-spankingly vibrant, and seems to be a clear attempt to one-up the colourful iPhone Xr – the more affordable smartphone introduced by Apple to combat the rising prices of its own flagship line-up.

The colours look good, although the Canary Yellow is not quite to my personal taste.

Picking up the Galaxy S10e, the first thing that strikes you is how extremely well-built it feels. It might be the budget option in the current Galaxy S10 range, but you wouldn’t know it from the build quality.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review

The glossy colours look good, but the Canary Yellow finish could prove to be an acquired taste

Samsung Galaxy S10e review: display

The Galaxy S10e is a brilliant size. Despite having the same 5.8-inch screen size as the Galaxy S9, it has a smaller footprint thanks to the new Infinity-O display. As a result, it feels a lot more comfortable to hold and use one-handed – something of a rarity for a screen this large.

That said, the Infinity-O design does take a little getting used to. The bezels around the screen are almost non-existent, which allows the HD display to fill every corner on the front of the device.

Instead of using a pop-up camera, Samsung has relocated its selfie shooter to a small hole-punch in the top right-hand corner of the display. Most of the time, the deep blacks on the AMOLED panel obscure the small, circular hole so that it noticeable at all, but at other times, like when you swipe for the notification dropdown – which is brilliant white – the “O” in the Infinity-O sticks out like a sore thumb.

Granted, this is something you’ll likely get used to within the first week of carrying the Galaxy S10 – just as those who bought the iPhone X got used to the swooping notch at the top of the edge-to-edge screen – but it’s something to flag.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review

The Galaxy S10e has a flat screen, too – ditching the dual-curved design first introduced with the Galaxy S6 Edge. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything truly significant missing from the S10e, but the flat panel does make the small bezels around the display appear more pronounced than on the S10 and S10 Plus, where the bezel is obscured by the curves.

Those who upgrade from a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S9 will likely feel like they’ve taken a step backwards, but everyone else probably won’t even realise anything is missing.

Unlike the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus, the Galaxy S10e has a two rear-mounted cameras – not three. This dual set-up is comprised of a 16-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide sensor and a 12-megapixel camera with Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) and the same variable aperture system that was introduced with the Galaxy S9 range last year.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review

Galaxy S10e is missing the ability to shoot Live Focus images

The sensor moves between f/1.5 and f/2.4 based on amount of available light, while the 16-megapixel ultra-wide sensor lets you take pictures at 0.5x zoom and 2x optical zoom. Both of these modes are hugely useful, with the shots with the former giving a little more leeway when taking photos of architecture and buildings while the latter should be invaluable at gigs.

Unfortunately, the missing 12-megapixel telephoto lens included on the S10 and S10 Plus means there's no Live Focus photographs to be found here. For the uninitiated, this camera mode was introduced with the Galaxy Note 8 and adds an adjustable, artificial bokeh-style blur behind the subject of the photo to mimic shots taken with a DSLR camera. Google Pixel 3 and iPhone Xr manage to create a similar effect using only one camera lens, so it's a real disappointment to find the feature missing here.

Samsung has also introduced a new Super Steady Video feature that stabilises footage shot on the rear-mounted camera à la GoPro. In our short time with the new video mode, the AI-powered technology looked hugely impressive, but we’ll have to run our own tests. The Galaxy S10e also uses AI to detect what is in the frame to tweak and adjust its camera settings to get the best shot.

The AI feature, dubbed Scene Optimiser, was introduced last year with the Galaxy S9, but now has 20 new possible scenes included – bringing the total to 30. It’s useful if you’re not au fait with how to compose the best possible shot. Similarly, Samsung has automatically adds a horizon line – almost like an on-screen spirit level – to make ensure your landscape shots aren’t wonky. It’s a surprisingly subtle new addition to the camera app that provides a useful guide.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review

Contrary to the rumours, the 3.5mm headphone port remains intact on the Galaxy S10e – so there’s no need to throw-out your wired cans or cough-up for dongle.

The smartphone is also rated IP68 for water and dust resistance, which means it can withstand a swim in 1.5metres of water for half an hour. Obviously, we didn’t get a chance to test that at the Galaxy Unpacked event, but given Samsung’s track record, we have no reason to doubt the claims.

Galaxy S10e is powered by the latest Exynos chipset in the UK, which offers some substantial gains over its predecessor, including 40% improvement in power efficiency. Given that the Galaxy S10e also sports a bigger battery than the Galaxy S10, that’s a hugely exciting prospect. 

The Galaxy S10e price starts from £669. Pre-orders are available today direct from Samsung, with the first handsets dropping through letterboxes on March 8, 2019. 

Samsung Galaxy S10e review: our early verdict

If you're excited by the idea of upgrading to the new Galaxy S10 range, but are put-off by the price tag of the S10 or the S10 Plus, this could be the answer.

The Galaxy S10e doesn't skimp on build quality and includes the same Infinity-O design as the pricier models. Those hoping to shoot Live Focus photographs might be a little miffed by the dual rear-mounted camera, which includes the ultra-wide shots of the S10 and S10 Plus – but ditches bokeh-packed portraits. 

Samsung Galaxy S10e is a great smartphone and will be a solid upgrade for anyone carrying a Galaxy S8 or older. However, those who already own a Galaxy S9 or Galaxy S9 Plus should probably look to the pricier models in the S10 line-up.