Galaxy S10 Lite review: This phone exists, and it’s pretty good
The Galaxy S10 Lite comes at a time when Samsung is getting ready to unveil the Galaxy S11, or the Galaxy S20 as the company has decided to call it. The Galaxy S10 Lite’s spec sheet combines a lot of tech from various mid-range and flagship Galaxy phones from last year. You have the Galaxy S10’s Snapdragon 855 processor, the Galaxy A70’s 4,500 mAh battery with 25W super fast charging, and a rear camera setup that’s pretty similar to what you find on the Galaxy A51.
The only unique thing about the S10 Lite is what Samsung calls Super Steady OIS for the camera, which improves stability by allowing the camera sensor to move in all directions to offset hand movements. As such, the Galaxy S10 Lite doesn’t really fit in any category. One can say it’s a mid-range phone with flagship elements, a combination we have previously seen with the Galaxy A90 5G.
The Galaxy S10 Lite is much more widely available than the A90 5G, but does it offer the right amount of features for the asking price for us to give it a recommendation? Let’s find out in this review.
Galaxy S10 Lite design
The Galaxy S10 Lite may be named after the Galaxy S10 series, but it looks nothing like any of the other Galaxy S10 smartphones. At the back, the triple camera setup is placed in the top-left corner in a protruding rectangular window, which looks quite similar to the camera setup on the Galaxy M30s, which falls in the budget segment as far as pricing is concerned. But oh boy, it sure does look striking.
The Galaxy S10 Lite has no gradient effect. After a year of seeing rear panels with insane gradients and rainbow-like patterns on Galaxy phones, the dark blue shade on our review unit looks much classier in comparison. It also feels quite premium to hold, despite having plastic on the back and sides. It’s not too heavy, and it’s not very big despite having a 6.7-inch display, all thanks to the slimmer bezels at the front.
The phone’s pretty thin as well, but that probably isn’t the reason why Samsung didn’t equip it with a headphone jack. It’s a surprising omission considering the Galaxy Note 10 Lite has it even though the two phones have the same battery capacity, and it may be Samsung’s way of preparing us for a future that doesn’t include a headphone jack on non-flagship phones and also the flagship Galaxy S lineup.
You may also be wondering if the Galaxy S10 Lite has any sort of water or dust protection. It doesn’t, and frankly, it’s easy to see why. Adding any sort of ingress protection would have raised the price of the device by a sizable amount, and it would also leave much less distinction between the S10 Lite and the flagship Galaxy S10 smartphones.
The S10 Lite’s box comes with the standard package: A charger, USB-C cable, SIM ejector pin, USB-C earphones, a user manual, and in markets like India, a plastic case. The phone has a screen protector pre-installed, which is the case for every smartphone Samsung launches these days.
Galaxy S10 Lite display
Samsung isn’t advertising it too much, but the S10 Lite’s 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display seems to be just as good as the one on the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10. The colors and viewing angles are all spot on, and the S10 Lite display is also HDR+ certified. So, yeah, the display is flagship-grade, just like the S10 Lite’s processor. I compared the same HDR video on YouTube on the S10 Lite and the S10+ and found no discernible difference, except for slightly higher definition in very bright objects, such as clouds, on the latter.
The brightness levels of the Galaxy S10 Lite are also as high as the Note 10+ display, though the former does seem to have a warmer color tone by default. You can change that to your liking from the display setting, though. And, as some folks prefer, the Galaxy S10 Lite display isn’t curved, so you can slap on any kind of screen protector on top. You still get the Edge screen functionality, so the flat screen is purely a cosmetic difference compared to Samsung’s flagship phones.
I am also glad to report that Samsung has substantially improved the quality of the optical in-display fingerprint sensor. I didn’t completely believe my colleague Adnan when he said the Galaxy A51’s optical in-display sensor works well, but it’s good to see I was wrong. In fact, I’ve had a higher success rate with the fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S10 Lite than I’ve had with the technically superior ultrasonic in-display sensors on the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10.
