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The Samsung Galaxy S10E is small without skimping too much

It’s human-sized

Photography by James Bareham

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Alongside the flagship Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, Samsung is launching a lower-cost, smaller smartphone it’s calling the Galaxy S10E. Starting at $749.99, it has a 5.8-inch display and lacks some of the more advanced features you’d get on its siblings — but I suspect most people won’t miss them.

After spending 10 minutes or so playing around with the S10E, I could tell that I would be perfectly happy without the extra camera lens, curved display, or extra pixels on the screen you’d get from the more expensive versions of the S10. I was a little less sure that I’d be happy to have the fingerprint sensor on the power button, which is mounted on the right side. The full S10 and S10 Plus have it under the screen, which is more futuristic but definitely also more convenient. But after years of having the fingerprint sensor on the back of my Android phone, I suspect even the side would feel like an upgrade.

I could tell I wouldn’t miss all that stuff because the main thing I noticed about the S10E was how nice the size is. It feels like a phone, not like a surfboard. People who want a “small” phone will probably balk at the idea that the S10E is small — it’s only a millimeter shorter and narrower than the iPhone XS, after all. But compared to the ever increasing size of many flagship Android phones, it’s night and day.

The Galaxy S10 5G (left) and Galaxy S10E (right).
The Galaxy S10 5G (left) and Galaxy S10E (right).

My colleague Vlad Savov says it feels just like an iPhone X, all glass and metal rails — but to me, it’s a little more squared off. The point of the comparison, though, is that the S10E doesn’t feel like a “cheap” phone. It feels like a premium phone. It’s all glass and metal that is put together into a package that feels like it might justify its $750 starting price. I’m glad that it has IP68 water protection and can even do the trick of wirelessly charging other devices.

Unlike recent Samsung Galaxy phones, the screen on the S10E is completely flat. That means the bezels are very slightly larger (or at least look larger) than on the S10. But they’re still tiny and I wasn’t bothered by them at all — especially since the selfie camera was embedded in a “hole punch” in the upper righthand corner of the screen.

The screen itself isn’t much of a compromise. It’s bright and colorful, Samsung says that it has been certified for HDR10+. The resolution is “Full HD+,” which means it’s 1080 pixels wide with a 19:9 aspect ratio. It might not have the pixels or the curves of the S10, but it looks great to me.

And hey, there’s a headphone jack, too, if you have been holding out to get a modern phone that still has one.

There are a million other specs we could really get into here, but if you’re a spec hound you’re probably not the target market for the S10E — take a gander at Dan Seifert’s hands-on with the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus instead. But there are a few specs that really do matter, and the takeaway from them is that Samsung did the right thing by not forcing you to compromise too much. The processor, for example, is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, which is the best you can get in an Android phone right now (at least in the US).

On cameras, Samsung does make S10E users compromise a bit. Instead of the S10’s three rear cameras, you get two: a regular 12-megapixel wide-angle camera that’s similar to what you’ve likely used before and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens with a 123-degree field of view. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have a chance to compare their results to other phones.

They’re fast, at least, and absolutely laden with features. One of the newer modes is “shot suggestion,” which overlays some visual indicators on the camera to try to help you level and line up your shot. That worked only intermittently for us. Samsung says it’s also using its “Neural Processing Unit” to automatically change certain camera settings for the better in real time. This shows up as a “Scene optimizer” which guesses which camera mode you’d want — in our short time it did manage to figure out that we’d want more contrast on a photo of a purple couch. Both of those settings are off by default, and you can dig into the camera’s settings to toggle features you want on and off.

Samsung is also talking big game about its video capabilities — shooting 4K in HDR+. It has a new “super steady video” for stabilizing shots, and Samsung says that it will crop a little less than you might expect because it’s using that ultra-wide angle lens to gather the stabilization data.

With the S10E, you’ll be missing out on the telephoto lens, but the wide-angle would probably get more use anyway for most people. You can toggle between the two cameras with a button press or hold your finger down to zoom somewhat seamlessly between them and a digital zoom.

The full Galaxy S10 lineup, from left to right: S10E, S10, S10 Plus, and S10 5G
The full Galaxy S10 lineup, from left to right: S10E, S10, S10 Plus, and S10 5G

The software is Android 9 Pie with Samsung’s One UI custom experience. It looks mostly unchanged here from the last time that we looked at it — though Samsung has added new software automation routines in Bixby. On the S10E, the default sizing of the icons feels weirdly large on the home screen — but presumably that can be adjusted (everything in Samsung software seems to have a custom setting somewhere).

The S10E is available for preorder on February 21st and will ship on March 8th. The default storage / memory configuration is 128GB of storage (expandable) with 6GB of RAM. You can spend more (we’ll update when we know how much) to get 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.

The fingerprint sensor is on the side-mounted power button
The fingerprint sensor is on the side-mounted power button

Why not spend a little more and get the full S10? The answer is size

The big question for the S10E is whether it’s going to find a big market. Since it’s “only” $150 less than the full S10, who should buy it instead of an S10? Or more to the point, will it be better than other, less-expensive Android phones from the likes of OnePlus? We can’t know the answers to those questions yet, but I suspect part of the answer is going to rest on how good the camera system on the S10E is, especially compared to cheaper Android phones.

In some ways, that big question was the same one that has been vexing the iPhone XR. With the iPhone XR, answers got weird because it was a weird size — bigger than the small iPhone XS, but smaller than the XS Plus. But with the Samsung Galaxy S10E, the answer is kind of obvious: it’s for people who prefer smaller phones. We look forward to reviewing to see if it can live up to that promise.

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Update March 13, 2019 9:15AM ET: This article was originally published on February 20, 2019 and has been updated to include video.