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Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite phones are deeply confusing

Low-end phones with high-end names

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Earlier this week, Samsung announced two new Galaxy phones: the S10 Lite and the Note 10 Lite. “S” and “Note,” in Samsung parlance, usually mean “really high-end.” These two phones are not that. After spending a half-hour poking around at both of them, I am able to understand why Samsung made them. But I am still deeply confused about some of the decisions Samsung made here.

The questions I still have include: Why do both phones have a completely different set of cameras. What exactly, definitively, is the S10 Lite’s so-called “Super Steady OIS” camera feature, and why is it appearing first on a low-to-midrange device. Why does the Note 10 Lite have a headphone jack while the S10 Lite does not? Why does the S10 Lite need to exist when Samsung’s A-series of phones is also out in the world? We had an actual problem distinguishing the Galaxy S10 Lite from the also-announced Galaxy A71!

In just over a month, Samsung will be announcing its next flagship S-level phones at its Unpacked event (presumably the S11, maybe the S20). Not releasing these phones at that event makes sense, at least. Samsung will want to give its best phones center stage.

The Galaxy S10 Lite and the Note 10 Lite share a lot of commonalities: they both have 6.7-inch, 2400 x 1800 AMOLED screens that are flat and look just fine to me, but they aren’t up to the quality you’d expect from a full-on Note or Galaxy S device. Still, the bezels are very thin, and there’s a cutout for the selfie camera.

Similarly, with the build quality, there’s nothing wrong with these devices, it’s just that there’s not a lot to get excited about. Presumably, they’ll be on par or better than similarly priced phones in terms of fit and finish. But since we don’t know the price, region, or release date for them, I can’t say for sure.

Galaxy Note 10 Lite.
Galaxy Note 10 Lite.
Galaxy S10 Lite.
Galaxy S10 Lite.

There are a bunch of differences between them, of course, and that’s partially where the bafflement starts. The Note 10 Lite has an S Pen stylus, and the S10 Lite does not. But the Note 10 Lite also gets to have a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the S10 Lite... doesn’t.

The real confusion starts with the cameras. Both phones have three camera sensors on the back, but they’re completely different. They have outsized megapixel counts in some cases, which is par for the course for low- and midrange Android phones.

The S10 Lite has two sensors on the back that are genuinely interesting.

The main camera is a 48-megapixel f/2 wide-angle lens featuring “Super Steady OIS,” which is not the same thing as “Super Steady Video” that was available on the Galaxy Note 10. It’s something new that also applies to photos, and it’s odd that it’s making a debut on this phone, but there it is.

I was super into using the 5-megapixel macro lens, though. I was able to get dangerously close (call it three to four inches) to my subject and keep focus and get the shot. Just like ultra-wide lenses are fun because they let you do things you couldn’t do with a phone before, the macro lens is kind of a blast.

The Note 10 Lite has a much more traditional ultra-wide / wide / telephoto setup.

Finally, the other big (and somewhat strange) difference is in the processors: the Note 10 Lite has Samsung’s in-house Exynos 9810 while the S10 Lite has Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 855. It’s possible that could mean that Samsung won’t release the Note 10 in the US, but it’s not a lock. Exynos sometimes makes its way to these shores.

More than anything, I have a hard time understanding why Samsung chose to put its premium branding on decidedly non-premium phones. With the Note 10 Lite, the justification is obvious: phones with styluses get called “Note.” With the S10, either Samsung just liked the symmetry or maybe it believed that the Qualcomm processor on the S10 Lite makes it close enough to premium to count.

Does any of that branding confusion — or even the camera confusion — really matter? No. These are parts-bin phones, and if the parts from the bin are pretty good, it’s not worth worrying about consistency. Despite their premium branding, these phones will do their job of filling out the middle of Samsung’s lineup.

Note 10 Lite in gold, S10 Lite in white


Note 10 Lite in gold, S10 Lite in white

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