By Patrick Lucas Austin
March 5, 2019

The Samsung Galaxy S10+ could’ve been a big deal. The third in the Galaxy S10 line of devices, it’s the product of Samsung attempting to create something indisputably better than the competition, with enough certifications to match. It’s got a huge display, an impressive array of cameras, and enough processing power to satisfy you until your next upgrade. It even has a headphone jack, giving you at least one thing to lord over your iPhone-loving friends. But it’s also a harbinger of the end times, at least when it comes to smartphones as we know them today. Whether or not you’ll spend the hefty price to get your hands on the Galaxy S10+, Samsung has made its intentions clear: gorge yourself on this, the most feature-packed smartphone we’ve ever made, because it could be the last “flat” smartphone you ever love.

Don’t expect a huge departure from Samsung’s recent smartphone design philosophy. The $999.99 Galaxy S10+ is almost identical to the company’s last big smartphone, the Galaxy Note9. In fact, when placed atop one another, the Galaxy S10+ looks just like a slightly shorter, stylus-free Note9. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how you feel about a tall device with thin edges and thinner buttons. The S10+’s slippery glass back panel (with a slightly protruding camera module) is brightly colored, just begging for a clear case with a bit more friction for better grip. In my case, my fingers gripping the phone — too smooth for its own good — would occasionally graze the screen’s bezel-free edges, sending me scrolling. If you’ve owned a Samsung device in the past three years, you won’t find anything truly exceptional. Just more of what you’ve come to expect from a top-tier smartphone, which isn’t necessarily bad.

Depending on the version you pick, you can nab up to a terabyte of internal storage, and that’s before you add a microSD card (up to 512GB) to the mix. S10+ models with more than 512GB of internal storage are also available in ceramic black and white colorways if you don’t appreciate the colorful glass back options. Connectivity like Wi-Fi 6 support, Bluetooth 5.0, and improved LTE speeds are all there as well.

Samsung maintains its IP68 waterproof rating with the S10+ while also holding onto the standardized USB-C port and, yes, the headphone jack people still know and love. That makes sense, considering the abysmal state of USB-C headphone availability. Its onboard speakers get plenty loud, but that’s the biggest compliment they earn.

The S10+ might not marvel when it comes to design, but the display is another story entirely. The slightly curved screen, 6.4 inches from corner to rounded corner, has a Quad HD+ resolution — that’s 3040×1440 pixels — and recently earned itself an A+ rating from display test company DisplayMate. It’s also the first smartphone supporting the HDR10+ video standard, meaning you’ll see darker blacks and more vibrant colors when watching HDR-friendly content already in places like YouTube and Netflix. It’s big, gorgeous, and responsive.

But Samsung shoots its otherwise gorgeous display in the foot by putting a literal hole in it. Samsung calls it an “Infinity-O display,” which allows for larger screens and smaller bezels. The oblong cutout containing the front-facing camera and depth sensor for portrait shots is a constant distraction, and one of the most disappointing aspects of the S10+. Watching a movie on the S10+ should’ve had me marveling at the beauty of one of the greatest smartphone displays ever made, but each scene change only highlighted the black void in the corner. Whether or not you mind the cutouts, notches, or holes encroaching on your screen’s territory, their existence is too compromising to be justified. In case you’re still unclear: it’s a terrible idea. But hey, at least the bezels are smaller?

Patrick Lucas Austin

The display somewhat redeems itself via the ultrasonic fingerprint reader hidden underneath. It’s cool, feels futuristic, and is one of a few quality of life improvements I’ve come to love in the S10+. Instead of scanning your fingerprint alone, the ultrasonic reader uses inaudible, high-frequency sound waves to create a more secure 3D map of your finger. It’s not flawless, however. It doesn’t like angled fingerprints, and movement during scanning is a no-no. Additionally, it can be rendered inoperable by certain screen protectors (though Samsung is working with manufacturers to create S10-friendly screen protectors). Yes, you can also unlock it with your face, though the front-facing camera lacks the depth-mapping sensors used by Apple’s Face ID. Unless you’re willing to to incur a potential break-in based on an image or video of your mug, avoid the option at all costs.

Another neat trick up the S10+’s sleeve? Wireless PowerShare. The wireless charging feature, one of the most appealing additions to any smartphone, allows you not only to charge your S10+ using a Qi-compatible wireless charger, but to charge other devices with your smartphone, too. The S10+ has a huge battery, letting it both last the entire day and share some juice with other Qi-compatible devices, like Samsung’s new wireless Galaxy Buds (or your friend’s dead iPhone). Just enable PowerShare, place your device face down, and put the device to be charged on top.

The S10+ has three rear cameras. If that sounds like overkill, you’re absolutely right. What you get is a 16-megapixel ultrawide camera, your usual 12-megapixel wide angle camera, and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera capable of 2x optical zoom. The triple threat is impressive to look at, but the actual images they product aren’t mind-blowing. The Ultrawide shots capture everything, mirroring what your own eye can see. Unlike your eye, however, the shots suffer from some noticeable warping around the edges.

The traditional wide-angle and telephoto cameras capture images beautifully on bright days, though low-light or indoor shots suffer from a loss of detail thanks to a noticeable noise reduction effect. Colors are saturated and images are sharp — a bit too sharp for my tastes — but aren’t that different from equally capable smartphone cameras. A smorgasbord of image capture and recording options are available, from hyperlapse recording and portrait mode to manual controls. Thanks to some machine learning, there’s also a “shot suggestion” mode that will help you level your shot before you snap.

Personal preferences more than anything will dictate how you feel about the S10+’s photos. Your average smartphone shutterbug most likely won’t notice the differences in quality compared to the equally capable competition, but the S10+ earns its keep as one of the best smartphone cameras available, and third-party technical tests further demonstrate the point.

Android has only gotten better over the years, and many gripes concerning usability have been replaced largely by aesthetic and functional quirks that can irk or delight based on your preferences. No, it still doesn’t have that same visual polish found on the iPhone. But quite frankly, even Apple’s own aesthetic changes over the years have gotten rough around the edges, while Android’s been making admirable strides when it comes to usability. Android 9 Pie brings with it tons of features and light interface improvements, showcased without alteration on Google’s Pixel line of smartphones. Samsung puts its own spin on the experience with its One UI, an interface that make it easier to get information at a glance, deal with notifications, and interact with Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant. Whether it’s a good idea or not again depends on your preferences. Still, I’m not a fan of manufacturers fussing too much with interfaces and software, attempting their own ill-considered take on aspects already decided (like icon design). The S10+ does a good job of keeping it cute, but I’d just rather it let Google handle the whole interface thing.

So the Samsung Galaxy S10+ is a perfectly fine option. If you need a top-end smartphone right now, you can’t go wrong here. On paper, it’s a behemoth, challenging you to find something with a bigger screen, with a faster processor, with more camera options, with a headphone jack. In practice, it feels — and looks — like a device from last year, albeit with some useful additions.

But the S10+ also comes on the heels of Samsung announcing its Galaxy Fold device, a $1,980 futuristic folding smartphone. At that price, one has to ask why they’re purchasing the Galaxy S10+ when something clearly more interesting is just a few months away. Yes, the Galaxy Fold is double the price of the S10+. But if you’ve got a thousand bucks to spend on a new smartphone, what’s another thousand to get an even cooler one a bit later? And with the Galaxy S10 5G debuting later this year, featuring an even larger screen and support for the upcoming wireless connectivity standard of the future, why not just save up for that one?

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com.

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