February is generally the time when Samsung releases its S-series flagship devices at its flagship Galaxy Unpacked event. This year though, Samsung decided to mix things up a bit. In mid-January, it announced two ‘Lite’ devices called the Galaxy S10 Lite and the Note10 Lite. The timing was certainly a surprise, given that the S20 launch was just around the corner.
I think it’s safe to say that this is Samsung responding to the tectonic shifts in the smartphone market space where its offerings are undercut by OnePlus at the higher end of the segment and Xiaomi (Redmi) and Realme at the lower end. In 2019, which saw a 29 percent jump in premium smartphone sales over last year (a record), and it wasn’t Samsung’s S-series or Note-series that graced the top of the charts. The leader in this segment in India was OnePlus.
Before the new Lite models, Samsung only offered the A series phones, which were, obviously, not capable of dethroning OnePlus. Samsung did release the Galaxy S10e alongside the S10 and S10+ last year, but it clearly wasn’t enough.
Enter the Galaxy S10 Lite, which starts at Rs 39,999 for the 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage variant.
Let’s see if Samsung’s bet will pay off with this close-to-flagship offering at a not-so-flagship price, at least by Samsung standards.
Build and Design
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite comes in three colours: Prism Black, Prism Blue and Prism White (Thanks Samsung, for those simple names) I am reviewing the Prism Blue variant, which does look gorgeous. Thanks to a thickness of just 8.1 mm, the phone manages to look quite sleek and it weighs just 187 g, which provides just the right amount of heft to the device.
While the front face sports a 6.7-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED Infinity O display, the back is a material that Samsung calls ‘Glastic’ and comes with a 2.5D curve. It’s an amalgamation of glass and plastic and while it is in essence polycarbonate, it could easily be passed off as glass.
There is no clarity on whether the phone employs Gorilla Glass (GG) at all in the construction and a quick online check reveals that it’s an older version of GG on the display. The rear glastic is a smudge magnet for sure, and thanks to that slightly raised rectangular camera module, some amount of dust does tend to collect around its edges, which is difficult to get rid off easily.
As it’s plastic, it is vulnerable to scratches if you carry keys in the same pocket as your phone, so get a transparent case for sure.
Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to have such a huge rectangular camera module, as the three cameras could have easily just been embedded in a vertical strip module with the flash unit placed outside it. It does make the S10 Lite stand out, but doesn’t appear to serve any other purpose. Thankfully, an aluminium frame is employed, which nicely merges with the front and the rear of the phone. The antenna cut lines are clearly visible.
There is no 3.5 mm audio jack on the S10 Lite, but it sports a USB Type-C charging port, a single downward firing speaker, and it’s water resistant. In terms of grip, the curvature of the rear panel helps, and it’s less slippery than some of the glossier devices I’ve used. One handed use is possible to an extent thanks to the One UI 2 software running atop Android 10 on the S10 Lite, but you will most likely require two hands to use it comfortably.
Display: 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display
Resolution: 1,080 x 2,400 pixels at 395 PPI
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (1x Kryo 485 @2.84 GHz, 3x Kryo 485 @2.42 GHz and 4x Kryo 485 @1.78 GHz)
GPU: Adreno 640
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 128 GB expandable up to 256 GB
Cameras: 48 MP primary (f/2.0) with Super Steady OIS + 12 MP ultrawide (f/2.2) + 5 MP Macro (f/2.4)
Front camera: 32 MP f/2.2
Audio Jack: None
Battery: 4,500 mAh
With the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite, we get the largest display on an S10 branded device. The flagship S10+ was 6.4-inches, the Lite is 6.7.
While the 1,080 x 2,400 pixels resolution on such a large display may not be that pixel packed, it gets the work done. The Super AMOLED display ensures that contrast is great, brightness is good, and there is no colour shift when you see the display from an angle. Sunlight legibility is top notch as well. The auto-brightness ensures that the display brightness adjusts seamlessly with changing ambient lighting.
I enjoyed watching HDR10 content on Netflix and YouTube on the S10 Lite. The image quality was superb and despite the glossy display, the visibility of darker scenes didn’t turn the display into a mirror. The Infinity O display doesn’t interfere with viewing video content as such.