That may be partly because the optical sensors are not affected by things such as skin dryness. My fingers are usually visibly dry, which can be an issue with the ultrasonic sensors. The S10 Lite’s fingerprint sensor is excellent, in short. It’s quick and has pretty good accuracy, and it is miles better than the frankly horrible optical fingerprint sensors we saw on mid-range Galaxy phones in 2019. Facial recognition also works great.
Galaxy S10 Lite camera
The Galaxy S10 Lite has a 48MP F2.0 main shooter at the back, flanked by a 12MP F2.2 123-degree ultra-wide camera and a 5MP F2.4 macro camera. The main shooter has what Samsung calls Super Steady OIS technology. Basically, the main camera lens can move around like a gimbal to stabilize your videos. The lens can move upwards, downwards, and to the left and right to offset device movements caused by the user, and while it sounds very fancy, it’s more or less like the optical image stabilization you get on flagship smartphone cameras.
And since Samsung hasn’t equipped one of its non-flagship phones with hardware-based optical image stabilization, the S10 Lite’s OIS tech is a big deal, fancy or not. Samsung says the Super Steady OIS tech (not to be confused with the software-based super steady video recording) lets you “add gimbal-like stability and UHD quality to your live videos and photos in low-light conditions.” How does it work in practice, though?
Well, with videos, I didn’t really see any difference between videos captured with the Galaxy S10 Lite and a Galaxy S10+. Both capture smooth video unless there’s too much movement of the device, especially at the 60fps Full HD resolution (the S10 Lite has 4K recording, but not [email protected]). Again, just the presence of optical image stabilization on the phone means there’s none of the shake that you find in videos shot on Samsung’s mid-range and budget phones. And that’s great.
Below are two videos shot by the Galaxy S10 Lite, one in daylight and the other at night.
It’s with photos that Super Steady OIS seems to make a difference, especially in photos taken with Night mode. Where the Galaxy S10+ tends to blur things out if the phone isn’t held with a very steady hand in poor lighting conditions, the Galaxy S10 Lite manages to provide a photo with next to no blur in the same conditions. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it shows why the gimbal-like camera lens is a pretty good addition.
What about image quality in regular photography? The Galaxy S10 Lite uses pixel binning to combine four pixels into one and take photos with a final resolution of 12 megapixels. And in daylight, the pixel binning approach produces plenty lot of detail in photos, along with good dynamic range and lifelike colors. Even in low-light conditions and indoors, you get good detail, though noise creeps in because the camera has an aperture of F2.0, which is pretty narrow in comparison to cameras on Samsung’s flagship phones – those have a much wider aperture of F1.5.
Like I said earlier, the OIS tech helps keep blur out of pictures. It’s only in the darkest of scenes where the OIS fails to be of much help, but that’s true of photos taken by the Galaxy S10+ as well. The phone also tends to brighten things up in photos taken in standard nighttime lighting conditions by jacking up the ISO value to compensate for the narrow F2.0 aperture, though this can be solved by tapping on the screen and controlling the exposure before capturing a shot or by using Night mode.
The Galaxy S10 Lite also comes with the Zoom-in Mic technology that debuted on the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+. There’s a third microphone next to the rear camera module that is used to enhance audio coming from the subject in focus when you zoom in or out during video recording. Sadly, in day to day life, you won’t find enough moments where this feature is useful. Features like super slow-mo video recording and Hyperlapse are more useful, and you get those on the Galaxy S10 Lite. Just don’t expect a proper Pro mode.
Now, about those ultra-wide and macro cameras. I won’t go into too much detail about either, but suffice it to say that the ultra-wide camera is very useful (see a couple of samples in the gallery above) while the macro camera is very limited in application. You can’t always physically move closer to a subject, and the macro camera also suffers in low-light conditions, offering no detail thanks to the meager 5MP resolution. A telephoto/zoom camera would make more sense – the macro camera seems fitting only for the more affordable mid-rangers, like the Galaxy A51.
You can also shoot Live Focus video and Live Focus pictures with the Galaxy S10 Lite, and the output is pretty impressive, with sufficient separation of the foreground and background. Live Focus videos don’t tend to have a lot of background blur, though, and they only work with faces in the frame. And Live Focus photos can also have issues with things like a bunch of flowers and leaves – the phone fails to properly distinguish between the foreground and background in such cases.
