Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series is the first fleet of flagship smartphones to arrive in 2019, and in what is now par for the course with any flagship, the cameras in the new models are once again one of the highlight features of the Galaxy S10 trio.
Samsung has stuck to a similar formula to what it used with the Galaxy Note 9 (Review), offering two 12-megapixel sensors for regular and telephoto shots, but what’s new in the Galaxy S10 series is the 16-megapixel ultra-wide camera. The Galaxy S10+ also gets a second RGB depth camera on the front, which promises better selfie portraits.
Now, we’ve tested the cameras of the Galaxy S10+ extensively in our full review, and we were quite impressed with their overall performance, but is this phone better than the Google Pixel 3 (Review) and the iPhone XS (Review)? These two phones fought a tough battle in our previous camera comparison which pitted them against the Galaxy Note 9, and they are almost neck-and-neck when it comes to performance. We’re still many months away from Google’s and Apple’s 2019 flagship launches, so we decided to test these phones against the brand new Samsung Galaxy S10+.
We’ve also tossed in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (Review) in this test for two reasons. One, we were very impressed with its camera performance when we tested it last year, and we haven’t yet seen it in a head-to-head comparison against the others. Secondly, going by DXOMark’s ratings, the Mate 20 Pro has an overall score that’s higher than those of the Pixel 3 and iPhone XS, and it is tied with the Galaxy S10+.
For this camera test, we left the camera apps at their default settings in order to see how they perform out-of-the-box and how much of an impact their respective AI algorithms have. Before we begin, here’s a quick breakdown of the main specifications of the different cameras.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Daylight landscape
In our daylight landscape test, we have nice mix of objects with different textures. There are trees in the foreground, buildings in the background, and the sun hiding behind them, which also lets us test the phone’s HDR capabilities and dynamic range.
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ captures the most picturesque image of the four, managing excellent detail, punchy and vivid colours, very good dynamic range, and a pleasing HDR effect.
Coming in a close second is the iPhone XS, which also does a good job with HDR and detail but doesn’t boost the colours as much as Samsung. The Mate 20 Pro overexposes the scene very slightly and also sharpens the image a bit too much for our liking. The Pixel 3 XL fails to expose the buildings correctly and even the building and trees in the foreground look dark and underexposed.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Daylight close-up
Most of us typically use our phone cameras for taking pictures of our friends and family, so we figured a portrait test would be a good place to start. The Galaxy S10+ does a good job with details on our subject’s shirt and hair but we’re not too pleased with the skin tone. Since this was shot outdoors with lots of natural light, the camera automatically dropped the aperture to f/2.4, which is why there’s not much of a bokeh effect.
The iPhone XS captures better skin tones, while still keeping the colours of the shirt and hair in check. We also get a decent level of natural bokeh here. The Mate 20 Pro manages good detail but the skin tones are a bit on the reddish side. The Pixel 3 XL has a slightly cooler tone but overall, the details are arguably the best.
In the next shot, we tried a closer shot of an object to see how the cameras fare with colours and textures. The image from the Galaxy S10+ looks a bit too oversaturated, especially the reds. The iPhone XS has the most natural-looking colours while still keeping good detail. The Pixel 3 XL and the Mate 20 Pro produce slightly brighter images, which makes the colours seem a little muted compared to the other two. All phones capture excellent detail.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Low-light landscape
The Galaxy S10+ introduces a new feature called Bright Night, which is supposed to improve low-light shots. However, this isn’t a mode that can be manually selected. Instead, Samsung’s Scene Optimiser (or AI) decides whether you need it or not, based on the available light. You’ll see a crescent moon icon in the viewfinder when it’s on.
The end result is a brighter and better-lit image with good detail. Due to the longer exposure, you get some flares from artificial light sources. Sharpness is maintained well on objects in the foreground, such as the tiled path. Contrast levels could have been better, which is where the Pixel 3 XL has the edge.
Pixel 3 XL’s image looks a bit more dramatic and lively, however, this comes at the cost of more noise. The Mate 20 Pro goes crazy with sharpening, making the image look too stark. The image from the iPhone XS is well balanced, but finer details in objects at a distance end up looking too mushy.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Low-light close-up
In our low-light macro test, the Galaxy S10+ delivers excellent results in terms of colour accuracy and detail. Noise is also handled very well and the background blur or bokeh around the flower is the strongest compared to the others, thanks to the wide f/1.5 aperture.
