Who will take the battle of the “budget” flagships?
Apple did something interesting with the iPhone XR: it released a phone that (mostly) looked like its iPhone XS flagship, but skimped on some specs to deliver a comparable experience at a lower (but hardly cheap) price.
In classic Samsung fashion, the Korean giant is now doing much the same with the Galaxy S10E. Revealed alongside the base Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, the Galaxy S10E keeps the powerful processor, colourful glass, and reverse wireless charging, but opts for a smaller, lower-resolution flat panel, and trims elsewhere as well.
They’re perfectly suited to be rivals, but which “budget” flagship truly deserves your large-but-not-as-large wad of cash? Here’s what we think for now, based on the Galaxy S10E’s specs.
Design: Sleek Numbers
The Galaxy S10E largely keeps the same kind of glass-and-aluminium design as the Galaxy S10, complete with the pinhole camera cutout in the screen – but it doesn’t have the same kind of curves on the sides of the display. It also puts the fingerprint sensor in the home button on the side, but otherwise, this phone seems to keep its premium allure. Never-mind the colourful options that includes canary yellow of all things.
The iPhone XR, meanwhile, keeps the basic look of the iPhone XS but has thicker bezel around its screen. It also has aluminium for the frame and brighter colour options for the back. Both of these phones are attractive, so it might come down to whether you prefer a sizeable notch or a hole in the screen.
Screen: A clear win?
This category seems like a decisive win for Samsung. The Galaxy S10E drops the resolution of its 5.8in display down to 1080p, but that should still be a very clear screen at the size. It’s a Super AMOLED panel, too, and Samsung routinely has brilliant results with those. Expect punchy colours and brilliant blacks.
Meanwhile, the screen might be the iPhone XR’s weakest element. The 6.1in 750p LCD panel is… distressingly fuzzy for a R16,000 phone in this day and age, even if it matches Apple’s age-old “Retina” standard. Honestly, it’s fine, but the Galaxy S10E should look much better.
Both the Galaxy S10E and iPhone XR lose one back camera from their mainline models, but that means two cameras on the S10E and just one on the XR.
We’ve already used the XR’s camera and it’s a pretty great point-and-shoot option. It’s the same main sensor from the iPhone XS: a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) wide-angle lens with optical image stabilisation. You’ll routinely get stellar shots, plus it uses software tricks to deliver nice approximations of dual-camera tricks from other handsets, like a portrait mode.
On the Galaxy S10E, you get a 12MP wide-angle camera that switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture to deliver strong shots no matter your lighting, plus it has a 16MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide camera alongside. We’re expecting good things, especially since those are the same cameras seen on the pricier S10 models (along with one more).
Up front, the iPhone XR has the 7MP TrueDepth camera that enables the impressive Face ID security and Animoji. It creates a 3D map of your face for advanced security, while the Galaxy S10E has a more common 10MP selfie shooter. It does facial and iris-scanning security, even combining the two, but isn’t quite as advanced due to the lack of the kinds of sensors seen on the TrueDepth system.
Performance: Pack a Punch
There isn’t a more powerful mobile chip in the world right now than Apple’s A12 Bionic, and the very same chip from the iPhone XS is also in the iPhone XR. The XR has 3GB RAM alongside, and iOS 12 runs like a dream on it.
Samsung’s Exynos 9820 chip comes close to matching the A12 Bionic in benchmark testing, as seen in Galaxy S10+ tests, but it falls a little short. Still, it ought to be plenty swift, and you can get either 6GB or 8GB RAM depending on model.
Battery and Perks: Samsung’s Edge
These battery packs aren’t far off in size: the Galaxy S10E has a 3,100mAh cell, while the iPhone XR comes up a little short at 2,942mAh. It’s the longest-lasting iPhone thanks to that lower-res screen, and can give you a strong day of uptime. We suspect the Galaxy S10E will end up being about the same, given the higher-res screen in play.
Both phones offer wireless charging, but only the Galaxy S10E has PowerShare, a “reverse” wireless charging feature, which lets you charge another wirelessly-chargeable phone or device. In other words, you could charge an iPhone XR on the back of the Galaxy S10E!
The base Galaxy S10E comes with 128GB internal storage, although you can pay more to bump up to 256GB – or use microSD cards for external storage. Meanwhile, the iPhone XR’s base model has just 64GB RAM, with 128GB and 256GB options available. As always with Apple, you can’t use expandable memory.
Initial Verdict: Seeing stars
We like the iPhone XR a lot – quite a bit more than we expected, actually. It trims down some specs and the screen should be better than it is, but overall it’s still a powerful and very capable iPhone with Apple’s trademark polish. It costs R16,000 however.
Given that, it’s hard to see how the Galaxy S10E doesn’t win this comparison, although it’s priced at R16,000 as well. It undoubtedly has the better screen along with more base storage, while categories like design, main cameras, and power should be pretty close between them.
If you’re an Apple die-hard, then you already know which phone you want. But if not, the Galaxy S10E could draw a lot of attention from folks who like Samsung’s kind of flagship flash but don’t want to shell out R20,000 for a 2019 smartphone. In any case, we’ll update this comparison once we have our final verdict on the Samsung Galaxy S10E.