You can find a couple of Live Focus photo samples below, followed by a short Live Focus video.
Finally, selfies. The 32MP front-facing camera on the Galaxy S10 Lite does a swell job in daylight, capturing plenty of detail with okay-ish dynamic range. Detail goes down indoors and in low-light conditions, and photos go completely soft in very dark environments. It’s what you expect from Samsung’s mid-range phones – the selfie camera does the job done in low light, does great in daylight. Like the rear camera, the front camera can take bokeh pictures and videos, and except for some artifacts around hair, these come out pretty well.
Here are a few regular and Live Focus selfie samples:
Galaxy S10 Lite performance
With a Snapdragon 855 and 8GB of RAM under the hood, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Galaxy S10 Lite performs like a flagship phone. It doesn’t have UFS 3.0 storage, but neither did the Galaxy S10 lineup (except the 5G model). Yet the Galaxy S10 performed great, and the same is true for the S10 Lite as well.
That’s because UFS 3.0 doesn’t really make any difference in day-to-day use. Your apps and games will still load quickly (games like PUBG run without a hitch), and there’s no stutter or lag to be found unless you’ve got some apps installing in the background. Even then, the stutter isn’t as bad as it can be on mid-range phones, which is always an advantage on phones with flagship-grade processors.
And the Galaxy S10 Lite would run pretty well in DeX mode on a PC, but Samsung hasn’t equipped it with DeX for PC support. It doesn’t work with the company’s DeX dock, either. It’s a shame, to be honest, as the Galaxy A90 5G does support at least the former, and I hope the S10 Lite will also gain support with a software update later on.
Galaxy S10 Lite software
The Galaxy S10 Lite runs Android 10 with One UI 2.0 out of the box. It’s got all of the features you see on the flagships. A built-in screen recorder, Edge screen, Edge lighting, Link to Windows shortcut for Microsoft’s Your Phone Companion app, Bixby Voice, Bixby Routines, and power key customization are all included. The usual Samsung features, like one-handed mode, navigation gestures, Lift to wake gesture, Always On Display, theme support, Dual Messenger, and Secure Folder are present as well.
All the minor One UI 2.0 features are also available on the handset. So are the Google-specific Android 10 features, such as the iPhone-like navigation gestures, Digital Wellbeing with parental controls and Focus mode, and advanced app permissions. Out of the box, the S10 Lite comes with the January 2020 security patch, but at this time, it’s unclear if the phone will get monthly or quarterly security updates.
What is clear is that you can expect two major Android updates for the Galaxy S10 Lite. Since it comes with the latest version of Android out of the box, it will go on to get Android 11 and Android 12, which can’t be said for the Galaxy S10 or Galaxy Note 10. Samsung is finally making sure its smartphones aren’t outdated on day one, and that’s great news for anyone who will pick up a Galaxy smartphone this year.
Galaxy S10 Lite audio and call quality
The Galaxy S10 Lite may have an excellent display, but like all other non-flagship Galaxy phones, it comes with a single loudspeaker that is strictly mediocre. It can get loud and doesn’t notably distort at full volume, but the sound output has no depth at all. I understand limiting the speaker quality might make for easy savings in a phone’s production costs. But it’s high time we started seeing stereo speakers on mid-range Galaxy phones as well, especially now that there is no guarantee you will get a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
Perhaps that’s a deliberate move: Instead of opting for third-party USB-C headphones, some of us might just shift to wireless earbuds directly, and Samsung can sell some Galaxy Buds in the process. It remains a point of contention, though, more so on the Galaxy S10 Lite, which has top-notch performance and a top-notch display, making it the perfect device for media consumption, gaming, and listening to music.
Thankfully, Samsung is providing USB-C earphones in the box, the same that it provides with cheaper phones like the Galaxy A50s. And they are fairly good, though bass levels (low frequencies) are dwarfed by the treble (high frequencies) and the mid-range sounds rather flat. You can enable Dolby Atmos from the notification shade to enhance the bass a little, but I also felt discomfort at the highest volume thanks to a bit of distortion. In short, you’ll want to get some third-party headphones to fully enjoy audio with this device.