The Pixel 3 XL comes in at a close second, followed by the iPhone XS, although both exhibit a bit of noise if you zoom in. The Mate 20 Pro delivers pleasing bokeh with little noise, but we weren’t too fond of the sightly washed-out colour tone of the final image.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Zoom
With the exception of the Google Pixel 3 XL, the rest of the phones are equipped with telephoto cameras. The iPhone XS and the Galaxy S10+ have 2X optical zoom lenses whereas the Mate 20 Pro offers a 3X zoom. The Galaxy S10+ manages one of the best exposures of the lot although the colours are noticeably boosted.
If you want more natural colours, the iPhone XS has the best quality here. The Mate 20 Pro gets us a closer to our subject due to the higher zoom, but colours look a bit artificial and this phone completely blows out the exposure of the sky in the background. The Pixel 3 XL has a software feature called Super Res Zoom which does a decent job with sharpness, but blacks in the shadows are very strong, making the image look a little bleak.
At 100 percent crop for each sample, we see that the Mate 20 Pro produces the best sharpness and the least noise followed closely by the Galaxy S10+. The iPhone XS manages good detail too, albeit with some noise. The Pixel 3 XL tries its best to preserve detail with its digital zoom, but it’s simply not on the same level as the others.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Wide-angle
One of the big highlights of the Galaxy S10+ is the new wide-angle camera. Of all the other phones we’re testing, only the Mate 20 Pro has a wide-angle camera, which means the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3 XL have to sit this round out.
The Galaxy S10+ has a slightly wider field of view than the Mate 20 Pro, but both phones do a good job correcting barrel distortion. The Galaxy S10+ edges out the Mate 20 Pro when it comes to colours and exposure. The Mate 20 Pro does produce a slightly sharper image, but colours are weak and the exposure isn’t the best.
In low light, the Galaxy S10+ has the brighter image compared to the Mate 20 Pro. Both photos have visible barrel distortion on the sides, although the Galaxy S10+ captures a slightly wider shot. The image is a bit sharper with the Mate 20 Pro but a lot darker, whereas the S10+ captures a brighter image but details are comparatively poorer.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Portrait mode
Portrait mode is now very common on phones, and it’s a fun way to add more depth and character to your shots. It’s mainly designed to work on people, but some of these phones do a pretty good job with objects too. All the phones we’re testing let you adjust the level of background blur, some even before you’ve taken the shot.
When shooting people, all phones do a very good job with edge detection and we had few, if any, anomalies such as unwanted blurring of any portion of our subject. The Galaxy S10+ does a fantastic job with colours, skin tones, and detail on our subject’s face.
The iPhone XS comes in at a close second. It uses its telephoto sensor to capture the shot, which is why the image looks a bit zoomed in. The Mate 20 Pro does a commendable job to with details and colours, although you need to keep in mind that the background blur can only be adjusted when shooting in ‘Aperture’ mode and not ‘Portrait’ mode. The Pixel 3 XL does a commendable job too, however it didn’t handle the moire pattern on the shirt as effectively as the others.
With objects, the Samsung Galaxy S10+ simply slays it, managing excellent edge detection, colours and detail.
The second best is the Pixel 3 XL, but only in terms of edge detection, as the overall image is on the cooler side. The Mate 20 Pro struggled a bit with edge detection and this is the best shot we were able to get with it. The shot isn’t sharp enough, and the image is again on the cooler side. The iPhone XS simply cannot find the right edges, even after multiple tries, and ends up blurring out Sully’s fingertips.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Selfie
The Galaxy Note 9 didn’t have the most impressive selfie camera but on the Galaxy S10+, things seem to have improved. Details are a lot sharper on our subject’s face, and thanks to the dedicated depth sensor on this model, edge detection is good too. The exposure isn’t the best, and as a result, the black shirt ends up looking faded.
