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.

It’s been about two months since I reviewed the Galaxy S10E, Samsung’s best-value buy among the S10 phones, and I’m still just as sold. While it may seem downright boring compared to the 6.7-inch, quad-camera S10 5G or the bendable Galaxy Fold, the S10E is also much more of a sure thing, and reliability is a pretty universally chart-topping trait when it comes to buying a new phone. The S10 5G will only be as fast as its supporting networks, and… well, you know all about the Galaxy Fold’s screen issues.

The best thing about the Galaxy S10E is that it’s 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.”

Compare

Samsung Galaxy S10E (128GB, prism white)

Samsung Galaxy S10E

Google Pixel 3A (just black)

Google Pixel 3A

Apple iPhone XR (64GB, black)

Apple iPhone XR

Motorola Moto G7 (ceramic white)

Motorola Moto G7

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus (128GB, prism black)

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

DESIGN
9
7
9
8
9
FEATURES
8
7
9
8
9
PERFORMANCE
9
9
10
8
9
CAMERA
8
9
8
7
8.5
BATTERY
10
10
10
8
10
OVERALL
8.9
8.2
8.9
8.0
9.0
PRICE $650 Amazon $399 B&H Photo-Video $750 Amazon $300 Amazon $1,000 Walmart

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 ($750 at Amazon), which costs the same and has fewer goodies (like smaller storage capacity). It’s the OnePlus 6T ($669 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.

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The S10E shares the same core camera as the other S10 phones.

Angela Lang/CNET

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; 2,280×1,080 pixels 6.1-inch AMOLED; 3,040×1,440 pixels 6.4-inch AMOLED; 3,040×1,440 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.

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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.

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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.

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.

galaxy-s10e-26

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This capacitive fingerprint scanner was more accurate on the Galaxy S10E than the S10 Plus’ ultrasonic in-screen sensor.

Angela Lang/CNET

My one complaint is that the placement feels unusually high, at least for my grip. I’d be happier if it moved down a quarter of an inch so I don’t have to scoot my grip up to unlock.

But unlocking the phone isn’t the only thing you use the fingerprint scanner for. I also paid close attention to three more scenarios.

Capturing a screenshot: This felt awkward. The power-and-fingerprint button doesn’t stick out like the volume rocker or Bixby button on the other spine. It indents so it’s more like a trough, and that means you have to work harder to push in the power button while also pressing the Volume Down key to take a screenshot. It’s hard to explain, but the buttons feel different, and so the action feels uneven and uncertain, like maybe you’re not doing it right. I did do it right each time, but probably pushed harder on the fingerprint scanner than I needed to, just to make sure.

Launching the camera app: One of my most-used features is double-tapping the power button to launch the camera app for a quick photo. Once again, since the power button inverts, you have to work just a little harder to launch the camera app than when you’re mashing down a button that sticks out from the phone’s side. So far, though, I haven’t missed a shot because of it. Then again, I’ve mostly been taking photos of inanimate objects and patient people.

Using Samsung Pay and Google Pay: I use mobile payments regularly, particularly Samsung Pay. So this morning I fired it up on the Galaxy S10E to see if the placement of the fingerprint reader helps or hurts. In this case, I prefer tapping the S10 Plus’ in-screen fingerprint reader because it’s easier to reach. But I wouldn’t say I had a problem authenticating my thumbprint on the S10E — I just had to reach up a bit farther. For me, they both beat the Galaxy S9($470 at Amazon)’s capacitive fingerprint reader on the back, which requires you to blindly find the reader in order to make a mobile payment. I find it’s easier to miss what you can’t see.

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There’s no curved screen, but you still get the Edge display tab to open your favorite apps and contracts from any screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Camera quality is just as good as the Galaxy S10 Plus

Samsung did a really smart thing in giving the S10E the same main cameras as the S10 and S10 Plus on the back and front. Here’s what you get:

  • Main 12-megapixel rear camera with OIS, dual-aperture lens (f2.4, f1.5)
  • 16-megapixel wide-angle camera
  • 10-megapixel front-facing camera
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The S10E’s photos are tip-top, even with fewer camera lenses.

Angela Lang/CNET

You won’t get the 12-megapixel telephoto lens or second 8-megapixel selfie lens on the Galaxy S10 Plus, but you can still switch among two different lens views for each camera, and take Live Focus portrait shots for that bokeh-style depth effect.

Because they share the same cameras, image quality is the same as the Galaxy S10 Plus’. There’s no telephoto lens for a quick 2x closeup, and perhaps selfies won’t be as nuanced. But the pictures I’ve taken indoors and outdoors are the same high quality I expect, and the main camera should perform identically in low-light mode.

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You’ll find most of the same shooting modes and filters across all Galaxy S10 models.

Angela Lang/CNET

One note on low-light shots: None of the Galaxy S10 phones has a standalone low-light mode like the Pixel 3 ($749 at Walmart) and Huawei Mate 20. While I do think that hurts the S10 Plus, because that’s a premium $1,000 device, it’s not a feature I would necessarily expect on a $750 handset. Of course, it would be amazing if the S10E did have that, but with the S10 Plus facing stiff high-end competition, not having that exceptional camera mode feels much more immediate.

