An affordable flagship done right

Patrick

These are interesting times for smartphone buyers. While OnePlus pioneered the concept of an affordable flagship smartphone, Xiaomi, Realme and many others have sustained the momentum. Packing specifications that rival top-of-the-line hardware and nearly matching the experience, the line between a value flagship and a true premium device is blurry at best.

Enter the Galaxy S10 Lite. Samsung’s flagship property has so far skirted away from the $500 to $600 segment, but changing times call for radical new solutions.

The Galaxy S10 Lite errs close to the full featured Galaxy S10 experience with top-end internals, a software experience to match, as well as a quality camera set up. Read more in our Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite review.

Update, May 21, 2020: The review was updated to reflect fresh competition and alternative options. 

About this Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite review: I wrote this Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite review after spending a week with the phone. Samsung India supplied the device, which was running Android 10 with One UI 2.0 and the January 2020 security patch.

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Design: Familiar yet different

The Galaxy S10 Lite’s design leans towards the Note line up more than the S10 series, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The phone has distinct design cues that differentiate it from everything else at the price point.

Up front is a large 6.7-inch display with a Full HD+ resolution. Despite the size, I had no issues carrying the phone around since the 20:9 aspect ratio definitely helps with ergonomics. Using the phone, however, is another story. As one of the largest devices in Samsung’s portfolio, one-handed operation is absolutely impossible.

The display on the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite isn’t quite as good as what you get on the S10 and the flagships because it packs Quad HD resolution. Unless you place it side by side with a higher-resolution screen, it is hard to find fault here. Color accuracy is good, but not quite perfect. The whites display a very cool, blue hue. It is possible to switch over to a vivid mode to boost saturation, and yes, the display is HDR10+ capable. The S10 Lite also excels at outdoor visibility and the display can be set bright enough for viewing under direct sunlight.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite camera cut out

Like the Note 10, the Galaxy S10 Lite sports a punch-hole camera on the front. I’m not too fond of this, but I’ve got to admit I barely noticed it after a couple of days. The camera hole is small and unobtrusively placed towards the top edge. There’s a 32MP camera in there.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite volume button

The rest of the hardware package is exactly what you’d expect. The volume keys and power button are located on the right, and are easy to reach. The left side sports a dual nano-SIM and microSD card slot. A USB-C port and speaker grille grace the bottom edge. Nope, no headphone jack here!

The phone has in-display fingerprint sensor that I found to be accurate, but not particularly fast. Samsung has definitely come a long way from the hit or miss implementation on the Galaxy S10, but the competing OnePlus 7T still has it beat.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite rear profile shot

Flip over to the back and you’ll notice the S10 Lite is similar to the newly launched Galaxy S20 series. The large camera module, for example, closely resembles the Galaxy S20 Ultra, though it obviously lacks the imaging prowess of the latter.

The S10 Lite eschews gradients for a solid, understated design.

To keep costs and weight low, the Galaxy S10 Lite switches out the glass back for a polycarbonate material. At first glance, it is easy to mistake for glass. The look and feel is uncanny. However, it is a composite material called glasstic. In my time with the phone, it seemed to hold up well enough. Fingerprints might not be a big issue, but it does pick up scuffs and lint. Keep a microfiber cloth handy.

Performance: Flagship in all but name

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite in hand showing browser

Despite the “lite” moniker, Samsung did not cut corners with internal specs. The Snapdragon 855 in the S10 Lite delivers some of the best performance figures this side of the 865. Interestingly, in India, this is the first S-series phone with a Snapdragon chipset. The Snapdragon 855 here sports a single Kryo 485 core clocked at 2.84GHz for high-power tasks, a cluster of three Kryo 485 cores clocked at 2.42GHz for middling tasks, and a cluster of four Kryo 485 cores clocked at 1.78GHz for low-power tasks. Graphics are handled by the Adreno 640 GPU.

Coupled with 6GB or 8GB of RAM, I had no issues multi-tasking and jumping between multiple apps. Games run maxed out at the highest settings and look great while at it.

Samsung has done a wonderful job at optimizing the software, resulting in a buttery smooth user experience.

Moreover, Samsung has done a truly great job at mating the software to the hardware. Performance remains absolutely slick no matter what you throw at the device.

A 4,50omAh battery keeps it all running. Samsung upped charging speeds to support 45W using a USB PD 3.0-compliant charger. However, the in-box charger tops off at 25W, which is not bad either. In my testing, the phone took just over an hour to top-off from scratch. Battery life itself was excellent. The Snapdragon 855 has proven itself to be a frugal chipset and I regularly achieved between five and six hours of screen-on time depending on usage. You will easily get a full day of use and then some from the S10 Lite.

Software: The Samsung experience

The S10 Line runs the same software stack as the Galaxy S10. That means Android 10 with One UI 2.0. By default, the phone ships with an app drawer enabled, but it is a cinch to switch over to a home screen-only layout.

Samsung made useful additions to One UI to enable a deep level of customization.

All the usual Samsung features, including edge screen shortcuts and edge lighting, are present here. The latter makes good use of the always-on display to show glanceable notifications at the top. The power key defaults to Bixby, but you can switch it over to the standard power menu. Similarly, you can map double tapping the power key to any app on the phone.

Samsung phones have always had robust customization options and the S10 Lite is no exception. From the ability to reduce animations, to switching between button- or gesture-based layouts, the phone also lets you switch over to Android 10’s default gesture navigation with options for adjusting sensitivity.

