If you’re in the market for a smaller premium phone, the Galaxy S10e has plenty of bells and whistles, even if it’s not quite as flagship as its siblings.
The moment you go looking for a new phone, it becomes clear that you’re more or less spoiled for choice. Big phones are all the rage, but they’re not the only options.
In fact, if you’re after a smaller phone, you may want to look at a different take on the flagship, and one in the Samsung Galaxy range. While we’ve already checked out the bigger Galaxy S10+, it’s not the only choice available, because the smaller Galaxy S10e offers some familiar tech in a slightly smaller body with a slightly smaller price.
Not quite the same as its siblings, the Galaxy S10e is a different phone altogether.
Samsung hasn’t specifically said what that “e” stands for, but given the differences, you might want to interpret it as “entry-level”, because that appears to be something like it.
As such, the Samsung Galaxy S10e comes across like how the Galaxy S10 would be if it was close to an entry-level iteration, cutting down some of the high-end features of its more expensive siblings, while leaving some of the tech alone.
From a design standpoint, the phone has a very similar look, though without the curvature of its siblings. In the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, the edges are curved to emphasise a screen that bleeds the picture over the edges. In the Galaxy S10e, that’s less pronounced because the screen lacks the curved edges.
For folks who don’t want the curves, this will be a welcome change, and the rest of the phone is similar, too.
The back, for instance, uses the same style of camera configuration set to the centre, though only with two cameras in this phone.
Design-wise, it’s the same metal and glass body you’ve come to expect out of Samsung’s Galaxy range thus far, particularly in the Galaxy S10, it’s just smaller.
Even though the design is close, the Galaxy S10e isn’t quite the Galaxy S10 or S10+, with some notable differences under the hood.
Take the memory, which drops from 8GB to 6GB, an amount that is still large enough to be more than useful.
That 6GB RAM is paired with 128GB storage and Samsung’s eight-core Exynos processor, as well as Android 9.0 “Pie” on the Galaxy S10e, similar to what’s on the larger Galaxy S10 handsets.
The camera on the Galaxy S10e is similar, as well, sporting the same 16 megapixel F2.2 ultra-wide camera and 12 megapixel standard shooter with F1.5 and F2.4 variable capture. It’s technically the same wide and standard cameras as found on the Galaxy S10 and S10+, with the main difference being those two phones also get a 2x telephoto camera to work with as well; the S10e does not.
On the front, however, it’s more or less spot on with the Galaxy S10, including a 10 megapixel F1.9 selfie camera in the punch-hole design.
Connectivity-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S10e is pretty much spot on, though, with the same Category 18 4G LTE boasting speeds as high as 1.2Gbps down and 150Mbps up, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC, and 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax also known as WiFi 6. You’ll also find a Type C USB port and a 3.5mm headset jack, too.
You’ll also find facial ID and a fingerprint reader here, though the fingerprint reader is built into the power button on the S10e and not found inside the screen. That’s a difference which causes the price to drop, as does the screen.
On the screen side of things, it’s smaller at 5.8 inches, but runs with a Full HD+ resolution of 2244×1080, different from the Quad HD resolutions found on the bigger phones. The pixel clarity is still relatively high, sitting at 428 pixels per inch; still sharp, even if it’s not as sharp as the more expensive siblings.
The included buttons are much the same, though, with a volume rocker, Bixby button, and of course the power button with its fingerprint sensor built in near the top right.
Water resistance is supported up to IP68, the phone supports wireless charging, and the phone is made from metal and glass, with a battery built in set to 3100mAh.
With only a few changes, it’s not hard to see the similarities are going to extend beyond the innards, and the usability is more or less identical to what we experienced in the S10+, save for one thing: the fingerprint sensor.
That has been relocated to the right edge on the power button, a location Sony has tried prior. To a degree, the fingerprint power button can be more reliable than the ultrasonic on-screen reader of the bigger brothers, though it does mean you may need to relocate your hand up the side of the body to trigger it.
Fortunately, the Galaxy S10e is a little smaller, and so can help accommodate with this.
Using the phone, you’ll be treated to the One UI experience, meaning Android 9 “Pie” is slick, bright, and responsive.
Outside of stock Android as per the Pixel and Android One, Samsung’s One UI is possibly the nicest take on Android yet, and makes using the phone a joy.
Next up is performance, and it’s an area you shouldn’t be surprised about.
While the hardware design of the Galaxy S10e makes the phone a little different in how it looks, the performance is practically spot on.