Call quality was pretty good on the S10 Lite. I saw no issues with network reception on either of the two SIM cards I had in it at all times. You can clearly hear calls over the earpiece in all but the loudest of environments (like inside a movie theater, where you shouldn’t be picking up calls anyway). In fact, if there’s one thing I can say for the S10 Lite, it’s that both the earpiece and the speaker can get pretty loud, which is not something we can say about many proper mid-range phones from Samsung.
Galaxy S10 Lite battery life
With a 4,500 mAh battery, it’s no surprise that the Galaxy S10 Lite can last really long on a single charge. Unless you game and watch YouTube all day, the S10 Lite will comfortably last you until the end of the day and into the next morning. With medium to light usage, especially on just Wi-Fi, it’s easy to get to the evening on the second day before needing to plug it in.
And those who do play games and watch YouTube all day long can charge the phone quickly thanks to the support for 25W super fast charging. I plugged the phone in when battery level was down to 1%, and it went up to 23% in 10 minutes, 53% in 30 minutes, and 87% in 60 minutes. Full charge is reached in around 80 minutes, which is pretty fast considering the total battery capacity.
The Galaxy S10 Lite doesn’t support wireless charging. Samsung hasn’t equipped its non-flagship phones with wireless charging support for a long time now, and it doesn’t seem like the company is going to start doing it anytime soon.
Galaxy S10 Lite verdict
The Galaxy S10 Lite is a confusing phone. In many ways, it’s just as good as the Galaxy S10 flagships. The display is fantastic, performance is top-notch, the cameras are surprisingly good, and you get the latest software out of the box. Its battery life is amazing and beats what you get with the Galaxy S10+ and Galaxy Note 10+.
But as is typical of a mid-range Galaxy phone, there’s no wireless charging, no dust or water protection, no stereo speakers, and the rear cameras can’t match the cameras on the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 in some aspects, as good as they might be. There’s no headphone jack, either. And while you will get two major software updates, those updates probably won’t bring all the new features that the same updates will bring to the flagship Galaxies.
Overall, however, the Galaxy S10 Lite is an excellent phone, but just how excellent it is depends on where you live. In most European countries, the S10 Lite costs 649 euros. For 50-100 euros more, you can get the Galaxy S10+ from third-party retailers, so at a price tag of around 600 euros the S10 Lite would make a lot more sense. It still has plenty to offer at 649 euros, but only if you are on a strict budget and/or want the larger screen and battery capacity over the Galaxy S10+.
In India, it’s a completely different story. At Rs 39,990, the Galaxy S10 Lite is the most well priced smartphone Samsung has launched in the sub-Rs 50,000 category. If you’re looking for a new phone and have Rs 40,000 to spend, you can buy the Galaxy S10 Lite with your eyes closed. Samsung India doesn’t usually offer huge discounts on its flagship phones, which makes the S10 Lite a very attractive proposition in its price segment.
Many had wondered why the Galaxy S10 Lite exists when Samsung first announced it, including yours truly, and I can now see why. The mix of flagship and mid-range specs can be a bit off-putting at first glance, but when it comes to actually using the device, the Galaxy S10 Lite is a pretty good smartphone that deserves your attention. Just be sure you can live with the limitations that are mentioned in the pros and cons table below, and you’re golden.
|Flagship quality 6.7-inch AMOLED display||No headphone jack, unimpressive single speaker|
|Excellent performance thanks to Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM||Main rear camera introduces noise in low-light conditions|
|Stabilization tech helps main camera take impressive photos and videos||Macro camera has limited use, telephoto (zoom) camera would have been much better|
|Design looks and feels premium||No Samsung DeX support|
|Fantastic battery life, super quick charging with supplied 25W charger||No water or dust resistance|
|Selfies have plenty of detail in daylight||No wireless charging|
|Ultra-wide camera as useful as ever, macro camera comes handy for close-up shots||Pricing in Europe could be better|