The iPhone XS does an excellent job with skin tones and the overall exposure is more balanced. The bokeh is done well too. The Pixel 3 XL once again has the most striking image, thanks to a richer contrast, and bokeh is smooth. The Mate 20 Pro delivered a slightly overexposed image, similar to the Galaxy S10+, and details are a bit softer too.
At night, with a good amount of ambient light around, the Galaxy S10+ manages a decent level of detail but there’s a reddish hue throughout, which looks as if a filter has been applied. The Pixel 3 XL has undoubtedly the best image here.
The details, exposure and white balance with the Pixel 3 XL are all spot-on. The Mate 20 Pro overexposes the background a bit but details are good. The iPhone XS manages decent levels of detail and exposure too, although it lacks the sharpness of the Pixel 3 XL.
In extreme low light, we fired up the screen flash on all phones to see if we could get usable selfies. The Galaxy S10+ does a commendable job here with the skin tones and detail, without introducing much noise.
The Pixel 3 XL’s image once again looks the best and it even manages to capture good details in the background. The Mate 20 Pro shoots slightly soft images but it has the brightest screen flash of all. Selfies taken with the iPhone XS are a bit grainy and the overall image isn’t very bright.
Galaxy S10+ vs iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 XL vs Mate 20 Pro: Video recording
All four phones are capable of 4K video recording with no time limits when shooting at 30fps, expect for the Mate 20 Pro, which has a limit of 10 minutes per clip. So far, iPhones have been the gold standard when it comes to video recording, but the Galaxy S10+ is catching up quickly.
Stabilisation is very good, colours are vivid and punchy, and there’s no visible focus hunting even when moving about. The iPhone XS ties with the Galaxy S10+ in our daylight test. Both phones also do a very good job with capturing audio. The Mate 20 Pro and the Pixel 3 XL have slightly tinny audio in comparison, and the colours aren’t as vivid.
Up until the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung’s flagships struggled to produce usable footage in low light at 4K, as the stabilisation caused a severe wobble effect. We’re happy to say that this has been fixed to a large extent on the Galaxy S10+. There’s a slight shimmer effect when walking but it’s not too pronounced. Noise is handled well too. The iPhone XS and the Pixel 3 XL tie with the cleanest video, although you do get slightly better colours with the iPhone. The Mate 20 Pro makes colours look a bit too jarring and the wobble effect is very pronounced as soon as you begin walking.
While it’s great that we can shoot at such high resolutions with a device that fits in our pockets, we think most people would typically use the 1080p or full-HD setting (at least we do) as it’s easier for sharing too. Not much has changed here compared to the 4K resolution tests when shooting in daylight. The iPhone XS and Galaxy S10+ still capture the best footage while the other two struggle bit with exposure and audio.
In low light, the Galaxy S10+ and iPhone XS tie for first place as they produce the best image quality with minimal side effects from stabilisation. Footage taken with the Pixel 3 XL appears a bit soft although it does handle noise well. The Mate 20 Pro handles colours a lot better at this resolution, but there’s still an unacceptable level of shakiness when you move about.
Samsung has done a pretty good job overall with the cameras on the new Galaxy S10+. It still has some of the annoying traits that we’ve seen in other Samsung phones, such as overexposing scenes at times and boosting colours a bit too much, but it also brings some notable improvements.
The selfie camera is a lot better under good light compared to the Galaxy Note 9, and the dedicated depth sensor ensures accurate background blur around your face. Landscapes and low-light shots continued to impress us, however it’s nice to see that video has improved quite a bit too, bringing Samsung that much closer to the iPhone’s performance.
Finally, the wide-angle camera is easily one of the best out there, as it captures really wide views with very good colours and detail.
This is just the beginning though. By the end of this month, Huawei’s P30 Pro will be launched, and this should be another formidable camera beast. Then there’s the upcoming Nokia 9 PureView, with its penta-camera setup, and that’s just on the back of the phone. It might make sense to wait a little while for these to show up in the market if cameras are your top priority. If you can’t wait and are itching to get one of the latest flagships right now, then the camera capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S10+ won’t disappoint you.
Is Samsung Galaxy S10+ the best Android flagship overall? Are Samsung Galaxy Buds the best truly wireless headphones in India? We discussed these things on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.