Samsung has been steadily improving long term software support, and the phone has since received an update that brings the February security patches as well as improvements to overall system stability. As of April 13 2020, Samsung has started rolling out a fresh update that brings the April security patches as well as an update to One UI 2.1. New features include the ability to edit AR emoji, a quick crop feature as well as an updated keyboard that offers multilingual translation and the ability to search for emoji and stickers.

Camera: Steadily capable

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite camera module close up

The S10 Lite is equipped with an interesting mix of cameras. The primary is a 48MP shooter with a maximum aperture of f/2.0. This is paired with a 12MP, f/2.2 ultra-wide shooter and a dedicated 5MP macro camera.

Personally, I don’t really care for this new-fangled trend of dedicated macro cameras. While some surely appreciate the macro, it is not nearly useful enough to justify replacing a telephoto lens. A 32MP camera does duty at the front.

S10 Lite Macro low light

For what it’s worth, the macro does a good job at taking close up shots. You will need to be about 3cm to 5cm from the subject to be able to capture a focused image, but the results can be suitably dramatic. There is ample noise in all but the brightest lighting, so this camera is best used outdoors.

S10 Lite outdoor standard mode

The camera has a very typical outdoor Samsung image signature. Colors are ever so slightly over-saturated to give them a punchy look. The HDR mode kicks in automatically and lifts details out of shadows at the expense of added noise. I noticed a modest amount of noise suppression with smeared details when completely zoomed-in. This shouldn’t be much of an issue for most users and the images should suffice for all but the most demanding of mobile photographers.

S10 Lite flowers standard

Generally speaking, the punchy colors produced by the primary camera fare well against the competition. The most obvious competitor to the Galaxy S10 Lite is the OnePlus 7T. The latter includes a more useful telephoto lens, but the primary camera is similar. The Galaxy S10 Lite’s primary camera generally captures more detailed and accurate images.

S10 Lite indoor night modeS10 Lite indoor shot S10 Lite indoor night mode

S10 Lite indoor shot

In less than ideal lighting, things do go south, as is usually the case. Despite including OIS, images often ended up slightly blurry and noisy. Night mode proved to be an effective way of bringing up details in the shadows and for creating a brighter image. Still, this is one area where the OnePlus 7T pulls ahead with its much more consistent and noise-free performance.

Finally, the 32MP selfie shooter produces above-average 8MP pixel-binned images. By default, the camera errs toward beautification features and brightens up shots perhaps too much, but you can switch off most of the settings for a more natural image.

Video capture on the Galaxy S10 Lite is particularly good. Footage recorded at 4K/30fps looked detailed with true-to-life colors and sharp focus. Interestingly, the ultra-wide mode is also capable of capturing 4K video — not a very common feature. Samsung’s super steady OIS feature works like a charm, all the way up to 1080p 60fps. It makes use of the ultra-wide camera to capture a broader field of view and then crops in to the centre of the image. The end result is almost gimbal-like fluidity to the captured content. It imparts a floaty feeling to the footage which you may or may not like. Regardless, the standard OIS works very well and I didn’t find much of a reason to switch over to the super steady function very often.

As of March 2020, the phone has received a post-launch update that adds several new features to the camera. Noteworthy among those is the ability to capture 4K/60FPS video, as well as 4K support in the Super Steady shooting mode. Picture quality has also been further improved. A pro-mode has also been added to the camera app but the feature set is rather limited and does not allow for basic features including the ability to change shutter speed.

Specifications

  Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite
Display Super AMOLED
6.7-inch Full HD+
1080 x 2400 resolution
20:9 aspect ratio
HDR10+
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Adreno 640 GPU
RAM 8GB
Storage 128GB UFS 2.1
microSD slot included
Battery 4,500mAh
45W charging
Cameras Rear:
48MP primary
12MP ultra-wide
5MP macro sensor

Front:
32MP

Operating System Android 10
Samsung One UI 2
Dimensions 162.5 x 75.6 x 8.1mm
186g
Colors Prism White, Prism Blue, Prism Black

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite review: The verdict

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite display

The Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite is available from Samsung India for Rs. 42,142. Meanwhile, in the US, pricing for the phone is set at $650. However, the phone is available with numerous offers that bring down the phone to as low as $499 with trade-ins. You can also pick up the phone from Amazon to get a free pair of Galaxy Buds

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite An affordable flagship

Samsung tries to capture the value-flagship segment with the Galaxy S10 Lite. It features the Snapdragon 855 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of expandable storage, a 4,500mAh battery, a triple camera setup, and a plastic chassis.

For years, Samsung has shied away from introducing a truly compelling value flagship. The S10 Lite aims squarely at the OnePlus 7T (£549) and, to an extent, the Realme X2 Pro (£359). Samsung’s hardware perhaps isn’t the best you can get at the price point, but there’s no denying the implicit trust that comes with a reliable brand like Samsung. This matters in key markets like India.

Now in May 2020, things are quite different. The S10 Lite goes up against the similarly priced OnePlus 8 with its better spec package and a cleaner software build. 

More importantly though, there’s an all-new option in the form of the 2020 iPhone SE. The phone is veritable mish-mash of an old-school design, top-of-the-line chipset and the promise of excellent software support. Both these options should come across as interesting alternatives for anyone looking to buy a new phone in the Rs. 40,000+ category in India.

The Galaxy S10 Lite caters to people who want a fast phone with a compelling feature set, a reliable set of cameras, and great battery life. The Galaxy S10 Lite delivers all of that. The fact that the phone is widely available regular stores compared to the online-only model followed by Chinese manufacturers, and has a robust service and support network just makes it all the more enticing.

This concludes our Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite review. What do you think about the phone? Is Samsung on the right path with its Lite series devices? Let us know in the comments.

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