Battery life is good, speed’s great

The Galaxy S10E has a 3,100-mAh battery, so you’d expect it to last fewer hours than the S10 and S10 Plus, with their 3,400- and 4,100-mAh batteries, respectively. No surprises here. The S10E still ran for 17 hours in our looping video-drain battery test (on airplane mode), compared to 21 hours for the larger Galaxy S10 Plus. This is still a strong result. It’s not as long-lasting as the iPhone XR (20 hours) but it’s about the same as the OnePlus 6T.

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Inside is a Snapdragon 855 processor, and it’s good.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Based on my real-world observation, the S10E will take you from morning until night, though you will want to charge it up once a day. As always, you’ll see more significant drain when you use the phone to stream music and movies, navigate somewhere and keep the screen on for long periods of time. Batteries also become less efficient over the lifetime of your phone, which is why out-of-the-box battery life is important. As with any phone, it won’t get better from here.

I also ran our usual performance tests on the S10E, which includes Geekbench 4 and 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited and Slingshot Unlimited. Since the S10E shares the same Snapdragon 855 processor as my S10 Plus review unit, the benchmark speeds are all within striking distance of each other. Ditto real-world performance so far. Note that S10 phones in some regions use Samsung’s Exynos chipset, which might make a slight difference in operational speeds.

Galaxy S10E vs. Galaxy S9, S10, iPhone XR and OnePlus 6T

Here’s how the S10E measures up against the competition.

Versus the Galaxy S9

Spec for spec, the S10E is better than the Galaxy S9 in every way, for less than the S9’s initial starting price. But there’s still not a large enough design and performance boost for me to recommend an upgrade. That said, if you get a great trade-in or resale deal that can bridge some of the difference, you won’t be sorry.

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Smaller than the iPhone XR and about the same size as the iPhone XS.

Angela Lang/CNET

Versus the Galaxy S10

Is it worth $150 to get a slightly larger screen, battery and additional telephoto camera lens? Meh. The standard Galaxy S10 has the unenviable position of being the monkey in the middle of two other S10s with clearly defined roles. If you prefer a slightly larger screen (6.1 inches versus 5.8) and there’s an unbeatable offer from your carrier or a retail store, by all means upgrade to the Galaxy S10.

Versus the iPhone XR

Once you get past the Android-versus-iOS debate, these two “value” phones duke it out for the upper hand. The XR has a larger, 6.1 screen and longer battery life (19 hours in our video drain test). The S10E has a sharper screen and doubles your starting storage. There’s an expandable storage option too. Both charge wirelessly, but only the S10E can charge another device. You’ll have to decide whether you prefer Face ID or a fingerprint scanner for biometrics. Our camera shootout is in the works.

Versus the OnePlus 6T

If you’re looking for the cheapest premium phone you can buy, the S10E falls short of the OnePlus 6T’s $550 starting price. The specs match up pretty well, too, though you have a slightly faster processor on the S10E, more camera flexibility and better low light quality, too. The S10E also gives you more storage through its microSD card slot, and works with more carriers across the world. For example, the OnePlus 6T only sells with T-Mobile in the US, and doesn’t sell in Australia.

Galaxy S10E versus Galaxy S10, iPhone XR, OnePlus 6T

Samsung Galaxy S10E Samsung Galaxy S10 iPhone XR OnePlus 6T
Display size, resolution 5.8-inch AMOLED; 2,280×1,080-pixels 6.1-inch AMOLED; 3,040×1,440-pixels 6.1-inch LCD Retina Display; 1,792×828 pixels 6.41-inch AMOLED; 2,340×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 438 ppi 550 ppi 326 ppi 402 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.6×2.8×0.27 inches 5.9×2.77×0.31 inches 5.9x3x0.33 inches 6.2×2.9×0.32 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 142x70x7.9 mm 149.9×70.4×7.8 mm 150.9×75.7×8.3 mm 157.5×74.8×8.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.3 oz; 150 g 5.53 oz.; 157 g 6.8 oz; 194 g 6.5 oz; 185 g
Mobile software Android 9.0 with Samsung One UI Android 9.0 with Samsung One UI iOS 12 Android 9 Pie
Camera 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) Single 12-megapixel 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 10-megapixel 7-megapixel with Face ID 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Apple A12 Bionic Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 8GB Not disclosed 6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage Up to 512GB Up to 512GB None None
Battery 3,100-mAh 3,400-mAh Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will last 90 min. longer than iPhone 8 Plus 3,700-mAh
Fingerprint sensor Power button In-screen None (Face ID) In-display
Connector USB-C USB-C Lightning USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes No No
Special features Wireless PowerShare; hole punch screen notch; water resistant (IP68); Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 Wireless PowerShare; hole punch screen notch; water resistant (IP68); Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 Water-resistant: IP67, dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging; Face ID; Memoji In-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM, Dash Charging, notifications toggle
Price off-contract (USD) $750 $900 $749 (64GB), $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB) $549 (6GB RAM/128GB), $579 (8GB RAM/128GB), $629 (8GB RAM/256GB)
Price (GBP) £669 £799 £749 (64GB), £799 (128GB), £899 (256GB) £499 (6GB RAM/128GB), £529 (8GB RAM/128GB), £579 (8GB RAM/256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,199 AU$1,349 AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,299 (128GB), AU$1,479 (256GB) Converted: AU$775 (6GB RAM/128GB), AU$820 (8GB RAM/128GB), AU$890 (8GB RAM/256GB)

Originally published March 19, 2019.

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