Even though there’s 2GB less RAM in the S10e, the phone itself is a joy to use, with little to no lag in most of what you throw its way, and a comfortable experience overall.
Download speeds were fairly strong, too, topping out at 299Mbps in our tests across the Telstra network in Sydney’s CBD.
With WiFi 6 and Cat 18 LTE included in this phone, the Samsung Galaxy S10e has plenty to work with for speed and resilience moving forward.
Over to the camera, and this is something we’ve seen at least once before. Or kind of, anyway.
The Galaxy S10e borrows three cameras seen in the Galaxy S10 and S10+, adopting the wide and standard cameras from the back and the front-facing camera.
It means we already have an idea what the cameras will be like, even if we’re skipping out on one camera in the list.
There’s no telephoto camera here, which leaves you with the standard and wide angle cameras. Both provide lovely images in day, offering crisp colour and clarity, while low light is acceptable and more than usable.
Granted, the low light isn’t up to the level set by the 2019 benchmark so far, the Huawei P30 Pro, but it’s still not bad, and you can take some decent shots without the flash when the light goes down.
As for versatility, it’s hard to rate the wide and standard lenses as having the same versatility as wide, standard, and close — the camera selection offered by the bigger Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+. We’re not going to say the S10e is nearly as versatile at all — it’s not — but at least you can pull back wider and get more of the shot if you have to.
On the selfie camera, at least that’s the same as its S10 sibling, with a nice and bright 10 megapixel camera with a relatively low F1.9 aperture to capture more of you when the light is lower.
The battery side is where the Galaxy S10e hits a bit of a wall, because while it’s not bad, it’s certainly not the best.
Much like its siblings in the Galaxy S10 range — such as the Galaxy S10+ — the S10e can only achieve about 24 to 27 hours in total.
That makes it a day phone, which is better than a work day phone, but not by much.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a trend with the Galaxy S10 range, and in our Galaxy S10+ review, we found a similar performance.
And that doesn’t help to make its $1199 price tag any easier to swallow.
While the Galaxy S10 and S10+ are clearly premium phones (and the S10 5G even more so), the S10e feels like you’re getting a good small flagship, but not good enough to beat some of the other models found today.
It’s like a sleeker Google Pixel 3a without as impressive a camera or battery life, through it does have wireless charging and water resistance, two things the Pixel 3a could have benefitted from.
Mind you, it’s almost twice the price of that phone, and we’re not so sure it’s necessarily worth it. The tech inside isn’t quite as industry leading and focused on what you normally get in the high end. In fact if anything, it kind of shines a light on the Galaxy S10, because at two hundred more, the first proper Galaxy flagship seems to make even more sense.
We’d say if the Galaxy S10e was a little less expensive, maybe at $799 or $899, the phone would be a little more value driven. Not quite at this price.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Sitting as the baby of the Galaxy S10 range, the S10e occupies an interesting spot. On the one hand, it’s a smaller and less exy S10, and yet on the other, it also omits some of the features of what makes the S10 range impressive.
It needs to be noted that Samsung’s take on the smaller flagship isn’t the same as when either Apple or Google make the smaller flagship. When you see a smaller iPhone or a smaller Pixel, outside of the screen and battery, they typically have all the same parts: the iPhone XS is just a smaller iPhone XS Max, and the Pixel 3 is a smaller Pixel 3 XL.
That’s not the same in the Galaxy S10e, nor is it across the Galaxy S10 range. There are differences everywhere, and they can be a touch frustrating. The S10e is the most wallet friendly of the bunch, but it doesn’t have the newer and cooler in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, nor does it have the telephoto camera. The S10 has both, and a better screen, while the S10+ upsizes the features marginally and offers a slightly more interesting selfie camera thanks to an extra camera inclusion. And the Galaxy S10 5G is interesting again thanks to that inclusion of 5G and a totally different camera sensor, making it a different phone altogether.
It’s a frustrating point to come to grips with, because it means the Galaxy S10e isn’t technically a smaller Galaxy S10 flagship like its siblings, but just the smaller kind-of equivalent.
That’s not to say it’s a bad phone — it’s definitely not that — but it could be better, and if you’re looking for a small phone, we’d weigh this one up against some of the mid-range devices out there.
If you can look past the water resistance and wireless charging, there are definitely more interesting phones. If those are must haves and you love the Samsung style, though, the Galaxy S10e is an interesting choice made for folks who love themselves a smaller phone.