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Samsung on Wednesday introduced its new lineup of premium and pricey Galaxy S10 phones, which will take on Apple's latest iPhone lineup.
They're expensive phones to launch in a landscape where consumers have shown they're reluctant to part with $1,000 for a new phone. This shift has helped companies like Huawei and Xiaomi gain market share, especially in China. It's one reason that Samsung, like Apple, is launching a cheaper $749 phone this year.
Earlier this year, Apple warned that economic headwinds in China sent iPhone sales down. On top of that, the company said people aren't upgrading their phones as often as they used to.
The challenge today for premium smartphone makers like Samsung and Apple is to make devices that are compelling enough to buy, even if they cost $1,000 or more.
The new Galaxy S10 phones are solid devices, but there aren't any "must have" components here that will force customers to ditch devices like last year's Galaxy S9 or maybe even the Galaxy S8 that was launched in 2017. And I don't think there's enough of a differentiating factor in these devices to pull anyone away from Apple's iPhone family. They're still Samsung Android phones.
The new Samsung family includes the Galaxy S10e, the Galaxy S10, the Galaxy S10+ and the Galaxy S10 5G. Here's what you need to know about each one:
Price: Starting at $749
Release date: March 8
This is Samsung's rival to the iPhone XR. It doesn't have all of the features in the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, such as the new in-screen fingerprint reader, the same advanced cameras or the really sharp and curved displays in the more costly models. But it does have the same brand new Qualcomm 855 processor and the most affordable price, starting at $749.
It's a really nice phone for what you get and feels like a $1,000 phone. There's a great 12-megapixel camera on the back that automatically switches to a wide-angle lens as you zoom out, which lets you fit more in a picture. It's neat if you want to fit a lot of people in a picture, or capture a wide landscape in one shot, and seemed to work well in the little amount of time I had with it.
One of the coolest new features, which is also available in the more expensive models, is called wireless power share. It lets you wirelessly charge any other device that uses the Qi (pronounced: "chee") charging standard. It's built to automatically charge Samsung's new wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds, when you drop them on the back of the phone, but I found cooler uses. I turned it on by swiping down from the notification menu and then was able to charge my iPhone when I placed it against the back of the Samsung phone. This means you can give some extra juice to a friend with a dying phone battery just by holding your phones together.
You have a choice of unlocking the Galaxy S10e with a standard fingerprint sensor built in to the side of the phone or by using facial recognition. But I prefer the in-screen fingerprint sensor that's embedded inside the display of the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, since it's just a lot more fun to use and is really seamless. (More on that later.)
Samsung includes 128GB of storage at the entry level on all of its new phones, which is plenty for most people. (The latest iPhones start with 64GB of storage.) They're all IP68 water-resistant, which means you can drop them in a pool or toilet and don't need to worry about damage.
Price: Starting at $899
Release date: March 8
The Galaxy S10 starts at $899 and packs almost all of the same features as the high-end Galaxy S10+, but has a slightly smaller screen and lacks a front-facing camera that supports portrait mode. The 6.1-inch screen is large but isn't as big as the Galaxy S10+, which has a 6.4-inch display and can be a little unwieldy if you're using it with a single hand. Folks who don't like phones that are "too big" would probably prefer this option.
The new "Infinity-O" screen is awesome. It's not only colorful and sharp, but it also has a tiny cut-out for the camera hole on top. That means you don't have any sort of "notch" like you see on iPhones, just a small black spot where the camera is. It's really cool to just look at, and I didn't find it distracting.
I didn't notice a huge difference in color or sharpness over the iPhone XS Max I use, but it is nice having more screen to look at without an intrusive notch for the camera. You'll love them if you watch a lot of high-res movies on your phones, and the surround-sound audio makes that experience better since audio fires out of both sides of the phone instead of just one.
The in-screen fingerprint reader is really fun to use, too. I was able to just pick up the phone and tap my thumb to the bottom of the display to unlock it without a problem. It's the first time Samsung has embedded a fingerprint sensor inside the screen, which means it didn't have to add one on the back or sides of the phone.
Finally, the cameras are even more advanced on the Galaxy S10. Like the Galaxy S10e, you get a wide-angle zoom lens for fitting more people into a picture. You also get a 12MP 2x zoom lens, which means pictures should be more clear when you zoom into a subject.
Price: Starting at $999
Release date: March 8
I love big phones and, if you're like me, then the Galaxy S10+ is the version you want. It starts at $999 and packs almost all of the bells and whistles Samsung has to offer right now.
It includes all of the new features in the Galaxy S10e and Galaxy S10, like power sharing, the Infinity-O display and a fingerprint reader, but adds a 6.4-inch screen and yet another front-facing camera for portrait selfies, which worked well in my quick tests. It blurred the background of my selfie while keeping my smiling face in focus. The second camera increases the size of the hole on the front for the camera, but it wasn't too distracting.
Samsung will sell a super high-end model with a stronger ceramic body, 12GB of RAM (faster!) and a massive 1TB of storage out of the box, which power users who download tons of movies, games and apps will love. But most people won't need that much storage. Samsung didn't tell me how much that phone will cost, but the $999 model with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM would work for pretty much everyone.
Release date: Q2 2019
During the second quarter of this year, Samsung will start to sell an even better Galaxy S10 5G phone, which has the largest screen of the bunch, measuring in at 6.7 inches.
Samsung wouldn't let me turn the Galaxy S10 5G on, so I can't speak too much about it. However, the Galaxy S10 5G should be the most future-proof of Samsung's new phones. It will support 5G networks that carriers will continue to launch this year. There are only a few select cities with 5G coverage right now, however, and we haven't tested them yet. Theoretically, downloads on these networks will be faster, so you can save things like video in a fraction of the time.
The Galaxy S10 5G will launch as a Verizon exclusive before it's released by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile later in the second quarter. Pricing has not yet been announced.