Samsung Galaxy S10e review: cute and compact, but by no means cheap

samsung galaxy s10e review 1

The Samsung Galaxy S10e is a problem for me. It’s not because it’s a terrible phone (it’s definitely not), but because it presents an issue of classification. Do you compare this device to other flagships, like the Huawei P30, LG G8 ThinQ or Sony Xperia 1 — devices much larger, but often cheaper than it — or, does it deserve its own category, and should be judged on its own merits?

While I think it’s fair to use the latter approach, this phone is effectively a part of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 flagship family. And at R15 999, it’s not as if it isn’t competing with the big boys. However, a “big boy” it definitely isn’t, at least in terms of size.

It’s ridiculous that in 2019 we consider a phone with a 5.8 inch screen small, but here we are. What was the screen size of the Samsung Galaxy S8 in 2017 is now the size of the “compact” S10. And it really is compact.

It’s ridiculous that in 2019 we consider a phone with a 5.8 inch screen small, but here we are

The S10e is the easiest flagship to hold in the hand and to use one-handed. It’s also clearly built with compactness in mind, featuring an excellent side-mounted fingerprint reader which can be reached by a stretched thumb, and a thicker body. Even the bundled case, which features a number of punch holes, provides grip that makes dropping this phone pretty difficult.

Aesthetically, the Samsung Galaxy S10e is the most attractive device in the S10 lineup. Fight me. While the S10+ in white is a real looker, I can’t quite get past the canary yellow of my review unit. In a sea of aurora, shimmery blue and reds of 2019, and the boring black and whites, there’s something appealing about a bright yellow smartphone.

It doesn’t appear as juvenile as it sounds either. The phone’s bright and cheerful, matching its cutesy size. You’re still getting the usual S10 styling, including a selfie camera cutout in the screen — which is more of a display real estate penalty on this smaller device — and the dual rear camera array at the rear.

samsung galaxy s10e review 2

We’ll get into camera tech a little later, but also notable is this phone’s internals. It’s smaller size doesn’t mean weaker guts.

Instead, Samsung’s sticking with the Exynos 9820 chipset which powers the S10+, mated to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. This phone definitely isn’t slow, but when setting up Android — that is, uninstalling Samsung’s swathe of installed bloat and installing my apps — I did notice some slowdowns and UI hitches. Opening up Google Calendar brought the UI to a halt, while scrolling through Joey the phone also momentarily burped. Once the initial software update installed though, the S10e just puffed along unabated.

OneUI, surprisingly, feels at home on this smaller screen too, especially since the UI is designed to be one-hand friendly. It works really well. And the usual settings are available. You really are getting a full S10 experience here in a smaller package.

Samsung Galaxy S10e camera samples
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Samsung Galaxy S10e Camera Sample 1

There's some colour anomalies in the sky here, but details in the buildings are excellent. Dynamic range is also good, and gives you plenty to work with.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Camera Sample 2

The S10e, like its siblings, captures great quality even in challenging launch-light conditions.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Camera Sample 3

A snap taken just before sunset, so perhaps I shouldn't judge it too harshly, but notice the oversharpening in the leaves.

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review 1

Samsung Galaxy S10e Review 2

Where Samsung did skimp is the camera department. The Galaxy S10e has just two cameras at the rear, much like the Galaxy Note 9. Quality is on par with its bigger S10 brother, but after using the S10 Plus, the S10e does feel limited somewhat. I’m not sure if it’s the smaller screen, but snaps seem to boast a shallower dynamic range, while sharpening is more pronounced in busier images. Still, it’s a great camera phone in a compact body. It’s probably the best camera in a smartphone this size.

And as for that cutout selfie camera, I’d like to mention how daft it is on a phone this small.

When screen size is already a deliberate compromise, it’s made even worse when part of that screen is occupied by a camera hole that you’re going to use, say, maybe once a day? The status bar is made thicker than it usually is on OneUI because of the camera, and this means that there’s even less screen real estate to render useful data. It’s an issue on the S10 and S10 Plus too, but it’s made so much more apparent on the S10e.

If money is no issue, then the Samsung Galaxy S10e is an obvious and only choice for those wanting a compact flagship smartphone

Additionally, where size plays an even bigger role is battery life. Samsung could only fit a 3100mAh battery in this device, and it shows. With a Vodacom SIM and 4G active, I could barely eke a day’s use on a single charge. I’d often top up the battery at work after the morning commute left me with around 75% available. Those running more background apps, and demand more of the camera will have a worse experience.

But hey, compromises have to be made somewhere.

You’ll have to compromise too regarding price. You’d think a smaller phone would warrant a smaller premium, but no, it’s astronomical compared to its rivals. Yes, I know, they’re larger than the S10e, but being the only device in a segment shouldn’t allow Samsung to price this device higher than the P30 — a phone that offers more camera options — or the V40 ThinQ — a phone that offers better audio playback.

If money is no issue, then the Samsung Galaxy S10e is an obvious and only choice for those wanting a compact flagship smartphone with minimal hardware compromises in 2019. But, if you were on a budget, it probably isn’t your best value for money choice.

Samsung Galaxy S10e x 1

Verdict: should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S10e?

You’re not going to find another smartphone with these specs shoved into a device this compact in 2019. Usability is excellent, and you’re getting the same internals as the other S10 devices, give or take. I want to say it’s the best device in the S10 range, purely because I can’t stand the underscreen fingerprint scanner Samsung uses on the two other S10 phones, but you’ll really have to consider what you want and need and can afford before dropping your R15 999 on this device.

All images: Andy Walker/Memeburn

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