At today's glitzy Unpacked event in San Francisco, Samsung unveiled a raft of new products, some of which are mostly aspirational for the time being. One device the company will hope to sell a boatload of in the coming months is the Galaxy S10e, a new cheaper variant in the popular series. It's a departure from the norm for Samsung, and a response to growing consumer unrest at the rising price of high-end flagship phones. It also serves to counter Apple's more affordable iPhone XR, obvious from the identical $749 starting price and variety of bright colors being made available.
The price point may be more palatable for buyers, especially those who've waited a couple of years to upgrade, but the S10e is also notable for a surprising lack of meaningful compromises. Compared to the standard S10, you get the same processor, the same main 12MP rear camera with OIS and AF, the same 16MP ultra wide-angle accompanying it, and the same 10MP front camera. You also get wireless charging with the nifty reverse charge feature for the Galaxy Buds the company also hopes you'll purchase.
So far, so good, then, but there are a few things the S10e misses out on, most notably the additional telephoto lens on the back and the in-display fingerprint scanner. It only gets 6GB of RAM, although that should be more than sufficient, but it starts at 128GB of internal storage (with microSD slot) just like its bigger siblings. It doesn't have the same Quad HD+ display, but the 5.8" Full HD+ AMOLED panel will be plenty good enough for the vast majority of people.
When it comes to real-world performance, the S10e should be every bit as good as the rest of the lineup, and the slightly smaller 3,100mAh battery will do just fine without such a large, high-resolution screen drawing so much power. In terms of everyday features, only the lack of a dedicated telephoto lens will matter in the camera department. For the health conscious out there, be sure to note the lack of a heart rate monitor, too.
After spending some time with the S10e ahead of today's launch, I came away pretty impressed with the thing. It follows the same design principles as the other members of the family, and although it might not feel quite as premium, the physical differences are minor. If you're like me, you'll prefer the flat screen to the curved edges of the other models — I've never been a fan of the discoloration you see where the glass arcs, especially when a white background is on display. You do get a bit more bezel flanking all sides, but you could also argue that the result is pleasingly more uniform all the way around. The side-mounted fingerprint scanner is borrowed straight out of Sony's old playbook. It might have been better to keep it on the rear, but I'll reserve judgment until I've dealt with the new placement in day-to-day use.
Probably the most appealing aspect of this phone's design is the size. It's a shade smaller than the Pixel 3, but with a larger 5.8-inch, 19:9 screen getting the most out of its proportions. Sure, there's an unsightly camera hole, but it's far less obnoxious than any other style of cutout. If you're after a small Android phone with flagship specs, the S10e could be exactly what you've been waiting for. It's also $50 cheaper than the Pixel 3 in the US for 50% more RAM and twice the storage.
The base model Pixel 3 ($799) and iPhone XR ($749) both come with 64GB of internal storage and neither have expandable memory. Those phones also have single rear cameras and no 3.5mm jack. The Samsung Galaxy S10e seems to offer pretty good value, then, at least compared to the main flagship contenders. Some will argue that you're still better off saving a couple of hundred dollars and getting a OnePlus 6T — our Smartphone of the Year for 2018 — and they may well have a point. But that extra $200 gets you a better screen, better cameras, wireless charging, a headphone jack, an IP68 rating, and a newer processor; and it all comes in a much smaller, more pocketable package.
As much as 2019 will be the year that the first 5G phones and folding devices go on sale, traditional top-tier tech companies will have to accept that many consumers aren't willing to pay $1000 for a smartphone when you can get a lot for very little from a new wave of emerging manufacturers. With the Galaxy S10e, Samsung is showing us that it understands this — it's trying to offer a phone that ticks many of the important boxes while maintaining a reasonably attractive price point. I think it could offer better value than the iPhone XR and other similarly-priced competitors, although we'll have to wait and see how it stands up in a full review to be sure.
Pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy S10e are open already, and you'll be able to purchase it online and in stores on March 8. It starts at $749 in the US, £669 in the UK, and €759 in some parts of Europe.