Now that the starting pistol has been fired in the race for comprehensive 5G coverage in the UK, the tentative introduction of the next-gen mobile network hasn’t arrived with quite as big of a bang as promised, but rather a faint whimper.
With patchy coverage, pricey hardware and not-so-impressive speeds, 5G is currently reserved for the earliest of early adopters. If you’re lucky enough to have piles of cash burning a hole in your pocket, and are willing to wait a little while until coverage (hopefully) improves, then there’s currently a fair few 5G-enabled smartphones to pick and choose from, with more on the way shortly.
Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G was one of the first of a fleet of smartphones to arrive when the new network infrastructure was switched on earlier this year. But with sky-high contract prices that send wallets running for the hills, this feature-rich phone is a very tough sell, despite its brilliance.
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Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: What you need to know
Following a slightly delayed launch to coincide with the arrival of EE’s 5G service in the UK, the S10 5G is the only S-series Galaxy phone that can access the new mobile network – thanks to the bundled Exynos 5100 modem – but it also introduces a handful of other exclusive features that aren’t available on any of the other handsets.
The Galaxy S10 5G’s WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED screen is slightly bigger than the rest, measuring 6.7in across the diagonal, and it also uses a larger 4,500mAh capacity battery – presumably to help mitigate the negative effects of the power-draining 5G modem (more on that later). The S10 5G also includes an added 3D depth-sensing camera, which is mostly for the benefit of augmented reality applications.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Price and competition
Currently, the Galaxy S10 5G is only available on either EE or Vodafone in the UK. I’m certain that other mobile networks such as Three and O2 will be carrying the phone as soon as their own 5G services go live, however.
Contract prices for the Galaxy S10 5G aren’t cheap, though. It’s not the most expensive 5G smartphone on the market – that honour is awarded to the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G – but it comes pretty darn close.
On Vodafone, the cheapest contract costs £49 a month with an upfront cost of £149 and a monthly data allowance of 20GB, totalling £1,326 over 24 months. On EE, the cheapest contract is £43 a month with an upfront cost of £349 and 60GB of monthly data.
Meanwhile, the phone itself can be purchased SIM-free for £1,099, with SIM-only contracts from Vodafone and EE starting at £23 and £20 per month. As far as I’m aware, none of the other 5G smartphones are available SIM-free.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: 5G performance and analysis
Rather than sticking to our usual smartphone reviews format and kicking things off with clearly defined sections such as design, display quality and performance, I’m going to move things about a bit and get straight to the important part: whether or not upgrading to 5G is actually worth the added cost.
Now, this isn’t the first 5G-enabled smartphone I’ve reviewed so far. I’ve previously tested the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G, but Samsung’s handset is by far the flashiest of the three phones, and is undoubtedly the 5G handset that draws the most attention on shop shelves.
We’ve been talking about 5G for what seems like an eternity, but now that it’s finally here I think the general consensus is that it’s not all that’s cracked up to be. However, this is the first 5G phone I’ve tested that employs Samsung’s Exynos 5100 modem for 5G connectivity, so perhaps things are a little bit different here.
According to Samsung, this modem is capable of supporting transfer speeds up to 2Gbps using the Sub-6GHz 5G frequency, and up to 6Gbps using mmWave, although unfortunately the latter isn’t available in the UK yet. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to access these blisteringly-fast speeds for quite some time.
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In our tests, which included visiting a number of London and Birmingham locations using Ookla’s SpeedTest app and a Vodafone 5G SIM, I failed to reach anywhere near the maximum quoted Sub-6GHz speeds. Strangely enough, the best I got was at the Premier Inn in Birmingham city centre, where the phone reached speeds of 424Mbps – the worst result was a mere 78Mbps in Howick Place, London.
Based on 18 separate tests, the phone reached an average download speed of only 145 Mbps, which isn’t much better than your typical 4G connection. Of course, 5G as a network will (hopefully) improve over time, but as it currently stands the benefits simply aren’t there when it comes to both speed and coverage – and that’s with only a handful of users congesting the network
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Everything else
Even though the Galaxy S10 5G struggles to reach those maximum speeds, that’s certainly not Samsung’s fault. The infrastructure just isn’t properly in place yet, and we’ve found equally poor results in our testing of other 5G-fitted phones.
Still, it’s not all about the 5G, and I’m happy to report that everything else about the Galaxy S10 5G is absolutely sublime. This is a smartphone of remarkably high calibre – it fits comfortably in the hand, despite its large size, and the silver-tinted chamfered edges look rather swish.
The phone’s all-display front, which includes a dual-camera hole punch notch located at the top right of the screen, is also lovely. Our technical display tests recorded identical results to the regular S10 and S10 Plus – colour accuracy is almost as good as can be, with only slight oversaturation in some red tones, and the panel manages to cover 96.3% of the sRGB colour gamut.
On a similar note, the phone’s performance is equally impressive. Samsung’s homebrew Exynos 9820 processor is as fast as they come, largely matching the benchmarking results of its rivals such as the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G.
Aside from the added 3D depth-sensing lens, the Galaxy S10 5G’s photographic capabilities also remain largely unchanged. The rear camera array is comprised of a 12-megapixel unit with dual-aperture (f/1.5 or f/2.4), a 12-megapixel, f/2.4 2x telephoto zoom camera and a new ultra-wide-angle 16-megapixel, f/2.2 camera.
Predictably, the results are fantastic. Colour rendition is practically perfect and the cameras manage to strike the right balance of noise suppression and detail capture. Video is also top-notch with buttery-smooth 4K resolution capture at 60fps.
As far as I could tell, the 3D depth-sensing unit doesn’t seem to add much. Its implementations are few and far between at the moment – you can use the AR feature to help measure certain items in the real world, but that’s about it. Portrait pictures between both phones looked pretty much identical, too.
The S10 5G’s only real downside is overall stamina. Despite the larger battery, the S10 5G didn’t do quite so well as the S10 Plus in our in-house battery rundown test, managing 20hrs and 40mins on a single charge. All things considered, that’s still a very good result, it’s just that the added Exynos 5100 modem clearly has a negative effect on overall battery life even when not in use.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G review: Verdict
If you tally up the scores, it’s abundantly clear that the Galaxy S10 5G is a formidable flagship. According to our usual ranking criteria, it’s practically faultless in every single area, so why am I holding it back from winning an award? Well, Samsung’s big ol’ phone isn’t like any of the countless other handsets that have passed through our doors.
The exaggerated promises of the 5G network are little more than a pipe dream at the time of writing. Neither speeds nor coverage are adequate enough for any expensive 5G phone contract at the moment, and I’m simply not comfortable awarding any 5G phone with a recommendation until the infrastructure delivers on these promises – no matter how impressive the handset may be.
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