You can set the display to look natural or if you like punchy colours, set it to vivid. Natural mode was what I stuck with. There’s an Always-on display option as well, and you can set the size of the app grid on the home screen (between 4x4, 4x5, 5x5 etc).
Considering the number of phones that launched last year with a 90-Hz, and more recently, 120-Hz display, the 60 Hz one on the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite feels like it’s a little behind the times. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Samsung’s ceding ground to its rival, namely OnePlus 7T. To be fair, the slower refresh rate won’t bother you if you’ve never used a 120 Hz screen, but if you have, as I did very recently, the difference is significant, especially in certain apps.
Performance and Software
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset powering the phone and 8 GB of RAM under the hood, there isn’t anything that slows the phone down. Some of you may bring up the Snapdragon 855+ on the OnePlus 7T, but the real life difference is barely noticeable. Yes, there is a slight drop in Geekbench 5, AnTuTu, 3D Mark and other benchmark scores. But as we’ve always said at tech2, benchmark numbers should just be taken for reference purposes. For a device that has ‘Lite’ in its nomenclature, the performance is anything but lite.
Animations are smooth, app switching is quick and the device just feels fast overall. Call quality is top notch and even the mono speaker is plenty loud if you are in a room. The only thing that is noticeably on the slower side is unlocking the device especially when using face unlock and the optical fingerprint scanner. It’s criminal to have a delay when unlocking the phone with such specifications, especially seeing that lock icon unlock! It’s downright slow. An update to fix this should be released pronto.
When it comes to gaming, PUBG Mobile, Mortal Kombat 11 and Asphalt 9 played fabulously. There weren’t any noticeable frame drops. But the phone’s rear side does warm up, and the metal edges, especially around the power button, do heat up, but not uncomfortably so. At no point did any app crash mid-way because of heating up. Temperature control is great if you are not gaming.
The phone runs on Android 10 with a One UI 2 skin atop it. One UI clearly has brought in a lot of improvements over the former Samsung Experience and TouchWiz UI. It really helps a lot with one-handed operations as the menus are much easier to reach in the lower half of the display. It’s certainly a much more refined version of the interface and the response is great. Barring phone unlocking using biometric that is.
Nandini had done a detailed review of One UI, so I won’t delve too much into it. But some of the major new updates that One UI 2 brings to the table include: - A new interface for the screen recorder which also lets you annotate and include your video using the front camera along with a floating control panel which isn’t included in the final recorded video. - System-wide dark mode. - Slight change to the camera user interface which now has additional features under the More tab. - App permissions dialog opens up at the bottom of the display, so that you don’t have to readjust the way you hold the phone just to respond to this pop up. - Always On display has more options for showing watch faces.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite sports a triple rear camera setup with a 48 MP primary camera with f/2.0 with SuperSteady OIS; a 12 MP ultra-wide sensor with an f/2.2 aperture with 123 degree field of view, and a 5 MP macro lens with an f/2.4 aperture. On the front, there is a 32 MP camera for selfies, which is slotted in the Infinity O display.
Both the primary camera and selfie camera employ pixel binning. If you want full 32 MP (on the front) and 48 MP (on the back), then you will have to select the option which says 3:4 with H, which implies the highest resolution. By default, the Photo mode will shoot 8 MP images on the front and 12 MP images on the rear camera.
On the video front, both the front and rear cameras support 4K 30/60 fps. With the rear camera you will get the SuperSteady OIS mode with resolution locked to 1080p. You can also shoot Super Slo Mo at 960 fps at 720p resolution.
Daylight photos come out well with great dynamic range. When viewed on the phone’s display things look tack sharp, but on your monitor’s display when you pixel peep, especially in the non-centre portions, you do tend to notice aggressive noise reductions algorithms at work. This reduces the natural texture on everyday objects.
The sharpness drop off in the bottom right hand corner when viewing the image at full resolution was quite noticeable. Centre-sharpness is good in most daylight situations. Turning off the scene optimiser did sharpen things up a touch. But on the phone’s display or for sharing on Instagram or Twitter, the daylight image quality is great.
The dynamic range in daylight shots is quite good. The ultra-wide lens shows extreme bending around the edges, so if you’re taking a group photo, please ensure everyone is in the centre of the frame.
Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite does a great job with low light photos. This has been a hallmark of flagship Samsung devices and the S10 Lite continues that trend. It’s only when you pixel peep that you notice that details are softened. The noise-reducing algorithms do continue to be in overdrive mode. There is a nightscape mode as well, which lights up a dark scene quite well, but ensure your hands are steady. It still doesn’t beat the gold standard in low light photography in the sub 50k price segment — the Pixel 3a/3a XL. The ultra-wide camera in the night mode delivers images with noticeable noise and which are slightly less brighter than the primary camera.
Selfies in daylight come out well with a good level of detail. But there is a noticeable skin smoothening when you zoom in a bit, which isn’t desirable. The camera does tend to expose for the face, thereby washing out the background in some scenarios. Low light selfies are usable but relatively noisy.
Portrait mode shots do a good job and you get many options to play around with the background and adjust the way it looks. Edge detection is a bit of a hit and a miss.
The onboard 5 MP macro camera does a good job of shooting detailed images. You just need to ensure there is enough light around. I even shot some macros with ambient street light and they turned out quite well. The resolution of 5 MP is much better than 2 MP that is present on most phones offering a macro lens.
Video quality is quite good during daylight. You can shoot at up to 4K 60 fps thanks to the presence of the Snapdragon 855 chipset. Details are quite good during daytime and it gets progressively bad as light levels drop. I didn’t notice much distortion when panning during daytime. When shooting after sunset, video gets softer, with noise clearly visible. Live focus (portrait mode) is present on the S10 Lite, which is a good thing to have.
Samsung S10 Lite supports SuperSteady OIS which forces the video resolution to 1080p if you’re sitting in 4k. While the video is steadier as compared to regular video shooting modes, I noticed a certain level of softness to the overall video quality even during daytime. At evening and night time, the video becomes a noisy mess, making it useless despite being able to offer good stabilisation.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite sports a whopping 4,500 mAh battery, making it the S-series phone with the largest battery. Despite the large battery, the phone doesn’t weigh a tonne. With two email accounts on sync; constantly buzzing Slack, Telegram and WhatsApp, a couple of hours of listening to podcasts, an hour of video streaming, hours of web surfing, 30 mins of gaming, and clicking around 30–40 photos/videos per day, I could easily get around a day and a half of use. On weekends, when my usage is lighter, I could get around two days easily. The average screen in time I got was above 4–5 hours.
The S10 Lite comes bundled with a 25 W charger with power delivery support. It takes under 75 mins to charge the S10 Lite. I had a OnePlus fast charger lying around, but when I tried charging with it, the charging time showed 7–8 hours to go, and other ridiculous figures. With the Google Pixel charger, fast charging is supported.
Word of advice: don’t misplace the bundled charger.
Verdict and Price in India
The Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite is a wonderful phone… that should’ve come out much earlier.
It would’ve been the best response to the OnePlus 7/7T series when those had launched last year. At Rs 40k, the S10 Lite may be affordable by Samsung’s standards, but it’s still Rs 5k over the OnePlus 7T (Review) which offers a 90-Hz display, slightly faster processor, glass back, and is an overall great device in itself. OnePlus has a stranglehold in this segment, which is hard to overcome. Unlike the Rs 50k plus segment where Rs 5k here or there doesn’t matter much, the sub 40k space is still what I’d call price conscious.
Considering it’s Samsung, give it a few months and the Samsung S10 Lite should come around the Rs 35k price point. If you weren’t born under the right stars and constellations, and don’t have the right kind of debit/credit card, it won’t be easy shaving a few thousand bucks off the price of the device.
The S10 Lite offers a great battery, wonderful display, great camera, usable user interface, and ticks off pretty much every boxes you’d look for. Yes, there has been cost cutting to some extent in the form of going for a plastic back (Samsung may call it glastic, but it’s still plastic) but it’s not a deal breaker. If you want a flagship phone and can live with a generation old chipset (frankly, it doesn’t matter in real life usage), the Galaxy S10 Lite comes highly recommended.
It’s great to see Samsung get off its high horse and offer a true flagship response to the OnePlus. The Samsung A-series is no match for this segment, which is now also seeing some good products from players such as Realme and Redmi, and Samsung is finally competitive here.
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